Sometimes there are just establishments that don’t fit into the traditional mold of this blog but when I find one that stands out it really makes it special. There is something about the boardwalk businesses at the Jersey shore that just different. Maybe it is just the sites and smells or just the combination with the sea air and the beautiful weather with the aroma of good food. This is how Franconi’s Pizzeria & Ristorante on the corner of Oak Avenue & the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ makes your mouth water.
Franconi’s Pizzeria & Ristorante at Oak Avenue and the Boardwalk
The one thing I have to say about the staff at Franconi’s is…
*The blogger wants to note that this is a combination of many different dates, so it does jump around a bit.
After such a wonderful Christmas holiday in Cape May, I decided to change my plans around and stay in Cape May this time for the Annual Firemen’s Convention which is in mid-September. This is the best time to visit the beach as most of the tourists are away, the kids are back in school and the water is still warm. Hurricane Florence was coming up the coast so it was not the greatest weather but I always find things to do.
While attending the convention in 2018, I was booked at the Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May, which is considering the Southern Grande Dame of hotels. I had stayed at the hotel’s Southern Quarters, the smaller B & B setting next door during Christmas and it had been a nice stay. The room had been decorated with holiday ornaments and decorations. I had a slept like ‘a log’ during the holidays. It had been so quiet at that time of the year.
The Weekend before the Convention 2018:
When I had originally booked the reservation for the weekend, I was told that the restaurant, The Magnolia Room, would be open. Later I found out it would be closing for the end of the season on September 7th and I would not be able to try it for dinner when I was visiting Cape May. This meant a special trip ahead of time. So after work on September 6th on a whim I made a special trip to Cape May to check out the culinary delights of the Chalfonte Hotel.
I called the hotel at the last minute, booked a room with a shared bathroom ($100.00) and off I went down the Garden State Parkway from Bergen County to Cape May which is one side of the state to another. With one break stop, I was there in two hours and forty five minutes.
I got to the hotel by 4:30pm and it was still nice out. Hurricane Florence was just starting to make landfall in Florida and it was supposed to be gloomy all day long but we lucked out the tentacles of the storm had not hit New Jersey (that would come later the next day when I left) and it was still sunny, clear, warm and still a little humid.
I was happy because I got my room immediately and was able to get to the beach for a swim before dinner. One thing about the Chalfonte Hotel (see review on TripAdvisor) is that it is old and I mean old. The rooms themselves have been updated and painted and the beds and furnishings are new and comfortable but the room I got with the shared bath could have used a scraping and repainting of the whole room.
The Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May at 301 Howard Street
The windowsill was beginning to rot, and I could see in the gingerbread decoration on the roof was rotting as well. The hallway carpets were clean but could have used a good shampooing to bring out the color. Even though the hotel is clean and maintained, it still needs a good gut renovation to bring it up to current standards. It is nice it could be a showplace.
In 2022, I had a back room that was much larger than the usual rooms that I get. It was located on the back side of the Dining Room and surprisingly was very quiet even when there was a wedding on Saturday night. It was also located right next to the communal bathroom, so it was like having my own bathroom. The light shined at the top of the windows, but I just slept on the other bed, and I slept soundly both nights. I needed the rest.
The beach is only three blocks away and since it was off season already and later in the afternoon, the beach was quiet. The water was perfectly warm and the waves were low and no current from the storm (we really lucked out with that) so swimming was nice. I could ride the waves with not much worries. Still I kept close to shore and did not venture out too far.
It was nice to just lie on the beach and just relax. I had not been to the beach all summer and it was nice to just put my feet in the ocean, hear the sound of the waves and just relax on a towel and get some sun. I had not done this in over a year. The salt air is so soothing. The nice part was the beach at this point was practically empty and was filled with mostly locals.
After the beach, I went back to take a shower and relax. I took a quick nap on the bed which I have to say are soft and firm at the same time and I completely relaxed. I didn’t even want to go down for dinner but there was a fried chicken dinner with my name on it downstairs.
The Magnolia Room (see review on TripAdvisor), the hotel’s main dining room, is off the main lobby and located towards the back of the hotel. You really do feel like you are in a Southern hotel in Charleston or Savannah with the long narrow dining room, the pink tablecloths and the over-head chandeliers. It is like stepping into a Southern Plantation. It is elegant and homey at the same time.
Cape May like most shore towns in the Northeast have to depend on foreign help as the college students have to go back to school and there are only so many people living in town to fill the jobs. My server, Michaela, told me she was from Albania and could not have been friendlier. She was the one that told me that the Fried Chicken Dinner was the most popular. The nice part is that the three course meal is $39.00 which includes an appetizer or soup, the main entrée and a dish from the set menu. Another nice aspect of the dining room is that they give hotel guests a 15% discount for eating there and I thought that was very nice.
I traveled three hours to try the Fried Chicken so off the order went to the kitchen. I started with the Chicken Soup with Garden vegetables. Hunks of chicken in a fresh broth with a rough cut of fresh vegetables made the soup almost a complete meal. A good appetizer to offset the Fried Chicken. The nice part was the vegetables were really fresh and it had a well rounded flavor to it.
The Magnolia Room’s Southern Fried Chicken
The Fried Chicken was a bit of a disappointment. Even though it was a nice sized piece of chicken (almost half the bird) and the meat was juicy and moist and perfectly cooked, the coating had no flavor to it. It really needed some spices and I had to end up loading it with salt and pepper. Every bite was crispy and crunchy but not much flavor to it. The fresh Parker House rolls the same thing. They tasted good but were not moist (I found out later that they had been made in advance and had been defrosted).
For dessert, I had the Chocolate pie that was created by one of the owners of the hotel. It was pretty incredible with its dense filling and fresh whipped cream topping. I devoured that in a couple of bites.
