Sean Is Smokin’
MOST folks coming to Cape May for a visit want to slow down the pace of their lives, whether it’s by building a sandcastle on the beach, riding a bike past West Cape May’s farmland or dining out at a fun or exotic restaurant.
So, on this purposefully slow piece of earth, it’s not surprising that Cape Island is not known for its fast food. You won’t find any golden arches or pig-tailed redheads offering burgers. More our style is the new restaurant opening Memorial Day weekend, Beachside Smokehouse, which will offer the ultimate in slow food: barbecued meat that’s been smoked for 12 to 14 hours.
Cape May has not lacked for good restaurants, but an eatery dedicated to barbecue has not been an offering until recently. So, on a breezy porch a few months ago, two gentlemen who have known the restaurant business practically from birth, Steve Fischer and Bill Freitz, were sipping Jack Daniels and eating some barbecue they had smoked that very afternoon. Fischer is known for Baby Blues BBQ in Philadelphia and Freitz of the Savona in Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania.
Joining them on the porch that evening was Sean Conners, the chef who ran the former 32-seat Sean’s on Beach Avenue and was a much-loved waiter at Gecko’s. He had an idea for a restaurant with a menu combining sweet, tangy barbecue with fresh seafood and local produce.
“They brought me on board to incorporate some seafood dishes, some vegetarian dishes and run with a few of the salads,” said Sean.
Like the birth of the blues, they nursed it and rehearsed it and now occupy the one-time site of Daniel’s on Broadway, Moonfish Grille and the Cooper Fish, in one of the county’s oldest homes, 416 South Broadway, once known as the Whilldin-Miller house. Historian Joan Berkey dated the back portion of the structure to 1730 or earlier.
Sean closed his restaurant after an unfortunate turn of events. He was showing off on a bicycle at a skate park for his nine-year old and five-year-old sons and did a 360 that crushed his ankle. Unable to stand, it was time to close the doors of his restaurant. Now healed and happy, the chef said he can’t wait to cook again here. “I really missed preparing food for Cape May,” he said.
While barbecue and seafood will be the draw at Beachside Smokehouse, Sean also cooks vegetarian. Both his sons were raised on such a diet.
Some of the game on the menu will be unusual — think ostrich, emu and elk tenderloin, he said. The restaurant has teamed up with Fossil Farms of Boonton, NJ which offers organic meat products free of growth hormones, antibiotics, medications or preservatives.
One goal is restore the restaurant’s building to its historic roots. The back room features the original fireplace with ceiling beams that were once part of whaling boats. Wide-plank wood floors in several dining rooms were covered with carpet or tile, something that will eventually be removed to restore the historic flavor of each room, Sean said.
A patio area will also be available for dining. One of the second floor dining rooms offers a view of the Cape May Lighthouse.Beachside Smokehouse will use both indoor and outdoor smokers which can be moved for catering.
The barbecue menu will include ribs, beef brisket, chuck burgers and pork. Sean said barbecue requires a lot of preparation time including a rub which remains on the meat for a day. Another day is spent marinating the meat. Then it remains in the smoker for 12 to 14 hours, he said.
“It’s good comfort food and I think the building and the food will match very well,” he told us. Steve added that different types of wood, such as hickory, cherry and apple, will be used to smoke the meat. Sweeter woods are better for pork, hickory best for brisket and ribs and a combination of cherry and apple wood for chicken and poultry, he said.
Should barbecued meat fall off the bone? Steve said the meat should have a little “grab” on the bone. “If you can pull the bone clean right out, you know that it’s been parboiled or steamed,” he said. While that is not bad, it is a different process which diminishes the authentic bark flavor.
As for prices… they’ll be kept in a range that will allow families to eat happily. “If you want to come in and get a $7 to $8 pork sandwich, we’ve got it,” Steve said. “If you want a fantastic, freshly-smoked rack of ribs for 23 bucks, we’ve got it.”
While two partners have roots in Philly, Sean’s job is to bring in his knowledge of what diners in Cape May will enjoy. Local produce from Rea’s Farm and others may be incorporated into the barbecue sauce.
“I think everything tastes better the less hands that touch it,” he said. “We’re resourcing our local farms, our local wineries just to see what we can incorporate.”
Those on gluten-free diets will be accommodated, Sean said. PS: Another barbecue restaurant, the Cape May Smokehouse, has taken over the site of the former Lemon Tree restaurant on the mall.
Hot New Addition
THERE is a shop on the Washington Street Mall — the former site of Gifts Galore — with windows covered in brown butcher paper. We’d heard whispers about what’s going on inside, about a cool new concept unlike anything else on the mall. So, curiosity got the best of us, and we made an appointment with the store’s owner, 23-year-old Ryan Platzer, before the big opening on Memorial Day weekend.
