For years Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House has been one of Atlantic City’s top gastropubs. Despite its somewhat off-the-beaten-path location, it has managed to find itself on the radar of just about everyone who has a soft spot for the simplicity of casual American pub grub done right. Whether you are in the mood for a great burger, some outrageous loaded fries or an incredible plate of wings after a particularly rough day at work, you can always count on Vagabond to knock it out of the park.
As the years have passed, their reputation has only grown, eventually leading them to pour their focus into opening up a second location called EHT Vagabond, this time at McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links in Egg Harbor Township, in the space formerly occupied by McCullough’s Pub. The new location launched its grand opening at the beginning of March and it was a huge success — for about a week.
“Unfortunately, the timing was the worst. We had our grand opening on March 8 and were shut down — along with the entire country — due to COVID on March 16. So we were only open for eight days and then we were closed for three months. It was a really tough pill to swallow — we opened our dream restaurant, and it got off to a really rough start. But we had made such a big investment, we had to stick with it,” says Elvis Cadavid, co-owner of both Vagabond locations.
But as the old saying goes, good things come to those who wait. After several months of downtime, EHT Vagabond was eventually able to resume business, initially with outdoor seating only, and now with indoor dining as well. And success came quickly this summer, thanks to a combination of their gorgeous outdoor deck, which overlooks the golf course, as well as the menu, this time helped by the skill of Chef Ken Klein, a local legend who mans the kitchen.
“The guy has been in the game for a long time,” Cadavid says. “Kenny Klein was the chef where I worked at one of my very first busboy jobs at the Margate Pub. That was 25 years ago. And he is still at the top of his game. He brings leadership and experience and has been a really great addition to the Vagabond team.”
Klein may have been handed an already proven successful menu, but his execution is masterful, and he has managed to put his own stamp on it. Some of the most popular creations include the Bavarian pretzel, which is served with honey mustard and a beer cheese sauce; the California Burger with maple pepper bacon, avocado,lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and a spicy ranch aioli on a brioche bun, and Klein’s one-of-a-kind crab cake, which has been a standout on the menu since day one, sharing rave reviews with Vagabond classics like their tequila shrimp bangers — jumbo shrimp tossed in a creamy spicy sauce with a raspberry vinaigrette; and their incredible turkey apple brie sandwich, a classic consisting of toasted craisin bread piled with roast turkey, granny smith apples and brie and served with a sweet smoky pepper jam.
Longtime Vagabond fans will be pleased to hear that despite its fancy new golf course backyard, the new location brings much of the same atmosphere as the A.C. one.
“The vibe is the same,” Cadavid notes. “It’s a gastropub — we’ve got 22 taps inside and another 12 outside on the deck. Most of them are craft beers. We also have live entertainment and an amazing view of the 18th hole of the golf course. The place is just gorgeous.”
One might wonder if the sometimes uppity nature of the golf club crowd would be a mismatch for a nonhaughty, straightforward American pub concept like Vagabond, but according to Cadavid, so far the reactions have been stellar.
“The response from the golf community has been unbelievable. It’s been huge,” he says emphatically. “They had their busiest season ever at the golf course, and the golfers have been coming in all the time. They have always had some kind of bar there, but they have never had anything like this.”
Change is everywhere
EHT Vagabond may be the new kid on the block, but the original Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House in Atlantic City has a shiny new toy to lure folks in as well. Dubbed the Mile Stretch Beer Garden, this massive outdoor space sits adjacent to the restaurant and offers guests a perfect way to enjoy everything from a simple al fresco meal to a full day of NFL football.
Though the idea of creating additional outdoor space at Vagabond was something they had been planning for a while, the arrival of COVID-based restrictions on indoor dining helped give them the push they needed to make it happen.
“We already had plans for an outdoor beer garden. We actually licensed that area five years ago. But when COVID happened and we started realizing that outside dining was something that was going to stick for a while, that made us pull the trigger on it. We wanted to do something like this, we just needed a real reason to do it,” Cadavid says.
The space adds greatly to the experience at Vagabond, particularly in 2020 as its massive footprint makes social distancing much easier than at many spots. The twinkling string lights, lush plant life and flaming outdoor heaters mix together for a cozy, almost enchanting experience.
The bar itself is a repurposed shipping container with 27 beer taps — that’s three more than the inside bar has — and plenty of seats for those just looking to grab a few drinks.
But unlike many spaces that jumped on the outside dining trend this summer, the Mile Stretch Beer Garden doesn’t seem to have any plans of packing its bags anytime soon.
“For us, it’s not just a seasonal thing. This will be a year-round structure, and we are in the process of installing a solar canopy so we can make use of it even in the winter. We made it very cozy, we completely enclosed it and put palm trees all over the place.”
Cadavid and crew might just be the best example of making lemonade when life hands you lemons.
“We were closed for three months and things were very uncertain for a while. But we had the vision to build the Mile Stretch Beer Garden, and thank God we did. It has really benefitted us. This was our busiest summer ever,” he said.
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