This is my final of three installments where I reveal the best sandwiches to be eaten in Atlantic, Cumberland, and now, Cape May Counties.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, sandwiches are my favorite food “thing.” And, having grown up in Cumberland, worked in Cape May for many years, and lived in Atlantic for almost three decades, I am uniquely qualified to point you in the right direction when you find yourself hungry for a great sandwich in South Jersey.
Each one of Cape May County’s best sandwiches on the list below is worth a drive to this oft-overlooked part of the state.
Number 3: The Hot Chick
Exit Zero Filling Station
110 Sunset Boulevard
Cape May, NJ
As any self-respecting New Jerseyan knows, where a person hails from in the Garden State can often be determined by asking one question: “What exit are you?” meaning which exit of the Turnpike or Parkway would you take to get to where you live.
Growing up in Cumberland County, where rare talk of the faraway Turnpike or Parkway was often dismissed as the crazed ramblings of someone who spent too much time in the sun or too many happy hours at the bar, I had little reason to consider the “What Exit?” question. On those rare occasions, however, when I was able to make contact with the outside world and someone asked me this quintessential New Jersey question, I typically responded with a sarcastic “Exit the Sticks” or an equally dismissive “Exit End of the World.”
Today, if you want to know where to find one of the state’s best sandwiches, my answer would be “Exit Zero,” and that response would be correct in both the literal and figurative senses.
The sandwich I am referring to is the Hot Chick and it can be found at the Exit Zero Filling Station, appropriately located about an easy 10-minute drive from the Parkway’s southernmost exit (Exit 0), just outside of Cape May City. Though the Filling Station’s address is listed as Cape May, it sits in West Cape May, less than 400 feet from the Cape May City limit.
The Hot Chick is one funky and tasty sandwich.
Served on a rich brioche bun, the Hot Chick takes you on a thrilling ride that leaves you both satisfied and feeling slightly guilty that you enjoyed it so much—just like a date with any typical Jersey Hot Chick (or Hot Dude).
The sandwich is composed of a large and juicy piece of buttermilk- and sriracha-marinated chicken that is topped with pepper jack cheese, a cool and crunchy Cajun slaw, and sweet-and-spicy pickle slices. This alone is enough to earn the sandwich a spot on this list, but the Exit Zero Filling Station adds a spicy sriracha aioli that kicks up the heat and enhances the other flavors of the sandwich.
The Hot Chick is messy, moist and over the top. The sweetness, the spiciness, the coolness, the heat, the textures—all of these experiences combine to awaken the senses and make this an incredibly fun sandwich to eat.
While waffle fries are the standard sidekick for the Hot Chick, you can also opt for tater tots, which I recommend if only because I find it difficult to pass up anything that reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite.
The Hot Chick at the Exit Zero Filling Station makes the trip to the southernmost point of the Parkway well worth the drive.
Number 2: Mahi Wrap
Bobby Dee’s Rock ‘n Chair
2409 Dune Drive
It seems like I am always making confessions of some sort when I compile these lists.
In a previous installment, I have pled guilty to being a Philly cheesesteak purist who practices hypocrisy by loving a particular cheesesteak that is loaded with things you would never find on a similar sandwich in the City of Brotherly Love.
I have also confessed to soliciting some culinary opinions of friends and then dismissing many of their suggestions with a simple “Thanks” or an even less convincing “Maybe I’ll try it,” knowing full well that I have little intention of actually doing so.
I am not especially proud of these personal shortcomings, but they were necessary admissions to help underscore the fact that I am giving you the unwaxed truth when it comes to telling you what the best sandwiches are.
So with that in mind, I have another confession to make as I introduce you to the second best sandwich in Cape May County, which is found at Bobby Dee’s Rock ‘n Chair, located at the corner of 24th and Dune Drive in the tony seaside town of Avalon: I have worked here part-time for the past 18 years, even though I took the job for what was supposed to be just few years until my younger daughter, Georgia, who was an infant at the time of my hiring, would be in Kindergarten. Georgia is now in college and I’m still slingin’ hash. Admittedly, having the extra cash has been nice over these past two decades.
