When the partners involved in the Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House were kicking around some ideas for their new restaurant, they wanted a place that would have great pub food. They also wanted a place with a great selection of craft beers to go with the food.
When the former Jonathan's on West End in Atlantic City became available, they got all those things and more, along with a beautiful view of the bay.
What they didn't count on was the arrival of Hurricane Sandy after only seven months in operation. The damage was severe enough to close them down for almost five months.
Elvis Cadavid, 34, is the managing partner who oversees operations at Vagabond.
His assessment of the damage was straightforward: "Two feet of water in the main dining room and the bar area, and about three-and-a-half feet of water in the kitchen," Cadavid says.
The restaurant has been rebuilt, redecorated, and, as of March 29, reopened.
The main room features a comfortable bar area, complete with flat-screen televisions that display the latest sporting events and handwritten blackboards that list the special beers available each day.
The restaurant seats around 120 customers, with two separate rooms available for private functions.
The fireplace room seats up to 20 people, and the main dining room can handle 60.
And while the menu can be enjoyed in any room at the Vagabond, the candlelit dining room now offers hard-covered menus and cloth napkins, making the occasion of pairing food and beer even more special.
Cadavid, who had a hand in the creation of the menu, has local Chef Edwin Brown manning the kitchen. A new menu is in the works and will soon be available.
In the meantime, specials are available on a regular basis.
"Every few days we add a few more things to the menu as we go along," Cadavid says, but popular items will remain.
The food menu at Vagabond is every bit as serious as its beer menu.
Appetizer choices include mussels, as you might expect on a menu that features Belgium-style fries. Steamers or mussels ($12.99), middle neck clams or PEI mussels are served in a white wine herb butter sauce that has additional flavor from a spicy chorizo sausage. Joe's Crab bread ($13.99) is composed of toasted crostini topped with sauteed jumbo-lump crabmeat and garlic herb butter.
At Vagabond, wings are sold by the pound ($8.99) and are sauced with a traditional mild hot Buffalo sauce or Buffalo beer, a spicy hot sauce and beer glaze. Extreme nachos with avocado creme, black beans, jalapeno chilies, red onion, white cheese sauce, queso fresco and bacon sour cream, can be topped with chicken ($9.99), crab ($12.99), or shrimp ($12.99).
Soups and salads, made from scratch, include a traditional creamy, hearty and chunky New England-style chowder ($4.99). Goat cheese salad ($12.99) offers warm panko-breaded goat cheese served over a spring mix of lettuces, glazed candied walnuts, dried cranberries, candied orange zest and fresh strawberries, tossed with a raspberry vinaigrette.
"We have gotten great feedback on this salad from a lot of people who really enjoyed it," Cadavid says.
Other salads include a Vagabond Caesar salad ($9.99) and a Tap House salad ($9.99), which are offered with add-ons such as grilled chicken ($2.99), grilled shrimp ($4.99) or grilled tuna ($4.99).
No serious bar menu is complete without a selection of sliders. Vagabond's menu serves them three to an order: Buffalo chicken ($8.99) with a Maytag blue cheese creme; crab cake ($12.99), Maryland-style with roasted red pepper aioli; Ahi tuna ($13.99) with wasabi creme and fresh shallots; and meatball ($8.99), made with lamb and veal meatballs with smoked gouda cheese and caramelized onions.
At Vagabond, Belgium-style fries begin with hand-cut Yukon gold or sweet potatoes made fresh in the kitchen, seasoned with garlic parmesan or Old Bay. Side sauces (additional 50 cents) include Old Bay mayo, sriracha ketchup, jalapeno ketchup, jalapeno aioli, roasted garlic mayo, avocado ranch and wasabi mayo. All the sauces are made in-house.
The kitchen also offers a selection of sandwiches and burgers. Turkey apple brie ($9.99) is served on toasted walnut-raisin bread with a sweet smokey pepper jam. Pork tenderloin ($8.99) is cracker-meal crusted and fried then served with lettuce, tomato and onion on a brioche bun.
All burgers are made from 100 percent ground chuck for flavor and moistness, grilled to order then served with appropriate garnishes.
The Hot Mess Mushroom burger ($9.99) with portabella and cremini mushrooms, smoked Gouda cheese and a demi glaze on sourdough bread is served open-faced with the advice to eat it with a knife and fork. The Spicy California burger ($8.99), the biggest seller, has avocado, peppered bacon, bibb lettuce, grilled red onion, and spicy ranch aioli on a brioche bun.
Burgers are served on a cedar plank, stacked so high that the kitchen actually puts a steak knife through the middle to hold it all together. The fries are served in a stainless steel mini deep-fry basket.
Another partner, Kyle Williams, who also owns Scales and the Back Bay Ale House in Gardner's Basin, will be handling all of the beer dinners, with beer and cheese tastings also in the planning stages.
After a successful five-course Dogfish Head dinner in September, a planned Octoberfest event was washed out by the big storm.
"That set us back almost five months," Williams says.
Beer aficionados are every bit as passionate about their beverage of choice as are wine drinkers. The staff can assist with selections for both the novice and advanced beer enthusiast alike.
"Darker beers go with darker meats, the lighter beers go with fish and chicken," Williams says.
Vagabond Tap House has a beer list deep enough to quench everyone's desires.
Twelve beers can always be found on tap, such as the popular Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, while a rotating tap alternates with other Dogfish beers, such as the Palo Santo Marron, a big brown ale aged on palo santo wood from Paraguay.
While both Chimay Tripel from Belgium and Guinness from Ireland are usually available, regional American craft beers are featured prominently at the bar with selections including Breckenridge Vanilla Porter from Denver and Allagash White from Maine.
Closer to home are the Weyerbacher Merry Monks from Pennsylvania, Yards Philly Pale Ale and Brawler from Philadelphia, and Dogfish Head from Delaware.
From right around the corner in Ocean View, Cape May County, Tuckahoe Brewing is represented by its Steelmantown Porter described as a full-bodied American porter, smoked, with hints of vanilla bean, American red oak and Scottish peat.
The menu lists all available draft beers with important information about each beer's provenance, such as the alcohol level, where it was made, an intense description of the flavor profile and, of course, the portion size and price.
Bottled beverages include craft beers such as Angry Orchard hard cider, and unusual beers including the ripe peach-tasting Peche Lambic imported from Belgium.
The art of pairing just the right brew with the right food is a skill that requires much time and effort. Fortunately, the customers at the Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House are more than ready to take up the challenge.