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Month: May 2003

Chefs of Cape May- Godmothers

“We’re still here.” Scott Abendschein said with a smile. This year Godmothers Restaurant begins a ninth season under the direction and ownership of Scott and Kathy Abendschein.
gmothers3
Ten years ago, the Abendscheins enjoyed a successful catering business on the Main Line in Pennsylvania. But since everything they did was “off-site,” they felt a need for a home base. Frequent vacationers to Cape May, the couple decided to look here to either buy an existing business or obtain a facility in which to start a new restaurant.

Godmothers Restaurant at the corner of Broadway and West Perry Streets happened to be available. Started in 1983, Godmothers was Cape May’s original Italian restaurant. Built in 1924, the West Cape May building has served as a pharmacy, a trim shop, a luncheonette, an ice cream parlor, and several restaurants, among them the notable Old Ship Restaurant.

Today Godmother’s cuisine is still Southern Italian. Pasta entrees include a Mediterarraneo Fra Diavalo ($24.00), a dish made with shrimp, little neck clams, mussels, and a mix of fresh fish gmothers1made in a spicy hot tomato and basil sauce and served over homemade pasta. Also on the menu are Italian classics like Lasagna ($18). There are plenty of choices for those not inclined to go Italian. The Double Thick Pork Chop ($22) made with a rosemary pomaray sauce or Chef Abendschein’s favorite – the New York Strip Steak ($26), a 12 oz center cut strip steak served with a Madeira sauce and served with house mashed potatoes and green beans.

Chef Abendschein has been cooking for 22 years. Before starting the catering business, he served several stints in industrial food preparation. He has been the chef at Delaware Community College, at a private rehabilitation center, and was the facilities director for a nursing home as well. Throughout the early years, Scott said they “always wanted to own our business.” They’re very pleased to have found that business and to put down some roots in Cape May.

With two children, ages 7 and 9, they, as other restaurateurs have remarked, find being self-employed and raising a family “challenging,” particularly in the summer. Kathy manages the restaurant and takes care of the bookkeeping. Luciano Angrelli is Godmother’s full time chef. Scott currently fills that role on a part-time basis. Chef Abendschein says he’s the only one who doesn’t speak Italian back in the kitchen.

Godmothers Restaurant will be open full time starting on May 6. They’re closed on Sundays. It is BYOB. They open their doors at 5 p.m. and the restaurant offers Early Dinner Specials starting at $10.95.

If you go…
Atmosphere is casual
Located on the corner of Broadway and W. Perry Street
Call ahead for hours and reservations 609-884-4543
For more information please visit www.godmothersrestaurant.com


Chefs of Cape May- Tisha’s

Chef Paul Negro of Tisha’s Restaurant was a mechanic restoring Porches in South Philadelphiatishaschefpn when his mother, Tisha, a graduate of the Restaurant School in Philadelphia, said “You should be a chef.  That’s how I see you.” Move to the shore with me. We’ll open up a breakfast place and we’ll be partners. I was 23, maybe 24 at the time,” Paul told me as we sat in the elegant dining room on Beach Avenue (behind Convention Hall).

That was 1988. Mother and son opened Tisha’s at Pacific and Spencer in Wildwood. They served breakfast every day until September when they were forced to face a reality many shore merchants face in their first summer: their help “abandoned ship” in mid-August. “So that was the end of breakfast because we had no servers. After that I started cooking.” Under his mother’s guidance they put together a Prix Fixe menu advertising it as Tisha’s home cooking. “The way my mother saw it, we were inviting you to a home cooked meal.” For $9.95 (over the years the price went up to $15.95) customers got a choice of three soups, two salads, and six entrees. Through trial and error they found that changing the menu once a month worked well for both repeat business and newcomers. “The menu was handwritten by my mother and photocopied each week. That was a nice touch. Nobody did that.”

When running the restaurant became too hard for his mother, Paul took over; but by then Wildwood, particularly at their location (Pacific and Spenser) was in the decline. The first Tisha’s closed in 1993.

