North Wildwood appears to be a highly unlikely location for an upscale
steakhouse; after all, the area's most notable claim to culinary fame is
Claude's, an island of excellent French bistro cookery in an otherwise
tempestuous sea of rowdy Irish bars. But make no mistake about it, JP Prime
is undeniably upscale... A number of prices border upon the breathtaking. Most
steakhouses charge extra for side dishes. JP Prime, on the other hand,
also charges extra for sauces... with lobster béarnaise topping out at a
whopping $11.00. This is a restaurant that is clearly not for the faint of
But there are compensations... Proprietor Jon Paul Paxton -- also the owner
of Wildwood's Café Jon Paul and Juan Pablo's Margarita Bar -- has created a
setting that is stylish and sophisticated but that still manages to put patrons
at ease with its relaxed, decidedly unstuffy casual air. The interior is done
up in a kind of contemporary-retro package, replete with orange and blue globe
lamps and exceedingly comfortable banquettes decked out in an arresting array
of bold stripes. The most striking feature, however, is the wine tower, which
dominates the center of the dining area; and this is quite in keeping with the
restaurant's strong oenological emphasis, as it was just the recipient of the Wine
Spectator Award of Excellence. There is even a dance floor and a fully
screened and covered deck for al fresco dining in warmer weather.
But regardless of the eye-pleasing ambiance, the food is still the chief
drawing card. Yes, it is steakhouse fare, but executive chef James Wasilewski
-- also the power behind the stove at Café Jon Paul -- has added a number of
An additional plus is that portion sizes -- especially with regard to salads
-- are extremely generous. The Caesar salad, for example, is a classic rendition:
crisp torn leaves of romaine embellished with a rich, creamy dressing, crunchy
croutons, and shavings of Parmesan cheese -- and it is big enough to feed
three... ditto the baby arugula tossed with goat cheese, slices of Asian pear,
candied pistachios, and a lemon-honey dressing. And the retro iceberg wedge
accompanied by all the usual suspects -- diced tomatoes, crumbled bacon, and
blue cheese dressing -- is simply gargantuan.
The calamari seasoned with herbs & spices and served up with a sweet &
sour pepper sauce is mountainous. And the "Shrimp WAZZ" (named after
the chef) -- comprised of jumbo fried shrimp stuffed with cauliflower and
garlic, wrapped in prosciutto, and finished with saffron aïoli and basil oil --
is equally generous. And given the hefty $24.00 price tag, it had better be.
Conversely, the beer-battered, crispy-fried morsels of popcorn lobster are
delicate, judiciously proportioned, and accompanied by lovely concentric swirls
of sherry wine sauce.
When it comes to steak entrées, there are numerous choices. In ascending
price order: chipotle hanger steak, $23.00; 10-ounce junior New York strip,
$29.00; 32-ounce porterhouse for two, $65.00; 16-ounce New York Black Angus
strip, $39.00; "Kansas City" 21-day dry-aged 14-ounce bone-in strip
steak $44.00; and 12-ounce filet mignon steak au poivre, $44.00.
What was a bit off-putting, however, was the fact that waiters constantly
pushed the most expensive steak on the menu, the "Kansas City" 21-day
dry-aged 14-ounce bone-in filet mignon, which rocks the culinary Richter scale
at a whopping $47.00 (only the stuffed veal chop, $48.00, is more costly). They
also did their best to hawk the most exorbitant sauce to accompany it, the
$11.00 lobster béarnaise. This steak, which I eventually ordered, was
undeniably excellent -- extraordinarily tender, bursting with flavor, and
prepared to a perfect medium (precisely as requested) -- as was the blue cheese
sauce ($6.00) that I chose to accompany it. Under the competent direction of
general manager Michael King, the service, apart from this minor faux pas,
was otherwise first-rate in every respect... But servers should definitely
lighten up on the "hard sell" approach, which will only succeed in
turning people off rather than on.
To paraphrase St. Ambrose: When in Rome, it is always a wise foreign policy
to do as the Romans do. Similarly, within restaurant precincts, it is usually a
safe & shrewd dining stratagem to order what the house purports to do best.
In the case of JP Prime, of course, red meat is the name of the game...
as non-steak items do not acquit themselves with quite the same distinction.
And the summer pork chop is clearly a case in point. It is lightly breaded
and delightfully moist and succulent... but it also suffers from a variety of misinformation.
The menu, for example, unequivocally states that it is served "over"
an arugula salad. In point of fact, a spirited game of hide-and-seek is clearly
called for, as the chop arrives "under" the aforementioned greenery. Secondly,
when the pork is eventually discovered, the unsuspecting diner is in for a
surprise: a thick slathering of goat cheese -- never mentioned in the menu
description -- which completely overwhelms any other possible nuances of
Side dishes ($7.00), on the other hand, are a definitive high point... and
certainly generous enough to satisfy two. The creamed spinach is benchmark, and
the au gratin potatoes are pure decadence and completely addictive.
Other complementary possibilities include jumbo panko-encrusted onion rings,
sautéed mushrooms, and mounds of creamy mashed potatoes.
Desserts... if you could still possibly find room after all you've
ingested... include a variety of cheesecakes, chocolate mousse, and homemade
ice creams... But for the confirmed chocoholic, there is really only one
choice: the chocolate tower, an immensely impressive, monstrous wedge of
absolutely fresh dark chocolate layer cake. It comes with a whopping $14.00
price tag; but because it will probably feed four, it is a comparative bargain.
And be sure to wash down every moist morsel with jolts of rich, potent
Given the hefty tariffs here, you're not likely to drop in for a
spur-of-the-moment mid-week repast... although, if you order judiciously --
sharing a salad, going for one of the more moderately priced entrées, skipping
dessert, and settling for a glass of wine each -- a couple could probably come
away (relatively) monetarily unscathed.
Still... unless you're positively rolling in dough, this is the type of
restaurant where one should come for that special evening. It is clearly a
place to save your pennies and splurge. And it is also, I would hasten to add,
a restaurant where, for the most part, the cuisine is worth the price.
Cuisine: Steak plus
Hours: Open all year for dinner. Summer: Open daily; gradually
curtailing hours after Labor Day; open weekends only in winter. Be sure to call
for exact hours in the off season.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Reservations: Recommended during the summer and on weekends in the off
Alcohol: License; award-winning wine list; lively bar scene
Handicapped Accessible: Yes