Note: Jersey Bites was invited to visit the Wildwoods and the writer’s meals and stay were complimentary.
In July, I had my very first vacation in Wildwood. I’m 50 years old. I’ve lived in New Jersey all my life and I’ve never, ever been to Wildwood. And you know what makes that statement even more remarkable? I’m among many New Jerseyans who can say the same thing. Please, someone tell me why we drive 10 or 15 hours to South Carolina for vacations when we’ve got Wildwood right here.
I am ashamed to say that I completely misjudged Wildwood. If you asked me to sum up my entire weekend in one word, it would be surprised. I had always assumed Wildwood was New Jersey’s version of Daytona. I guess those were the rumors I was brought up on and the locals admit it used to be pretty crazy. Bars would stay open until 4 a.m. so people from other towns would come to close out the night in Wildwood. That stopped about 15 years ago.
The Wildwood (or Wildwoods, plural) we came to know and truly love that weekend is a great family place with more fun and food than you can possibly consume in one weekend, but we did our best, as you will see.
First, a lesson in geography. The Wildwoods are divided into four parts. You’ve got North Wildwood (which may be called Anglesea in the near future), Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, and West Wildwood. Check out this map for the full breakdown.
Second, a lesson in transportation. The Wildwood boardwalk is one of the longest boardwalks in New Jersey. Thank goodness for the fleet of Sightseers, aka Tramcars, which, quite frankly, you can walk faster than but you won’t care when your dogs are barkin’ and your seat needs parkin’. It’s a fun way to people watch, too, really closely. The second common means of transportation—and in my opinion a must—is a bicycle. After one hot walk down the boardwalk and back to our hotel, my tired legs took me directly to a bike rental stand. $30 for 24 hours seemed like the best deal ever. Bikes are allowed on the boardwalk until noon in Wildwood and we took full advantage of this. Morey’s Piers has bike racks at the ends of the piers, where you can park your bike for the day. Just walk it off the boardwalk and ride the streets back to your hotel. Our hotel let us take our bikes up to our room for storage overnight, which made for an interesting elevator ride—but super convenient. There are places that offer free parking if you rent a bike, which is an option if you are only coming for the day.
OK, third lesson: history. Now, don’t check out on me, this is interesting. The story of the Morey family is a true American rags-to-riches story of two brothers who had a dream of creating one of the world’s best seaside towns and amusement parks and their families who have carried on that legacy. In 1920, Samuel Morey, a carpenter, moved from Tuckerton with his wife, Ida Mae, and son, Louis. Lou grew up, married, and moved into a home on Maple Avenue in West Wildwood. Sadly, Lou died at the age of 40 leaving seven children behind. As a teenager, Will, who never went to college and was left back twice in High School, started building homes on spec and selling them. Encouraged by his success, older brother Lou joined forces with Will and Morey’s Bros. Construction and Development was formed.
Lou Morey was responsible for designing 55 motels in the Wildwoods. The design of the hotels in Wildwood is what had me so captivated. It’s like you stepped back into the 1950s and 60s. Swap out the cars with some period Cadillacs and Buicks and you’d swear you’d gone back in time. I kept waiting for Christopher Lloyd to come around a corner. Wildwood is often called the “Doo Wop Capital of the World” and now I know why.
In 1969, the Morey brothers dipped their toe into the amusement industry with their first attraction on the boardwalk called “Wipe Out,” a pretty straight forward waterslide. The brothers continued a slow and steady growth into the boardwalk scene, until 1976 when they took a giant leap and purchased the fire-damaged Marine Pier, for $1.8 million dollars.
Over the decades, the Moreys have had their ups and downs in Wildwood. Many expansions, a back hand slap from Mother Nature a time or two and many popular attractions that have come and gone with the times. Today, Morey’s Piers owns three piers: Surfside Pier, Mariner’s Landing Pier, and Adventure Pier. Each pier has its own personality and featured attractions.
That’s it for the lessons class, now we get the yummy part.