Within two years, Paul and his wife Jennifer opened Tisha’s in Cape May. “I run the back of the house, my wife runs the front of the house,” Chef Negro said explaining the division of labor. The couple have three children ages 11, 8, and 5. Chef Negro has kept much of his mother’s culinary philosophy. He spends the winter months preparing the menu for the coming season, which still changes every month.

All entrees come with a choice of a house or Caesar salad and all the recipes are made with Italian ingredients. Chef Negro describes his cooking as “New American with Italian accents.” Last year when every other restaurant was being sharply criticized, Tisha’s received 3½ stars from the Atlantic City Press and Best Appetizer (Cajun Fried Oysters) and Best Entree of 2002.

Many of Paul’s recipes are taken from his mother’s old Italian cookbooks.  These dishes, such as the Palmeritana ($18) made with fresh tomato, calamata olives, anchovy, capers and garlic sautéed in olive oil with fettuccini and toasted bread crumbs, he says are not usually found in the U.S.

And don’t be afraid of the anchovy. Paul says you can’t really taste anchovy but that the ingredient gives the sauce a special depth which is lost without it. Veal Saltimbucca ($25) is another entree not often found. Here veal medallions are sautéed and layered with Proscuitto, mushrooms, fresh spinach,
sage and mozzarella.

Seafood lovers should be sure to take a look at the “Chef’s Specials.” The current menu, which tishasdiningends May 13th includes an appetizer selection of Cajun Fried Oysters, Shrimp Bruchette, Crab Cake, and Pan Seared Sea Scallops. Of the eight entrees offered on the Specials menu, six are seafood selections. Among them are, Crab Cakes, Alaskan Halibut, and Blackened Tuna Oscar ranging in price from $24 to $29 per entree.

This is a very romantic place (and I do not use that term lightly). Dining here is like having your own candlelit table out on the beach. It is a place, based on the Comment Book left for patrons to sign, where people celebrate anniversaries and become engaged. I was particularly impressed by the high
praise given the servers.

Whatever happened to Tisha herself? “She used to make the desserts,” said Paul, “Now she takes it easy and enjoys the grandkids.” And still sees her son as a chef.

If you go…
Atmosphere is casual
Located on the promenade oceanfront at 714 Beach Avenue
Call ahead for hours and reservations 609-884-9119


Art at the Prickly Pear

pricklypearBeauty is not trivial.

So often the time-line of a region’s art is lost, a victim of weak economic times, indifference, and the misconception that beauty is trivial. Artwork and scrapbooks of art shows, dating back to the 1920s which had been stored in sheds around Cape May County, have been resting easier for the last year in the Cape May County Art League’s new home at the Prickly Pear Cottage in Cape May. Founded in 1929, the Cape May Art League (CMAL) is the oldest county art league in the United States. After frequent attempts, artists both current and past – some long past – have finally found a venue, easily accessible to the public, where they can meet and show their work.

insidecmcalFor a while the itinerant Art League enjoyed the hospitality of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC) at the Physick Estate carriage house. An artist-in-residence served as caretaker for the gallery during the summer months; but CMAL did not have a true home base. Prior to last year’s Prickly Pear Cottage opening, artists ran CMAL from their homes and used the Middle Township Performing Arts Center for shows. Recognizing the need for a more visible location, the league’s board of directors were about to start a site search when by chance the owners of the Prickly Pear, Joseph and Gail Muscatello, stepped forward and offered to rent the first floor of their home to the artists.

pear1According to artist Stan Sperlak, the Gallery’s director, the Muscatellos were concerned about the inability of “underexposed” artists to find a venue for their work. In CMAL’s newsletter “ArtNews,” Sperlak states that since the Prickly Pear opening “there have been strong showings and sales, accounting for more CMAL commerce than any five year period in [the league’s] history.” Most of the profits earned by the sales helped support artists themselves and all CMAL profits helped defray costs incurred by running the gallery. The Prickly Pear Cottage has opened the community to other artistic venues. Poetry readings are a regular activity, lectures on art and writing are on the schedule of events and, weather permitting, music can be heard on Prickly Pear’s porch. CMAL’s president, Reta Sweeney indicated that membership has grown from 97 members a year ago to 260 business and individual members. “People buy a lot more art than the perception is,” Sperlak says. “And now they know where to go to buy regional [Cape May County] art. We sell all kinds of art from pottery to photography, watercolor to pastels.”

