Now that the 2010 tourist season is officially over, year-round residents and visitors are not only blessed with less traffic and serene beaches, but they can more easily get into the restaurants that are packed nightly throughout the summer.
No long lines. Easier reservations. More attentive service. Ahhh ... the joys of the offseason.
Southern New Jersey is filled with lots of great restaurants and locals will flock to their longtime favorites. But why not try something new?
So where to go? Here's a list of 10 great restaurants that are now significantly easier to get into now that the leaves are turning.
801 Washington St., Cape May,
Consistently one of the finest restaurants in Cape May - as well as southern New Jersey - the Washington Inn's sun porches, living rooms and former patios offer a stunning ambiance. But it's the impeccable food and service that stands out. With a beautiful, new wine bar to get the night started, the Washington Inn staff makes you feel like a regular even if it's your first time there. The Craig Family - and executive chef Mimi Wood - are perpetual innovators.
Suggestions: Rock shrimp and lobster bisque, crab cake with roasted red pepper cream, pan-seared veal chop with brandy peppercorn cream, crispy skin Atlantic salmon, Long Island duck breast with mascarpone polenta, chocolate tower. Pricey.
2 Broadway, Somers Point, 609-927-7377,
The area construction and traffic issues haven't kept tourists and local diners away from this seafood landmark. The amazing thing about The Crab Trap is it seems as though it's as busy for lunch as it is for dinner, and the place is massive. Whether you're looking for early-bird specials, quick bites and a drink at the bar - which routinely offers live music - or a hearty meal, The Crab Trap never seems to disappoint.
Suggestions: Creamy crab bisque, Maryland crab bites, lobster puffs, crab imperial, seafood combination platter, flounder Nicholas. Moderate.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City, 609-317-1000, theborgata.com
Since opening in 2003, Borgata solidified itself as the No. 1 casino dining destination in Atlantic City. And the Old Homestead Steakhouse has solidified itself as the resort's No. 1 steakhouse. Despite the plethora of steakhouses in town, Old Homestead is still tough to get into seven years after opening. Romeo DiBona, the executive chef, lhas put his own mark on the New York meat-packing-district institution. In fact, Borgata's Homestead, with its over-the-top service, beautiful dining room and consistently fine cuisine, is better than the original.
Suggestions: Roasted ribs with barbecue guava sauce, heavy cut bacon with Vermont maple syrup, trademarked domestically-raised, hand-massaged Kobe beef, Gotham rib steak, 20-ounce Kobe burger, crab-stuffed shrimp, lobster and bacon smashed potatoes, drunken banana. Pricey.
11 S. Albian Place, Atlantic City,
Chef Vola's is so successful, the 60-seat restaurant doesn't even have a sign. Its phone number is unlisted. And it doesn't advertise. But it's not only mystique and star power - casino headliners and area executives routinely dine there - that make Chef Vola's the gem of Atlantic City. It's the Esposito family's authentic, classic Italian recipes served in a loud, small, elbow-to-elbow dining room in the basement of a house. Reservations are required, and the food lives up to the hype. It's so old school, you feel as though Nucky Johnson is going to walk in.
Suggestions: Tuscany bean salad, bone-in veal chop parmesan, pasta with white clam sauce, penne Bolognese, chicken Milanese, hot apple ricotta cheesecake, tiramisu, frozen banana cream pie. Pricey.
Plaza 9 Shopping Center, 1333 New Road, Northfield, 609-646-8189, lukepalladino.com
He may have made his name at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, but Luke Palladino has most impressed area diners at his namesake restaurant that opened early this summer. Palladino touches every plate in his classy, intimate, 30-seat Italian trattoria, proving a strip-mall restaurant can be as good as a multi-million-dollar casino eatery. Importing fine ingredients from Italy, Palladino's menu changes weekly, and the open kitchen allows diners to see the chef in action. And you can bring your own bottle to save a few bucks.
Suggestions: Truffled grissini, calamari with cherry pepper aioli, arancini, handcrafted pastas - especially the Bucatini Al' Amatriciana and truffle agnolotto - grilled lamb shoulder, Sicilian sword involtini, homemade gelato, ricotta zeppole. Pricey.
Beach and Perry streets, Cape May,
George's Place may be the least-known restaurant on this list, but it may be the one you should try first.
Even though George's has been around since 1968 as a breakfast and lunch spot, the Greek-themed eatery added dinner approximately seven years ago, and it's increasingly difficult to get a table every year.
A Cape May diamond, George's offers a BYO alternative to the higher-priced venues that surround it.
Suggestions: Hummus sampler, saganaki, Pikilia sampler (hummus, tzatziki, cheeses, pita), falafel crostinis, lamb chops, gyros, homemade cheesecake, tiramisu waffles. Affordable.
Fisherman's Wharf, Cape May Harbor, Lower Township, 609-884-8296, thelobsterhouse.com
Known for its fleet of ships that deliver fresh seafood daily, The Lobster House is another local seafood staple that offers simple, quality seafood, which is what diners should expect when eating in a seafood restaurant at the shore. This large harborfront restaurant, with an equally large menu, knows not to mess with success. That's why people keep coming back.
Suggestions: Oyster stew, snapper soup, schooner dinner (steamers, mussels, shrimp, scallops, lobster), Port & Starboard (petite filet mignon, stuffed broiled lobster, broiled tomato). Pricey.
Various locations in Avalon, Cape May, North Cape May, Ocean City, Stone Harbor, Strathmere, Wildwood, www.unclebillspancakehouse.com
It doesn't really matter which Uncle Bill's you go to in the summer, there is always a wait for breakfast, no matter what day of the week. And their lunch menu does not disappoint either. People say it's hard to screw up breakfast, but how many restaurants make breakfast great? Uncle Bill's locations, which are run by various members of the O'Hara family, does just that. The different locations' hours and days change seasonally, so call before you go. The Avalon, North Cape May and Ocean City (21st Street) locations remain open year-round.
Suggestions: Fluffy buttermilk pancakes with blueberries or pecans, cream cheese-stuffed French toast with homemade cinnamon butter, fresh waffles and strawberries, overstuffed omelets, potato pancakes with applesauce and bacon, crab cakes, Aunt Betty's Signature salad. Affordable
Mustache Bill's Diner
Eighth Street and Broadway, Barnegat Light, 609-494-0155
It may be open for breakfast and lunch only, but Mustache Bill's long lines are proof a diner can be a culinary destination. Just ask the Food Network's Guy Fieri, who featured the Long Beach Island eatery on his show, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." You also can ask the James Beard Foundation, which declared Mustache Bill's an "American Classic." Owner Bill Smith knows his customers want tasty, artery-clogging food and lots of it. And he never disappoints. He can make pancakes that resemble people.
Suggestions: Cyclops (pancake with fried egg in the middle), cream chipped beef over home fries, cheesesteak, omelets, chili, cinnamon raisin French toast, hot turkey sandwich, barbecued beef sandwich, corned beef. Affordable.
7807 Atlantic Ave., Margate, 609-823-5050
It may look like an unassuming local bar from the outside, but if you land one of the few tables inside this Margate hot spot, you'll be surprised by the amazing food. If you're looking for gourmet service and haute cuisine, this isn't the place for you. This is exceptional bar food served in a dark, cramped pub.
Suggestions: Hot wings, barbecued ribs, steamers, burgers, buffalo shrimp. Affordable.