Jersey Shore Is So Much More

Cape May, Jersey Shore - lighthouse

MTV’s Jersey Shore is more about class and culture than New Jersey or Italian-Americans.

The Situation and Snooki could have been in my high school class. They were Rocks and we were Rah-Rahs.

The Rocks belied the American dream. They were first or second-generation Italian-American kids who did not do well in school and ultimately would not overcome their lower middle-class upbringing. The Rah-Rahs included a small minority of Italian-American kids who did well in school. Many would be the first in their families to go to college and rise up the economic ladder. All of us grew up proud of our southern Italian culture that was somewhat diluted and perverted here in the United States.

We all went to the Jersey Shore – for some of us it was an escape from the summer urban heat, not a way of life.

The Jersey Shore boasts some of the best beaches on the east coast. I remember these fondly from my time living in Jersey.

On the northern end, Long Branch was a popular destination for Italian family day-trips and soon had a significant year-round community. Long Beach Island was a favorite when we worked at Gus & Whitey’s during college summer breaks. Ocean City has great beaches but no alcohol. (Thank God Wildwood’s boardwalk and bars aren’t far away.)

Atlantic City was a close escape for Philly Italians. I still like to visit what’s left of that community – Angelo’s Restaurant, The White House sub shop and Formica’s Bakery are must stops. We hit them all while in AC. Thank God I didn’t lose all my money in the slots so I could eat a little something.

Cape May, Jersey Shore - Victorian house

But this week we were headed even further south to Exit Zero on the Garden State Parkway – Cape May, a cute little town filled with restored Victorians from the mid-1800s.

The beaches are uncrowded and a mile wide. The historic lighthouse is surrounded by a wetland preserve. Herons, ducks, swans and migrating raptors abound.

I was driving my friends crazy talking about what I wanted to eat for lunch once we hit Cape May. I craved fried fresh fish. As we searched for a place to eat I espied The Sea Shanty tucked in a nondescript strip of stores across from the beach and I made a mad dash the rest of my posse following slowly behind.

I saw the hand-written fish list in the window and was heartened. Once inside I met Kirkland, a no-nonsense cook who really knows what he’s doing. I was hooked. Not the sit-down restaurant my friends had in mind but they took the plunge.

Kirkland has a different light coating for each of the fish he fries up fresh.

Kirkland and Lourdes

I had the 3 way combo – shrimp, local scallops and clams all with a light crispy crunch and succulent interior. The haddock filet was so big it hung off the paper plate so I just had to help Margaret eat some of that too.

All the fish really needed was a squeeze of lemon but Kirkland’s delightful wife Lourdes makes sure you don’t run out of the homemade cocktail and tartar sauces or the lemon aioli. The Maryland lump crab cakes, lobster roll and the whole belly Ipswich clams looked fantastic but I didn’t have room to eat those too. Clean, pristine tastes of the sea. I was in heaven.

Don’t miss this inconspicuous spot at 711 Beach Road. Go inside to order from the board and grab a table outside. You won’t be sorry!

Forget MTV.  This is what the Jersey Shore is all about.

Cape May, Jersey Shore - flowers

Friday Recipe: da Flora’s Arancini with a Spicy Aioli

Arancini with aioli

All of those who gathered at my private Sunday dinner at da Flora raved about our il pranzo. The women at da Flora were at the top of their game!

Jen, the genius in the kitchen, shared a couple of her recipes. Here’s my adaptation of her arancini and spicy aioli recipes. These rice balls and aioli are easy to make and are absolutely delicious.



More photos from the exclusive dinner event at da Flora…

Bistecca alla Pizzaiola (Steak in a Spicy Tomato Sauce)

A classic from Naples – it’s fast, spicy, delicious, and is named after the pizza-maker since the sauce is one that is always at hand in a pizzeria.

Traditionally, a thick slice of chuck or round is used. You can use these cuts if you have time to braise the meat for 2-3 hours to tenderize these tougher cuts. Usually I’m too hungry to wait that long so I make it with thinly-sliced ribeye steaks. You can make this dish in about 45 minutes.

I felt generous when making the dish so I added two contorni (side dishes) to accompany the steak: sauteed escarole and roasted potatoes.

Don’t miss this episode if you want to see my version of Italian ketchup.




Friday Recipe: Pasta Fave, Aglione e Guanciale con Ricotta Secca

Viola Buitoni and the spring vegetables

Viola Buitoni was holding a cooking class in the kitchen at the Italian Consulate on top of Pacific Heights last week, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and I was invited. Le delize di primavera (springtime delights) were on the menu. Viola is a wonderful cook and teacher. I learned some great recipes and kitchen tips as we celebrated spring vegetables with simple and quick preparations.

We set out some fava beans, thinly sliced pancetta and a young Tuscan pecorino cheese so we could nibble as we began our work.

As we munched, I put the sliced rustic Acme bread in the oven to toast and made a fava puree. We prepared two more spreads in about 10 minutes – sheep ricotta flavored with orange zest, nutmeg, fresh majoram and drizzled with EVOO and a lardo spread.

Our tummies satisfied for now we made pasta with fave, green garlic and guanciale. A torta with ricotta, baby chard and prosciutto was put in the oven. Peas sauteed with spring onion and prosciutto and a frittata with fava and borage leaves were cooked on top of the stove as the torta baked. For dessert I made a cooked crema topped with cherries cooked in their own liquid.

Here’s my adaptation of Viola’s pasta recipe for you to enjoy. It serves 4-6 people. The sauce can me made in less time than it takes to cook the pasta. Buon appetito!


Una Pizza Napoletana: A Night with Anthony Mangieri, Il Maestro

Una Pizza Napoletana

I’ve been jonesing for Anthony Mangieri’s pizza for years. I was going to check it out when he was in New York’s East Village. Never did. 2 hours just to get in. No way, it’s just pizza. I got so excited when Anthony moved to San Francisco. Finally I can just walk in. Yeah, right. The lines formed again. Ain’t waiting 2 hours to get in. It’s just pizza.

I was invited to a meeting of a group that promotes authentic Italian food culture, L’Accademia Culinaria. It was a private event at Anthony’s Una Pizza Napoletana in SOMA the other night. Finally I could just walk in.

Anthony Mangieri is a master of simplicity. His dough is just flour and water that absorbs yeast from the air. He makes 5 variations of basically the same pie. I ate them all.

Anthony at his altar


All of his ingredients are in front of him. San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, smoked provola, fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic, oregano, sea salt, basil and extra virgin olive oil in the can on the top shelf. Oh one more, the arugula is near the plates on the side of the oven. That’s it.






Tending the fire and turning the pizza



The pizza is in and out in about a minute. Anthony slides it in, gives it a turn, throws a paddle-full of wood chips on the burning logs so the blast of heat finishes charring the pie, and then slides it onto the plate.





While we were talking about our families that live near one another in Jersey I mentioned to Anthony that I didn’t get the pizza bianca, the one with the smoked provola. As I was getting ready to leave he called out to me. “Hey you can’t go yet.” He was putting one in the oven for me. My prayer to his name sake San Antonio di Padua the patron saint of fire whose image hangs on the wall above the oven worked!

Anthony makes the best damn pizza I ever ate anywhere, including Napoli. Bravo maestro! Mille grazie.

BTW, Anthony says success is killing his business the lines aren’t that bad. Some nights you only have to wait 15 minutes. You’re gonna see me in that line real soon!