What follows are three profiles of Cape May County Art League artists whose work is represented in the gallery of the Prickly Pear.

Diane Close

dianeatthepear2Artist Diane Close has had an on-again, off-again affair with her art. She first studied art in high school in her native Liverpool, England but after graduation, she said, “I abandoned it. When I had two daughters, I quit my job and started up again. I abandoned it again when I went back to work.” In the 1980s she and her husband, Brian opened their own clothing stores, “Ragtime,” in the City Centre Mall on Washington Street in Cape May and Frontier Resort Wear at 526 Washington Street.

dianesseamistBy 1995 self-employment at last freed her to devote time to her watercolors. Diane’s next problem? What to paint? “As an artist,” she says, “you are always looking for subject matter.” One day she came upon a group of artists set up along a sidewalk in Cape May. She talked to them and learned that they got together once a week and looked for scenes in Cape May to paint. “Then I realized,” she said, “Why was I struggling for a subject matter when it was right here, around me everyday?” As she walked around town “constantly thinking about how this, that and the other could be interpreted as an artist” she began to notice an appreciable difference in how things look in Cape May versus other historic settings like Philadelphia for example. It’s the light.

dianesviccmprint“The light,” she observed, as we sat in the Gallery at the Prickly Pear Cottage with a Sunday afternoon sun filtering in through the windows, “is brilliant in Cape May. The colors move around more because we’re surrounded by water which reflects light more than other places. It’s a shimmer of colors that is constantly changing.” Close’s paintings reflect that shimmering with every stroke. They are tranquil, filled with muted colors of summer’s light. Her focal point is Victorian architecture. Even when
she starts out to paint flowers or trees a building usually sneaks into the framework somewhere. “I like to paint buildings,” she explained, “and Victorian houses are like a puzzle with different angles. I like the challenge of the intricacies of Victorian architecture.” Often she takes photographs of a point of interest and paints at home.

dianesbeachprintOnce Close’s love affair was uninterrupted, she began to amass a body of work. Five years ago, at a dinner party at her West Cape May home, friends of hers, George and Marguerite Patrick suggested she try a show. The Patricks organized the event at their B&B, the CapeScape. It was a great success. Diane sold 19 paintings from the show. With “serendipity” in the form of commissioned art and the opening of the Gallery at the Prickly Pear, success has followed her. As a “low-key” person Diane shies away from aggressively pushing her work. “I don’t pursue selling,” she said, “it’s too much pressure. Just being an artist is pressure enough.” Diane feels that when the commercial side of art takes on too much importance the artist will paint to please the seller “instead of painting for yourself.”

Once a week she still meets with a group of women who move about Cape May looking for subject matter which appeals to them on that particular day. As we move onto the Prickly Pear porch to get ready for a photo shoot, one has the sense that it’s been a long journey for Diane Close who, because of other demands, once had to look at her art as only a “pass time.” She sees herself in a “nice period” now, one she is not likely to abandon again.

Stan Sperlak

stanPastel artist (and landscape designer) Stan Sperlak didn’t start out to be an artist. He needed to learn how to draw so people would have an idea of what their grounds would look like when he was finished. He ended up at the Pennsylvania Academy for Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Soon he went from drawing landscapes to painting them. Then he went from artist renderings of people’s lawns to the marshes, fields and woodlands of Cape May County.

Today Stan Sperlak roams the same paths taken by the Crow Creek Tribe as much as 200 years ago trying to imagine what it was like back then. He finds much of his subject matter around Swainton and Goshen on forgotten dirt roads. He looks for the natural history of the area as he searches for the perfect subject of his next pastel painting. As we sat in his spacious, airy studio located above the retail space which serves Cape Shore Gardens Nursery & Landscape Company, Stan explained, “I spent years as a teenager taking pictures of everything I saw with no aspirations to be a photographer, I just liked doing it. I liked having a record of the times.”

