Keys. Little slivers of metal that reside in your pocket, used, and thought about, only when you need to open something. There is an elegance in their simplicity. Insert the key into a lock, turn, and open. They are one of the easiest-to-use tools created by humankind… until you are on one side of a locked door, and your keys are on the other. Instead of opening locks, the keys become a new challenge, smugly mocking you for your absent-mindedness. You stare, forlornly, at the door, the realization slowly dawning upon you that fixing your mistake is going to be no simple endeavor. Of course, by “you,” I mean “me.”
My wife and I had planned for a leisurely weekend down the shore, but those plans for rest and relaxation were thrown into chaos as, at 7:05 am on Saturday morning, I pulled the front door to my family’s shore house closed behind me and realized my keys were still in the house. Instead of a leisurely day reading, going for a walk on the beach, and enjoying the beautiful weather, we’d be spending the day in the car, driving to my dad’s house to pick up a spare key. Of course, in finest “The Open Road Ahead” tradition, we decided to turn it into a day of exploration and adventure, criss-crossing southern New Jersey to visit some cool, off-beat, and unique spots.
Let’s begin our accidental adventure:
Despite leaving early in the afternoon for the shore, we still had to fight traffic for the better part of the drive. After nearly three hours in the car, we decided to stretch our legs at the South Cape May Meadows bird sanctuary.
Readers might recognize this sanctuary from a previous post. The preserve, comprised of over 200 acres of wetlands and beachfront, is home to numerous native birds, as well as an important stop for migratory birds along the Atlantic Flyway.
Usually, birds are my primary focus when I’m photographing wildlife, but this dragonfly made for a compelling subject.
With the wetlands at low tide, numerous birds were hunting for their next meal in the marshland.
Larger than the sandpiper, this willet was also hunting for its next meal. The last time I encountered a willet in the wild, it squawked at me if I so much as looked its way. This one was too busy hunting for food to pay me much mind.
The egret has become my favorite bird to photograph. I have observed enough of them to have a sense of their movements when they’re hunting for food, the best ways to approach them without startling them, and their cues for when they are ready to take flight.
Bottoms up! These ducks are sifting through vegetation beneath the pond, searching for food. Either that, or they’re telling me what they really think of my role as “bird paparazzi.”
During the summertime in the marshlands near the shore, there is a chance you’ll encounter the reclusive glossy ibis. Similar to the egret and the heron, the ibis searches for food in the marshlands near the coast. Its relative, the Egyptian Ibis, was considered sacred to the ancient Egyptians, and was associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom (via BBC).
We came across a meadow filled with at least one hundred birds – ducks, geese, egrets, and gulls. Suddenly, something spooked them, and they all took flight at once. It was an impressive sight. After enjoying a fun hike through the preserve, it was time to get some dinner!
Dinner was at one of our favorite local seafood takeout spots: Fish & Fancy. Although usually mobbed during the weekend, I was surprised to get a parking spot near the front door.
My wife ordered the grouper stuffed with crab and I had the broiled lump Baltimore crab cakes. So very, very good!
After dinner, we walked down to the beach to take in the sunset. The sky turned a deep shade of red, the effect of wildfires in the western United States affecting the air across much of the country.
Although more subdued than the colors we ordinarily see at the shore, the red cast gave the sky a unique look. After the sun finally set, we walked back up to the house to begin a weekend of relaxation… or so we thought. Saturday
Our plan for Saturday morning? An early breakfast at Lemma’s Beach Grill in Wildwood, and then a day of relaxation. It all seemed so perfect… and then I locked my keys in the house. We would have to drive to my Dad’s house near Blackwood to get the spare key. While I grumbled to myself about my stupidity, my wife was busy coming up with an excellent Plan B: there would be some cool sites to explore along the way!
We began our day with breakfast at Lemma’s Beach Grill in the town of Wildwood Crest. A small, family-operated restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch, Lemma’s offers great food and a wonderful view! We arrived at 7:30 am just as the restaurant opened, and had the entire beachfront deck to ourselves.
My wife’s breakfast. What’s so special about eggs over easy, home fries, and rye toast? One of Lemma’s coolest attributes is the attention they pay to gluten-free dining. There is a separate prep area in the kitchen for meals that are made gluten-free, and people requesting gluten-free bread have a choice of several varieties (my wife went with the gluten-free rye bread). The food was delicious, the service was friendly, and the atmosphere was perfect. Lemma’s gets two “The Open Road Ahead” thumbs up!
As I detailed in the last post, my wife and I are attempting to complete the 2021 New Jersey Monthly Scavenger Hunt: take a selfie in front of 36 locations throughout the state. My wife figured out that our drive to get the spare key would take us near several locations from the scavenger hunt, so we decided to make a day of it! We started with the Emlen Physick Estate in Cape May, a Victorian-era mansion built in 1879.
