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Deauville Inn renovates and reinvents while retaining its old-school charm
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Deauville Inn renovates and reinvents while retaining its old-school charm

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To say the Deauville Inn is part of South Jersey’s history is an understatement. Debuting in 1881 by James P. Carothers, who came to America from Ireland, it was originally known as the Whelan Hotel when Strathmere was still just Corson’s Inlet.

Over time it grew and expanded as the fishing industry thrived and whalers needed somewhere to eat and lodge. By the 1920s, the now re-named Deauville Inn flourished, even during Prohibition, where it was rumored that a casino was featured in one of the upper rooms and famous entertainers including Jimmie Durante, Sophie Tucker and Eddie Cantor would appear.

After the devastating Five High Storm in 1962, the Deauville was neglected for 18 years until former Deauville bartender Walter Carpenter and his wife Gloria resurrected the property in 1981, with Lynda and John Carpenter becoming the stewards for the Deauville for more than 40 years.

Rewriting history

Now, the Deauville’s history is being rewritten once again, this time thanks to Dr. Tim Fox, a longtime resident of Strathmere and founder of the healthcare company Fox Rehabilitation, who has not only restored the iconic building but has modernized it without losing its seafood shanty aura that makes the Deauville so endearing.

Anyone who walks into the new Deauville can only say one word: “Wow!”

The impressive interior redesign is nothing short of remarkable. The dining room boasts its own bar that was completely refurbished, hardwood floors of different grains, copper ceilings, recessed lights, a refurbished fireplace, plush red banquettes and a porch area that overlooks the water and outside dining area. The separate pub area, once a rundown blast to the past, matches the modern dining room with its matching hardwoods and ceilings and centerpiece bar where throngs of people will once again gravitate post-COVID.

“It has been an interesting dynamic,” says Adam Modder, vice president of operations, who initially consulted for the Deauville — along with vice president of marketing and events Michael Sullivan — for Taffer Consulting before joining the Deauville team full-time. “Dr. Fox is from the area and has lived up the road for most of his life and hung out and drank here for years. That substandard environment was accepted when nothing else was here. But his vision was that he was prepared to spend a lot of money to renovate the place and to improve the culinary experience. He wanted the dining room to be awesome and wanted the Deauville to be one of the most talked about venues at the shore. And that’s what we are here to do.”

Modder knew his work was cut out for him after first eating there and seeing the place, but the renovations were done in record time and initial struggles in the kitchen resolved themselves when they hired a new executive chef.

“Dr. Tim wanted a new Deauville but wanted it to still hearken to the past,” Modder says. “So the layout of the place is similar but it just looks so much better, we kept a lot of the legendary menu items and just made them better, and some of the primitive decor like pictures and nostalgic stuff will begin to pop back up in places. And the response has been overwhelmingly positive. When you see a longtime Deauville customer walk in, you can just see the surprise on their face. It’s that drastic of a difference. It’s really beautiful.”

A menu to match the decor

But all of that money spent wouldn’t be worth a thing if the food didn’t make the Deauville an experience worth returning for … over and over again. The good news? It does.

Thanks to Executive Chef T.J. Ricciardi — known best in the area for his years as corporate executive chef for Luke Palladino’s former culinary empire — who with the help of a talented chef including Executive Sous Chef Dakota Curran, formerly of Buddakan Atlantic City, have elevated the Deauville Inn menu far above what longtime patrons ever saw before.

“Before me there were a lot of chefs in and out of here consulting or as executive chefs, but I felt the menu lost its identity,” says Ricciardi, who was working at the acclaimed upscale Italian restaurant Sinatra at Encore Boston Harbor when the pandemic hit, closing the restaurant and forcing Ricciardi to return his family back to the Jersey Shore. “It wasn’t a seasonal seafood place anymore … it was a casual pub. I said, ‘Let’s get it back to what Jersey represents,’ which is seafood from our shore, produce from our farms and give the people who visit here or live here what they really want.”

So Ricciardi and his team transitioned the menu, which was about 40 percent sandwiches at the time, to a more upscale experience without losing its shore casualness, adding more fresh items and entrees to attract a dinner clientele.

