Much like a trendy Manhattan restaurant, The YB on Beach Avenue in Cape May has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel from the moment you enter.
One could chalk it up to the large photographs of international locales like London, Paris and New York City. But it’s more than that. Maybe it’s the range of ultra cool music, from Braid to Postmodern Jukebox, that makes you feel like you’re in a super hip joint. Perhaps it’s the dim lighting. Or the muted tones of black, gray and white that surround you with just enough pops of leafy greens.
Some might even go so far to suggest it’s the guests themselves that emit this effect, consisting early on of a smartly dressed but more mature pack that eventually turns into a blissfully youthful and highly fashionable coterie when the sun goes down.
Whatever it is, the combination of the aforementioned touches blend together well enough to make one feel as if they have magically left Victorian Cape May and traveled to another urbane world via a rabbit hole.
That metaphor was not simply thrown in for giggles. It actually leads, figuratively and somewhat literally, to a single unisex restroom located down a narrow passageway beyond the lively kitchen, in which are framed silhouettes of characters and images from “Alice in Wonderland.” And while you find yourself perusing this unusual display of lavatory art, the story of Alice and her interesting new buddies is being read to you over speakers above.
“It’s better than elevator music or silence,” says Peter Karapanagiotis, chef and co-owner of The YB, who adds that “Alice” was his favorite book as a child. “I thought it would be a conversation piece.”
Karapanagiotis is big on conversation starters. His first one hits you before you get past the hostess stand. In fact, it is the hostess stand, upon which on either side is posted a large sign with the face of actor Christopher Walken and the words “We take Walkens.”
Despite its hip undertones, this is a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Unless, of course, we’re talking about the food.
The younger brother comes into his own
Karapanagiotis co-owns the restaurant, as well as George’s Place just a few doors down as well as in Court House, Shamone in the Washington Street Mall and Michael Kara Catering with his brother, Yianni Karapanagiotis. The YB actually stands for “the younger brother.” However, if you ask Yianni what it means, “Yianni’s brother,” he laughs.
Older brother Yianni has been a part of George’s Place for 20 years, way back when the original Tsartsonis family owned it. While younger bro Peter was attending Drexel University, he’d help out Yianni at George’s in the summer.
“(Yianni) was like, ‘I need you in the kitchen.’ So I started cooking eggs. I discovered I really enjoyed it,” says Peter, who returned to Philly to continue honing his culinary skills at some of the city’s best restaurants, such as Brasserie Perrier and Buddakan.
“I learned from some of the best,” Peter says. “They took me under their wings and taught me a lot.”
After graduating from Drexel, Yianni asked Peter if was ready to open his own place — either in Philly or Cape May. He chose the latter and The YB came to be in the spring of 2011. Initially, older brother Yianni took care of George’s Place and younger brother Peter spearheaded The YB. But with another George’s location, Shamone and the catering business, they now tag team duties for each.
The menu at The YB is small, for a couple of reasons: logistically, because real estate is limited in the kitchen; and preferentially, because Peter does not like a big offering.
“I don’t like looking at menus and seeing too many options,” he says. “Places should have one steak (option) and do it right — to the best of your ability.”
This mantra of sorts is just how he works.
The YB offers breakfast — an unlimited menu for $9, not including sides — lunch and dinner, with each menu having only about 10 items. Salads are most popular for lunch, specifically the tuna salad with mixed field greens, watermelon salsa and a sriracha sesame dressing ($11.50), probably, Peter muses, because they are light and healthy — or, he thinks it could be because they are beachfront.
Not in the mood for something light? Grab the Belushi Burger ($11), named after John Belushi from his “Animal House” days. Certified Angus beef with sweet onions, tomato, lettuce and Swiss on a brioche bun, it’s, according to Peter, “messy and big and just a good burger.” It’s served with duck fat fries, which are reason enough to check this place out.
Dinner entrees are as delicious as they are beautiful. A gorgeous piece of sesame-crusted tuna ($25.95) piled carefully atop a plate of delightfully cold soba noodles swimming in a spicy toasted sesame sauce was a great antidote to a hot summer day. An herb-crusted chicken ($23.95) is served with roasted potatoes and veggies with an intensely good Dijon sauce.
A wide, ink-colored brush stroke of black wasabi was artistically placed on a plate prior to being topped with couscous, cod and pineapple-cucumber salsa ($24.95). This dish was masterful. The cod itself was simple and delicate with a very light taste. This permitted the many other interesting flavors on the dish to take over, yet not overtake the fish.
Having so many businesses already throughout the Cape, you might think the Karapanagiotis brothers had enough on their proverbial plate.
“He wants to keep everyone busy — build more shops and keep growing,” Peter says of Yianni.
For now, though, they are being coy with any specifics. But Peter seems sure something will happen soon, he just isn’t certain what that will be yet. He’s not worried about it though.
“Once everything falls into place, you just know.”