Our next stop was to the Delsea Drive-In Theatre in the city of Vineland. Did you know the drive-in movie theater was invented in New Jersey? Richard Hollingshead Jr of Camden built the first drive-in in 1933 in Pennsauken (via Wikipedia). The Delsea Drive-In was built in 1947, and is the only surviving drive-in theater in the state.
After picking up the spare key from my Dad, we next headed to the town of Berlin to visit a 165-year old train station. Originally named the “Long-A-Coming Depot,” it was renamed the Berlin Station in 1867, and was built to transfer both passengers and freight on trains that ran from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. It is the oldest surviving train station in New Jersey.
The Long-A-Coming Historical Society restored the station in 1994. I love the attention to detail – check out the “public telephone” sign on the side of the station!
While the NJ Monthly challenge asks for selfies of human beings, I thought it would be fun to recreate our selfies with the Accord and/or the Jeep for the blog!
Our last selfie stop of the day was to a gas station and deli in Shamong that has a rather imposing resident! Originally located on the Wildwood boardwalk as a tourist attraction in the 1960s, the gorilla statute had fallen into disrepair over the years. Local businessman Larry Valenzano purchased it and restored it, naming it “Mighty Joe” after his son, Joe Valenzano, who passed away from a brain tumor in his early 20s. The statue was installed at Mighty Joe’s Deli and Grill, owned by the Valenzano family. You can read more about Mighty Joe in this article in Weird NJ.
As we began to make our way to back to the shore, we pulled over when this large mansion caught out eye. Atsion was once a company town where bog ore (impure iron found in nearby swamps) was refined into iron tools. Atsion Mansion was built in 1826 by Samuel Richards. Fun fact: the porch columns are actually pipes made from bog iron that were originally intended for use in the Philadelphia sewer system (via the Burlington County Times).
A trail connects Atsion with another Pine Barrens iron bog village – Batsto (which readers may remember from a previous post). A 9.5-mile trail run between these two historic spots… do I hear a future post in the works?
As we headed back to the shore house, we stopped for a mid-afternoon break at Natali Vineyards in Cape May Courthouse.
Not a bad way to spend a summer afternoon!
After getting back to the house and finding my keys (ahem), we headed to dinner at the Cape May Ferry Terminal. Eating at a ferry terminal isn’t as odd as it sounds – On the Rocks Dockside Grill is a great place to grab some refreshments before taking the ferry that runs from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware. It’s also a fun place to enjoy a meal while watching the ships come and go.
Dinner hit the spot! I had the Mission Beach Chicken Quesadilla, while my wife enjoyed the a burger topped with guacamole and pico de gallo on a gluten free bun. Although the food was tasty, there was one disappointment I wanted to note. After we had placed the order, the cook came out to inform us that despite being part of an entree deemed gluten-free, the french fries that accompanied my wife’s burger were dipped in flour before frying. If the menu lists something as gluten-free, one would think that every part of the entree would meet that standard. While I applaud the intentions of the restaurant to try to welcome diners who require gluten-free meals, this is an area for improvement.
Exit Zero (named after Cape May’s exit on the Garden State Parkway) is a hospitality business that operates a magazine, a retail store, and a restaurant. They recently took over operations of On the Rocks, and have added some family-friendly touches, such as these life-size Connect 4 games. We definitely played a game after dinner. My wife definitely beat me. If you are in Cape May and are looking for a way to eat out in a socially-distanced way, On the Rocks is worth a visit.
After dinner, we took a walk along a jetty at David Douglass Memorial Park near the ferry terminal. One look at the sky told us that chances for a vibrant sunset were slim. Instead of standing on the beach, we decided to treat our taste buds instead.
We ventured into downtown Cape May for dessert at Kohr Bros. The Kohr brothers were dairy farmers from Pennsylvania who tried selling their ice cream at the shore in the early 20th century. They found the salt air melted it too quickly, so they added eggs to the recipe, creating frozen custard. From their first stand at Coney Island, Kohr Bros has been an institution on the East Coast for over a century.
That will be custard for two, please!
We took our custard to Cape May Rotary Park, where a band was performing a mixture of show tunes, standards, and classical music. On a beautiful Saturday evening, it was a wonderful (and free) way to enjoy our dessert! It made a great ending to an action-packed day. Sunday
What can brighten up a rainy, dreary Sunday morning down the shore? How about breakfast from Uncle Bill’s Pancake House!
That will be to-go orders of pecan pancakes and bacon for me, as well as gluten-free pecan pancakes for my wife. Yum! Yum! Yum!