Although this was my first time to Wildwood, this wasn’t my first time experiencing the food of Morey’s Piers. Chef Walter (Wally) Juruz, a CIA graduate, oversees food and beverage operations for a majority of Morey’s Piers and is one of the chefs featured in my cookbook.
Our first stop on our weekend of eating was to Joe’s Fish Co. on Morey’s Surfside Pier. It was a hot day, but seating on the second floor (what they call the rooftop bar) provided a glorious ocean breeze. We truly could have sat there all night.
I started my meal with the crab stuffed pretzel. When it arrived, I quickly realized this was meant to feed a large group. Peter Culos, Jersey Bites’ craft beer aficionado, and I did our best, but I wanted to save room for my seafood dinner. Peter ordered the Cape May salts which, according to him, were “Amazingly fresh and the mignonette sauce was so good it was practically drinkable.”
For cocktails, I went with a dark and stormy while Peter enjoyed a cucumber martini with Hendricks gin—not your typical boardwalk libations. We were happy to see a nice selection of local New Jersey beers on tap, too, including Cape May, Tuckahoe and Glasstown Brewing. We sipped our drinks and enjoyed a gorgeous breeze while the screams of amusement park thrill-seekers surrounded us.
Dinner was fresh seafood all the way. I enjoyed the fresh seafood platter, grilled. Peter ordered the Maryland crab cake, which was probably one of the best crab cakes either of us had ever eaten, very little filling and just perfect. We were properly stuffed after dinner and decided to call it an early night. There was a lot more eating to do on Saturday, so we headed back to our room at the Port Royal, in Wildwood Crest.
The next morning, up bright and early, we rented our bikes and took a leisurely ride up the boardwalk. Actually, we were just biding our time until Stubborn Brothers Beach Bar & Grille opened up at 11 a.m. (It was 5 o’clock somewhere, folks.) Stubborn Brothers is at the end of Surfside Pier. The impressive water attractions are everywhere you look. Lazy tubers drift below the boardwalk. The little ones can jump around in “The Puddle” and their myriad waterslides, not to mention Shotgun Falls (which sounds like a serious wedgie maker to me). There was a swim-up bar somewhere, but we weren’t dressed for that kind of day.
We snagged two seats, really comfy Adirondack chairs and knew right away that this would be a problem: we might never get up. Problem number two: it was hot, really hot, and we were parked in the shade with a great breeze keeping us cool. Refreshing cocktails, interesting food choices and live music about 10 feet from us. It was official, we were not leaving. Ever.
Peter and I decided to try to make lunch a healthier meal. He ordered Mama’s Own avocado toast, an open-faced multi-grain toast topped with cream cheese, cheddar, avocado, spring mix, cherry tomatoes, and light vinaigrette. I thought was a pretty unique offering for a Boardwalk bar. I ordered the DIY lettuce wraps, wok seared ground chicken, carrots, and water chestnuts over crunchy rice sticks, served with crisp lettuce for wrapping. It wasn’t the tidiest of lunch choices, but I felt good about steering clear of the heavier stuff. Although, the “Give Me Some of Your Tots” tater tots topped with BBQ pork, cheese, bacon, scallions, and a fried egg did get my attention. I just loved the name. (If you’re a Napoleon Dynamite fan, you get it.)
As it turned out, we did have to finally leave our cozy little spot of heaven. Mid afternoon rolled around pretty quickly and since we had somewhere to be at 4 p.m., we begrudgingly gave up our seats to an eager couple who was probably about to park there for a few hours like we had.
