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Eating and Drinking Our Way Through Cape May


Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

The writer received a complimentary hotel stay and meals during her visit to Cape May.
All opinions are her own. 

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

Cape May is one of New Jersey’s undeniable treasures. The history and the mix of New Orleans meets Key West right in our tiny state, truly making it a very rare and special place. And, if Cape May is the treasure, the Virginia Hotel is one of its crown jewels.

You will not be able to fight the feeling that you have stepped back in time as you ascend the stairs to the front porch and through the heavy wooden doors of this beautifully restored building that dates back to 1879.

All weekend I kept thinking Jack Nicholson was going to sidle up next to me at the bar and Llyod would be there to fetch him a bourbon.

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm  

What Goes On

You won’t miss TV. People actually make cheerful conversation as they sip divine old fashioneds and cosmopolitans—it just doesn’t seem right to call them cosmos in this environment—and many other spectacular cocktails. And just look at that copper vessel. You’ll feel like royalty. I promise.

The Cosmo at The Virginia Hotel Cape May

The Virginia Cosmopolitan: Absolut Elyx vodka, cranberries, triple sec, cranberry juice, and lime

Don’t get me wrong. The hotel has all of the latest comforts—even three shower heads, including a rainfall option, making cleanup a luxurious experience. Oh, and guests enjoy complimentary breakfast, delivered by a very friendly chap who gets his exercise and then some running up and down three flights. From the silver tray to the fresh flowers, I could seriously get used to this.

Breakfast on a Silver Platter at The Virginia Hotel

Breakfast on a silver platter at the Virginia Hotel

The Look and Feel

The Virginia was recently reappointed with new furnishings, wallpaper, and flooring, which I learned from Susie, a Virginia regular and my companion at the bar two nights in a row. She and her husband, Charlie, always request one of the street-side rooms because they have balconies. How very N’awlins.

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

In a corner of the main bar area stands a beautiful baby grand piano where, much to my delight, Kenneth Richardson played for hours on Saturday night while Peter and I lounged on the front porch with our cocktails as we made new friends and enjoyed the peaceful evening. 

Ladies night on the front porch of the Virginia

Front porch fun at the Virginia Hotel

A Relaxing Evening

A large group of sorority sisters from Rowan joined us on the porch for a bit while they held a fun reunion night. Ladies’ Night was a running theme for the weekend. We ran into another group of gals celebrating a 60th birthday next door at the Mad Batter and ran into them again the morning after—a little worse for wear—as they sipped on mimosas and tried to heal their aching heads at the Brown Room, a bar in Congress Hall, at 11 a.m. (I was just happy Peter and I weren’t the only ones at the bar.) In our defense, we were just waiting for the Boiler Room to open at noon. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Bartender in the Brown Room

The Brown Room in Congress Hall

That is one of the things I love about Cape May, you’ll meet someone in one place and continue to run into them throughout the weekend. By the time you’re packing, you’ve made some new friends. How very old-fashioned! 

Dinner at Beach Plum Farm

Wait, what? A farm at the beach? Yes, indeed. 

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

We took an Uber to Beach Plum Farm on Saturday night. It’s not a far drive at all but we wanted to relax and enjoy the evening with a few cocktails during our time at their Early Spring Farm-to-Table Dinner. Since BPF is a BYOB, I purchased a lovely rosé from Hawk Haven Vineyard and Peter brought some beers from Slack Tide Brewing. Keeping it local all the way. 

Hawk Haven dry rosé wine

Hawk Haven dry rosé wine

Getting to Know the Place

My first order of business was to chat with Executive Chef Josh Liwoch, who was super friendly and willing to sit down at one of the picnic tables with me, just outside the farmhouse. He gave me a little insight into the history of the farm and what was about to unfold for me, as his guest. 

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

On 62 acres, Beach Plum Farm supplies most of the produce for the Ebbitt Room, Blue Pig Tavern, Rusty Nail, Boiler Room, and Louisa’s Cafe. One hundred fruits and vegetables grow on the farm, and they also raise chickens and Berkshire hogs (a heritage breed). We were about to sample the eggs, ham, bacon, and spring vegetables that were raised and harvested just a stone’s throw away and I couldn’t wait. 

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

Our group headed over to a seating area around a fire pit on the lawn. Chairs, benches, and picnic tables provided plenty of places to sit and snack on smoked-yolk deviled eggs topped with bacon jam, liverwurst tea sandwiches with pickled carrots, and tempura spring onion with a burnt-onion-yogurt dipping sauce.

deviled eggs in tray

Perfect bites all around, but those deviled eggs were dangerous and I needed to save room for what was coming next. Our lovely host for the evening poured glasses of champagne for guests as I wandered around the property, heading toward the beautiful tulips about 50 feet away. 

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

Time to Eat

Dinnertime arrived and we were called into the Amish barn, where we sat at a long, elegantly set communal table. 

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

First on the menu was wild onion soup. Chef said this is his take on french onion soup, sans the croutons and cheese.

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

At first glance, this course looked like a typical broth based soup, but after one spoonful I was in love. It was one of the top dishes of the night and I’m still trying to get my hands on the recipe. Topped with scallion oil, this soup is so rich and has a depth of flavor that’s truly remarkable. I said it then and I’ll say it again: I could live on this stuff. 

Our next round was a lovely kale and cabbage salad that included pickled onion, crispy ham, shaved asparagus, and candied walnuts, with green goddess dressing. 

The main event consisted of smoked ham with a rum raisin glaze, turkey confit casserole with mushroom puree and crispy shallots, and creamy peas and spring onions, roasted asparagus, and honey-roasted carrots. All so fresh and delicious, but the turkey casserole was our favorite. if I hadn’t been staying in a hotel, I would have taken them up on the offer of a doggy bag. 

