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Official Summer of 2015 Atlantic City Report

Official Summer of 2015 Atlantic City Report

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To many the Jersey Shore is the go to destination for summer vacation success. I was lucky enough to visit The Wildwoods, Brigantine, Ocean City, Cape May, and my latest stop Atlantic City all this summer. I saved my visit to AC last this way I could experience well established successful shore points before I gave this supposedly struggling city who is trying to become a family resort a try without spending one single dollar gambling.  

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This much is for sure. Ocean City, Cape May, and for most intents and purposes The Wildwoods have all the facilities, businesses, feeling of safety, and the science of providing a good time down to a science. Brigantine was very enjoyable as well, but this city provides a whole different beach scene then the others with no boardwalk to highlight so I will leave them out.

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Now on to Atlantic City. It has been at least a decade since I have stayed overnight in this city, let alone an entire week. Many things have changed. Some for the good, some not. First the good. Their are more high end dining destinations around town since the last time I was there. Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill’s meal was fabulous and the Beef Wellington is a must paired with a few Innis and Gunn Original pints to wash it down. Landshark Bar and Grill was a joy to visit, had better food than expected and the margaritas were the perfect way to wash it all down while watching the waves. Eastwind at Resorts provided a very personable service experience with better than average Asian food with a front row seat of the boardwalk’s hustle and bustle while eating. The Irish Pub was the perfect getaway from the glitz, glamour, and neon signs for a down home hello, affordable meal, and pint served with a smile. I noticed more families than I have ever seen walking the boards and in the casinos. There seemed to be a nice shopping experience at the outlets. The Atlantic Ocean was clean and clear, and the beaches were utilized much more than in the past.

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Now the bad. Family friendly dining spots, destinations, accommodations, or things to do besides the Steel Pier were almost non-existent. The boardwalk would benefit from a stronger police presence. Aggressive panhandlers and those with substance abuse issues permeated public areas leaving visitors with a sense of diminished safety. Sadly the beach was completely littered with cigarette butts. The much publicized revival of a pier now called The Playground had more empty retail and dining space than occupied. I was refused service when I asked for it at a restaurant because I sat myself, even though I stood at the entrance for ten minutes while they just looked at me. The sight of so many empty casinos and tasteless boardwalk vendors was a bummer.

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You could say the negatives sound terrible, but even with Atlantic City’s flaws, the entire family had a great time, made the best of every situation, and I had one of the best times I have ever had in AC without spending one cent gambling. I think we all know more casinos is not the answer for this town. If they work hard, put their minds towards transforming into a true family tourist area, push politics to the side, and spend money wisely, I see no reason why they can not be one of the East Coast’s premier vacation destinations. In fact I’d bet on it!

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Knife and Fork Inn, Atlantic City

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Knife and Fork Inn – Atlantic City, NJ

Atlantic City has changed numerous times since 1912, but one thing in this town has stood the test the time.  The Knife and Fork Inn (KF) now owned by Frank Dougherty a fourth-generation co-owner of Dock’s Oyster House also in Atlantic City has KF primed to keep watching AC’s growth or decline first hand for the foreseeable future. KF embraces its past with painted portraits such as being an exclusive men’s drinking and dining club when it first opened housing illegal gambling and rumored prostitution, as well as getting a renewed spotlight due to the interest from the HBO show Boardwalk Empire staring Enoch “Nucky” Johnson a political hotshot of the time, who was a regular at KF and main character of the show. With KF’s purchase in 2005, Frank Dougherty has renovated KF into a pristine establishment that is just a joy to walk around and witness all of this buildings architecture just thinking how much fun it must have been to visit KF in the roaring twenties.

I arrived with a party of sixteen for this article, which KF handled with ease by sitting us on the third floor that was setup entirely just for us, with its own bathroom facilities and private server by the name of Casey. Now I wish I could give Casey a better title than server, because let me start by saying I hope KF and Mr. Dougherty recognize the talent they have in this man. The title of server extraordinaire, general manager to be, or future VP of hospitality management for some corporate conglomerate would be better suited for this individual. He was the most enthusiastic, knowable, and pleasant server I have encountered in quite some time and I hope his talent is recognized by those who matter. Having him take care of us made such a positive lasting impression this group will not soon forget.

Now lets talk about what we really came for, the food. The evening started out with a Thai infused soft shell crab that was to die for. The crab was cooked to perfection, having the sweet juicy crab meat squirt with each bite, while the Thai spices added an exotic and amazing take of a shore classic. A must order for any soft shell lover.

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After a start like that, KF really had their work cut out for them to out perform themselves, but they did just that with the colossal sized shrimp cocktail. They served four shrimp that were literally the size of small lobster tails and so fresh I would not be surprised if Casey himself pulled them out of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Could KF keep the momentum going? The crock of french onion soup was the wildcard of my order and they did not disappoint. With a broth strong with the essence of perfectly caramelized onions, with just the right out of cheese and toasted bread, KF really sent this dish from a wildcard in my mind to a must have for any fan of french onion soup.