The other love of Stan’s life is working with plants. Looking back, he reflects that “I didn’t think of myself as a creative person, but I liked plants. I liked working with trees and shrubs. My parents always had plants all over the house.” At 19 he started working in a nursery and so began his journey as landscaper and artist. Just driving into Cape Shore Gardens and observing the almost Zen quality of how the nursery is designed tells the visitor that this is a business run by someone with artistic sensibility. A quiet calm comes over the visitor looking at all the plants and shrubs even on a miserable rainy day. “I like to paint outside,” he said. “It’s more vital. More spontaneous.” But in the winter and in the rain he paints from photos and tries to experiment a little more with his medium. Sperlak finds the light an artist finds in Cape May to be equal to the light talked about in New Mexico and the south of France. Bucks County, he said, also has a similar quality of light, but the conditions in Cape May are unique to this area he said. “We are surrounded by water. The peninsula makes the light very reflective.” In addition, he noted the humidity and wind help create  “lush but subtle quadrants – the sky, the shadows, the grasses, the water.”

stan3Good surroundings are important to an artist’s development, as are good patrons, but Sperlak also cited the need for artists to have mentors along the way. He found a salon in Millville run by artist/teacher Pat Witt. “The camaraderie of her students and the self expression I found with the art group led me to wonder if we could have that (art scene) here in Cape May County.” Sperlak’s good friend, the revered artist Alice Steer Wilson, encouraged him to reach out to other area artists in the same way as his mentor Pat Witt.

In terms of selling his work, Stan Sperlak says “I try not to think about it. I don’t have to sell my work, I have a business.” At the same time, he feels no particular desire to hold onto a painting. “It’s all about the painting. That’s everything.” Once finished, he’s ready to let go of the piece. “I like to share that connection.” By default selling a piece accomplishes that goal. The first piece of art he sold happened by chance. He wanted to see how the framed painting would look on a wall, so he hung it (a painting of the free bridge into Stone Harbor) in his store. A customer looked at and said  “I cross that bridge everyday,” and asked him how much he wanted for it. Thus began his art career.

“That’s what I mean by sharing the connection,” he said. “People buy art a lot more than the perception.”  But they are often, he noted, looking for a reminder of something – a place, a time, a feeling – a connection.

Mary Simkins Federici

mary2When asked what her medium is, Mary Simkins Federici pauses, then lists them – batiks, watercolors, oils, textiles, Plexiglas. Her circa 1870 home in Cold Springs underscores the depth of her talent. The walls are filled with oils and watercolors. In the corners of the parlor spinning wheels accent the variety in the room. Her studio toward the back of the house is filled with large batiks which she holds up to the light so the observer can get a full measure of the subtleties of color in them. When pressed, Mary admits that her favorite medium is watercolor because “it’s
easy to put it in your backpack” when she takes off in search of a new subject. Botanicals are her favorite. She finds the gardens of Leamings Run and Hereferd Inlet to be “very artist friendly” although she says her backyard, a natural habitat for turtles, tortoises, butterflies and birds, is just as interesting and can keep her occupied for days.

How did she get started? “You know I was lucky. I always knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an artist.” She grew up in Salem County (NJ) near the Delaware River. “I’m not happy,” she said, “unless I’m near a large body of water and an open space. It suits me down here [Cape May County], but I mourn every time I see an open field get developed or another cluster of trees get torn down.”

mary6A mother of two grown children, Mary enrolled at Cape May County Vocational Technical School to study commercial art when her children started school. Eventually, she earned a dual-major degree from Glassboro Rowan in Painting and Textile Design. For a while she worked at Cold Spring Village as an historic re-enactor– spinning, weaving, and dyeing. But the light always drew her back out into the fields and gardens.

marysdragon“The light down here – it’s everything,” she said as we stood in her garden. “Look,” she said pointing to new blossoms all around us. “the light is bouncing all around us all the time and changing all the time throughout the day. The white light at mid day is spectacular. In South Jersey we’ve always had the sea surrounded by sky as Alice (Steer Wilson- revered watercolor artist) used to tell us ‘we’re sky painters what choice to we have?'” Mary Federici brings her art into every aspect of her life. She points to a canvas lying across a sawhorse. “My grandson was here this weekend,” she explained. “I asked him what we were going to paint.” The two-year old chose a dragon with him on its back – a dragon without scales but with large ugly teeth, flying over a castle, on a moonlit night. And Voila! The artist unfolds the canvas to show a blond haired little boy hugging a dragon, flying up in the night sky over a castle toward a big round moon.

