If you’ve ever been to Wildwood, you know that there are plenty of pizza and sub shops, so when restaurant owner George M. Karavangelos wanted to try something different, he knew exactly what to do.
“With the popularity of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants like Chipotle, I knew there was a lack of anything even remotely similar to this in Wildwood,” Karavangelos says. So in July 2014, he opened the doors to Purple Jalapeno, a Tex-Mex restaurant with a Jersey Shore influence.
“It’s Mexican flavor with a twist,” Karavangelos says.
This “twist” can be found in menu items such as the P.J. Original Cheesesteak Quesadilla ($9.95) with sliced steak, cheese, fried onions and jalapeños and the Pescaritto Burrito ($12.95) with fresh, island-caught grilled fish, cilantro lime rice, lettuce, pico de gallo and their signature sour cream — which is traditional sour cream infused with secret spices.
Wildwood diners have embraced this newfound variety, and Purple Jalapeno became a very popular eatery last summer.
“There was a calling for Tex-Mex, and people were really interested,” Karavangelos says.
However, fall quickly approached, and Purple Jalapeno closed for the season just a few months into their operation.
“We used that first short time in operation to fine-tune our menu, and we’re really excited for this summer,” Karavangelos says.
Karavangelos may have this relatively new restaurant in Wildwood, but he has been a fixture on the Wildwood dining scene for more than 30 years. He was born and raised in Wildwood and had his first job on the boardwalk when he was just 11 years old. He currently also owns the Doo Wop Diner on the Boardwalk, which was a featured restaurant in Travel and Leisure Magazine and has ranked consistently high for “Family Restaurant” on the Fox 29 “Hot List” the past few years.
When the restaurants close for winter, Karavangelos returns to his home in South Florida to recuperate from 100 hour work weeks and to plan for the busy summer. As much as Karavangelos loves the restaurants in South Jersey, it was the variety in dining options in Florida that inspired him to open Purple Jalapeno.
“The food in New Jersey is better, there’s no question; however, there’s a lot of options in South Florida, and I wanted to bring some of those options to Wildwood,” Karavangelos says.
If you delve further into the story, it was his wife Ariana who really pushed for the Purple Jalapeno to open. She often spends 15 hours a day there, and is the one who makes sure that their strict standards are followed.
As a fruitful restaurateur, Karavangelos knows what’s important in order for a restaurant to be successful. Everything at Purple Jalapeno is fresh, nothing is frozen and they source local ingredients. There’s always something new on the menu with daily specials based on whatever fresh ingredients are available. Even the guacamole and salsa are made fresh in house.
“I think it’s important to support local businesses as well as to provide quality food at reasonable prices,” Karavangelos says.
All of the fish is fresh and sourced from local fisherman. You find these sea dwellers featured in items such as the La Playa salad ($11.95) with grilled fish over romaine lettuce with tomatoes, cheese and avocado, served with a Caribbean mango vinaigrette; or the Pescado Tacos ($12.95) with lightly grilled fish in a flour tortilla stuffed with lettuce, mango salsa and the signature sour cream.
The Purple Jalapeno breaks the mold when it comes to Wildwood dining in the most delicious of ways. Of course you will find all of the classic Mexican dishes such as tacos, burritos and more, but you will also find tongue-in-cheek items such as I Wanna A Tijuana Taco ($10.95), a flour tortilla with refried beans, wrapped around a crispy corn taco shell, stuffed with your choice of chicken or ground beef, lettuce, shredded cheese, and signature sour cream or a Burrito Bowl ($10.95) with cilantro lime rice, pinto beans, roasted veggies, onions, signature sour cream and pico de gallo with a choice of grilled chicken, savory pork carnitas or tender steak.