The Easy, Breezy, Laid-Back, Super-Relaxed, We-Love-Summer Guide to Outdoor Dining
On the Porch
The Lobster House
Fisherman’s Wharf, Cape May, 609-884-8296, thelobsterhouse.com
Jersey clams on the half-shell, mugs of cold lager, corn on the cob and red-sauced mussels may not be the most esoteric edibles, but when rendered simply — with the benefit of Lobster House’s decades in the seafood business — and served on a wooden deck where you can watch the fishing boats bring in tomorrow’s fish of the day, these items, along with crab soup and you-peel shrimp, become peerless gourmet pleasures, if only because you can enjoy them by the bay in the summertime. Another part of the fun: jockeying for a table out here. There’s ample room inside this stalwart seashore business, but why go there?
The word “alfresco” seems ill-suited — fancy talk — when it comes to eating beef patties and jerk chicken at South Street’s Jamaican Jerk Hut, a BYOB where diners sit at brightly painted picnic tables in the backyard, holding cans of Coors. To be sure, the Hut’s a dive — but a charming one, with live reggae on weekends, a tidy little porch for folks not into lawn dining, and laid-back staffers who’ll recommend the mild St. Peter’s fish fillet or a gently spiced, buttery curried goat for those afraid of the jerk’s serious heat. But, reader, don’t be afraid. The pleasure of the jerk — tender, garlicky, smoky — outweighs the pain. Plus, sides of sweet cooked cabbage and rice and beans help put out the fire. Hot jerk on a warm night, with a cool breeze and a cold beer … who wants fancy?
Quahog’s Seafood Shack
206 97th Street, Stone Harbor, 609-368-6300, quahogsshack.com
This brand-new BYOB, brought to you by the adorable owners of adorable Sea Salt, is just what we want in a Shore restaurant. Old fishing poles hang at the entrance, red-and-white vinyl cloths cover tables, chalkboards list “dailies,” and half the seats are on the cozy, covered back porch. The shack is all about local, sustainable, simple — though not always familiar — seafood: just-caught black bass served head-to-tail; thick, buttery slabs of blackened escolar; thin, nutmeg-touched clam chowder; rich, celery-leafed lobster salad served on hot-dog buns; and the namesake quahog “stuffie,” with cauliflower puree and red peppers and chorizo, served in its shell. If the line to dine in is too long, order a fisherman’s broil to go, and have a beach picnic, the ultimate in outdoor dining.
No Shore town is better preserved than Cape May, and none takes its cuisine so seriously. While the island offers marvelous spots to tuck into fresh local bluefish (Louisa’s) or fete a grand occasion (Congress Hall) or breakfast among surfers downing Greek omelets (George’s Place), there’s only one setting — the porch of the elegant Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel — where a sundressed-and-Bermuda-shorted couple can savor the ocean breeze from crimson-cushioned chairs, nibble chef de cuisine Carl Messick’s crabcake sliders with basil aioli, shrimp cocktail with avocado and micro parsley salad, and lobster risotto beignets while sipping a smart rosé, and watch beachgoers traipse up Jackson Street.
On a quiet strip of wooded West Chester sits the venerable Dilworthtown Inn and its gem of a spin-off, the more casual Blue Pear Bistro. Housed in an 18th-century general store, the bistro’s warmly lit dining rooms fill to the brim, even on weeknights. But our favorite spot to eat is on the wide front porch, where a handful of tables seats couples, small groups and — sometimes — their dogs. The down-home appeal of porch dining, complete with the soundtrack of crickets chirping, jibes with a seasonal menu of playful classics, like skewered chicken nuggets served with a sweet-sharp white-truffle honey mustard, and fleshy pan-seared scallops atop sweet peas and wild mushrooms. Lingering over dessert is a must, be it the gorgeous, pillowy profiteroles or the house dessert, a simple poached pear.
139 East Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, 610-687-5005, taquet.com
There’s a proper entrance to Taquet, up the ramp from the parking lot and into the restaurant’s bar area, where the hostess is waiting to take you to your table. But there’s something lovely about climbing the front stairs of the Wayne Hotel from Lancaster Avenue directly onto the restaurant’s veranda, as if you’ve just arrived at a friend’s fabulous house for dinner. Taquet’s porch — the best view is facing west toward the imposing Presbyterian church — is the best type of outdoor dining, offering open air without sacrificing comfort. The floor is carpeted, the chairs are padded, and the tables are covered with brocade cloths. On the menu: simple summer options like tomatoes dipped in syrupy balsamic; roasted peppers, salty and sweet with olives and mozzarella; and trout in a sprightly lemon-caper sauce.