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Month: April 2003

Chefs of Cape May – Union Park

One of the joys of living and visiting Cape May, along with the beach and the rich Victorian history, is the food. The diversity of culinary delights which Cape May has to offer is exceeded by few cities with a year-round population of under 5,000.

These creative people were looking for independence, small town life, and an audience appreciative of culinary daring. They found it all in Cape May.

Union Park Dining Room, Beach Avenue

For Chef  J. Christopher Hubert cooking has always come naturally. He started working in hubert1restaurants at the age of 15, and continued that work while studying Marketing in college.

So what turned him from marketing to cooking for good? “Well, it wasn’t the long hours and lack of pay,” he said.

Intrigued by a piece in Smithsonian Magazine about the Culinary Institute of America’s program, he immediately signed-up. And he was hooked.

Chef Hubert’s career includes work in many fine restaurants. He was Sous Chef at the former Globe Restaurant in West Cape May and Executive Chef for nine years at The Ebbitt Room (in the Virginia Hotel). After a stint as chef at Philadelphia’s Sheraton Rittenhouse Hotel, he returned to Cape May four years ago to open his own restaurant located in the Hotel Macomber.

“For me,” Chef Hubert told us “the idea owning my own restaurant was financially appealing, but also allowed me to apply a creative and independent philosophy [of food preparation] which answered the public outcry” for a unique dining experience.

Chef Hubert’s menu is based on what is fresh, available, and what’s in season. “My favorite time of the year for cooking,” he said, “is at the beginning of every season when [our] menu changes and I try new things.”

But Chef Hubert has signature dishes like his award-winning Yellow Fin Tuna, always an entree favorite. Priced at $28, it is served in a sesame seed crust over stir fried vegetables. He is also the winner of the “The Cervena Venison Plates” competition, a recognition based on Union Park’s Pan Roast Noisettes of Venison served with braised wild boar ravioli, roast apples and pumpkin seeds, and sauce poivrade at $32.

Chef Hubert met with his business partner and wife Pamela while working at the Globe Restaurant. He says they have always worked well. She primarily handles the administrative end of the business. The big advantage they both see in owning their own business is being able to spend with their six-year-old son William. “It’s a challenge of course in the summertime when we’re open long hours,” he said, “but you make the time [because] of the advantage of independence.”

The Huberts are committed to Union Park and expect to continue to improve and expand their menu for the spring and summer seasons.

If you go…

Atmosphere is elegant
Located at 727 Beach Ave. in the Hotel Macomber
Bring Your Own Bottle
Call ahead for hours and reservations 884-8811
www.unionparkdiningroom.com


Chefs of Cape May- Waters Edge Restaurant

One of the joys of living and visiting Cape May, along with the beach and the rich Victorian history, is the food. The diversity of culinary delights which Cape May has to offer is exceeded by few cities with a year-round population of under 5,000.

These creative people were looking for independence, small town life, and an audience appreciative of culinary daring. They found it all in Cape May.

Waters Edge Restaurant

When asked why he became a chef, Neil R. Elsohn didn’t hesitate – “I look really good in white.”

Chef Elsohn and his wife Karen Anne Fullerton-Elsohn were vacationing in Cape  May not long neil2aafter he graduated from the New York Restaurant School. They liked what they saw and in July of 1987 opened the Waters Edge, Beach Drive at Pittsburgh Avenue. Elsohn had been executive chef at a northern New Jersey hotel/restaurant complex overseeing a main restaurant and two private dining rooms, each with a seating capacity of 150.

“I was working 90 hours a week for someone else,” he told us. Before that, he owned and operated a Yoga center where he taught Yoga, Tai Chi and Takwondo. “But I was always cooking for all my friends,” he said. “When I was a little kid I’d watch the “Galloping Gourmet” (an early TV chef). Chef Elsohn was also influenced by his mother, a gourmet cook, and by his surroundings. He grew up in the Hudson Valley, famous for its fine dining and fine wines.