For Mary Simkins Federici art is everywhere. Like other artists associated with the Cape May Art League, she takes great delight in pointing it out to those of us less tuned in to the beauty in the life all around us.


Chefs of Cape May – The Merion Inn

Vicki Watson didn’t want to be a restaurateur. She already had a successful law career in Manhattan when her father, owner of Watson’s Merion Inn, died in 1992. As executrix of Warren Watson’s will she tried to abide by his wishes and sell The Merion Inn but the restaurant was merionlosing so much money by then that there were no takers. “I couldn’t afford not to run it,” she said. Thus began her long journey, accepting the challenge of turning a run down business around.

As a daughter, she had more invested in trying to make the restaurant work. Watson’s Restaurant was started back in the 40s in Wildwood by Vicki’s grandparents who, along with her great-grandmother, opened their doors with their own pots and pans from their Philadelphia kitchen. Her father moved the restaurant to Cape May in 1970 and brought along his chef, Bill Robinson.

Many of those traditional recipes developed by Chef Robinson like side accompaniments, the Merion Inn Cole Slaw and the Merion Inn Potato Cup as are still on the menu. Merion Inn entrée classics include Merion Stuffed Flounder ($25.95) Merion Crab Imperial ($28.95), and Merion Stuffed Lobster Tail ($39.95).

Located on Decatur Street The Merion Inn occupies the first floor in a large Victorian house, built in 1885 by Patrick Collins as a boarding villa. By 1900, Collins had expanded his business which he called Collins Café by serving food, specializing in seafood, whiskey and Milwaukee beer.

Andrew Zillinger, chief steward of the Merion Cricket Club in Philadelphia’s Main Line, bought the inn from Collins in 1905 changing the name to The Merion.

The Merion Inn has now been in continuous operation for 117 years. So, how did Vicki Watson, with no background in food preparation, other than that absorbed by the daughter of a restaurateur, turn it around? “The music,” she said simply and without hesitation.

“I was looking for some hook I could use to advertise the place. Everybody always uses the best…We have the best seafood, the best steaks. The music gave us something to advertise. My brother and I love music and I decided to put a piano in the bar and have a singer Wednesdays and Thursdays. I wanted to give people a reason to keep coming back.” From time to time, the singer.

Rosemary Benson used George Mesterhazy as her accompanist, eventually Mesterhazy became the full time piano man and brought in his Steinway replacing the $400 piano Vicki Watson originally purchased. The additional revenue from the bar sales paid for the musicians and set The Merion Inn apart from other restaurants in Cape May.

And on a romantic note, Vicki and George soon became an item as well. With the music, came a new clientele. Then old timers returned, willing to give the a second chance.

The other thing Vicki did to turn the restaurant around was to assess what was best about the menu. “We’re a traditional restaurant. We’re noted for our filets and I was lucky. ‘Homestyle cooking’ and classic dishes came into vogue in the 90s. I thought I can capitalize on this,” she said.

That’s where chefs Donald Lance and Dave Blanchette come in. Lance served under the nowmerionchefs2 retired Bill Robinson and brought a continuity to the kitchen. Blanchette came over to The Merion from Fresco’s. Under Watson’s direction they offer a classic dining experience.

In addition to keeping the above mentioned traditional dishes, The Merion is also noted for a repertoire of steaks – a 9-ounce Filet Mignon, a New York Strip Steak and Black Angus Prime Rib of Beej Au Jus… and a favorite: Steak & Cake ($28.95) a 6oz filet mignon accompanied by a Maryland crab cake.