In 2022, the Magnolia Room was open for both dinner and for breakfast the next day on my first night at the hotel. Lucille and her niece, Tina both retired from the hotel during the pandemic (although they do check in) so a new chef was hired for the hotel. They have kept the old favorites and added some new ones.
For dinner in 2022, I enjoyed the New England Clam Chowder again which had not changed a bit. The soup was thick and rich with a lots of clams dotting the soup and a taste from the cream.
I enjoyed the Fried Chicken again and it was almost a half a chicken that was moist and tender. I have to admit it needed a lot of salt. I could tell when Lucille was not in the kitchen working her magic. It was good but did not have that extra something that was the secret to her cooking. They also did not have her biscuits anymore and replaced them with cornbread that was good but not the same as those moist biscuits whose secret was a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
For dessert, I enjoyed the Peach Cobbler with some ice cream. It was delicious and made with local fruit. The only bad part was it needed to be heated. It was nice to eat inside dining room with all the beautiful chandeliers all lit. I originally sat outside but it was so dark so early that I could not see. There was nice jazz band outside playing. I think after dinner they moved to the King Edward Bar.
The specialty cocktail was strong and on top of all the driving I did in the afternoon, it made me even more tired. Still I had enough energy to go to the Kings Bar, which is a small bar off the main lobby for an after dinner drink and listen to one of the local groups that play there.
The King Edward Bar is a small room that is off the wrap around porch and next to the history room that is part of the main lobby. There are about a half dozen tables around the small room which were always full and a small bar in the back. The service there is extremely friendly and the bartenders can mix a drink. Be prepared!
It was nice to just sit back and drink a Cosmo and listen to the Jazz band. Every night during the season that have a different group there perform every night. It is nice because you don’t have to just sit in the bar. You can sit on the wrap around porch in one of the many rocking chairs, feel the breeze and listen to the music. I sat in one of the chairs and just relaxed. I started to fall asleep.
I went back to the room in the main building just for a quick rest and then I would go back to hear the music group. I fell asleep the second I hit the comfortable bed and did not wake up until much later that evening and then went to bed. I had one of the best night’s sleep I had in a long time.
I woke up completely refreshed and ready to start the day. Since the hotel was not full, I had the shared bathroom all to myself with no one banging on the door. I took a quick shower, dressed and went downstairs to try the second part of the culinary trip, the Magnolia Room Breakfast Buffet.
Magnolia Room at the Chalfonte Hotel
Now I am big breakfast fan (as many of you must know from my dining blog, “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) and when there is a buffet I am in high heaven. The food at breakfast just had more zing to it then at dinner. I just could not put my finger on why. I found out when I met Tina Bowser, one of the Magnolia Room’s two well know cooks. Her mother was Dot (Dorothy) Burton, one of the two main cooks at the hotel and as we talked we discovered that we lost our parents at the same time.
Dorothy and Lucille in the kitchen making the famous fried chicken a few years ago
I never had such a heart to heart with a complete stranger and we both talked about our losses and how much we both missed our parents. Funny how you can bond with a complete stranger who was going through exactly what I was going through. It was interesting when Tina said that she still felt like her mother looked over her shoulder when she cooked and could still feel the nudge when she did something wrong.
After our long conversation, she mentioned that she now worked side by side with her Aunt Lucille Thompson, her mother’s sister who was just as well known. Now I had heard so much about her mother and aunt that I asked for a favor, I wanted to meet her Aunt Lucille. She said no problem and I was able to go back in the kitchen to introduce myself.
Lucille Thompson on the Chalfonte Hotel porch
It is amazing to meet an 87 year old woman who still gets up every morning to cook for the hotel guests, make all the biscuits and rolls from scratch and prepare all the crab cakes, chicken coatings and then prepare breakfast. She was sitting down making her homemade rolls when I met here. It is always such a thrill when you meet a famous cook and Lucille and her family are so well known in the industry.
Lucille seemed thrilled when I made such a fuss. She told me of all her time at the hotel and the countless hours in the kitchen. I could tell there was pride in her voice on her cooking like it was her baby. She put a lot of effort into the food to make it special.
It was then she told me she had not been in the kitchen the night before and the she had made the dinner rolls in advance. That was the reason why there had been such a difference in flavor of the food. It’s not that it was not good it was but it just didn’t have that touch that was missing. There was such that sense that the person who gave it that extra care was not there to oversee it.
I complimented her on the soup and on the chocolate pie I had for dessert but she gave the credit to that to the owners wife, who made the delicious chocolate pie and the chicken vegetable soup. It was she though who made the Southern Breakfast I enjoyed so much. She seemed thrilled that I was so thrilled to finally meet her. I then left her alone to do her magic in the kitchen while I got back to the buffet.
Now this buffet is really nice. On the buffet we had fresh scrambled eggs, thick bacon, Amish sausage, fried hash brown potatoes, fried red tomatoes, spoon bread, fresh rolls and Danishes that were made by the kitchen as well as fresh fruits, juices and a complete waffle bar. This was all you could eat and they have never seen me at a breakfast buffet. Unlike other people who just fill up their plates and then to waste food, I circle the buffet, try a small portion of things and then go back for more so that I don’t waste.
My advice is that you have to go to the Chalfonte Hotel just for the breakfast buffet if not for anything else. Those fried red tomatoes are so sweet and crisp, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I had never eaten anything like this before. The homemade rolls when they are still hot are addictive and the Danishes are delicious and burst with fruits and cinnamon. The sausage is those fat Amish sausage that crack when you bite into them, and you can taste the freshly ground pork and sage. It was wonderful breakfast full of good food, great service and a beautiful room to eat in on a sunny morning.
In 2022, the buffet was gone due to COVID, and the food service manager told me it would not be coming back. I guess when the old cooks left, they took that tradition with them. The food was a la Carte now and they opened the porch for breakfast on this beautiful sunny morning. I had a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Breakfast sandwich with a side of freshly made hashbrowns that were well spiced and salted.
