Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Greetings from Wildwood

Just to be clear, we're not here looking for Guido types.

When Mac and I set out this morning for the Jersey shore - because doesn't everyone head north when the third Nor'easter in as many weeks is moving in? - it was for a getaway planned long before even the first storm.

Sure, we knew we were headed to a decidedly chilly and unpleasantly windy peninsula, with our AirBnB condo appropriately situated 3 blocks from the ocean and 2 blocks from the sound, the better to take the wind abuse from both sides. Like I said, we planned this excursion back when Spring was busting out all over.

Coming across the Chesapeake Bay bridge, Mac shared that she'd never been over it before, whereas I'd crossed it many, many times in my youth, though it was a mighty windy day to experience it for the first time, even with the magnificent views.

Once over it without mishap, we stopped for lunch at Harris' Crabhouse in the shadow of the Kent Narrows bridge, scoring a table overlooking the deck and the choppy water. Harris' was a classic bay seafood place (lots of wood, windows and young servers), the kind that have only gotten larger and a tad more polished since the long ago days I was through this way with any regularity.

The only sour note was the handwritten sign taped to the front door: "Sorry, we're out of crabs." Disappointing, yes, but a deal breaker? Hell, no.

Our server proved her youth immediately by writing her name and birthdate on the brown paper covering the table. "Danielle 3/13/97" was a good reminder that I have dresses older than she is.

The menu was solidly traditional and neither of us had any problem choosing a favorite. I liked the way the steamed shrimp platter was described ("a generous serving of 16-20 count shrimp," which clearly leaves the generous part to the discretion of the kitchen) and it allowed for my two requisite sides: hushpuppies and cole slaw, while Mac did an oyster po'boy.

Our food arrived so quickly and we were so famished that we were wiping our lips and heading for the car in about the same amount of time it takes to scarf fast food. I'm not proud of that, but traveling gives a girl an appetite.

Continuing on toward Delaware after lunch, I was struck by how much more developed the area out there is. What I remember fondly as 2-lane roads with an occasional vegetable stand is now four lane highways with subdivisions and big box stores.

Occasionally, we'd spot something rustic and my faith in humanity would be restored, something such as Marge's Garden Place or Po'Boy's Creole Café (motto: "Make gumbo, not war"), but mostly it was asphalt and soulless, the only redeeming factor the way the sky had opened up on three sides, making it clear we were headed toward water.

We made it to Cape Henlopen to catch the Lewes ferry in plenty of time to watch the uniformed staff check cars for drugs and explosives using dogs, under-car mirrors and trunk checks. These guys were doing their best to keep bad stuff out of New Jersey.

I could so many jokes there, but I won't.

Once on the ferry, we got out of the car to take in the water views as we chugged along, eventually abandoning the ice-cold breezes and heading upstairs to the warm lounge for a better perch. Within moments, an announcement was made about the café being closed in 5 minutes because of the roughness of the crossing.

Unlike Mac, I'm not prone to motion sickness, but it wasn't long before I was feeling plenty green as the boat pitched side to side, the horizon rising up and then disappearing in the windows next to the table where we sat. First I felt it in my head, then in my stomach and the only way I could think of to deal with it was by putting my head on my arms on the table and closing my eyes. I still felt the boat rocking wildly but without sight lines, at least my nausea was contained.

And it's not like I don't have ferry experience, Hell, a few years back, an old boyfriend and I took three ferries in one day and each crossing was smooth as silk. Today's gusts of 20+ miles per hour were a different story and proof positive that my sea legs aren't all they could be.

Fortunately, it was barely an hour and 20 minutes before we were deposited in Cape May, New Jersey and began the short drive across countless small bridges to our temporary digs. Never having been to the Jersey shore, I was unprepared for how ticky tacky beach architecture in these parts is.

Glorified ramblers, cinder block cubes and disproportionate split levels were surrounded by statues of the virgin Mary, white plastic fences and moving projections of the Easter bunny and eggs (okay, the latter was on the downstairs of the condo where we're staying). If I'd thought about it beforehand, I'd have realized that of course the Jersey shore would look like this.

