Summers spent at the Jersey Shore were filled with food, fun, fishing, beach days, rainy days and long walks. There were no casino when I was a girl, but there were chic, luxurious hotels such as the Traymore and the Shelburne.
Our house on Hillside Avenue in Ventnor was always filled with the Jersey trinity of white corn, blueberries and tomatoes. But my restaurant memories go back to days in Atlantic City. If I looked out my bedroom window, my friend the lighthouse was always in view.
We always went to Hackney’s and Captain Starns for seafood. Oysters, cherrystone clams, soft-shell clams with drawn butter and big, perfectly steamed lobsters were the order of the day. I always loved when the waitress would tie a paper lobster bib over my pinafore.
Our house in Ventnor was just a block or so from Lou’s, a famous casual restaurant where the line always snaked along the sidewalk, especially on weekends. It was a cross between a Jewish deli and full-service restaurant where customers could get anything from corned beef on rye to a jumbo salad to a simple hot meal. A tall glass of lemonade always included a cherry floating at the bottom.
I tasted my first lobster fra diavlo at Luigi’s. The neon sign was shaped like Italy. I remember the spicy sauce used to bathe the two-pound lobster because I had never tasted anything like it. The chef also made a clam dish with this special sauce. We never had to ask for more bread for dipping, it just appeared on our table.
A special treat was a trip to Lambert’s, an ice cream emporium that was second to none. I can still see the blue and white sign. Hot fudge sundaes ruled the day along with banana splits and ice cream sodas.
Several weeks ago, when I wrote about hard-shell crabs served up at Anastasi Seafood in the Italian Market, I mentioned Abe’s Oyster House on Atlantic Avenue. It was seafood heaven. It was a large, bright and airy tiled open room with oyster crackers and horseradish on every table. Hard-shells and pitchers of beer kept us quite content. My mother preferred deviled crab.
The place for hoagies was and still is The White House. It opened in 1946 and thank the sandwich gods that it is still with us. Bill Cosby so loved the place so much it was mentioned a number of times on “The Cosby Show.” I love the classic Italian hoagie with extra meat and cheese. Several years ago, I tried a cheesesteak and quickly gobbled it down.
Fishing was always part of our summer at the Jersey Shore. I received my first fishing rod, which was pale green, when I was 7. Baiting the hook with minnows or blood worms never bothered me. I waited patiently for a tug on the line as people would walk by and ask “catch anything?” Flounder, bluefish, kingfish and weakfish wound up in my wicker basket. Mom and I would clean them together for that night’s dinner.
I can’t recall the name of the pizza place on the boardwalk, but I remember my grandfather’s face broke out into a big smile when he tried pizza for the first time. Kohr’s was real frozen custard, rich with eggs and creamy smooth. Roth’s candy store was famous for its jumbo chocolate covered marshmallows, buttercreams, pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts and sunflower seeds. People would buy bags of nuts, sit in their rolling chairs outside of the Ritz and chomp away.
Two weeks ago, my friend Thom Motta, a life-long South Philly resident, and I were reminiscing about The Knife and Fork Inn (below). We ate there many times. I tried chateaubriand for the first time when I was about 8 or so. The waiter brought a large wooden board to our table with the filet roast placed in the center. Whipped duchess potatoes were piped around the rim of the board. The waiter carved the roast tableside with the skill of a surgeon.
I have not been to the Knife and Fork Inn in many years. I have decided to make a return visit, sometime after Labor Day, to see if a flood of memories will return to the carefree days of my childhood. ■