Turkey Casserole

Turkey confit casserole with mushroom puree and crispy shallots, creamy peas and spring onions, roasted asparagus, and honey-roasted carrots.

Our wonderful meal ended with a strawberry rhubarb crumble with black pepper crème fraîche. We headed back to the Virginia with full bellies but still looking forward to a lovely old fashioned on the porch before we retired for the evening. 

Old Fashioneds on the porch

Old fashioneds on the porch of the Virginia Hotel

Return to the Farm

On Sunday morning, we decided to drive back to Beach Plum to check out the real working farm. Down a long dirt path through the marsh, we exited the woods and found ourselves on a beautiful farm with chickens, pigs, and those glorious vegetables. It really felt like we had crossed over into Narnia. 

gravel path leading to farm

A gravel path leads to Beach Plum’s working farm.

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

Those glorious Berkshire hogs find their way onto exquisite plates at all of the Cape Resorts Restaurants.

Down in the Boiler Room

The Boiler Room was exactly that, a room in the basement where the heater resided many, many years ago. It’s in the basement of Congress Hall and the stairway is a bit inconspicuous—just follow your nose toward the hypnotic pizza aroma wafting from below. Tasty little meatballs come in your choice of a pork (remember those Berkshire hogs?), veal, and beef blend or turkey and sage with house plum tomato sauce. I was told it took 25 recipe attempts before they landed on the perfect one. It was worth the extra effort—this made the perfect bar snack with a cocktailsor draft beer.

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

The restaurant, known for its wood-fired pizza oven (wood and gas, actually), has been around for five years now. It started as a pizza-and-salad place and then expanded with a few more menu items—like those beautiful meatballs. 

The menu remains small, but that’s okay with me. What the Boiler Room does, it does very well. They also have a nice craft beer assortment on tap and excellent cocktails. 

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

There are no windows in the Boiler Room and the only way down to the restaurant is by way of a narrow staircase. It’s worth the mini trek, as the basement makes for a cool vibe. To be clear, this is not a beachy, surfside hang out. The Boiler Room has a definite speakeasy feel. 

Pizza two way from Boiler Room in Cape May

Pizza Time

When you consider the location and how narrow the staircase is, I had to wonder: how the hell did they get that pizza oven down in the basement? So I asked. Turns out that it had to come in  three pieces. Each piece was rolled down the stairs then reassembled before being encased behind a wall of bricks, which were sourced from a demolished building of the same time period as Congress Hall. Was it worth all that trouble? Oh, yes.

The pizza is fantastic and inventive. We had to try the Berkshire pizza (of course), with fontina and ricotta cheese, caramelized onions, wood-fired roasted wild mushrooms, smoked ham, baby mustard greens, and finished with white truffle oil. 

For those of you looking for a little nightlife in Cape May, the Boiler Room transforms into a nightclub at 9:30, when the lights go down and music turns on.

The Ebbitt Room: Cocktails

By the time we hit the Ebbitt Room on Sunday night, we really didn’t know how they were going to top what we had been eating and drinking all weekend. Being that we were on the tired side, it was super convenient and appreciated that the restaurant was right in the hotel. 

First and foremost, the service is top notch. Everyone is so friendly and accommodating. You can honestly tell that the servers and bartenders are very proud of where they work, which translates to a wonderful guest experience. And, yes I know I am a food writer and servers will be on their best behavior around me, but I witnessed the same careful attention and warm hospitality from the staff with everyone in the dining room that night.

A few more words about the cocktails. You have to check out their specialty cocktail menu on the website. Each drink sounds more luxurious than the next. If you like old fashioneds, you can’t go wrong. If you like cosmopolitans, you can’t go wrong either. I’ll have to get back and try every last cocktail so I can steer you toward the best experience possible. No, really, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

The Ebbitt Room: On the Menu

Alright, enough about the drinking. Let’s get to the eating. Please remember, we were there in the spring, so the menu has changed since our visit. You can depend on menu changes with the season and what is available on the farm. 

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

Our meal started with the most precious deviled eggs, each prepared with its own unique and artfully placed fillings. I’m borderline obsessed with deviled eggs, so this was a must-order option for me. 

Next, our lovely server suggested the beets and radish salad with hearts of palm, heirloom carrots, and citrus jalapeño dressing. It was so delightfully dressed with just a kiss of heat from the jalapeño.  

Beets and radish salad with hearts of palm, heirloom carrots and citrus Jalapeño dressing.

Beets and radish salad with hearts of palm, heirloom carrots, and citrus jalapeño dressing.

On to the main course! I went with suggestions from the kitchen and I’m so glad I did. The whole rainbow trout with spring onion salsa, spigarello kale, and bacon lardons, oh my. And there’s that bacon again. I’ve never experienced fish with bacon. The delicate, nutty flavor of the fish with the salty bacon and brightness of the salsa just came together to offer the perfect bite after bite. 

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

Lamb chops—lamb in general, really—and I have a special love affair. I’ve had my share of lamb chops, lamb burgers, lamb chili, you name it, however, these chops with roasted tomato, cucumber herb salad, and pineapple yogurt were so perfectly cooked and the pineapple and yogurt offered such a surprising and lovely accompaniment, there was no sharing. That’s a promise.

Cape May, Jersey Shore, Deb Smith, Jersey Bites, The Virginia Hotel, Congress Hall, Beach Plum Farm

We’ll Be Back

Believe it or not, we passed on dessert that night. We just couldn’t. Eat. One. More. Bite. This was an extraordinary weekend full of new flavors, new experiences, new friends, and many, many new memories. We can’t wait to jump in the car and get back to Exit 0 for another amazing New Jersey escape.
 
Listen to “Food, Drinks and a Stay in Cape May” on Spreaker.

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