Summers spent at the Jersey Shore are among my fondest childhood memories. Our house on Hillside Avenue in Ventnor was a few steps from the bay. For my mother, it was no vacation. She cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and shopped. She also cleaned and scaled the fish my father and I brought home. I enjoyed helping her with this chore and packing sandwiches, fruit, and iced tea for a day at the beach.
When my father arrived for the weekend, we planned dinners at many restaurants. The Knife & Fork Inn was a favorite. The restaurant was built in 1912. Its website proclaims “from the Roaring ’20s to the 21st century.” I imagine there was a speakeasy-type private door during Prohibition.
We dined at The Knife & Fork Inn for my birthday a few weeks ago. Since shore season is here, I wanted to share our meal with you.
The two-story building has a bar downstairs and several dining rooms upstairs. There is natural wood throughout the room. It is almost as if time has stood still here. No modern light, tables, and chairs. I sat at a comfortable banquette. Tables are covered with white linen with napkins.
Cocktails were expertly mixed by the woman in charge of the bar. Our server brought dry corporate-type rolls with soft butter.
The menu has a ’90s look, and there is nothing wrong with it. There are no strange concoctions with a myriad of ingredients.
Tuna tar tar ($12) was a cool way to begin dinner. Sushi-quality deep red tuna was hand-chopped, beautifully seasoned, and topped with a glistening bit of olive oil. It came with a mound of chopped red ripe tomatoes and sweet red onion. I especially enjoyed the waffle potato chips that accompanied this starter.
Unfortunately, the Caesar salad ($7) was limp because of the use of too many outer leaves. The dressing was thin and tasteless even though we asked for anchovies. I doubt a coddled egg went toward the proper emulsifying of the dressing. Very little Parmesan topped the salad.
Rack of lamb ($37) was perfectly prepared. Six meaty Frenched chops were rubbed with a bit of mustard and minced fresh herbs, a classic preparation for lamb. The chops arrived medium rare and included a mound of creamy whipped potatoes laced with rosemary and sage. A pool of bordelaise sauce, prepared with sweet Vidalia onions, hit the mark. Everything on the plate was there for a reason.
A dry aged bone-in 18-ounce cowboy steak ($45) was not as successful as the lamb. It lacked seasoning and was a little over-cooked. Still, the beef was tender and a sprinkling of salt and pepper made it better.
Do not miss, I repeat, do not miss an order of pommes soufflé ($6). I first tasted this classic French potato preparation 25 years ago at Tio Pepe, a Spanish restaurant in Baltimore. Pommes soufflé are long, thin strips of russet potatoes that are twice fried in very hot oil. During the second frying, they magically puff up and are hollow inside. The Knife & Fork Inn is only the second restaurant I have visited that serves these crispy, luscious, slightly salted treats. A nice touch would be offering a small serving instead of the tasteless bread. A side of pencil thin asparagus with a limp thin Béarnaise was cold. Another version appeared but the sauce was still not rich.
We asked the sommelier to recommend a wine. He brought three bottles under $50. He told us the Sangiovese ($35) was a favorite and if we did not like it, he would drink it. A Sangiovese can be a bit rough. This was perfection in a bottle. I loved the smooth, rich flavor that was filled with fruit. And, the price was right.
Key lime pie with coconut ice cream ($8) was just OK. The graham cracker crust was dry and the ice cream lacked richness.
Service was excellent. Both dining rooms were fully booked. A gentleman at the next table was also celebrating his birthday. We toasted, of course.
The Knife & Fork Inn has a Happy Hour, is open for dinner seven nights, and serves lunch on Friday. Reservations are an absolute must.
Three tips of the toque to The Knife and Fork Inn. ■
The Knife & Fork Inn
3600 Atlantic Avenue