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New Jersey Restaurant Review

Lucky Bones Backwater Grille
1200 Route 109
Cape May, Cape May County, New Jersey
(609) 884-BONE

By The Artful Diner
July 10, 2006

Lucky Bones may be the new kid on the block (opening its doors just around tax time), but it is already making significant waves in a community that is certainly not bereft of diverse dining possibilities. When I arrived for my initial visit -- the final Thursday of April at 5:30 p.m. -- the bar and dining room were in full swing. Proof, once again, that if you build it, they will come.

This already wildly popular restaurant represents a long overdue restructuring of the Cape May culinary scene: A shift away from outlandishly pricey innovative American establishments to less expensive, family-friendly, ethnically-driven casual eateries. Harry Gleason made the much heralded switch last season, closing Daniel's on Broadway and opening the Island Grill, which majors in a delicious variety of tropical treasures. And now Michael and David Craig, owners of the former Pelican Club and also proprietors of the Washington Inn, have made their informal debut with Lucky Bones Backwater Grill.

Fortunately for all concerned, the Brothers Craig had the considerable foresight to install Walter J. Jurusz, the former power behind the stove at the Pelican Club, as their chef. Equally fortuitous is the fact that several of his signature dishes have come along for the ride.

Indeed, it only takes one bite of his sumptuously grilled Cuban-spiced pork chop with whipped sweet potatoes and red wine jus ($22.00) to realize that this is one chef who has just the proper touch with seasonings. Two other old favorites worth sampling are the delightful crab and shrimp cakes ($22.00) and Prince Edward Island mussels awash in a superlative, soul-satisfying Gorgonzola/basil/tomato sauce ($16.00).

But there are other exciting culinary happenings here as well... Continuing on with the Cuban theme, the mojo-marinated pork morsels make a fabulous starter. The nuggets are slightly on the chewy side, but the marinade (olive oil, lime juice, cumin, and a variety of other spices) renders them totally irresistible, as does the zesty tequila/lime/cilantro sauce and accompanying torilla strips.

And a big ditto for the super nachos, hand-cut corn tortillas, tomatoes, black beans, sour cream, onions, salsa verde, and jack cheese ($9.75; add pulled pork, grilled chicken, house-made guacamole, each $2.00). Utterly addictive. But if you really want to blow the diet, have a go at "Lil's Last Stop Fries" ($8.00), fresh-cut potatoes smothered with jack cheese, smoked bacon, scallions, jalpeños, and then crowned with a creamy ranch dressing.

Among the entrées, the Cape May flatfish ($19.00) is always worth trying. The species may vary from week to week, but the filet is always impeccably prepared. My halibut, for example, was beautifully sautéed and set on a bed of herb polenta garnished with crisp asparagus spears. A delicate lemon beurre blanc provided the perfect consummating touch. The pan-seared Atlantic salmon ($17.00) is similarly adorned.

For those more carnivorously inclined, you can't go wrong with the grilled filet mignon embellished with a luscious blue cheese butter ($25.00; topped with crabmeat, add $7.00) or the sensuously succulent slow-roasted prime rib au jus ($21.00).

But a brick oven is also in attendance; and it is put to good use, turning out some of the best thin-crust pizza it has ever been my pleasure to ingest. My wife and I ordered the "Margherita" ($8.50) -- tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella -- and it was nothing short of spectacular. On a return trip, I look forward to sampling the "Skip Jack" ($12.50) -- arugula, prosciutto, tomato, and mozzarella -- and the "Tuscan" ($12.00), dressed with olive oil, sliced garlic, and mozzarella.

However, if you're more inclined to stop by for lunch, or would care to indulge in somewhat lighter fare, Lucky Bones features a variety of burgers and sanwiches (grilled chicken BLT, $6.50; grilled veggie burger with herb mayonnaise, $7.50) as well as a number of tasty salads. Particularly enjoyed during a recent visit was the special herbed chicken salad sandwich spiked with Asian spices ($7.50).

Tariffs, as you have undoubtedly noticed, are quite reasonable. And there are a number of bargains that will make the bottom line infinitely easier to bear. All side dishes, for example, are priced at a paltry $3.00. The restaurant also features daily early bird specials -- sautéed scallops, grilled 8-ounce NY strip steak, grilled salmon, and sautéed chicken breast -- which include salad and dessert, all weighing in at $15.00. And all items on the compact wine list go for a mere $20.00 per bottle.

Just be forewarned: The restaurant does not take reservations; and, as noted above, it is already extremely popular and tends to fill up early. Also keep in mind that this is a casual, family-friendly eatery; children are both seen and heard, and the noise level can be formidable.

But this should not dissuade you from paying a call, as the food at Lucky Bones Backwater Grill is first-rate and the strain on your wallet minimal. Your best bet, especially at the height of the summer season, is to drop in for either a late lunch or early dinner. Or, better still, plan to visit Cape May in the fall or spring when the tourist traffic is significantly less conspicuous.

Cuisine: Eclectic
Hours: Lunch: Served daily from 11:30 a.m.; Dinner: Served daily from 4:40 p.m.; Happy Hour: Mon - Fri, 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.; Entertainment: 9:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Not accepted
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; bustling bar scene
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.luckybonesrestaurant.com

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