We asked our readers to vote for their favorite seafood restaurant in a recent poll. We counted the votes, and the Lobster House won. This feature tells the story of the Best Seafood in New Jersey for 2015.
Vacationers from New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia started spending time in Cape May long before locals built its famous Victorian homes. The Lobster House has been an integral part of this Jersey Shore getaway for the past 70 years. The restaurant is one of the first sights you’ll see as you drive into town. It sits on the marina on the left with an enormous green and gold sign welcoming you into town.
The Lobster House is extremely popular and does not take reservations. You might want to settle in at the bar while you wait for a table. That’ll give you time to examine the pictures inside the restaurant, showing fishers, fishing boats, early fishing parties dating back over a hundred years.
Fishing Family Heritage
The origins of this family-run restaurant go back to a wholesale seafood business that sat on the docks of Cape May Harbor. Jesse Laudeman bought the day’s catch direct from the fisherman and then loaded the fish on trains left from the ports and delivered them to New York City and Philadelphia.
Donna and Keith Laudeman run the family business, and it was their grandfather who had a business selling fish here. He
The daily catch still gets shipped out to New York, Philly, and Europe: but a lot of it goes straight to plates in our restaurant. Keith says, “We serve the freshest seafood, a majority caught by our fleet of commercial boats. The business started in 1922, and my father started The Lobster House restaurant in 1954.”
Keith and his sister grew up on the docks, selling fish, working in the kitchen, waiting tables, and scrubbing the decks of the American Schooner sailboat, moored to the dock for use as a floating cocktail lounge. Today, the business (called Cold Spring Fish & Supply Company) includes three restaurants, a fish market and takeout shop, a fleet of ships, and a fish packing and shipping plant. An ice plant on the dock ensures the fish stays fresh. A few years ago, the company bought Tony’s Marine Railway, giving them a boatyard where their fleet can be hoisted out of the water and repaired.
When arriving at the dock, your first decision is whether you want to dine indoors or out. Whether you dine dockside or inside next to a window, you’ll have a view of all the commercial fishing activity at the harbor. Your next decision is which family-friendly restaurant to eat at; your last and most challenging decision will be what to choose from the menu.
The Lobster House restaurant is the original family restaurant. Still, although it’s retained the original nautical theme, including red, white, and blue sailor uniforms for its waiters, it’s grown from a small space with one counter and a dozen tables and booths to five dining rooms that hold 550 guests. Everything is made fresh daily in the kitchen, and not surprisingly, seafood is the star. A variety of shellfish from shrimp to clams to lobster is on the menu; flounder, swordfish, and tuna are also options. If you’re allergic to seafood, there are a few beef and poultry options.
The Raw Bar
The Raw Bar is seasonal, as it’s open to the dock. Decorated with vintage fishing memorabilia, it has the feel of an old-time boathouse. The atmosphere lends itself to casual dining, and who can be formal when cracking open the local stone crab claws? Or crack open lobster. The menu lists steamed live lobster up to three pounds. If you’re with a group or have a hearty appetite, follow the menu’s advice to “Ask your Server about larger sizes.”
Board the Schooner American, a 130-foot sailboat docked at the pier. The original Schooner American came from Nova Scotia in 1965 and was used as a cocktail lounge. On today’s ship, built in Tuckahoe in 2001, try lunch on board, or come for cocktails and light dining with seafood appetizers during the evening hours. If you’re sailing to Cape May, dock your boat alongside the Schooner American for free.
Take Out Shop
Opt for takeout if you don’t need to be waited on—or don’t have the patience to wait for a table if the restaurant is busy. You don’t have to carry your food any further than the tables on the dock. The shop offers soup, salad, sandwiches, and fried or broiled seafood. Try a little of everything with one of the combination platters.
Sometimes you might want to take fish home with you, and the Fish Market has everything you need. “You will find fresh seafood from our boats, as well as imported seafood. The market carries our house specialties, like clams casino, stuffed flounder, and oysters Rockefeller, which you can purchase and heat up in your kitchen. We also have breading, sauces, utensils, ice for packaging, most of what you need to prepare seafood at home. From June through October, you can take a tour through Cape May to learn how our seafood gets from the sea to the table,” Laudeman says.
Finding Lobster House Wharf is easy. You’ll see a sign for Lobster House on your left as you drive over the bridge. If you’re using GPS to navigate, the address is 906 Schellengers Landing Rd., Cape May, NJ 08204. The website is http://thelobsterhouse.com, and the Directions page will get to the dock. The restaurant phone number is 609-884-8296 (but don’t bother calling for reservations, as they don’t take them); for the shops, the phone number is 609-884-3064. Restaurant and shop hours vary seasonally.
The Lobster House is very popular, and they do not take reservations. In season, you can expect to wait a while to get into the bar to have a drink while you wait.
Lobster House: Jan-Mar: 11:30-3 and 4:30-9; Apr-Dec: 11:30-3 and 4:30-10.
The Raw Bar: May-Oct: 11:30-10
Schooner American: May-Oct: 12-10
Takeout Shop: 11-7 in winter, ’til 9 in season
Fish Market: 8-7 in winter, ’til 9 in season. You can order the Cape May Clam Bake online.