“I have no interest in a basic, generic shop with chrome racks in the center,” he told us. “I want a shop that’s going to excite people when they walk in the door. That’s where the name, Galvanic, comes from. It means to have an electrifying effect.”
It’s a goal that might be hard to picture — right now, Galvanic is gutted, with a dirt floor and naked support beams that leave everything to the imagination — if it weren’t for Ryan’s enthusiasm. When he speaks about the space, you can’t help but get swept up in the excitement of an industrial vibe complete with concrete floors, walls made of reclaimed wood from north Jersey barns and Atlantic City’s post-Hurricane Sandy boardwalk, and old-school, gymnasium-style lighting. “That’s very important to me,” Ryan said. “Even in my own home, I’m constantly dimming the lights.”
On the loft space above his customers, Ryan will project “any kind of cool exciting videos,” like one of a guy making reclaimed wood tables in Vermont, or fashioning bicycle frames in California. And those are just the plans that are definite; the permits are still underway for the rest of the ideas Ryan and project architect Rich Stpkes — of Steven Starr restaurant fame — have ironed out.
But a stimulating atmosphere can only get a shop so far, Ryan realizes, which is where the merchandise comes in.
“Cape May is a difficult place to find men’s apparel,” he said. “So, while we’ll carry women’s clothing eventually, I wanted to make sure I fill that niche right off the bat.”
And fill it well.
“I knew I wanted board shorts, but I didn’t want Hurley or Billabong. I looked for the smaller, grassroots people who don’t want to be in PacSun, for instance. These companies have no interest in being just another shirt in a rack. A lot of the manufacturers in New York wanted to check me out as much as I wanted to check them out.”
Among the brands Ryan will carry is Philadelphia-based Iron and Resin, the most passionate jean-maker he could find. “They’re stamping the leather patches on the back by hand,” he said. “You visit this company, and it makes you want to make jeans.” Then there’s the cutting-edge sunglass line, Ivy, for which Ryan is the only east coast rep. And the handbags by Krochet Kids, the sales of which benefit economic growth in developing nations. Or the “hard” products, like hand-carved tables, surfboards, and skateboards that are as much works of arts as they are practical. “Mostly, it excites me to be doing something I can constantly change,” Ryan said. “I want the shop to look a little different every time people come in.”
While Ryan admits to being nervous about the venture, we’ve got a feeling he’s going to be a natural. After all, running a Cape May business is in the Platzer blood… his father, Mark, was a long-time owner of the C-View Inn. And, actually, being a Cape Mayan is in his blood, too.
“I left for Florida for a while to get my captain’s license and work on commercial fishing boats,” Ryan told us. “But there’s something about this place that draws you back. I’m so excited to be back on dry land and, most importantly, to be back in this place.”
NEW Jersey’s reputation leaves much to be desired. It’s a chuckle-worthy reality, considering Cape May alone has been ranked nationally for our beaches, bed and breakfasts, and overall vibe. The Travel Channel once touted even our “overwhelming propensity for politeness.” And now comes another feather in our area’s ‘Jersey strong’ hat: The Garden State Equality Issues Forum will be held down here on May 18 at the Old Cape May County Courthouse in Cape May Court House.
Maybe you’ve heard about Garden State Equality already. This is the only American, statewide civil rights organization to be featured in an Oscar-winning documentary, AKA Freeheld. Not such a surprising accomplishment when you consider that, since the organization’s founding in 2004, 213 LGBT Civil Rights laws have been enacted. In 2012, it was largely the work of Garden State Equality that led to the the marriage equality bill (later vetoed by Governor Christie).
But this grassroots effort, 125,000 members strong, isn’t devoted to bettering the lives of only one demographic; this is a collective which campaigns for the rights of all ages, orientations, and faiths. It was GSE who fought for the passage of New Jersey’s groundbreaking anti-bullying law, which the New York Times calls the nation’s greatest legal deterrent to harassment — of all students — in American schools.
“But there is still a ways to go,” GSE Field Manager Michael Maher told us. “When you look at New Jersey’s Constitution, the promise of equality for all people is outlined clearly. We need to look at what’s not being done, and what we need to do to fix it.”
In order to engage the community, Garden State Equality holds town meeting sessions, like the one at the Old Cape May County Courthouse. We were told about the event by Anne McCabe, a local therapist and child welfare consultant, but such meetings have been attended by tens of thousands across the state. On tap, according to Michael, are the issues of marriage equality and bullying, specifically.
Check out gardenstateequality.org, or email email@example.com.