It all started with a Berkshire hog. Anthony Micari, the executive chef at The Ebbitt Room in The Virginia Hotel in Cape May, hoped to plan an elegant, locally sustainable dinner based on the suckling pig, one of the many stars of the 65-acre Beach Plum Farm in Cape May.
But Micari soon realized he was on to something bigger.
"From there, it bloomed into (thinking) we should celebrate the season," Micari says. "And we came up with these niche ideas."
The result was The Ebbitt Room's 2013 Dining Series, inspired by both Beach Plum Farm's produce and meats and the local seafood caught right off the coast of Cape May.
The five-dinner series kicked off in April with a "Pig and Pinot" meal, featuring the first harvest of Beach Plum Farm's Berkshire pigs. Dishes, described as a "culinary journey from nose to tail," included a 48-hour-braised cheek ravioli, pork belly porchetta and roasted bone-in loin chop - with each course paired with Davis Bynum pinot noir.
That dinner, Micari says, got diners talking.
"The first one we did with the pigs was really cool and near and dear," Micari says. "That caught a lot of the local press attention. Then people started calling and asking (about the series)."
From there, the series continued with a Cinco de Mayo dinner on May 5, featuring Mexican favorites such as rock shrimp ceviche, pork croqueta, pozole souffl�, chile pot de cr�me and smoked cinnamon churros.
The next in the series will be the "Catch of the Day" dinner, taking place Thursday, July 11.
The evening will showcase only local, sustainable seafood, including littleneck clams and dayboat fluke, caught just miles away from the restaurant, Micari says.
The added freshness of the catch, Micari says, has a huge impact on the taste.
"We pair that with all our local produce," Micari says. "And the wine pairings are all the local wineries - Natali Vineyards, Hawk Haven Vineyard. It's all grown in the same soil."
Featured Thursday dishes include ceviche with melon and ginger granita, poached plums and a spicy pepper salad.
Micari hopes the series gives diners the chance to do something a little out of the ordinary.
"Farm to table, farm to glass … it's really about making that a thing that we do here every day," Micari says. "Our entire menu is based on local (produce) and farm-to-table. With this, people get to do something a little bit different than they normally do. The take away is it's a fun experience. It's the type of dinner you would normally have to go to New York City for."
Justin Mogavero, manager of The Virginia Hotel, hopes the dining series will bring in new clientele.
The goal, Mogavero says, is a ripple effect. Diners, he hopes, will enjoy a good meal and consider booking their next brunch, bridal shower or even wedding at the Virginia. The hotel also offers a popular "home for the holidays" package, where guests can rent a cottage for Thanksgiving and have a complete turkey dinner prepared for them.
"Where we're situated in Cape May, people tend to be creatures of habit," Mogavero says. "I'm hoping this will draw people not just to the Virginia, but to Cape May in general."
Ebbitt Room Dining Series Schedule
Thursday, July 11: "Catch of the Day," a dining tribute to coastal New Jersey, pairing fresh seafood and Beach Plum Farm produce with a selection of local wines. Featured dishes include ceviche with melon and ginger granita, poached plums and a spicy pepper salad.
Thursday, Oct. 17: "Steers and Suds," featuring grass-fed organic beef from the Rosenkranz Farms in the Finger Lakes region of New York, cooked and seasoned to complement the various taste profiles of locally crafted beer from Cape May Brewery. Each beer and course pairing will build upon the previous one in a style progression of flavors throughout the dining experience.
Thursday, Nov. 14: "Scotch & Cigars Dinner," featuring rich and smoky scotches paired against espresso-cured duck breast and maple smoked pork loin. Featured scotches include Talisker 10 year, Macallan 12 year, Lagavulin 16 year, Highland Park 18 year and Dalmore 12 year. Savor the finer things in life, finishing with an after dinner cigar.
'Catch of the Day' Dinner at the Ebbitt Room
WHEN: Thursday, July 11. Seating for dinner begins at 5:30 and will continue throughout the evening.
WHERE: The Ebbitt Room at The Virginia Hotel, 25 Jackson St., Cape May
HOW MUCH: $75 per person. (The "Scotch & Cigars" dinner is $95 per person.) Seating is limited and reservations are required.
MORE INFO: Call 609-884-5700; VirginiaHotel.com.