Don’t be put off by the sandy floor at the Hamburger Construction Company in Ocean City — it’s just proof the fat quarter-pounders ($5) here are good enough to drag people off the beach, with great steamed buns and all the fixin’s, including — if your belly can take it — a salty Taylor pork roll. Though if pork roll’s your thing, you ought to just head down to Brown’s (yes, Brown’s of the cinnamon doughnuts), which does the original South Jersey lunch proud with its substantial spiced Taylor pork roll on a bun ($4.75). Later, you can make a late-night wing run to The Chicken or the Egg on LBI — simply “The Chegg” to locals; just look to the Wing-O-Meter to pick your poison (though if you like your tongue, beware the “ludicrous” spice level) for $12.99 a dozen. Wing-lovers, take note: Charlie’s in Somers Point also earns a big nod for its sloppy, tangy wings ($5.95 for 13). And if you can’t go without your cheesesteaks, remember two places for sandwiches almost as greasily good as any you’ll find in South Philly: Voltaco’s in Ocean City and JoJo’s in Ventnor. (Hamburger Construction Company 1020 Boardwalk, Ocean City, 609-399-0454; Brown’s Restaurant 110 Boardwalk, Ocean City, 609-391-0677; The Chicken or the Egg 207 North Bay Avenue, Beach Haven, 609-492-3695, 492fowl.com; Charlie’s Bar and Restaurant 800 Shore Road, Somers Point, 609-927-3663, charliesbar.com; Voltaco’s 957 West Avenue, Ocean City, 609-399-0743, voltacositalianfoods.com; JoJo’s 6501 Ventnor Avenue, Ventnor, 609-822-6475).
If you happen to find yourself near Beach Haven anytime near lunch, pop into the Pearl Street Market. It’s not exactly cheap — the star of the menu, the lobster roll, runs about $18 (market price) — but it’s not fine dining, either. It’s more like a DiBruno’s of the beach, with fresh seafood and produce, gourmet potato chips and fancy fruity teas. Less chichi (but more established) is Barnegat Light’s peachy little Mustache Bill’s Diner, which just won rare designation as one of the year’s five “American Classics” from the James Beard Foundation. Get the fried fluke and chips ($12.95) for lunch. We can also recommend a stop at Avalon’s Ocean Deli, with its long, inexpensive sandwich menu (with a must-order roasted chicken salad), or West Cape May’s Seaside Cheese Company, which is stocked with the best picnic-basket essentials, including a meat-and-cheese-packed muffaletta served on a massive 10-inch round of focaccia that easily feeds a beach-bound family ($8.95). Depot Market is another Cape May go-to for cheap takeout — the stuffed baked potatoes ($6.95) are huge (though probably not “the largest in the world,” as promised), and you can stop by the 30-year-old Lemon Tree luncherie on the Washington Street Mall for a refreshing house-squeezed lemonade (from $2.10). (Pearl Street Market 229 Pearl Street, Beach Haven, 609-492-3910, pearlstreetmarket.com; Mustache Bill’s Diner 8th Street and Broadway, Barnegat, 609-494-0155; Ocean Deli 3289 Ocean Drive, Avalon,
609-967-9283, oceandeliavalon.com; Seaside Cheese Company 600 Park Boulevard, West Cape May, 609-884-8700; Depot Market 409 Elmira Street, Cape May, 609-884-8030; Lemon Tree 101 Liberty Way, Cape May, 609-884-2704).
There’s a little-known jewel on the bay of Sea Isle City, next to the marina at the southern end, called Sunset Pier, where the setting is the first reason to go (beautiful sunsets) and the fried fish is the second. Though when post-swim munchies hit, Sea Islanders head to the Bubba Dogs cart at 59th and the beach for a grilled wiener with the works, or Moe’s Bar-Bie-Q at 42nd and the Bay, which is new but already known for its meaty, messy ribs ($16 a half rack). Slightly healthier fare can be found at Avalon’s Isabel’s, with great veggie paninis ($8.45) and even — yes — salads. Stone Harbor’s Green Cuisine is another refuge for veg-heads, or shoobies who’ve gorged themselves on Boardwalk fare, with fruity smoothies ($4.95) and a remarkably good eggless egg salad ($7.25). Lastly, on those balmy nights that simply cry out for a margarita (which cries out for a fiesta), head to Lex Mex in Ship Bottom, where surfer-dude owner Greg Luker has been turning out authentic chicken enchiladas ($13.50) and tilapia tacos ($12.50) for nine years now at his BYOT(equila) joint. (Sunset Pier 86th Street and the bay, Sea Isle City, 609-263-5200; Bubba Dogs 59th Street and the beach, Sea Isle City, ilovebubbadogs.com; Moe’s Bar-Bie-Q 4210 Park Road, Sea Isle City, 609-263-0300; Isabel’s 2285 Dune Drive, Avalon, 609-967-5776, isabelsinavalon.com; Green Cuisine 302 96th Street, Stone Harbor, 609-368-1616; Lex Mex 816 Long Beach Boulevard, suite A, Ship Bottom, 609-361-5399).