The restaurant industry is in a bad way, says Paul Erbacher.

A meal out these days is defined more by the entertainment value of the experience than the food, he says. In Erbacher's eyes, this inversion of priorities is nothing short of sacrilege.

Now, he and Anthony DellaVecchia, co-owners of The Avenue in Egg Harbor City, are hoping to build a lucrative niche as the exception to this trend.

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"(Most restaurants are) about everything but the food," Erbacher said. "We try to be nothing but the food."

While the building it occupies at 151 Philadelphia Ave. has long housed restaurants, The Avenue has existed in its current iteration only since January. DellaVecchia, 24, served as head chef and general manager under the restaurant's owners.

Earlier this year, the owners had a falling out, DellaVecchia said, and he and Erbacher, a restaurant patron whom he had befriended, stepped in to take it over.

While other kids wanted to be astronauts or fireman, the culinary-minded DellaVechia always dreamed of owning a restaurant, and having the help of Erbacher, 38, an industry veteran who previously owned the Fisch Kitchen in Margate, has been invaluable.

"That's all I've wanted to do my whole life, and this place, just, everything just fit right," DellaVecchia said. "Paul's here, Paul's perfect. Perfect partner - you couldn't ask for a better one."

The Avenue specializes in standard American fare, and all its offerings are produced locally or in-house. The restaurant butchers its own meat and makes its own bread, and it gets its produce from nearby sources such as the Butterhof and Liepe farms and Rainbow Garden.

That local focus extends to The Avenue's drinks list as well, and while a shortage of options have forced them to fill their liquor chest with selections from distant sources, every beer they serve is brewed within 130 miles. They also have aspirations to craft their own brew, Erbacher said.

Sandwiches and appetizers are about $10, with entrees costing a few dollars more. Offerings are standard stuff with a little flair, but the quality of craftsmanship and ingredients make them shine more than their competitors' elaborate offerings, Erbacher said.

"A good mechanic is good because of what he does, not because of the style of his wardrobe or the style of his place or anything else ... other than what he's able to do," Erbacher said. "We're just built around our ability, not on anything else."

The Avenue, which Erbacher and DellaVecchia have run since the Egg Harbor City Hometown Celebration on July 9, has already started to carve out its niche on Philadelphia Avenue and has tripled its volume since its debut, Erbacher said.

While much of their menu is constant, Erbacher and DellaVecchia often switch up aspects of their dishes, depending on what they have available to them. They also offer changing fish and beast of the day entrees, and have a special menu that changes often.

While she says she rarely ate out before, City Councilwoman Hazel Mueller stops by The Avenue about once per week. It's the chefs' pride in their work and commitment to quality, she said, that keep her coming back.

"The food is absolutely delicious, that's number one," Mueller said. "Number two, it's very friendly and comfortable, and I love that they're striving for excellence in food preparation. I just think it's amazing.

The Avenue opens at 5 p.m. each night except Tuesday and closes at 9 or 10 p.m., depending on the day. To contact The Avenue, call 609-965-6609 or email theavenue151@

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