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Now the main course finally arrives. Ribeye filet with roasted long hot peppers and a side of sautéed wild mushrooms. Unfortunately  KF had a slip up. The steak was overcooked, quite a bit of gristle, and the mushrooms had a strong bitter profile to them. Do not get me wrong, this was just slightly better than the average, but when you perform with such perfection in previous courses, nothing except greatness becomes the only option.

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After all of that food could anyone possibly eat dessert? For Bluejeanfoodcritic the answer is YES! A vanilla bean creme brulee with an almond florentine cookie and fresh berries is delivered. The cookie was a tasty nice touch and the berries were again so fresh I think they must have a garden out back. A perfect ending to a great meal.

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Atlantic City has had many changes throughout the years, but if KF’s performance is any indicator, I think KF may be standing longer than a lot of other things AC is famous for. They excelled in every portion of a meal a diner looks for with service that just is not seen these days. Maybe Casey is just a throwback to the roaring twenties type of service, but whatever school he came from, I hope other restaurants send their servers there as well. KF has a keeper in Casey, and the kitchen staff they currently have cooking for them.

To finish the night, AC’s latest catch phrase is DO AC, and the party of sixteen did just that after leaving KF. First a visit to Tropicana Casino’s Ri Ra Irish Pub and then ending the night at Harrah Casino’s hip The Pool After Dark Nightclub. No one in the crew hit for big money, or became famous, but we can always try again. You may never know how a night in AC will go, but what I can tell you is that if KF serves meals like they did the night I went, it is a guaranteed jackpot of an awesome meal out at least if you go to KF. Tell them Bluejeanfoodcritic sent you and ask for Casey.

Four out of Five Stars

Build it and WILL they come?

Speranza – Westville, NJ

http://speranzaristorante.com/

https://www.facebook.com/SperanzaItalianRestaurant

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Westville, New Jersey does not seem like an obvious location to open an semi-upscale Italian themed restaurant, but  the Finney Restaurant Group who run eateries Gia Nina’s and Woodbury Station Café have to believe the saying from the movie Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner, “If you build it they will come”. Speranza in Italian means hope, and I know that not only is the town of Westville hoping for this to be the building block to finally have their much neglected and failed retail stretch of downtown finally thrive, but former Executive Chef of the now shuttered Red Square of Tropicana Casino; David Strano is hoping that the great reviews he received while chef there continue their trend here. During Red Square’s tenure open in Atlantic City as Atlantic City Insiders point out in their article (CLICK HERE TO READ) Executive Chef David Strano opened and closed its doors while being the only restaurant in Atlantic City to receive four stars by The Press of Atlantic City the entire time Red Square was in operation.

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Speranza occupies the space formerly held by seafood restaurant Sea Haag. Sea Haag, who had service so slow and bad; I think two people could step inside the restaurant, either person could leave, drive down the shore, catch their own crabs, drive back home, cook and eat all the crabs they caught, head back to Sea Haags, and the other person would still being waiting for anyone there to even acknowledge they wanted to eat there. Well not only has Speranza done a complete 360 in terms of the ambiance and appearance,  the moment you step foot inside (the gelato bar looks amazing and I want to try all the flavors), they also had some the most accommodating and gracious individuals working there.

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The food is also something people hailing from the small towns surrounding Westville will be surprised by. No longer will they need to make a plan for a night out in the city of Philadelphia and be bent over backward by the evil parking authority that hands out tickets like lollipops making your night out meal even more expensive than it needed to be, hang with the hipster types that are confused and wondering which social injustice they want to stand for today in Collingswood’s restaurant row, or pretend to fit in with the highfalutin types that make you want to gag in your mouth around Haddonfield. You can just head to Westville, be yourself, and enjoy a night out. Everything was of the utmost quality, with prices that would be double in the towns I just made fun of.

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The Bianco wood-fired pizza was perfect in each way. Not too overdone, nice and crisp, with flavors that were appeasing in each bite. The Cioppino was amazing, with fresh shrimp, crab, mussels, clams, herbs, and a broth that was made to have its garlic bread soak in it and then shove it in your mouth with all of its soggy glory. YUMMY! The only blip on my radar was the shrimp and crab risotto. The flavor was slightly too minimal for the profile I was searching for,  especially with gulf shrimp listed in it, I would have liked to seen them cooked whole to enjoy instead of just being mashed inside the risotto drowning out their flavor. (FYI – the dishes were taken out due to unforeseen circumstances so please do not think this is what your plate would look like if you ate there)

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Speranza has nothing but great things on its horizon if they continue the trend of quality dishes and friendly service. The only question is can they convince other people to stop in a town almost no one has ever heard of with nothing else surrounding them to make it a true night out expect maybe a hop over the famed roast beef hot spot Schilleens Pub for a night-cap. Only time will tell, but what I can tell you is that providing that the infamous Brooklawn Circle is not flooded, I will be making my way back to Speranza to check them out again.