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413 South Broadway
West Cape May, Cape May County, New Jersey
(609) 884-4543

By The Artful Diner
October 27, 2008


The building that is currently home to Godmother's has had a number of interesting incarnations. Built in 1924, it was originally a private doctor's office and pharmacy. Subsequently, it became a trim shop, luncheonette, Jullie's Ice Cream Parlor, and several diverse eateries. In 1983, Godmother's became the first Italian enclave to grace the Cape May dining scene.

And I must confess that, although I had passed by the restaurant on numerous occasions during my sundry gastronomically driven sojourns, I was never really tempted to give it a try -- until recently. Once I learned that J. Christopher Hubert -- chef/proprietor of the highly-regarded Black Duck on Sunset and former chef/proprietor of the equally celebrated Union Park Dining Room -- had purchased the establishment, I knew immediately that it would be infinitely more than the usual run-of-the-mill Neapolitan nirvana.

Yes, there's red sauce here, if that is your predilection -- marinara, Bolognese, and fra diavlo -- along with Alfredo, pesto, butter, and aglio e olio, all of which may be added to the particular pasta of your choice. And there are also a slew of traditional Italian favorites: veal and chicken Parm/Marsala, steak pizzaiola, and chicken saltimbocca.

But these are far from the "usual suspects." Everything that comes out of the kitchen seems to have a unique touch, its own distinct and distinctive culinary personality. The aforementioned marinara, for example, is rich & robust and possesses an incomparable depth of flavor... ditto the Bolognese.

In addition, presentations -- whether appetizer, entrée, or dessert -- exhibit a charmingly subtle touch of class. They are not works of art... nor are they meant to be; but Mr. Hubert and his crew just seem to have a knack for assuaging both the eye and the palate without overwhelming them.

A special autumn salad is comprised of baby greens companioned by candied walnuts, slices of Granny Smith apple, crumbles of earthy bleu cheese, and a marvelous port wine vinaigrette. But this is surely a case of the whole being infinitely more than the sum of the individual parts. One look and you know that the greenery is fresher than fresh and that this dish has been lovingly assembled seconds before it put in an appearance at your table.

And the steamed littleneck clams are yet another indication that all is as it should be. The bivalves are pristinely plump and obviously at the peak of good health. But it is the superlative pesto broth that truly propels this relatively simple presentation into orbit. Be sure to utilize the addictive garlic crostini to lap up every last drop.

But if you're on the prowl for more traditional Italian starters, you might try the eggplant rollatini, ricotta cheese raviolis, or savory pepperoni & mozzarella pizza rolls buttressed by more of that first-rate marinara -- all of which are highly recommended.

Among the entrées, the lasagna is a superb effort. The ruffled pasta is absolutely al dente and laced with a variety of cheeses and fresh spinach. You may then choose the saucy surrounding sea: marinara or Bolognese. I elected the latter and, as noted above, found it entirely up to the mark. The luscious meat ragu was jazzed up with an appropriate hint of spice and cooled down with a mellifluous touch of cream. Benchmark.

Equally high marks are given to the chicken cacciatore, a daily special. Boneless chunks of extraordinarily tender chicken share the spotlight with morsels of zesty chorizo sausage. The constituents are then sprinkled with garlic & parsley and set on a bed of fettuccine.

You also have the prerogative of taking the road less traveled and opting for a sensuously soul-satisfying pillow of roasted garlic mashed potatoes rather than pasta. Both the veal and chicken Marsala are so complemented... ditto the 8-ounce New York strip, which is also crowned with a tiara of shrimp and crab scampi.

And continuing in the seafood vein... the red pepper risotto comes studded with sautéed scallops, shrimp, and crabmeat in the company of steamed mussels & clams. The culinary catalyst is a beguiling lemon pesto broth. The kitchen also sends out a fresh catch of the day, which varies according to availability and whim of the chef.

When it comes time for dessert, bear in mind that some are made in house while others are shipped in from off campus -- and it is an exceedingly wise decision to go with the former, which are very good, indeed. The chocolate bread & butter bread pudding is comfort food personified and just the proper consistency -- neither too dense nor too mushy. The crème brûlée is also excellent and presented with homemade biscotti. As a confirmed chocoholic, however, I'd have to give my nod to the utterly decadent house-made tartufo filled with rich chocolate mousse and garnished with Frangelico cream.

But there is more to Godmother's than just the first-rate cuisine. The welcome is warm and the ambiance inviting. There are some restaurants that make you feel at home the moment you cross the threshold -- and this is certainly one of them. The walls and wainscoting are deep green, juxtaposed by attractively patterned green carpeting, white tablecloths, and bright red cloth napkins. The atmosphere is bustling but significantly softened by subdued lighting.

Fall is a wonderful time to visit Cape May... The crowds have fled but the charm remains. And in this land generally populated by high priced eateries, Godmother's casually cultivated, immensely satisfying, and moderately priced dining experience is difficult to surpass.

Cuisine: Italian
Hours: Open daily for dinner in summer; then open on Fridays & Saturdays through the fall. The restaurant will close on December 6th and reopen on February 12. Always call for exact hours in the off season.
Credit Cards: MC, V
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Ample street parking
Alcohol: Wine selections from Cape May Vineyards or BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: http://www.godmothersrestaurant.com/

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The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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