“This place had a bad rap, and deservingly so. They used to have a lot of frozen food, bought all the dressings, so our job is to take it to the next level. But there is a line there,” the chef says. “There is only so much you can push on the people. So there are some really nice looking plates, but we keep it true to what people want, which is lobster tails, crab imperials, a delicious and elevated crab cake. Approachable, but elevated.

Before, people used to come to the Deauville for wings and a view. Now they come for all of the food and a view. This is instantly one of the best semi-casual restaurants at the Jersey Shore.

“I think T.J. brings the right attitude,” Modder says. “He’s the first one in and last one out. His resume speaks for itself, but I know what it takes to work for Wynn because I did that in Vegas, so when I saw he was a chef at Encore in Boston, I knew he had a lot of skill. And his dedication to move his family like I did when I moved mine across the country showed we have the same quality traits.

Seafood aplenty

Of course, seafood plays a major role here, starting with appetizers such as some of the best crispy calamari ($15) you will ever have thanks to the spicy cherry peppers, fresh herbs and tomato aioli; Jersey-style steamers ($19 for 20, $35 for 40) with simple butter and garlic bread; Dutch mussels ($16) in a hazy beer broth with leek cream and grilled crostini; and a raw bar that offers everything from oysters and clams on the half shell to shrimp ceviche ($13), lobster roll ($21) and the best salmon crudo ($14) we ever had with lime, Espelette pepper, avocado, radish and sunchoke, which looks as gorgeous as it tastes.

Heartier seafood options include a crab and avocado club sandwich ($19) with blue crab salad and spicy tomato aioli; an oyster Po’ Boy ($18) with Dijonaise; a crab cake sandwich ($19), broiled or fried, with tartar; and entrees including seared sea scallops ($34) with squash puree and brown butter-lemon cream, shrimp and bacon and cheddar grits ($26) with shishito peppers and spicy honey, crab cake ($36) with shaved fennel salad and spicy aioli, the stellar grilled swordfish ($30) with sea urchin butter and braised collards, and Faroe salmon in a lemon butter sauce ($28) with asparagus and potato rosti.

“Dishes like the salmon crudo is where my experience and training comes in,” Ricciardi says. “It’s not the biggest seller here but it is something that would make an experience memorable here for people who really appreciate food. All of the classics are great, but when you sell them that salmon crudo, they are going to talk about that and tell others and remember that dish. The swordfish is another one of my highlights with braising out the collards in winter and bringing all of those flavors together. Those are the kinds of things I want to sneak on the menu. The Deauville should not just be fish on a plate.”

Plenty of hearty fare, too

Landlubbers need not worry as there are plenty of choices. Start with the Deauville’s famous wings (eight for $12, 25 for $35) and tenders ($15 a pound) served in a variety of sauces such as BBQ, Thai chili, the medium Even Keel and the hot Son of a Gun; the Twirlin’ Potato ($9), a Deauville classic dusted with Old Bay and served with creamy dill sauce; the Innkeeper’s long hots and onions ($12), another classic with roasted hot peppers with garlic and onion with garlic bread; and tempura cauliflower ($13) is a new offering that will become a signature appetizer with sweet and sour glaze, Fresno chili and pine nut. Even the French onion soup ($11) is special, a take on a Tuscan soup with caramelized onions — five varieties — pancetta and melted Gruyere.

“There are things Dr. Fox is particular about, and for good reason,” Ricciardi says. “There is an Italian restaurant across the street, so he wants to stay away from Italian, which is my real strength, but that’s OK because it challenges me. He wants the wings to be the smaller ones that we have because the size gives them the exact crispiness he wants. And he loves his long hots, so they are all over the menu.

On the sandwich side, the Deauville burger ($15) featured a long hot-mento spread with cheddar cheese, crispy onion, lettuce and tomato; the chicken Deauville ($16) is grilled and topped with sautéed spinach, roasted red peppers and provolone; the Philly steak ($16) with sautéed onions and provolone cheese would make any Philadelphian proud; and the prime rib dip ($19) with provolone, crispy onions and horseradish cream is one of their best sellers.