Watson carried the “return to the traditional” venue into the bar as the long neglected Martini came back into fashion. The bar menu carries a wide variety of these classic drinks.

gibsonroom2In terms of decor, she has changed the wall paper and curtains, expanded the dining area, upgraded the kitchen and menu while keeping many things the same as they have always been. “The antiques my father bought are still here,” she said pointing to the swinging doors leading into the bar. “Those doors were from an old speakeasy in Chicago. My father loved antiques and his taste is still very much a part of the restaurant.”

Vicki Watson’s efforts are paying off. Reservations are strongly encouraged, especially on Saturday nights. Having just completed a meeting with Chef Lance to discuss the upcoming menu, Watson looked about her as though always assessing, always looking for ways to improve.

“Our food is good,” she said, “We have fair portions and we’re not for everybody. We’re not very formal, I like the comments in the Zagat Guide that says we’re ‘Romantic and inviting but not pretentious.’ ”

If you go…

Atmosphere is casual adult dining
Located at 106 Decatur St.
Call ahead for hours and reservations 609-884-8363
For more information please visit www.merioninn.com


Chefs of Cape May- Merion Inn

Vicki Watson didn’t want to be a restaurateur. She already had a successful law career in Manhattan when her father, owner of Watson’s Merion Inn, died in 1992. As executrix of Warren Watson’s will she tried to abide by his wishes and sell The Merion Inn but the
merionrestaurant was losing so much money by then that there were no takers. “I couldn’t afford not to run it,” she said. Thus began her long journey, accepting the challenge of turning a run down business around.

As a daughter, she had more invested in trying to make the restaurant work. Watson’s Restaurant was started back in the 40s in Wildwood by Vicki’s grandparents who, along with her great-grandmother, opened their doors with their own pots and pans from their Philadelphia kitchen. Her father moved the restaurant to Cape May in 1970 and brought along his chef, Bill Robinson.

Many of those traditional recipes developed by Chef Robinson like side accompaniments, the Merion Inn Cole Slaw and the Merion Inn Potato Cup as are still on the menu. Merion Inn entrée classics include Merion Stuffed Flounder ($25.95) Merion Crab Imperial ($28.95), and Merion Stuffed Lobster Tail ($39.95).

Located on Decatur Street The Merion Inn occupies the first floor in a large Victorian house, built in 1885 by Patrick Collins as a boarding villa. By 1900, Collins had expanded his business which he called Collins Café by serving food, specializing in seafood, whiskey and Milwaukee beer.

Andrew Zillinger, chief steward of the Merion Cricket Club in Philadelphia’s Main Line, bought the inn from Collins in 1905 changing the name to The Merion.

The Merion Inn has now been in continuous operation for 117 years. So, how did Vicki Watson, with no background in food preparation, other than that absorbed by the daughter of a restaurateur, turn it around? “The music,” she said simply and without hesitation.

“I was looking for some hook I could use to advertise the place. Everybody always uses the best…We have the best seafood, the best steaks. The music gave us something to advertise. My brother and I love music and I decided to put a piano in the bar and have a singer Wednesdays and Thursdays. I wanted to give people a reason to keep coming back.” From time to time, the singer.

Rosemary Benson used George Mesterhazy as her accompanist, eventually Mesterhazy became the full time piano man and brought in his Steinway replacing the $400 piano Vicki Watson originally purchased. The additional revenue from the bar sales paid for the musicians and set The Merion Inn apart from other restaurants in Cape May.

And on a romantic note, Vicki and George soon became an item as well. With the music, came a new clientele. Then old timers returned, willing to give the a second chance.

The other thing Vicki did to turn the restaurant around was to assess what was best about the menu. “We’re a traditional restaurant. We’re noted for our filets and I was lucky. ‘Homestyle cooking’ and classic dishes came into vogue in the 90s. I thought I can capitalize on this,” she said.

That’s where chefs Donald Lance and Dave Blanchette come in. Lance served under the nowmerionchefs2 retired Bill Robinson and brought a continuity to the kitchen. Blanchette came over to The Merion from Fresco’s. Under Watson’s direction they offer a classic dining experience.

