Latz's By The Bay occupies a nice niche in bar-centric Somers Point: a quiet, elegant dining destination where you can bring your own wine or beer.
The charming cottage-like location previously housed restaurants called Amor, Felicity's and Hatteras.
Polished wood floors, soft lighting and candles, white tablecloths topped with paper, a fireplace and intricate interior glasswork provide an intimate setting. Recorded French music played soothingly in the background when we dined. One slightly wrong note: The berries decorating the tabletops were festive but fake. They don't need water in the vases.
We started with a big bowl of Drew's Seafood Chowder ($7.50), one of the best we've ever tasted. "Give me a quart to take home," said my partner. The delicious tomato-based broth practically overflowed with tender clams, crabmeat and potatoes.
The arugula, spinach, berries, glazed pecans and fried goat cheese in a carmelized orange vinaigrette on the large Latz's House Salad ($7) provided a nice juxtaposition of sweet and savory.
The French bread (not served warm) had a decent crust, and the sea-salted butter was even better. We also enjoyed it on the crisp, seeded flatbread crackers.
The Spiced Pork Chop ($15.95) was a good-size portion, but slightly overcooked. The meat wasn't grey, but it was less pink than the medium we ordered. The rosemary-cider reduction perfectly complemented the meat, as did the well-seasoned, well-cooked root vegetables.
The accompanying gnocchi was a little chewy, not pillowy. On balance, this entree was satisfying but not transcendent.
The Monkfish ($18.95) was pan-braised in an olive and caper tomato broth, served with risotto and a ratatouille of olives, onions and chopped tomatoes. The fish was tender and flaky, while the flavorful, creamy risotto won over my partner, who generally doesn't give a fig for rice.
Other entree choices ranged from a Roasted Half Chicken with pan sauce and pea risotto ($14.95) to Filet Mignon with potatoes au gratin, baby vegetables and a bordelaise sauce ($27.95.) Salmon, tuna, crab cake and rib-eye steak rounded out the mid-price offerings, with pasta du jour at market price.
Service was attentive and efficient, for the most part. We didn't have to ask for cracked pepper for the salad or a sharp knife for the meat - our waitress knew to bring them. But she neglected to refill our water glasses, and there was a noticeable lag between dinner and dessert.
But dessert was worth the wait.
Our server said a waiter originally from Scotland makes the desserts, such as a lemon mairade ($7). The great fresh-tasting cake with lemon curd and cranberries came with a separate ramekin of real whipped cream. The tart and sweet flavors melded beautifully.
Then came a Pumpkin Cheesecake on steroids ($7). The huge, creamy slice featured caramel, walnuts and chocolate drizzled atop, with a chocolate cookie crust flavored with ginger and more walnuts beneath. There was so much going on, the flavor of pumpkin itself was relatively subtle. But the total effect was wow.
Latz's also has an upstairs room with skylights that can be used for private parties or additional seating. The beautifully appointed, unisex bathroom downstairs might be the scene of traffic jams in the busy summer season, but was not an issue on a fall evening. A ramp from the parking lot provides handicapped access to the first floor dining room.
The Bay Avenue establishment is run by Andrew Latz, whose family owned Atlantic City's Knife & Fork from 1927 to 2005 and the former Latz's Inn, which was just across the street in Somers Point, from 1918 to 1942.
This restaurant, which opened in fall 2011, is on its third chef, our waitress confirmed when we asked about changes in the menu's direction in recent months. Based on our satisfying dining experience, we hope Chef Jeremy Cooper is here to stay.
Morgan Tyler is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Tyler c/o Taste Editor Felicia Compian at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.
Latz's By The Bay
801 Bay Ave., Somers Point
Hours: Dinner 5 to 9 p.m., Tuesdays to Saturdays, 4:30 to 8 p.m. Sundays; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays to Saturdays, brunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays
Liquor license: BYOB
Credit cards: Major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $3.25 to $14.95; entrees $8 to $27.95; sandwiches $7 to $10; Brunch: $7 to $10
Our bill for two: $70.25, plus tip