There may be a new king of BBQ in South Jersey. And his name is David Goldberg. While the location of his restaurant — on the promenade of the historic Washington Street Mall in Cape May — might not scream BBQ, Cape May Smokehouse is the real deal.
Goldberg doesn’t use a huge outdoor smoker to slowly cook some of the tastiest meats you will ever try. Nor does he have a huge staff to help him. In fact, Goldberg is practically a one-man show in the kitchen, whether he’s stopping in early in the morning to check on his brisket or hand cutting potatoes for his scrumptious, Boardwalk-style fries.
The chef says it’s all about making food with TLC. And he would have it no other way.
“It’s not rocket science,” says Goldberg, who opened the small BBQ eatery with his partner Karen Feitelson in January. “It’s about making comfort food with love. BBQ is a very passionate thing, no matter what part of the country you are from. So I designed my menu with Southern influences and do everything possible from scratch. I basically work, one way or another, 16 to 20 hours a day. Every single thing that comes out of the kitchen — from every bean to bottle of soda — was touched by me twice. Not many people can say that.”
Goldberg’s passion for BBQ came from a very personal part of his life, which explains his devotion to the craft.
“I was looking for a bonding thing for me and my son to do since I was a single dad, and we started going to BBQ competitions,” he explains. “Then we started judging contests together and then competing in them together. And I just fell in love with the whole process.”
Cape May Smokehouse’s meats — brisket, smoked chicken, pulled chicken, baby back ribs, pulled pork and smoked sausage — are all prepared low and slow in a brand-new $12,000 state-of-the art smoker. Usually set at 205 to 225 degrees, Goldberg’s BBQ ribs literally fall off the bone, his brisket can be cut with a fork, and the chicken is about as moist and flavorful as you can get.
The brisket ($12.99 sandwich, $16.99 with platter that includes two sides and cornbread) is cooked from 12 to 22 hours, with just the right amount of crispy bark coating the outside.
“It depends how tough it is, that’s why you have to keep checking on it,” Goldberg says. “That’s why I sometimes come in here in the middle of the night. It might take 16 hours, or I had one last week that was done in eight, which really surprised me. If you’re not checking it all of the time, you’re going to overcook it. And there’s nothing worse than overcooked brisket.”
The St. Louis-style ribs smoke for six to 10 hours, and all of the meats are dry-rubbed in a 26-spice concoction for perfect flavor.
“Having a BBQ place … you have to be more fortune teller sometimes than chef because you have to predict what people will buy for the next two days or you will literally run out of product,” Goldberg says. “The cooking times make it impossible to do something quickly.”
Goldberg even goes the extra mile when it comes to the smoked sausage ($9.99 sandwich, $13.99 platter), driving to Philadelphia to buy it from Czerw’s Kielbasy, the famed sausage maker that usually has lines out the door.
“I asked friends of mine from the Food Network and chefs from all over who makes the best smoked sausage because I just don’t’ have the time to make sausage,” Goldberg says. “And they all told me if they were buying it, they would get it from Czerw’s. So that’s what I do. And it’s delicious.”
Then there are the sauces. Also made in-house, Goldberg’s sauces are inspired from Kansas City legends, with the hot sauce kicked up a notch with fire from a combination of sriracha peppers, habanero peppers, Thai chili peppers and sometimes even ghost peppers.
“Now that the Trinidad Scorpion peppers are coming out, I will be using those instead of others that are commercially available,” Goldberg says. “My hot sauce is pretty hot. Most people can’t eat it, but those that like hot sauces love mine.”
But no BBQ restaurant is worth visiting just for its meats. And Cape May Smokehouse certainly does not disappoint with the rest of the menu.
The aforementioned fries, hand chopped and cooked to order come in six different styles, including: Texas ($10.99), topped with beef brisket and cheddar cheese; Carolina ($9.99) with pulled pork and cheddar; Smokey’s Star Fries ($9.99) with pulled BBQ chicken and cheddar; Smokehouse chili cheese ($9.99) with Goldberg’s award-winning chili (also available as an appetizer for $6.49 with cornbread) and cheddar; and our personal favorite, gravy fries ($5.99), a homage to Goldberg’s college days.
“They were Karen’s idea, and it was a great idea because we sell so many fries,” Goldberg says. “She said, ‘You have all of this stuff, why not put it on top of the fries?’ So we do, and they are big hits.”
It was also Goldberg’s idea to add a cheesesteak ($9.99) to the menu. But, of course, Goldberg wasn’t going to do it like everyone else. Instead, he offers a mix of ribeye steak and homemade brisket to create a 12-ounce, tender masterpiece on a soft roll.
Cape May Smokehouse also is getting a lot of buzz for its 10-ounce black angus beef burgers ($9.99) that are hand-formed and cooked on a charbroiler.
Goldberg, who worked at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and has operated local restaurants includes Mac’s and Caroline’s in Somers Point and the Corbin House in Corbin City, says he wants to be a mainstay in Cape May year-round.
“I think we’re doing something unique and special,” he says. “When people come and try us, we see them come back. That means we’re doing something right.”
Side dishes worth the trip alone
The sides at Cape May Smokehouse are so ridiculously good you will want to leave with takeout containers for the next day, including BBQ baked beans ($3.99 to $9.99); Hoppin’ John ($3.99 to $9.99), an addictive, spicy side with black eyed peas and rice; collard greens ($4.99 to $10.99) made with smoked turkey necks; roasted corn on the cob ($2), nicely spiced; an assortment of salads including cole slaw, potato salad and macaroni salad; and some of the creamiest, most delicious macaroni and cheese ($4.99 to $10.99) you will ever devour.
“You need a lot of sides because you are basically working with three or four meats,” Goldberg says. “So we take great pride in our sides. There’s something for everyone there.”
The cornbread ($2), made with creamed corn, is so sweet, you might not even have to have Goldberg’s signature banana pudding for dessert. But if you have room, the pudding, made with fresh bananas and Nilla wafers, is the perfect ending to a perfect BBQ feast.