The breakfast sandwich was on a brioche bun and was sweet and savory at the same time. It was so nice to just sit outside and watch people walk by. It was a clear and sunny day perfect to eat outside. It was an enjoyable breakfast.
By the time I finished it gave me a chance to get a quick walk into downtown Cape May, the Washington Mall, to look at the shops before I left. I needed to work off the breakfast. It was a bright sunny day, and I could not believe what the weatherman had said. I walked around the beach and the other half empty hotels that proved that the season was over. After a quick rest in the room, I checked out of the Grande Dame of Cape May for a trip to the zoo. It had been a great stay, truly relaxing and just what the doctor ordered. I had needed this rest.
By the time I left the hotel for the Cape May Zoo (see review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com) up on Route 9, it started to get cloudy and by the time I was walking into the zoo, it poured! Going to a zoo in the rain is not much fun as the animals took shelter too and I didn’t get to see many of them unless they were in a protected environment. As there was a break in the weather, some of the peeked out and greeted the visitors. I enjoyed visiting the zoo but have to say it is another Eighties type of zoo that is need of an update. I think there must be more interesting ways to have animals live then in some of the smaller exhibitions.
When I returned to zoo again in 2022, the place was packed with firemen and their families watching the animals who all looked so bored. I felt for these animals who needed to stretch a bit and being contained in a small area. I could see that they were well taken care of but animals like giraffes and buffalo need room to roam around. The Cape May Zoo is really big but still I could see that look on the animals faces. It looked like the seniors in a nursing home.
I decided I wanted to explore the state and drove up Route 9 which would take me directly to Newark. Big Mistake! It took five hours to get home going through all those smalls towns. I really did see the middle of the State of New Jersey but it took over five hours to get home with traffic instead of the two and half by the Garden State Parkway. I am glad I did it once.
NJ State Firemen’s Convention 2018 and 2019:
The next week I returned to Cape May for the annual NJ Firemen’s Convention when about 8,000 fire fighters from all over the State of New Jersey convene for the Annual Convention. I can’t take the crowds of Wildwood and I stayed at the Chalfonte Hotel for a second time.
This time when I checked into the hotel, I was ‘upgraded’ which I find a dirty word in the hotel industry. It means that you are not getting the room that you were promised. In my case, I was moved out of the main hotel to the ‘Southern Quarters’ annex next door. It was no problem for me. I figured the wedding party that checked in that day all wanted to be together and it meant that I got a better room with my own bathroom (no more sharing).
The weird part was that I got the same exact room that I had at Christmas when I spent one night here on December 26th, 2017 (See Day One Hundred December 2017). Still I enjoyed the piece and quiet of the annex and it was nicer then the main hotel.
The only part about the room at the annex was that it was a top floor room of an old Victorian house and at one time must have been the attic. I am so tall that I had to lean down to brush my teeth and take a shower. Still it offered a lot of privacy when I finished my meetings.
The first day of the convention was really gloomy. The storm had finally hit land down South and it was misty and cloudy our first day of the convention. Since we did not have to be at the meeting until 1:00pm, I got up early and went to Uncle Bill’s Restaurant at 261 Beach Avenue in Cape May (see review on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) for breakfast since the Magnolia Room was closed.
Uncle Bill’s is a institution in the South Jersey Shore area. It was founding in 1962 in Stone Harbor and has expanded to five other locations on the Southern New Jersey shore. I could tell by the food and service it is the typical Jersey Shore restaurant which caters to family who like nice size portions at a good price.
I love the breakfasts here. They cook the eggs in clarified butter so they have that creamy taste to them and the pancakes I ordered in the platter were as light as air. When the Pancake and Egg Platter was served ($12.95), it could have fed two people. It was a great shore breakfast.
Uncle Bill’s at 261 Beach Avenue is wonderful for breakfast. A real beach breakfast.
In 2022, I enjoyed breakfast again at Uncle Bill’s which I think is the ultimate breakfast beach spot. The place was mobbed this time and full of families who looked like they were enjoying their last vacation of the season. To get in and out of the restaurant for touring the area, I ate at the bar.
I had the most delicious Bacon, Broccoli and Cheddar Omelet with wheat toast ($8.95) and was just enough to get me through the day. I love the eggs here because you can taste the butter from the grill in every bite.
After breakfast I had some time on my hands before the meeting and had planned to visit the Wildwood Historical Society at 3907 Pacific Avenue in Wildwood, NJ (See my reviews on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). The Society is only open from 9:00am-2:00pm so the only time I could have gone was that morning due to all the meetings.
The Wildwood Historical Society is an interesting little museum filled with photos and memorabilia from all eras of Wildwood’s history. Rooms were dedicated to the fire department, police department, the military, the schools, the amusement areas and the government. Each room had all sorts of artifacts and loaded with pictures in albums and on the wall.
Wildwood Historical Society at 3907 Pacific Avenue
In the hallways was old artifacts from the amusement areas that had been part of the fun of the parks over the many seasons. Many were pieces of the old parts or old rides and signs. Towards the back of the amusement area display were old restaurant menus and hotel displays.
The museum can be a little overwhelming because there is so much crammed into the rooms that there is a lot to see at one time and the only problem with the museum is its limited hours. Surprisingly when I was there, the morning was so gloomy that there were many people from the convention there as well. A group of us were watching a video of the history of Wildwood, NJ before I left for the convention.
The Annual NJ Firemen’s Convention is interesting. There were about 8,000 fire fighters from all over the State of New Jersey in the convention hall all ready to vote on issues. We had the usual welcome speeches, flag salute and color guard and then it was business as usual. We wrapped by 2:30pm so we had time to walk around and see the fire equipment displays.