Our next destination on this weekend of gorging was dinner at Jumbo’s on Mariner’s Pier. We met up with Chef Wally, who walked us through the menu and gave us some insight into the ingredients they are using. The first order of business was cocktails. (I know there is a theme going here, but it was vacation.) I had inside information that there was a beach plum margarita on the menu, featuring Jersey grown beach plums and I was obligated to give it a try. Peter went with a flight of beers from their 100 Mile Flight, all craft beers brewed within a 100-mile radius. Jumbo’s is a more casual place than Joe’s Seafood Co. Pizza is a very popular menu item. We decided to start with the house-cooked spiced potato chips with cilantro cream sauce. You get your choice of Sriracha spiced, Old Bay spiced or Chef Walter J’s Cuban spice rub on the chips. We chose the Cuban spice rub. (I also got a bottle to bring home with me.)
After talking with Chef and learning that the signature steak burger blend is a blend of chuck, brisket, short rib and dry aged meat, I had to try one. As Chef Wally pointed out, this is easily a $16 burger at a white linen establishment, but patrons are getting this quality for $13.50 at Jumbo’s. Other standouts include their Down ‘n Dirty po’ boys and a pretty extensive raw bar. I saw quite a few orders of the jumbo steamed lobster pots coming out of the kitchen. Their pots include lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, chorizo sausage, and Jersey corn. One of the things that impressed me about the Jumbo’s menu—and all the menus at Morey’s Piers—is the mention of New Jersey ingredients. They really make an effort to source locally for as much as they can and you can taste it in the quality of their dishes. To peruse the entire menu, visit their website here.
Our last and most exciting adventure of the weekend happened on Sunday morning when we took part in the Morey’s Piers Breakfast in the Sky. The website describes it as “a picnic in the sky complete with white linens and china with culinary delights created by our Executive Chef, Wally Jurusz.” Even though up to this point, Chef Wally had not let us down at any of the eateries we visited, I was skeptical about the quality of food on a Ferris wheel. I was sure the food would be subpar and it was more of a touristy thing to do. I am happy to say, I was wrong. Very wrong. The food was delicious, the seamless execution was impressive and the experience ranked number one on our list of dining experiences for the weekend.
Reservations are required and each car can accommodate up to four people. You order your breakfast when you make your reservations which ensures speedy delivery for each shift of diners. I ordered the shrimp, crab and chanterelle crepes, stuffed with chanterelle mushrooms, grilled shrimp and crab, topped with caviar and served with home fries and toast. Peter ordered the Jersey tomato BLT with fried egg, served on toasted sourdough bread with crisp Lancaster County bacon, lettuce, tomato, herb mayo and home fries.
In between bites of our delicious breakfast we enjoyed the panoramic view of the coastline and Morey’s Piers. We kept our eyes peeled for dolphins but they did not oblige us. The whole experience takes about one hour and fifteen minutes from the time you arrive to the time you disembark. The actual time you are on the ferris wheel is between 45 minutes and 1 hour. (Be sure to use the restroom before you get on. Unless it is a true emergency, there is no getting off the ride once it starts.) For the complete menu and for answers to frequently asked questions, click here.
Sadly, our weekend had to come to a close but we have no doubt that we’ll be back. Even though the summer is coming to a close, there is still plenty of time to enjoy Wildwood. While you’ll have to wait until next summer for Breakfast in the Sky, which runs from mid-July to late August, the rest of the pier stays open weekends through October 9.
SAVE THE DATE: Morey’s Piers Oktoberfest is coming. Events will take place on September 24 and 25, October 1 and 2, and October 8 and 9 from noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 5pm on Sundays on Mariner’s Pier at Schellenger Avenue and the boardwalk. In addition to the regular menu, a special themed selection of Bavarian and German specialties and a wide variety of beers and tasting flights will be available at an outdoor biergarten located behind Jumbo’s. Guests will also enjoy live musical entertainment. Oktoberfest ride wristbands purchased online are $24.95 for guests 48” inches and taller and $19.95 for those under 48”and include a bonus $5.00 food and beverage credit per wristband. Ride passes are also available for purchase onsite: guests 48” and taller are $29.95 on Saturday and $24.95 on Sunday, guests under 48” are priced at $24.95 for Saturday and $19.95 on Sunday. For advance purchase, go to moreyspiers.com/tix.