Leaving the shore on a Sunday in the summer is just about as fun as driving to the shore on a Friday in the summer. It took us almost two hours to drive a stretch of road that usually takes 45 minutes. We hit this open section of the Garden State Parkway, but my wife’s phone told that another delay was waiting for us in a few miles. After checking the map, she asked, “How would you like to avoid traffic, and check out the oldest bar in the country? It’s a little off the beaten track, though.”
Off-road mode: engage! She wasn’t kidding when she said it was a little off the beaten path… as we went rumbling down a dirt road through the middle of the Pine Barrens, I could hear every rock hitting the underside of my car. The Accord handled the road fine. Its owner, however, had about five or six near-heart attacks during the ride each time a large stone hit the car, or a branch scraped at the paint.
We had come across Cedar Bridge Tavern, location of the oldest surviving tavern in the country. It is also the site of the last battle of the American Revolution… I’ll have more to say about that in a bit.
As we ambled through the grounds, we noticed numerous trees were downed, and metal poles had been bent sideways. Last week, two EF-1 tornados touched down in Ocean County. Although the buildings seemed to have escaped unscathed, the same could not be said for much of the surrounding woodlands.
Built in 1740, Cedar Bridge Tavern served as both a bar and an inn for travelers on a stagecoach route that ran from Camden to the shore. The tavern has survived its fair share of disasters – a fire in 1894 wiped out the town of Cedar Bridge and only the tavern escaped the blaze. Forest fires are not uncommon in the Pine Barrens.
No luck ordering a pint of ale here! The tavern has been converted into a museum, telling the history of not just the site, but the Pine Barrens as well.
Cedar Bridge was also the location of the final battle of the American Revolution. Although the war officially ended in 1781 after the Siege of Yorktown, several smaller skirmishes occurred in the year afterward. In 1782, Captains Shreve and Thomas of the army of the new American republic engaged in a skirmish with John Bacon, a loyalist to the British crown. Bacon was notorious for his guerilla-style attacks on American forces, and he and his men called themselves the “Pine Robbers.” Bacon was a wanted man, having organized the “Long Beach Island Massacre,” when sailors on an American cargo ship were murdered in their sleep while the ship was at anchor near Long Beach Island. Although wounded, Bacon escaped from Cedar Bridge (although several of his men were captured). “The Affair at Cedar Bridge” is considered the final battle of the Revolution (via Wikipedia).
After enjoying our exploration of Cedar Bridge Tavern, it was time to keep heading home. One of the benefits of taking the backroads was stopping at some local farm stands! Kim’s Country Store in New Egypt had plenty of fresh, local produce to offer.
What’s so special about a Jersey tomato? Everything. That’s what. These are fresh from the farm’s vines.
Our last stop was a return visit to Laurita Winery in New Egypt. Before the pandemic, Laurita was one of our favorite spots on the way home from the shore. This was our first visit since prior to the beginning of COVID lockdowns.
Built on over 40 acres, Laurita Winery has plenty of open space – and they have created a beautiful outdoor space for enjoying their excellent wines, dining on snacks from food trucks, and listening to live music, all while encouraging safe distancing between guests.
After enjoying a rest stop at Laurita, it was back on the road as our drive through rural NJ continued. Forget all the shore traffic on the Garden State Parkway, this is the way to go home: relaxed, happy, and peaceful. And driving past corn. Lots of corn.
Our quiet weekend at the shore turned into quite the road trip! We drove nearly 350 miles from Friday through Sunday, crisscrossing the highways and byways of southern NJ. Through it all, the Accord was yet again a reliable companion. Along the way, it also crossed a new milestone: 177,000 miles is now in the books, and 200k is inching closer and closer! Onward! More Selfie Challenge Highlights
Before ending, I wanted to share a few more photos from our selfie challenge. We currently have completed fourteen of the thirty-six selfie locations. With a deadline of August 31, we have some work ahead of us. Stay tuned!
We stopped by the Raritan River Ways Mural in New Brunswick. Readers might remember when we featured this mural in the post on the art of Middlesex County.
The Sea Girt Lighthouse should also be familiar to anyone who read the post about our successful completion of the NJ Lighthouse Challenge in 2018.
Finally, we stopped by the corner of 10th Avenue and E Street in Belmar, New Jersey to visit the Fender Esquire guitar statue that was placed in honor of Bruce Springsteen. E Street in Belmar is where Bruce Springsteen’s band took their name: the E Street Band (via Wikipedia). Wrapping Up
Here are the things that didn’t happen this weekend: curling up with a good book, binging a TV show on Netflix, and taking a nap with the sound of the beach in the background. Here is what did happen: visiting some cool roadside attractions, learning some more history about my home state, discovering new restaurants and returning to some old favorites, and enjoying our time on the road. All in all, I’d say a potential disaster turned into a wonderful weekend.
We have a fun trip planned to a little-known, and even less-visited, location next weekend. Until then, take care, and thanks, as always, for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.