The word "iconic" in the dictionary should probably have a picture of The Mad Batter in Cape May right next to it. The first among many gourmet restaurants that turned Cape May into a well-known dining destination, many things have changed and many things have stayed the same.
Recently closed for renovations, the first serious kitchen upgrades in some years, over time the Batter has rearranged rooms and added a bar. The Bohemian flair provided by owners Mark Kulkowitz and Pam Huber is what has made the place so endearing to customers and employees alike.
Executive Chef Lisa Erdley, originally from the little town of Lewisburg, Pa., grew up on a farm. When she visited the town of Cape May for the first time, she fell in love with The Mad Batter's many charms.
Her request for a job as a bus person, her first foray into the restaurant business, got her foot in the door. Later, working as a waitress, she told the chef she would like to work in the kitchen.
Erdley began the time-honored trek from line cook, to sous chef, to executive chef, rising to the top via the school of hard knocks.
A 10-year period in Philadelphia saw her working at well-known restaurants such as Venus and the Cowboy, Bridgette Foy's, and her personal favorite - Fork.
Since her return to The Mad Batter, long famous for breakfast, lunch and brunch, Erdley has added her own take on many gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian dishes to a menu famous for everything from freshly squeezed orange juice to creative local seafood dishes.
Erdley describes her experience at the Batter as working for family.
The Mad Batter is again open for business and Erdley took some time on an unscheduled day off to answer some questions about her history with one of Cape May's longest-running restaurants.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Twenty-something years ago, I first started working at The Mad Batter. I was making salads and prepping, then they advanced me to the grill. At that moment I knew I was hooked and wanted to be a chef someday.
What do you enjoy cooking most?
I enjoy cooking fresh seafood and pasta dishes the most. They are very creative type foods for me.
Who was your culinary inspiration?
The only culinary inspirations I have had, were the chefs who helped me along the way.
How would you describe your personal cooking style?
My personal cooking style is probably Asian/American and Italian. They are my favorites.
What is it about Cape May that has made it such a restaurant town for so long?
Cape May is a beautiful, historical, artsy town. The restaurants are all unique and wonderful in their own right. Traveling to Cape May to eat is a popular adventure and very satisfying to many.
What does the future look like for Cape May restaurants?
The casual beach town brings many people to its tables. Although many restaurants have been around for ever, the occasional new one will pop up and the adventure of trying them all out could have people coming back for many years to come.
Do you watch any culinary shows on TV?
I do not watch any culinary TV shows. At the end of the day when I'm resting and turn on the television, cooking is the last thing I want to see.
Which foods are your guilty pleasure?
My guilty pleasure foods consist of items in the fried category - wings , fries, chips, etc. I try to only indulge occasionally.
What is the best meal you have ever eaten?
One of the best meals I have ever had was very recently. I took a trip to Costa Rica this past January. The chef/owner of The Prana Rainforest Retreat cooked up some fresh local fish with a side of rice and beans and a mango salsa. It was the most amazing fresh/healthy meal I have had in a while.
Which local chef is doing food you admire?
Chris Hubert of the Black Duck in West Cape May is a local chef I truly admire.
Do you cook at home?
I love to cook at home. I'm always up to creating a crowd pleaser. My friends and family love when I create a good homemade Mexican or Chinese dinner. But an ordinary meatloaf or chili isn't an unusual request.
What's one kitchen ingredient any home cook shouldn't be without?
The one kitchen ingredient any home chef should not be without is "garlic" .. the smell ... the flavor ... completely captivating and enhances every dish.
What about a kitchen gadget?
My favorite kitchen gadget I would have to say, is my Burr Mixer. It makes blending my ingredients a breeze (dressings, soups, sauces, etc.).
How about a cookbook?
A: The upstairs of my house is filled with shelves and shelves of cookbooks I have accumulated throughout the years. I use them often. I also like creating my own recipes. When I worked at Fork in Philadelphia all the employees produced a group cookbook. That was kind of fun.
What are your culinary influences?
The influences that encourage me to make something fantastic would be the thought of pleasing people with an attractive and delicious meal.
Grilled Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
Grilled Portobello mushroom ingredients:
•2 tablespoons of butter
•2 tablespoons of olive oil
•1 garlic clove/minced
•2 large portobello mushrooms
•Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter, olive oil and garlic together. Remove stem from mushrooms. Brush mushrooms with melted butter mixture and salt/pepper to taste. Grill until tender.
Gorgonzola cream sauce ingredients:
•2 tablespoons unsalted butter
•1 shallot, minced
•1 garlic clove, minced
•4 tablespoons heavy cream
•3 heaping tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola cheese
•Salt and pepper to taste.
In a small saucepan, melt butter on medium heat. Add shallots and garlic, cook until tender. Add heavy cream. When the cream is hot, add the gorgonzola cheese and whip until incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cipolini onions braised in red wine ingredients:
•1 1/2 tablespoons butter
•1/2 pound cipolini onions, blanched and peeled
•1 clove garlic, minced
•2 ounces dry red wine
•1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
•Salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions and garlic. Saute until mixture is brown. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer onions until tender (liquid reduces and coats the onions). Add salt and pepper to taste.
Grilled filet mignon ingredients:
•2 8-ounce filet mignons
•1 tablespoon olive oil
•Salt and pepper to taste
Dry filets with paper towels. Brush with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill to desired temperature.
Place Portobello mushroom on plate with one filet on top. Spoon gorgonzola sauce over filet. Spoon onion mixture around the filet.