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Food fuels vacation road trips, and we found good things to eat wherever we went in North and South Jersey.
The one special restaurant we wanted to visit -- Eno Terra in Kingston -- was closed for lunch on the Sunday we drove from Newton in Sussex County to Cape May. On Friday, when we drove 165 miles to reach home, we bought Italian-style hoagies for the trip to avoid having to eat fast food (they're called hero sandwiches in North Jersey and grinders in Connecticut).
The highlight of dining out near The Wooden Duck, our B&B off a country lane in Newton, was Salt, a gastro pub. I loved my appetizer portion of seafood risotto with mako shark, farmed salmon and mussels, plus sides of roasted asparagus and sauteed greens. (109 Route 206, Byram; 973-347-7258.)
The next evening, at Dominick's Pizza, I enjoyed a large portion of pleasantly bitter broccoli rabe and linguine with garlic and oil, but found the fried calamari monotonous. (210 E. Clinton St., Newton; 973-383-9330.)
Sumptuous breakfasts at The Wooden Duck included juice, fruit, eggs, French toast, and homemade peach cobbler and crumb cake.
On the drive to Cape May on July Fourth, we got lost and ended up on the Atlantic City Expressway, where service areas offer only fast food. A Starbucks did have a lone sandwich. but I didn't want to eat ham, so settled for a frozen, non-fat vanilla yogurt and black coffee, while my wife and son had a Burger King fish sandwich, milk shake and french fries. My wife hated the sandwich.
Dining improved a great deal in Cape May (Exit Zero on the Garden State Parkway), especially after we found a comfortable seaside hotel, The Marquis De Lafayette on Beach Avenue (I attended Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, and originally this was the Hotel Lafayette).
Our first two nights were spent at The Chalfonte, a restored Victorian hotel with small, uncomfortable and very expensive rooms that are undergoing renovation. I referred to our room as "The Icebox," because the air-conditioning blasted, and could not be regulated. Even with doors open to the hallway and our balcony, we were freezing. The bathroom was so small, I could not open the heavy glass shower door without leaving the bathroom, and the window had no curtain or shade.
We ate the buffet breakfast at both The Chalfonte and the Lafayette. The former cost $10 a person, plus a gratuity tacked onto your bill without your knowledge; the latter was included in the rate, but we were asked to leave a gratuity. I basically ate lots of fruit, egg whites and hash browns, plus coffee and juice, at both hotels, but the Lafayette had an omelet maker who made me one with everything green: fresh spinach, broccoli, scallions and green pepper.
Our first dinner was at Freda's Cafe, where I fell on a big bowl of linguine with fresh sea scallops and shrimp in pesto sauce. (210 Ocean St., Cape May.) At Lucky Bones, I ordered a big arugula salad with roasted vegetables, focaccia and a glass of pinot noir. (1200 Route 109, Cape May.)
For lunch one day at Key West Tacos, my son and I had fish tacos (tasty grouper) and my wife ordered crab tacos, which disappointed her, because she couldn't taste any crab. A platter with two tacos, rice and corn chips cost $12, but the woman behind the counter refused to give me salad instead of corn chips. The tacos were made with two flour tortillas, but the fish was buried under a mound of chopped cabbage, rather than traditional onion and cilantro. (479 West Perry St., West Cape May; closed Wednesday.)
We ate a series of good but pricey seafood meals at The Lobster House, an incredibly popular restaurant, raw bar and fish market on Fisherman's Wharf, where a commercial fishing fleet ties up (I guess San Francisco can't claim to have the only Fisherman's Wharf). I saw boats named Mariner and Mekong H. You can't miss the restaurant's sign at the entrance to Cape May.
After a 40-minute wait, I had blackened red fish for dinner one night, while my son ordered a small lobster and my wife chose soft-shell crabs. At other meals, I had raw or steamed Jersey clams, meaty Chesapeake Bay oysters on the half shell and cream-based seafood soups ; my wife and son shared six large steamed crabs from Texas.
The best pizza of the trip was at Tony's, a restaurant that looks like a dump. I asked for fresh spinach and broccoli on a regular pie, baked well-done. The five jumbo shrimp that came with the linguine crunched nicely, but the pasta was in a bland, watery sauce, as if the cook forgot to drain it completely. (1208 Route 109, Cape May.)
We overdid it this past Friday morning, when we left for home, ordering nearly $39 worth of sandwiches and sides at Primo Hoagies (605 Lafayette St., Cape May; 609-884-1177). I ate the last portion today.
Nonna's Veggie sounded better than it tasted: eggplant, broccoli rabe, sharp provolone and roasted red peppers on a long, sesame-seeded Italian loaf. The middle of three sizes is called primo ($7.99), but it was more than a foot long and I couldn't finish it.
But the Pescara was terrific, especially heated up at home. Italian tuna straight from three cans was the main component, plus sharp provolone and roasted red peppers ($19.09, twice the size of the primo). Of the three side dshes we tried, the winner was a cheese tortellini salad with hot peppers and crunchy diced carrots.
We ate the sandwiches at a parkway service area, surrounded by other families attacking big plates of fast-food hamburgers, fried chicken and french fries.
(Photo: Cape May gingerbread.)