Harpoon Henry's menu boldly states: "Proper attire NOT allowed."
With that out of the way, you can settle down to live music of the Jimmy Buffett persuasion starting at 6 nightly, and typical bar food such as chicken fingers ($7.99) and build-your-own burgers (starting at $8.50.)
But Harpoon Henry's in North Cape May has something else quite special going for it: Every seat in the house offers you a view of the sunset over the Delaware Bay. And very few restaurants on the Jersey Cape can say that.
The Margaritaville-type atmosphere includes tables outside or inside, all with a view. Palms and other plantings add to the festive outdoor decor, and even dogs are allowed at the umbrella-shaded tables on the deck.
The place is kid-friendly, but primarily a bar. Happy hour is 3 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and includes $2 Miller Lites; $5 house wines; a dozen wings for $5, u-peel shrimp for $6 and steamers for $7.
"Five-dollar Sundays" run 1 to 5 p.m. with $5 appetizers such as the wings, mussels in red sauce or a foot of onion rings. When not on the Sunday special, the onion rings by the foot are $8.50 or a half-foot for $4.50. The rings are served curling up a stick of either 6 or 12 inches and look like a real crowd-pleaser.
For $7 each, you can decide between dozens of frozen drinks including margaritas and daiquiris, plus concoctions with names such as Erin's Dream, Palm Island Parrot and the Nutty Monkey.
If you do have kids with you, their menu choices include mac 'n' cheese ($4), pasta with butter, chicken fingers, fried shrimp, grilled cheese, a kids' burger or all-beef hot dog for $4.99 each. Those come with fries or applesauce.
Adults looking for more than bar food will find choices ranging from coconut fried fish fillet ($17.99), saut�ed Maryland crab cakes ($18.99) or a broiled seafood combo ($19.99), to half a roasted chicken ($14.99), a "poor man's surf and turf" of fried shrimp and BBQ ribs ($18.50) to Steak Chesapeake, topped with crab meat and Bearnaise sauce ($26.99.) "Harpoon Healthy" menu choices, such as the broiled seafood, are highlighted with hearts on the menu.
Weekly dinner specials are available after 4 p.m. When we visited, these included: Thai shrimp ($17.99), pork loin ($16.99) and prime rib ($19.99), all of which come with a choice of two sides. Soup or salad can be one of the sides.
I chose to start with Maryland crab soup. The small cup held shreds of crab, lots of veggies and a spicy broth. It looked as though the chef threw in whatever vegetables were around, most of them mushy. But at least the soup was included with the price of the entree. My dining partner had a forgettable (but free) Caesar salad. There was no cracked black pepper available - "We're not fancy" explained our waitress.
After we ate as much as we wanted of the first course, the busboy removing the dishes asked, "Like your silverware?" As in, "You'd better keep it"….ugh.
Blackened salmon ($18.99) was a relatively small but adequate portion. It was not very spicy and slightly overcooked. The skin was nice and crispy, though.
My partner had the Thai shrimp special: five good-size shrimp over rice with julienned slices of colorful peppers. The taste was piquant but far from overpowering. A visitor from Thailand might not recognize it as his cuisine, which is generally much spicier. But the shrimp were well-cooked and so were the peppers and rice.
The red wine, a Mirassou pinot noir at $7.50, was too warm, a common failing at casual bars. At this kind of place, you can just plop in an ice cube.
The only homemade dessert was a key lime pie ($4.50) billed as "authentic" on the menu. The waitress said the person who makes it used to live in the Keys. It tasted OK - "just another 'original' key lime pie," said my partner, who has spent years comparing them here and in Florida. The creamy filing had a decent tang and the thick, crumbly graham cracker crust was not commercial. The plate was finished with whipped cream and a neon-green gelatinous substance that looked and tasted artificial.
Also available were chocolate cake and a raspberry cheesecake for $4.50.
Our waitress was great - efficient, friendly and knowledgeable about the place and other points of interest in the area. Another plus: There's plenty of parking in a lot out back or on the street, a blessing to visitors and locals tired of circling.
Harpoon Henry's also serves lunch starting at noon, with choices including the afore-mentioned burgers, plus a veggie burger ($9.99), a crab cake sandwich ($9.99), fish sandwich ($11.50) and grilled salmon ($11.99), most with fries. Entr�e salads include the interesting-sounding tropical salad ($11.50) with mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, mandarin orange, pineapple, shredded coconut and pineapple vinaigrette.
Cross the street after your meal and rest on benches set at intervals for more glorious bay views. Plastic webbing provides traction on paths leading down from the grassy dunes to the beach where families and dogs were at play.
The bayside is more casual than the oceanfront: less picky, less pricey and less "fancy." So if you're looking for gourmet, stay in Cape May. But if you're looking for a family-friendly place where adults can relax and enjoy free music and gorgeous views without breaking the bank, Harpoon Henry's could be the "Paradise Found" it calls itself.
Just get there by the second weekend in October, after which "Paradise" will close for the season.
Beach Drive and Browning Avenue, North Cape May
Hours: Opens at noon for lunch; dinner 4 to 9 p.m.
Liquor license: Yes
Credit cards: Most major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $4.50 to $10.50; entrees $17.99 to $26.99; entree salads start at $10.50
Our bill for two: $51.95 plus tip