Since it was so cloudy most people packed up and went back to their hotels. I walked the Boardwalk to my favorite pizzeria, Joe’s Italian Pizzeria at 2812 Boardwalk between Magnolia & Poplar Streets (see reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) for one of their giant slices of pizza.
The slices at Joe’s are double the size of a normal slice of pizza and they even put a little swirl of sauce on top to finish it off. Their pizza is consistent and delicious and it is fun trying to eat that giant 28 inch slice. There are two problems with the place though. One is that it is cash only in the 21st Century and second is that try to load their glasses up with ice and give you very little soda so you have to ask for just a little ice. Otherwise it is a nice place for a slice.
As I left the Boardwalk it got darker outside and there were very few people walking around the Boardwalk. I left to visit the Hereford Lighthouse at 111 North Central Avenue in North Wildwood, NJ (see reviews on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). The Hereford Lighthouse is a Victorian Lighthouse that was built in 1874 and was operational until no longer deemed functional after the early 1960’s and a more modern structure was built leaving this building to rot away. Preservationists saved the building and restored it in 1983.
The Hereford Lighthouse at 111 North Central Avenue
I was surprised on how busy the museum was that afternoon. I guess people just did not want to walk on the beach on such a gloomy day. Each floor of the lighthouse shows it use and progress over almost one hundred years, with period furniture, family heirlooms and pictures, sea-going maps and nautical items. Floor by floor you see family living arrangements and the life the families had when they lived here.
The most beautiful view is from the top of the lighthouse on the third floor which had a spectacular view on the ocean and the surrounding area. What fascinated me the most was the history of the families who lived here and how they adapted to life here. The pictures of the holidays in the lighthouse were interesting. They even had a family reunion of the children who lived here a few years ago and to see these kids as children then as senior citizens was pretty remarkable.
What I liked about the museum was the gardens that surrounded the property. Even though it was not a nice afternoon out it was nice to walk through the flowered paths and shrubs and then take the back path to the bay area behind the property and see the bay and ocean. On a nice day in the middle of the summer it must be something.
After my trip to the Hereford Lighthouse at 111 North Central Avenue, I drove through the neighborhood to see the changes in the town. Even though Hurricane Sandy did not affect the Wildwood’s the way it did other shore towns there has been a lot of building in both North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest with the edges of Wildwood proper going through the change.
All these towns are being knocked down and rebuilt with newer homes and businesses. Here and there are traces of the old Wildwood but slowly the towns are coming into the modern age with new condos and homes being built replacing the small shore houses of the 50’s and 60’s. Even the old motels that catered to the tourists are slowly disappearing which is going to affect all of us at the convention as these places vanish. I could see that the towns are becoming year round communities.
For dinner for all five years of the Convention (2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022), I went to my favorite restaurant in Wildwood, The Ravioli House and Bakery at 102 Bennett Avenue in Wildwood, NJ (see reviews on TripAdvisor and LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com). This has become my Saturday night in Wildwood tradition. I love their bakery which is located in the back of the restaurant which has a separate entrance.
The bakery has cases of Italian pastries that are all beautifully displayed and you just want to try one after another. I settled on a chocolate éclair ($3.00) just in time to spoil my dinner but what is wrong with eating dessert first? This delicious pastry was loaded with vanilla custard and topped with a thick layer of chocolate icing. There is nothing better but making a choice was hard. The custard doughnut that looked like a peach would have to be tried as well.
The Ravioli House at 102 Bennett Avenue in Wildwood, NJ
I managed to walk around a little before dinner and then went in for dinner at The Ravioli House for the second year in a row. It was loaded with fire fighting families and groups of people from the convention. The restaurant was busy that whole evening and I could tell that they were short on help.
It some time for dinner but I was in no rush. Dinner here is well worth the wait. I started with one of their garden salads ($3.95) which was loaded with fresh greens, cucumbers and tomatoes. No hot house vegetables here. The salad was crisp and nicely accented by the oil and vinegar dressing. For dinner, I had the Trio of Ravioli ($19.95) which ended up being a duo since they ran out of spinach ravioli. So I just had the meat and cheese ravioli which are freshly made in the restaurant and were as light as air. The meat ravioli were some of the best I have eaten.
For dessert, I had the Peach Custard Doughnut ($3.95), which was a doughnut, split in half, filled with cream rolled in sugar and liqueur to give it that peach color exterior. It was well worth the second dessert but was a little sweet to end the meal. I ended up talking to the owners daughter again who works the register. I swear it was like ‘Some Time Next Year’ visiting places I had last year.
The Bakery at the Ravioli House is amazing!
There was no Convention in 2020 because of COVID and in 2021, the Convention was a one day walk through where we showed our cards, went into the Convention Center, filled out our forms and voted. We exited the building and then signed in with the department representatives. That was the extent of the Convention. About fifteen minutes.
I got to bed early that night when I started to get tired after listening to the band at the King Edward Bar for a bit. I said ‘I’ll just lie down for a second’. I woke up at Midnight and then went back to bed.
My last morning in Wildwood was nice. I woke up early, checked out of the hotel and headed to the boardwalk for breakfast. I had walked around the Boardwalk the day before and passed Franconi’s Pizza at 3318 Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ (See review on TripAdvisor and LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com).
In 2018, 2019 and 2021, the owners were outside shoving menus into everyone’s hands in the three years I attended the Convention in Wildwood and one of the items on the menu was a breakfast special for firefighters for $5.99. I thought I have to try this. I was not disappointed in the three years I ate here and now look forward to visiting the restaurant every time I come to the Wildwood Boardwalk.
Franconi’s Pizza at 3318 Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ
I have never had breakfast at a pizzeria on a boardwalk before but this is the standard that all should be set. The food was delicious! For $5.99, I got two pancakes, two eggs, two slices of bacon, a mound of potatoes and two slices of toast. The juice was separate. It was meal that could have fed two people and everything was delicious.