Things get serious for entrees, which include a 12-ounce Berkshire pork chop ($29) with crisp Brussels sprouts and apple mostarda; and three black Angus steaks served with cipollini onions and compound butter: a 10-ounce filet ($40, a 16-ounce N.Y. strip ($44) and 24-ounce bone-in ribeye ($65), which is enough for two and the one to get. You can also check out their slow-roasted prime rib ($29 for 10 ounces, $55 for 20 ounces) rubbed with spices and served with au jus and atomic horseradish.

“The pork chop is something I am proud of right now, but that will change as we head into summer,” Ricciardi says. “And the steaks are just amazing. I want to have a steaks and seafood division of this menu as we evolve.

Ricciardi and his staff also have fun with sides such as long hot mac and cheese ($8) made with an American and cheddar cheese blend; large, crispy onion rings ($8) made in-house and served with spicy ketchup; and even the fries ($6) are dusted with Old Bay seasoning and served with the same ketchup.

Even the desserts ($6 to $8) such as the cheesecake parfait and amazing brown sugar pumpkin bread pudding are made in-house and worth the trip alone.

Service, please!

As you would expect, turning a place from a seafood shanty to a more upscale seafood and steakhouse has many challenges, including re-training a staff used to slinging Miller Lites and wings to serving Ludlam Island IPAs and salmon crudo.

“Service was a huge challenge,” Modder says. “The focus was to be ready for last summer, but when COVID hit all bets were off. Then when the government surprised us and said we could open, Dr. Fox is not a man to take excuses and said, ‘You need to open.’ So we got through it and made sure the place didn’t burn down and we didn’t ruin any life experiences so they will come back. You have to remember that we have a lot of seasonal college students and all of these kids come in with nominal training and thousands of people are coming in the doors and you say, ‘Go!’ Now, we came into the offseason scratching for every dollar, but we have been able to elevate the service standard to meet T.J.’s food standards. The staff is now buying into it all. Many of them are from the old Deauville days so it’s like teaching an old dog new tricks, but they see what we are trying to do and now accept it and love it. So when those college students return for the summer, we will be ready.”

Looking ahead

As for the future, Ricciardi and Modder are excited.

“We are going to make it happen,” he says. “This is a monster place with a stellar menu and a great team behind it. I see a huge future with this whole property.”

“We think we have a product people will want to experience,” Modder concludes. “The goal is to be the No. 1 destination on the South Shore. We are well on our way to that. The competition is fierce, and I believe we are still in the stigma of the old Deauville, but once people experience what we build here, I know the sky is the limit.”

More to come at the Deauville Inn

If the Deauville Inn ownership and staff don’t sound busy enough, they have more up their sleeves:

The Breakfast House?

Dr. Tim Fox purchased the former Uncle Bill’s Pancake House location right behind the Deauville, and plans are still up in the air as to what they are going to do with it. There has been talk of a new breakfast restaurant, but one thing is for sure: it will be something new this summer.

The Sunset Deck

Situated below the windows of the dining room on the bay, The Sunset Deck was renovated to include a new bar that can seat about 40 people. It will feature the same menu as the dining room.

The Sands Bar

On the beach side of the Deauville, a building that houses a small kitchen was torn down to its studs and also renovated to include a large bar. A beach menu featuring tacos, burger and hot dogs was featured last summer, but Ricciardi has plans to improve that, as well. The beach features Adirondack chairs and about 40 picnic tables with umbrellas.

Boat docks?

Ownership hopes to soon add boat docks to the Deauville so boaters can dock and dine, but that is still a project in the works.

Other times to enjoy the Deauville

• Happy Hour •

Happy hour is offered 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays to Fridays featuring $5 locals beers from Cape May and Ludlam Island, $6 house wines, $6 well drinks and $2 Ludlam Bay oysters.

• Sunday Brunch •

Sunday brunch is served 11 am. to 2 p.m. and features a Bloody Mary Experience, where you get to build your own Bloody Mary starting at $9, plus menu items include spiced apple pancakes, smoked salmon avocado toast and a sausage and cheddar biscuit.

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