I'm not mocking it all. Some of the very dated elements are perfectly charming in a mid-century kitchy way. Just over a block away sits the Biscayne, its sign looking like something straight out of a 1957 motoring magazine.

With less than an hour to sunset, Mac and I fought the wind the few blocks to the beach, only to find that we then had to traverse a beach as wide as a football field. Let's put it this way: when we set foot on the sand, we couldn't hear the crashing of the surf, despite being able to see the breakers as we walked toward them.

Looking to the north, we spotted an amusement park, glowing in the warm tones of the early evening sunset, as picaresque a Jersey vignette as we could've hoped for. I could practically hear Springsteen singing in the background.

Naturally, if we'd walked to the ocean, we had to walk to the sound since it was just a couple blocks past our condo. If possible, the wind was even stronger on that side, without the consolation of crashing waves. Enough with the wind already.

When we finally took off for dinner, we had to cross all those little bridges again, including one that had a toll in only one direction (the one we were going), with the tollkeeper's both at the pinnacle of the bridge. I told Mac, the only bridge with a tollbooth in the center that I know of is the one in "It's a Wonderful Life" where George Bailey decides to jump off. Now we know they exist in real life, too.

One hazard of the Jersey shore in March is a sharp reduction in open restaurants, but Lucky Bones welcomed us in, along with a good-sized Tuesday night crowd. It was their menu that informed us that Cape Island was once a whaling village and not always a cheesy resort with bad architecture and punishing winds.

Since Lucky Bones had a brick pizza oven, I chose the 'shrooms and cheese white pie with Kennett Square mushrooms (mushroom capital of the world, and close enough in Pennsylvania), Pecorino-Romano and my favorite, Tallegio, a pie so fabulous, I devoured all but a few crust bones, which I gallantly donated to the wine and garlic broth on Mac's pasta. After all, a girl's gotta sop and she'd finished her lone piece of bread, poor thing.

As if Lucky Bones hadn't already won our allegiance being open 365 days a year, they sealed the deal when piping hot shot glasses of dark hot chocolate crowned with whipped cream were delivered to us. Belmont Food Shop ends every meal with truffles; Lucky's with hot chocolate shots.

On a wildly windy and ridiculously cold March night, it was a generous serving of Jersey shore welcome. Motto: make the best of it, not whine about the wind.

And when you start turning green around the gills, put your head down.


  1. Did you ever stop, (years ago) at Hemingways near the Bay Bridge & dine?

  2. No, but I spotted it yesterday. What a behemoth!I bet it wasn't the tourist trap it is now back in the day.

  3. No Karen it was not a "T" trap back then, just a place where a guy could take his date for crabs & a beer.


  4. I wish I'd gone to it then! You know how I love crabs, Carroll, but that whole Kent Narrows area is so gentrified now. Nothing like I recall from the '70s.

  5. Well one can't do everything, can they? --not enough time. Though the '70's to me lasted forever. Actually I didn't explore that area until the '80's & then it was still pretty neat. With long weekends & a girlfriend with a Triumph Spitfire we'd explore the area, (Maryland, Delaware & the Capes) for fun. Antiques, seafood, wine & evening fires on the beach. Who knows maybe we crossed paths.


  6. Nice car! In the early '80s, I had an MGBGT and had a blast tooling around in it. You're right, we could've been cruising the Bay Bridge at the same time way back when...

  7. ...finish your crab dear..


  8. Said no one to me ever. I can eat some crabs, cw!

  9. 'little playfulness K...getting your goat? a Maryland/tidewater gal like yourself knows a blue fin or two... listening to the new yo la tengo release. Perfect for a day like today.



  10. Nah, just defending my crab-eating skills in case anyone doubts I'm a champ! Haven't heard the new YLT, but IMHO, they never disappoint. And you're spot on, a chilly day like today is good listening weather!