All the food was cooked in clarified butter and you could taste it in the scrambled eggs which were fluffy and in the pancakes which you could taste in the caramelization of the outside of the pancakes. I was so stuffed that I rolled out of the restaurant. It was one of the best breakfast’s I ever had out and I highly recommend it when walking the Boardwalk in Wildwood in the morning.
Don’t miss the breakfasts at Franconi’s; they are excellent!
In 2021, I had the number eight breakfast special, which was two slices of French Toast, two scrambled eggs, two pieces of bacon, two pieces of sausage and hash browns for $7.95 which included hot tea and coffee. The breakfast could have fed two people easily. The eggs still tasted the same with the wonderful flavor of the clarified butter and the French Toast was two big Texas Toast slices cut in half, so it was four big pieces. The French Toast was loaded with cinnamon and had the most wonderful, sweet, caramelized flavor to it.
In 2022, I was walking around the Boardwalk Saturday afternoon after a day of touring historical sites and the Cape May Zoo, and I wanted a snack before I went back to the hotel and relaxed. I would be eating dinner late, so it was no big deal. I stopped at Franconi’s again for a Meatball Parmesan hoagie ($8.95) and it was delicious. It was a seven-inch sandwich loaded with freshly made meatballs and topped with their delicious marinara sauce. It was the perfect late lunch and just enough where it did not fill me up when I was having dinner at Ravioli House.
The meatball sandwich at Franconi’s is excellent
In 2018 and 2019, it had cleared and was sunny and blue outside. It was a spectacular day to walk around the Boardwalk. The morning meeting went by quickly as I could see that everyone wanted to get out of there and go outside to enjoy the sunny morning. We started our meeting at 9:00am, voted for our new officers for the Association and were out by 10:30am.
Most people were outside walking around the fire equipment or walking with their families on the Boardwalk by the time I got outside. I took one last walk on the Boardwalk to stretch my legs before I left for Newark, DE for the Cornell versus University of Delaware football game (we lost 27-10 but not the blood bath of last year). So there was a distance to drive.
Cornell versus University of Delaware (We can’t seem to beat them!) Watch the game below.
I left Wildwood until ‘Same Time Next Year’ for the next convention. There are a lot more places to explore and restaurants to try. You never know what you will come across in a shore town.
NJ State Firemen’s Convention 2021:
In 2021, things had changed a lot due to COVID. The Convention went from a two day event to a one day walk through where all we did was get scanned in and then fill out the form to vote and get that scanned and then walk out of the convention center. Some people wore masks and some didn’t but we were not there long enough to worry about it.
I decided this year to make this a working vacation trip since I had pulled my back out and needed to catch up on trips down the shore to visit museums. I was going to stay at the Chalfonte Hotel again for two nights and do the walk through voting but on my way down to Cape May, I decided to visit many of the shore towns to visit their historical museums for my blog, VisitingaMuseum.com.
So my trip started early Thursday morning with my first stop being the Ocean City Historical Museum at 1735 Simpson Avenue in downtown Ocean City, NJ. It was a beautiful morning with not much traffic so it was easy to manage the trip into town. I forgot what a picturesque town Ocean City is when you enter it. It looks like a little New England town.
It took a bit to find the museum until I realized that it was part of the town’s Municipal complex and you had to go through the museum to enter it. It really is an interesting little museum. I liked the history of the shore town with its Victorian hotels, the progression of the Boardwalk over the years, the ship wrecks of the coast line and the exhibit dedicated to Princess Grace Kelly whose family used to vacation here during the summers. I was surprised when the Royal family visited as well when she came home (See review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com).
After the visit to the museum, I walked down a few blocks to the shoreline where the Boardwalk was located and took a long walk down the length of the Boardwalk to see what was still open. My therapist suggested a lot of walking for me and that is what I did going all the way to the end and back. Still it gave me a chance to visit old businesses I had been to before.
I started with lunch at Manco & Manco Pizza at 816 East 9th Street on the Boardwalk. I love the pizza here and when I am in Ocean City, NJ this is the only place that I go. The sauce is well spiced and the pizza is always delicious. It has that nice tomato sauce swirl that is so famous at the Jersey Shore and they use a high quality mozzarella cheese on their pies. The place was mobbed that day and the line was ten deep while the other places on the boardwalk were quiet (see my review on TripAdvisor.com).
After that, I walked back down the Boardwalk to Johnson’s Popcorn at 1360 Boardwalk for a small popcorn for dessert. I had tried the caramel corn many times before and this time I decided on the Cheese popcorn. It was amazing! (See my review on TripAdvisor).
You could tell it was a combination of Cheddar and what tasted like Blue Cheese as well. It was so rich and savory you could taste it in every bite. They really loaded on the cheese coating. I happily munched on it on my way back to the car needing several napkins to wipe up what I could not lick off. What was nice is that they give it to you in a bag so the extra popcorn spills over and you get extra. This more than filled me up on my next trip to Sea Isle City Historical Museum.
Sea Isle City was really quiet the afternoon that I was there and it seemed that the whole town had rolled up its sleeves and then left. There were not that many cars on the road so it was easy to get around. It took a bit to find the Sea Isle City Museum as it was tucked into the Municipal Building behind their library. It was a small historical society manned by very dedicated and helpful volunteers. They looked like they were happy to see a visitor and explained the whole museum to me.
They had a very interesting ‘Wedding Dresses through the Ages’ exhibition when you walked in which displayed residents of Sea Isle City’s wedding costumes from the late 1880’s through today which the volunteers said were very popular. There were various historical displays of kitchens, fishing equipment and items from old hotels and restaurants. There were also binders of families that lived here for generations. Outside there was a Diamondback Turtle Refuge and a small botanical garden dedicated to the former President of the museum.