The Elsohn taste is reflected in the decor of Waters Edge. Artwork is prevalent throughout the spacious dining room which is painted in soft muted pastels, accented by bright table settings. For those who wish to breath the salt air first hand, patio dining is also available.

Because the restaurant adjoins the la mer Hotel, the Waters Edge serves breakfast, lunch and dinner once the tourist season is in full swing. Chef Elsohn describes his breakfast menu as “indulgent, sophisticated, lazy, oceanfront, and delicious.”

The selections prove him right. Breakfast fare includes everything from Eggs and Bacon at $8.95 to Grilled Filet Mignon and Three Eggs at $15.95. For lunch, diners can order a variety of sandwiches including a gourmet burger ($9.50) and a Crab Cake Sandwich with Jalapeno-citrus tartar sauce on a croissant ($12.50).

And then there’s dinner – a stop-off spot for EPA chief and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman.

Chef Elsohn prides himself on offering an audacious selection,  from the first course – Oysters on the Half Shell, Lemon-Tabasco Mignonette to Sauté Escargot and Mushrooms with lemon, garlic and cream in a puff pastry – to the main course with a variety of seafood entrees including, from a recent menu, Tilapia, Idaho Trout, farm-raised Bass, Tuna, and Salmon.  On this particular menu the Salmon (generally favored by Elsohn for its versatility) is a seared roulade filled with Diver Scallops, Grilled Shrimp, Tequila infused dried Tomato Salsa, Mango-Chipotle-Toasted Coconut Risotto ($34).

When he goes out to eat, Chef Elsohn admits he’s a little difficult but his favorite thing to order is a good lasagna.

The Elsohns have two children, Earl age 10 and Lillian age11. He has found that owning his own business in a resort and being a parent can be very demanding. ‘For example,” he said, “We can only vacation in the off season  when the kids are in school. So we always have to pull them out of school every year. But it’s also very rewarding. They see what I do …and they eat well.”

Waters Edge has a cozy bar with a nice view of the ocean where diners can have a cocktail while waiting for their table. The wine selection is extraordinary, particularly for a resort the size of Cape May.

Editor’s Note:

This article was written in April 2003 and Waters Edge Restaurant is no longer open.


Chefs of Cape May – Alexander’s Inn

One of the joys of living and visiting Cape May, along with the beach and the rich Victorian history, is the food. The diversity of culinary delights which Cape May has to offer is exceeded by few cities with a year-round population of under 5,000.

These creative people were looking for independence, small town life, and an audience appreciative of culinary daring. They found it all in Cape May.

Alexander’s Inn

So here’s how Chef Diane Muenz came to be chef/owner of Alexander’s Inn… Her wedding cake toppled over. On her wedding day.

“I thought to myself,” she said, “there’s got to be a way to make a wedding cake!” So, she took a couple of courses. Then, she took a couple more courses, and kept at it until she ended up with a dianeinkitdegree from The Restaurant School of Philadelphia.

With a nine-year-old son Alexander (namesake of the inn), Chef Diane didn’t want a job outside of the home, so she and her husband Larry, who runs the inn started looking for an affordable restaurant/inn to buy. The Philadelphia area was out of their price range but their travels brought them to Cape May in the late 70s just as the town was beginning to revamp itself.

They found a run-down Victorian house on Washington Street, circa 1883, bought it and spent the next 15 years refurbishing it. They were able in the first year to open the dining room on the first floor and rent rooms on the second floor. Alexander’s was, at the time, only the second gourmet restaurant in Cape May, the first being the Mad Batter on Jackson Street.

Looking over her old world kitchen, Chef Diane said “this kitchen was just a shell when we bought the house. It was in terrible condition.” In high season, the menu changes daily. And as a result of her own food allergies, Chef Diane pays special attention to the ingredients which go into every dish. “At the time we opened, it was very hard to find a restaurant which prepared food made with natural, wholesome ingredients,” she said.

What is her favorite thing to cook? “Oh, dessert. I only serve dinner to get to dessert.” Alexander’s dessert menu includes homemade ice cream made fresh on the premises in a variety of flavors including “Butter Peach With Rum Soaked Raisins.” Also on the dessert menu is Brandy Alexander Pie, a rich creamy frozen pie flavored with Brandy,  Crème de Cacao on a graham cracker crumb crust.