Despite my affiliation with the restaurant, it is an objective fact that the mahi wrap is one of the freshest, most flavorful sandwiches you will find between Ocean City and Cape May Point.
Though head Chef Sid Gary puts out a number of great dishes, the mahi wrap is the brainchild of Sous Chef Amando Castelan, who has been with “The Chair” (as it is often called by locals and employees), for many years.
The mahi wrap is a unique combination of Mexican and American flavors—not so surprising when you consider that Castelan hails from south-central Mexico but now called the United States home.
The sandwich starts with a large spinach tortilla, which is filled with a generous portion of chunky blackened mahi and black-bean-and-corn salsa. The ingredients are given a cascade of pepper jack cheese, a generous dose of a spicy chipotle aioli, and are then closed up in the tortilla and grilled on both sides to give some additional texture.
The mahi is tender, moist, flaky and only subtly reminds you that it has been blackened.
The salsa is slightly cooling and provides a perfect crunchy counterpoint to the fish.
But the estrella brillante of this dish is the spicy aioli. And consider yourself warned: it is spicy. Not send-you-to-the-emergency-room spicy, but spicy enough that you may sweat a bit and you might want to have an extra napkin handy for your nose. Importantly, though, the spice does not overpower the sandwich—you will easily taste everything—but rather complements all of the ingredients. Somehow, it all works.
Served with a side of chips (or fries for an additional charge) and a kosher pickle spear, all but the hungriest among us would be challenged to eat the whole thing in one sitting. I have yet to be able to do it and, brother, I can eat.
Number 1: Hot Roast Beef and Provolone
518 Stone Harbor Boulevard
Cape May Court House, NJ
Most people pull into a gas station for the obvious reason: to get gas.
But in lower Cape May County, you will also find many motorists visiting one particular gas station to get one of the best sandwiches to be found this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
With seats for just a couple of tables and an equally small counter, Mandy’s Subs is a tiny, understated, pale peach building with faded red trim. It sits directly behind a gas station on one of the few main access roads leading into the resort town of Stone Harbor.
If you weren’t looking for the place, you would likely pass it, obscured as it is from the roadway by the gas station in front. Or, if you did see it, you might be skeptical of any food product making its way out the door, thinking it might be better suited for a burial than a stomach.
In either case, you would be missing out on what is Cape May County’s best sandwich: the hot roast beef and provolone at Mandy’s Subs in Cape May Court House.
Frankly, there is nothing fancy about this sandwich. No highbrow bread. No hard-to-pronounce imported cheese. No meat from an animal that lived its life on an idyllic, temperate island where it received daily pedicures while being read great works of literature and wearing handmade talismans designed to ward off pestilence.
The bare-bones simplicity of this masterpiece is what makes it so great. In short, what is done is done well.
The roast beef and provolone at Mandy’s comes hot or cold (make sure you specify when you place your order). Both are excellent; however, the hot version edges out its cold sibling as a result of the meat being bathed in a rich au jus, similar to what you might see in a traditional French dip.
After a quick swim in the jus, the meat—and there is lots of it—is placed inside a traditional sub roll along with a generous portion of provolone cheese. Served on the side is a cup of the jus and what Mandy’s calls Tiger Sauce—a white sauce with a consistency similar to crème fraiche and notes of horseradish. When added to the meat, cheese, and bread, Tiger Sauce makes for a singular, savory sandwich experience.
You can add the standard sub toppings such as lettuce and tomato if you would like, but it is nonsensical to put such things on a hot sandwich. Please don’t make this mistake.
For mine, I typically ask for a light smear of yellow mustard and some cherry pepper relish, but that, of course, is a matter of personal taste.
Whether you decide to have the hot roast beef and provolone as-is or dressed up a bit with some acceptable condiments, you are in for the best sandwich this southernmost county in New Jersey has to offer.