I knew I would never get to Stone Harbor in time to see their museum so I took my time to drive to Avalon, NJ. There was no one on the road but me so it was a quick trip and I got to the Avalon History Center at 215 39th Street in time to have about an hour to tour the museum. It was just the right amount of time.
Since I got there before it closed, I was the only one in the museum and a staff member greeted me and let me know if I had any questions that he would be in the back. After that, I was alone to enjoy looking at the displays.
The Avalon History Center is similar in displays to the other shore historical societies. There were displays on local hotels and restaurants, a small history on the growing music scene from the 1960’s and 70’s, the formation of the railroad head at the shore and big display on the Beach Patrol, which is a big part of the culture at the shore. It recorded the competitions over the years and its importance in the town. Outside these is a small garden and out buildings to explore.
After I left Avalon, I followed the Shore Highway to Wildwood and wanted to walk the Boardwalk there have a stretch before I arrived at the Chalfonte Hotel for the evening. So with a brisk walk with the ocean air, I found myself back at Franco’s again at 3318 Boardwalk indulging in a Cheesesteak ($8.95). I would highly recommend it. It was the best cheesesteak I had eaten outside of Philly (as Wildwood caters to the Philly crowd and probably knows their way around a cheesesteak). The sandwich was on a fresh chewy roll loaded with thin steaks and a large portion of Cheese Wiz on top. It was like heaven in each bite.
The cheesesteaks at Franconi’s rival anything in Philly
I got to my room at the Chalfonte Hotel later that evening. I have to say that I have been staying at this hotel now for almost six years and I have never seen it so run down. It just looked like they had not done any renovation work in a long time. I was not impressed by the peeling paint and the stained carpets in the second floor hallways. My room had water damage in the corner of the room (I could not believe that they would sell this room).
Voting the next morning took only fifteen minutes. We showed our ID’s, filled out the form and had them scanned and walked out of the Convention Center. Done in minutes and then off to the Boardwalk again to visit restaurants and stores.
Breakfast again was Franconi’s and I swear their breakfasts are the best on the Boardwalk. You can not top their French Toast platter with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage with a side of Hash Browns (see review on TripAdvisor and LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com).
I spent the rest of the morning walking off breakfast by touring the entire Boardwalk and then walking back. From here I visited a series of museums that have been on bucket list for a long time. I also stopped by a series of farms along the way to look for the elusive Beach Plum jelly.
My first stop was the Stone Harbor Historical Museum at 9410 Second Avenue in Stone Harbor, NJ. This delightful little museum has an extensive collection of artifacts packed into a small space just off Downtown Stone Harbor.
The museum like many along the shore has the history of their tourism, the competition in the Beach Patrol, artifacts from homes and families from the area and even had a 9/11 exhibition that was donated from the Stone Harbor Fire Department chief (See reviews on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com).
Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum at 500 Forrestal Road
The next museum on my list was the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum at 500 Forrestal Road in West Cape May. This unique museum at the Cape May Airport explains the region’s role in WWII. Serving as an Army base during the beginning of WWII, there were stories from locals about their time in the armed forces, how the area catered to our uniformed soldiers and their stories about training in the area and then all the vehicles from planes to trucks. Plan to be here for a few hours (See my review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com).
In 2022, after the convention was over, I visited several other historical sites that I was not able to visit or have time for in June for my Father’s Day weekend visit.
Dennis Township Old Schoolhouse Museum at 681 Petersburg Road in Woodbine, NJ
I finally got to visit this interesting little museum in historic Woodbine, NJ. The museum is surrounded by a neighborhood of historic homes, so the town has a nice feel to it right in the middle of a farming community.
There is a display on the basket making industry that supplied all the baskets for fruits and vegetables for the farmers in New Jersey, the shingle making industry that prided itself on making the shingles for Congress Hall in Philadelphia and the renovation of a local cemetery of historic significance to the town.
There are pictures of the historic Methodist Camp that was located here, a display on local Veterans and their artifacts, pictures of home management on the farm and in rural New Jersey, an antique pipe organ and pictures of the local renovation of the Ludlam family cemetery. There is a little bit of this and a little bit of that displayed at the museum and well organized in this former one room schoolhouse. The docents were also really nice.
There were also displays of period furniture, farm equipment, clothing and accessories, the town’s police and fire departments and a complete library on the town’s history and a place where people can come to study their genealogy. There is a lot packed into this small museum.
The Museum of Cape May County at 504 North Route 9
The Museum of Cape May County changed their hours the week before and now it is only open on Wednesday and Friday afternoon, so I had to plan to visit it another time when I was in the area. I was a little bummed because it had nice grounds that I took a moment to walk. That is when I went back to the Cape May Zoo (see above) which was a madhouse that afternoon on a beautiful sunny day.
The Church Landing Farm was my last stop on my way home. I had tried to visit it on my last trip, and it had already closed for the day, and it is open just one day a week. Still this small historical society should not be missed.
The farmhouse is decorated in period furniture from Victorian times to the 1920’s and shows the life of gentleman farmer, Daniel Garrison, who built the house between 1840-1845. Most of the furnishings were donated with the exception of the Garrison family portraits which were donated by the family,
Where the museum really shines in in the individual sheds that have different themes to them. One is a Fishing Hut to move around during the season, a one room schoolhouse, one dedicated to the local high schools with uniforms and spirit items including football pictures and trophies. My favorite was of the local amusement park that closed in 1969. The artifacts of the park were really interesting that included old rides, signs, prizes from the games and pictures of the park in its glory. These were fascinating. I walked the grounds again before I left and went back to Hudock’s for some ice cream before the long trip home.
In 2021, on my way back from visiting all the museums, I stopped at two farms in search of Beach Plum jelly, something of a local delicacy in Southern New Jersey. My first stop was the Beach Plum Farm which is part of the Cape Resorts. I love coming here for breakfast (See TripAdvisor review) and to just look around at the gift shop and the grounds. It has really expanded over the years.