Okay, if you insist, we’ll talk about the rest of the menu. A recent one included entrees ranging from Filet A La Bourguignon at $38.95 to Salmon En Papelotte at $26.95. And we mustn’t forget to mention Sunday Brunch, an Alexander’s tradition. The prix fixe $18.95 fare offers a variety of main courses including Sausage-Nut Streudel and Scrambled Eggs and a Russian Omelet with, of course, black lumpfish caviar and sour cream.

Reflecting on their choices in life, Chef Diane has found that coming to Cape May was probably the best thing she and her husband could have done. Alexander’s, she said “is exactly what we wanted. Alex grew up with the business. There were always endless people in the house. And living so centrally located to everything, he had a freedom to come and go, which he wouldn’t have had in a larger city.”

At this point in her life, Chef Diane said she should be thinking about retirement, but she “can’t imagine it.” Twenty-five years later, Chef Diane is still making wedding cakes – she just finished a wedding cake for her son– and we’re quite sure that the white chocolate motorcycle couple atop the cake will not topple over. Alexander’s Restaurant is BYOB. As always, check for hours of operation, as it is still off season.

If you go…

Atmosphere is elegant, dress accordingly
Located adjacent to City Hall, at 633 Washington Street.
Bring Your Own Bottle
Call ahead for hours and reservations 884-2555


Chefs of Cape May- Freda’s Cafe

One of the joys of living and visiting Cape May, along with the beach and the rich Victorian history, is the food. The diversity of culinary delights which Cape May has to offer is exceeded by few cities with a year-round population of under 5,000.

These creative people were looking for independence, small town life, and an audience appreciative of culinary daring. They found it all in Cape May.

Freda’s Cafe

“Creative freedom,” was the bait which lured Steve and Freda Howard to come to Cape May and become restaurateurs.

Freda’s Cafe, 210 Ocean Street, started out as a deli on Sunset Boulevard in West Cape May back fredas2in 1986. The couple still run a deli in the back of their cozy restaurant which they opened in 1991.

Offering both lunch and dinner with a menu varied in eclectic choices such as Crab and Spinach Wontons with raspberry dipping sauce for an appetizer ($7.50) and on a recent specials menu By Way of Steve, a pan seared breast of duck, Asian style, served on a bed of Himalayan red rice, finished with a blood orange, cranberry sauce, garnished with a coconut crab puff.

A culinary graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Providence, RI, Howard can’t imagine a scenario in which he would leave the cooking to someone else.

“Just from an economic point of view,” he told us, “it would take a major reason for me to stop cooking. I enjoy it! I enjoy the creative freedom that you have with food. People are so bored with the status quo, that they are looking for someone who takes a chance and tries something different.”

The Howards change the specials every two weeks to keep the menu diversified, but still keep the popular stand-bys like Baked Brie Lisa made in a puff pastry and served with fresh fruit for a dinner appetizer ($7.95) and the always tasty and enormously popular Rack of Lamb – eight chops stuffed with a thin layer of chopped pine nuts, spinach, and feta. Seasoned with a fresh rosemary and cracked peppercorns, served on a Dijon mustard sauce ($28.95)

Married 16 years, Steve and Freda now have two children, Samantha, who is in first grade, and Marcus, three years old. Their children are very much a part of the restaurant life, especially in the summertime when Freda spends much more time in the restaurant.

Howard sees the children’s familiarity with their work place a positive. “Unlike the corporate life,” said Howard, “when I’m retirement age, I won’t have to worry about not knowing my children and wanting them to spend more time with me at an age when they’re ready to spend less time at home.” The fact that they see what their parents do for a living, he feels, has only enhanced their family life.

If you go:

Casual dress
Dining area is bright but intimate
Located in the heart of town 210 Ocean Street
(The building was once Cape May’s post office)
Bring Your Own Bottle
Call ahead for hours and reservations 609-884-7887.