104 Jackson Street
Cape May, Cape May County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
June 26, 2009
It is always an interesting experience to pay a return call at a
restaurant one has previously visited -- especially if a significant period of
time has passed -- checking out the changes that may or may not have transpired
in the interim. I first reviewed Louisa's Café over nine years ago; and,
in the ever-volatile, ever-pulsating world that is the New Jersey dining scene,
it does one's heart good to realize that there are still a significant number
of enduring -- and endearing -- culinary constants alive and well out there.
Louisa's, a tiny, cramped BYOB continues to remain near the top of
just about everyone's Cape May dining agenda. And, even, after nearly a decade
since my initial review, the atmosphere is still decidedly funky,
the well-prepared cuisine still decidedly diverse, and the prices
still decidedly modest.
The restaurant's exterior appears to have changed not at all. It remains a
ramshackle affair much in need of a fresh coat of paint and general sprucing
up. The interior's nautical décor is rather garish in color and supplemented by
bare tables, plain white paper napkins, and a host of mismatched crockery and
utensils. A rickety staircase leads to the restroom on the second floor; and
the dining area proper accommodates approximately 20 people crammed in like
sardines... But all this is part of Louisa's incomparable charm.
There are no printed menus... the blackboard tells the complete culinary
story. And, among the appetizers, the presentation of ginger-sesame noodles,
which brings back particularly fond taste memories to this writer, is a
perennial favorite. The dish is enhanced with a wonderfully rich peanut sauce
and sprinkling of peanuts and diced cucumbers.
Salads are also a big hit... But no Styrofoam, anemic tomatoes here. During
the Garden State's growing season, patrons are treated to meaty,
fresh-from-the-garden Jersey beefsteaks. And, even when local produce has
breathed its last, the establishment's plum tomatoes are infinitely superior to
the representatives I have encountered elsewhere. The fresh mozzarella and
tomato salad, for example, is absolutely pristine... ditto the plum tomatoes
teamed with red onion, feta cheese, and an engaging vinaigrette.
When it comes to entrées, seafood continues to play a prominent role (in
point of fact, there was no red meat on the menu the night our party dined).
Bluefish could be ordered with either hot pepper spices or Caribbean fish sauce;
tilefish was served up with a horseradish-dill sauce; the cod filet with salsa;
and grilled salmon with a lemon-BBQ sauce. Branching out just a bit to bivalves
and crustaceans... local scallops were accompanied by ratatouille; and Louisa's
famous crab cakes continue to be a major draw.
For confirmed landlubbers, I highly recommend both the grilled chicken and
various incarnations of pasta. The former is garnished with zesty Russian
dressing, and the latter is tossed with ripe chunks of Jersey tomatoes, garlic,
and copious morsels of pungent feta cheese. Simple yet superb... as are the
vegetable cakes. Potato patties are filled with a variety of chopped
vegetables, fried in olive oil, and served up with a ramekin of spicy ketchup.
It should be noted that the food here is not about innovation... it's about
comfort. This is especially true of the entrées, which, at times, seem to be
"piled on" the plate; and all main courses, with the exception of
pasta, are served up with an innocuous glob of brown rice and
"healthy" (sans mayo) coleslaw. But these features, too, are
part of Louisa's charm.
Likewise, the homemade desserts are designed to appeal to the psyche as well
as the appetite. The Key lime pie is benchmark... as is the dark chocolate
bread pudding with bittersweet chocolate sauce. Other seductive denouements
include a decadent chocolate black bottom pie, strawberry-rhubarb-apple
cobbler, and impossible-to-resist vanilla bread pudding with a super sweet
brown sugar and whiskey sauce.
Louisa and her husband began cooking 29 years ago, just after the couple
graduated from college. And there is absolutely no question that they march to
the beat of a decidedly different culinary drummer. But if you're in the mood
for a meal that is fresh, funky & fun, at prices that won't put a major
dent in your wallet, you owe it to yourself to pay a call at this excitingly
eccentric eatery... I guarantee that you won't be disappointed.
Hours: Summer: Tues - Sun from 5:00 p.m.; late spring and early fall:
call for hours; closed in winter
Credit Cards: Cash only
Parking: Adjacent metered municipal lots
Handicapped Accessible: No