I also took quick tours of the Lewes Maritime Museum at the Cannonball House at 118 Front Street in Lewes before I took the ferry to Cape May and the Museum of Fine Arts & Popular Culture at 507 Washington Street in Cape May, but they were rushed, and I did not get to really enjoy them. The Lewes Maritime Museum was loaded with information on the Revolutionary War and the local fishing industry. The Museum of Fine Arts & Popular Culture displayed work of the Surrealists and featured many items from the curator’s collection and works that he had done himself.
The gift shop had an array of gift and food items to choose from and the small restaurant even expanded since my last visit two years ago. There are many fresh and frozen items to choose from as well as gourmet gift products and even fresh eggs from their chickens. There were lots of breakfast and lunch items on the menu.
Beach Plum Farm at 140 Stevens Street
Beach Plum Farm shop
I love walking the grounds and looking at the garden beds, chicken coops and looking at the crops which were in their last stages of growing as the summer grew to close. It has gotten very commercial since my first visit about ten years ago but the farm has grown more popular and has really expanded. I could not find the elusive jelly.
Down the road is the more authentic working farm, the Rea Farm and their Market. This is more of what you would think of as a farm. The fields are in the back and the owner of the farm’s wife works the farm stand market. She and I talked for almost an hour about life on the farm and the Farm Act and protecting precious New Jersey farm land.
It was here that I found the Beach Plum jelly ($6.95) which I thought was reasonably priced. Mrs. Rea said that she made the jelly herself and that all of her fruit jams and baked products are made at the commercial kitchen they had in the old farmhouse. They also too had a nice selection of baked products and fresh eggs. It was less fancy as going to Beach Plum Farms but just as nice of an experience.
Dinner that night was back at the Ravioli House in Wildwood, NJ. Because of COVID and the number of people at the Convention, the restaurant had set up a tent with outdoor dining in their parking lot next to the restaurant. Thank God it was a nice sunny warm night that was perfect to dine out.
I love the food here and before dinner I managed to sneak in a piece of pastry from their bakery. I had one of their St. Joseph custard filled pastries ($3.75) about an hour before dinner. I should have waited though as it did put a slight damper on dinner. Still I was starved.
The Ravioli House bakery is located behind the restaurant
Since it would be both lunch and dinner for me and I planned to head back to the hotel after dinner for a long walk, I decided to have a big meal when I saw some of the things on the menu that I had not tried in my last few trips to the restaurant.
I started with the Chicken Pastina soup ($4.25) which was a flavorful chicken stock loaded with fresh vegetables, chunks of chicken and Pastina, which are small pieces of pasta in the shape of a thumb nail. The soup was rich in chicken flavor and was the perfect starter for a cool night.
Since I was starved, I decided to try the Trip Around Italy ($26.95), which was a sampling of all the pastas on the menu that included two stuffed shells, four ravioli and a big portion size of both Gnocchi and Spaghetti along with a large meatball and a piece of sausage. All the pastas were fresh and made in house and the meatballs and sausage were also made in house along with their fresh red sauce.
The dish was amazing but filling. I was starved and somehow I ate everything including a whole bread basket of fresh rolls to dip the sauce in and butter. The pastas were delicious and the cheese filling in the ravioli and stuffed shells was a combination of parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella which felt creamy and you could taste the complexity of the mixture. When the waitress came to collect my plate she could not believe I ate everything on the plate plus the rolls. She said most people take half of it home.
The ‘Tour Around Italy’ can feed two people
After a dinner like that I did not need any dessert and ended up taking a long walk around the neighborhood to work it off and digest. I think I walked about a mile and a half from the restaurant to the Boardwalk and back.
In 2022, I was back at the Ravioli House again for my annual Saturday night dinner. Since I had had the meatball hoagie a few hours before, I did not want to have a huge meal like in the past. I decided on the Chicken Piccante, which was two nicely sized chicken breasts sauteed in butter, lemon and wine and topped with capers. What was nice was it included a small salad to start with fresh greens and a light oil and vinegar dressing and a side of their homemade spaghetti with their flavorful marinara sauce.
For dessert, I had stopped in the pastry shop behind the restaurant and eyed the St. Joseph’s pastry and decided on that for dessert. The rich sweet filling with the rich pastry dough was a special treat for my last night at the shore.
The Chicken Piccante was delicious
I ran into the owner who mans the register every time I come on (her mother is supervising in the kitchen at 80) and reminded her of my previous visits. We were laughing over the bread story last year when a firemen’s son, (who was challenged), stole the bread off the table. She laughed and said for some reason she remembered that. When I left, I said, “Same time next year.” She seemed please that I have made this part of my tradition in visiting Wildwood.
I drove back to Cape May through the Wildwoods and could not believe how quiet it seemed. Most of the hotels in town were not full and even the Boardwalk seemed quiet that evening. It was busy but not like two years ago. I think most people voted and then went home. The hotels by the Boardwalk still had vacancy signs. When I arrived back in Cape May, their downtown was hopping.
The next morning I toured around Cape May and revisited some of the sights from the day before and walked down to the beach. It was so warm that people were hitting the beach and walking around downtown. I tried to go to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House again a few blocks away but the line was about fifty deep with families and a waitstaff that was hustling as fast as they could. So I walked a few blocks away and went to an old standby, The Mad Batter at 19 Jackson Street for breakfast.
Unfortunately it was the same thing but this time with young couples and older families waiting outside. I lucked out with the host and she let me eat at the bar so I was immediately seated and served. Breakfast as usual here was fantastic. I could not believe how fast breakfast came out as the whole restaurant was mobbed from the time I got there to the long line left when I departed.
The bar area at the Mad Batter at 19 Jackson Street
I had a Three Egg with Cheddar and Bacon and a side of home fries with rye toast. The bartender at The Mad Batter does mix a very strong Mimosa. The omelet was excellent and so well spiced. The hash browns had a bit of kick to them with the peppers. The service was excellent. When I left, the line was still long to get in.