In addition to keeping the above mentioned traditional dishes, The Merion is also noted for a repertoire of steaks – a 9-ounce Filet Mignon, a New York Strip Steak and Black Angus Prime Rib of Beej Au Jus… and a favorite: Steak & Cake ($28.95) a 6oz filet mignon accompanied by a Maryland crab cake.

Watson carried the “return to the traditional” venue into the bar as the long neglected Martini came back into fashion. The bar menu carries a wide variety of these classic drinks.

gibsonroom2In terms of decor, she has changed the wall paper and curtains, expanded the dining area, upgraded the kitchen and menu while keeping many things the same as they have always been. “The antiques my father bought are still here,” she said pointing to the swinging doors leading into the bar. “Those doors were from an old speakeasy in Chicago. My father loved antiques and his taste is still very much a part of the restaurant.”

Vicki Watson’s efforts are paying off. Reservations are strongly encouraged, especially on Saturday nights. Having just completed a meeting with Chef Lance to discuss the upcoming menu, Watson looked about her as though always assessing, always looking for ways to improve.

“Our food is good,” she said, “We have fair portions and we’re not for everybody. We’re not very formal, I like the comments in the Zagat Guide that says we’re ‘Romantic and inviting but not pretentious.’ ”

If you go…
Atmosphere is casual adult dining
Located at 106 Decatur St.
Call ahead for hours and reservations 609-884-8363
For more information please visit www.merioninn.com


Chefs of Cape May- Gecko’s

geckos

When Susi Bithell and her husband Randy, the former chef at Fresco’s on Bank Street, left Cape May for Santa Fe in search of a place to open a restaurant, they didn’t expect to be  back in Cape May.

But it’ is in Cape May that they opened the restaurant of Randy’s dreams -Gecko’s, where the menu is Southwestern cuisine, specifically patterned after dishes found in the Santa Fe area.

Susi, the pastry chef at Gecko’s is from Germany and grew up in the restaurant industry. Randy is from Salt Lake City, Utah and has always had a yen and a knack for whipping up such Mexican delights as Northern Mexican Vaquero Fajitas, a dish that originated as campfire food of the cowboys of northern Mexico.

The Fajitas are made with your choice of grilled chicken, grilled skirt steak, portabella mushroom ($15.50-$16.75) and there’s Chiles Rellenos Camarones ($18.50) made with roasted poblano chiles (imported from New Mexico) stuffed with grilled shrimp, jicama, pumpkinseeds and cheese baked and served with a roasted tomato cascabel sauce.  This is not the usual Mexican fare found in the Northeast and a far cry from Susi’s native German cuisine. “But I’ve come to love it,” she says.

The couple, who have two children, a boy who is 8 and a girl who is 5, haven’t found being susieandrandyself-employed much different from working for someone else in terms of the work load and responsibility but Susi Bithell said they do find that owning their restaurant “has been a great achievement for us. We like how the restaurant turned out and the fact that our customers give us great comments.”

The favorite item on the menu for lunch as well as dinner are the Burritos. Two burrito styles are offered – a New Mexican Burrito stuffed with grilled chicken or beef and black beans, topped with red. green, or x-mas, sour cream and guacamole ($15.50-$16.75) or the Grilled Vegetable Burrito ($14.75) made with fire-roasted eggplant, squash, tomatoes and onions combined with mushrooms and spinach, topped with sour cream and peanut chipotle chile sauce ( imported from New Mexico).

A favorite dinner item is the Mesquite Grilled Salmon ($18.00) made with fresh papaya, mango, pineapple salsa.

Now in their fourth year of operation, Susi Bithell finds juggling restaurant operations and caring for children has, for the most part, worked out for the couple. Even though she is unable to be in the restaurant in the evening when dinner is served, as the pastry chef, she offers a number of tasty desserts to choose from including a Key Lime Taco- a cookie shell stuffed with a key lime filling – and an Avocado Cheese Cake.

It’s not desert hot in Cape May, but when you want a true taste of the Southwest, Gecko’s is ready for you.  As the menu says, “Come and get your chile fix!”

If you go…
Atmosphere is casual
Located in Carpenter’s Square Mall
Bring Your Own Bottle
Call ahead for hours and reservations 609-898-7750