On this beautiful morning, I left for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to visit my mother for an overnight trip. I owed her dinner for her delayed Christmas present. So off I went taking the ferry again across Delaware Bay while watching the Michigan State-U of Miami Game. I did not even see the beautiful views as I was glued to the set. By the time we arrived at Lewes, DE we won the game.
The Cape May-Lewes Ferry can be a real treat on a sunny day
The evening my mom, her partner and I went to Big Fish at 20298 Coastal Highway in Rehoboth Beach, DE which was part of my mother’s Christmas present that we had not been able to plan since I had gotten hurt over the summer. It was a relaxing evening where we all indulged in their sweet Fried Shrimp platter and various appetizers. After three days of running around visiting museums, stores and restaurants for updates on my blog and visiting small towns and farms to add to these blogs, it was nice to just relax.
The Big Fish Grille at 20298 Costal Highway in Rehoboth Beach, DE
In 2022, I was visiting for an early birthday meal with my mom and Jane. Since I would not be seeing her again until December because of college, I took the two of them to Confucious at 57 Wilmington Avenue in downtown Rehoboth Beach.
We ordered a lot for dinner because we were all starved. We started off with delicious thin-skinned pork dumplings and pan-fried soft-shell crabs and for the entrees we ordered Mu Shu Pork (they make this so good!), General Tso’s Chicken, Spicy Singapore Noodles and the owner always sends something complimentary to the table, my mom’s favorite, Fried Rice. It was such a nice meal, and it was funny toasting my mother three months early.
The next day I took off for home but not after another visit to the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk. I had to have my Louis Pizza fix. Louis Pizza at 11 Rehoboth Avenue right near the Boardwalk and is the best place in town to get pizza. After a slice and a quick walk on the Boardwalk to enjoy the sunshine, it was back home again to answer calls and get back to work.
Built in the nineteenth century, the Chalfonte offers ‘the view from yesterday, genteel Southern-style hospitality, ornate gingerbread verandas line with comfortable rocking chairs and a constant sea breeze to rejuvenate and refresh. The Chalfonte’s distinctive ship-like profile, crowned by her Italianate cupola, now occupies nearly an entire city block. The hotel was built in 1876 by Civil War Colonel Henry Sawyer and was originally planned as a boarding house. Sawyer’s Chalfonte underwent most of its expansion between 1876 and 1909 and the present footprint is much as it was in 1909. This venerable Grande Dame by the sea still retains its Victorian Charm-louvered door to let the breeze through, Southern cuisine in The Magnolia Room and original antiques and fixtures throughout.
President Lincoln and the Chalfonte:
The history of the Chalfonte Hotel begins with a story that rivals “Gone with the Wind”. Sawyer arrived in Cape May in 1848 at the age of eighteen, a supporter of the Union side in the Civil War. He enlisted in a Pennsylvania regiment since a New Jersey one had not been formed. After three months service and rising to the rank of Captain, he returned home only to re-enlist in a New Jersey regiment. In June 1863, after being captured during a bloody exchange at the Battle of Brandy in Virginia, Sawyer was incarcerated at Libby Prison in Richmond.
In retaliation for shooting two Confederate Cavalry prisoners of war, the Confederacy proposed to execute two Union prisoners, drawn by lottery. Sawyer was on of the two selected in the lottery of death. When Sawyer’s wife heard new of her husband’s execution, she did not go into a state of morning, instead rushing cross country to Washington to meet with President Lincoln and beg for his intervention. As a result, Secretary of War Stanton warned the South they would execute two Confederates if they executed the two Union prisoners. Upping the stakes, one of the Confederate prisoners selected was the son of General Robert E. Lee. The situation ended with Sawyer being released in a swap with Robert E. Lee’s son. He resumed active duty and returned to Cape May in 1875 as a recognized war hero.
Having bought a parcel of land in 1872 at the corner of Howard Street and Sewell Avenue in 1875, Sawyer began construction of “Sawyer’s Chalfonte” (Chalfonte means ‘cool fountain’ in French; Sawyer’s reason for using the name is unknown). In 1876, Colonel Sawyer bought all the rest of the square bounded by Columbia, Franklin, Sewell and Howard except for the lot at the corner of Columbia and Howard except for the lot at the corner of Columbia and Howard.
Cape May’s inclination away from resort hotels in favor of the intimacy of cottages had already begun. This trend was sealed in the fall of 1878 when the city suffered yet another disastrous fire. Previous fires had seen the total destruction of the Mt. Vernon Hotel in 1858 and of more properties in 1869. While the fire of 1878 reduced Cape May’s count of hotel rooms from 2200 to 200 in a single night and marked the demise of large hotel construction in the rest of Cape May, the Chalfonte, standing unscathed beyond the fire’s reach was about to experience an unprecedented expansion.
The same year Henry Sawyer extended his then two year old boarding house down Sewell Avenue, adding nineteen rooms to his existing eighteen. The original residence and addition were significant improvement in architectural refinement over the pre-Civil War hotels. While in no way extravagant, the building had a simple dignified Italian form (some times known as ‘Cube Italian’ in Cape May) with a balanced plan and façade.
In spite of suffering the ravages of time and storm, with minimal foundations, the first three phases of the building are soundly built with an eye to graceful resolution of any geometrical anomalies. Sawyer owned the hotel for another ten years, selling it in 1888 after just thirteen years of ownership. He died in 1893.
Between 1888 and 1911 the Chalfonte was extended to its current size, adding another twenty three rooms along Sewell Avenue, enlarging the dining room and providing delightful architectural riddles for future preservationist to solve.
The University of Delaware versus Cornell Football game in 2018
Michigan State University versus University of Miami game in 2021: