Going out to eat with a large group can involve navigating some tricky waters. There is always one person who doesn’t eat meat, one who gags at the site of sushi, one who only eats health food and another who is afraid to try anything his mom didn’t serve regularly at the family dinner table in 1989.
People can be really annoying in these situations. That’s why a spot like the Bellevue Tavern in Cape May Court House is a godsend. With a large, all-encompassing menu with everything from wings to crabcakes and burgers, along with a pleasant and historic atmosphere, you are all but guaranteed to please everyone in the bunch, no matter how much of a pain in the butt they may be. And while variety is nice, quality and a great reputation among the community is what keeps people coming back to this beloved spot.
All in the family
Bellevue Tavern in its current state has been operating for 24 years under owner Dennis Roberts. Unlike many owners, Roberts doesn’t come from a family with a background in the restaurant biz. Instead, he learned it all himself through his own hard work.
“I grew up outside Philly and moved to South Jersey in 1979 and began managing bars and restaurants,” Roberts says. “In 1996 I was lucky enough to buy The Bellevue and have been running it ever since.”
In other words, it won’t be going away any time soon.
And by the looks of things neither will the Roberts family, as Roberts’ son Dennis Jr. seems poised to take over the reins someday. “My son was 6 when we bought the place, and he knows it inside and out. He is now 29 and works as the manager.” Roberts says.
Loyalty and years of service is a theme of sorts at the Bellevue Tavern. Head chef Michael Carlson has been here since Roberts bought it. He and his wife Kristine met at the Bellevue and have never left.
“Mike was here when I bought the place,” Roberts remembers. “And Kristine was one of the first people I hired. They have two kids now and they both still work here.”
Situated right on main street, The Bellevue Tavern is at once an imposing and welcoming site. The sheer size of the gray building is impressive, as is the fact that it has been rebuilt twice, (once in 1905 and again in 1988) after burning to the ground both times.
The interior is divided up into various subsections, some with traditional booth seating, others with low tables, all doused liberally with charm. The bar area is large enough to not feel cramped but small enough to produce a homey, cozy vibe. As you first enter the building on the left is a full service liquor store, which at first seems out of place, but when you consider the Bellevue’s status of being all things to all people, it fits right in.
“Everybody knows the Bellevue. We are proud to be a staple of the community in Cape May Court House. We have so many loyal customers that come here two, three and four nights a week.”
Chef Carlson is responsible for creating the food that keeps people coming back. And there is a lot of it. The menu at Bellevue Tavern skews towards classic American fare, with a long list of tasty apps, including beer battered onion rings, potato skins, and cheesesteak spring rolls which come served with a sour cream horseradish sauce. Their wings, a fan favorite which are large and meatier than most, are available in buffalo, honey barbecue or garlic Parmesan flavors, making it easy for those who aren’t a fan of spicy foods to indulge.
A plethora of oversized salads awaits those who seek them, with the usual suspects like wedge and Caesar versions sharing space with more exotic varieties such as the oriental chicken salad which features sliced chicken tenders in a sweet sesame dressing over a bed of spring greens with mandarin oranges, sesame seeds, noodles and warm almonds. Guests have the option to add grilled salmon to any salad for $7.99.
Burgers and sandwiches are plentiful, with the fried flounder sandwich consistently scoring big points among patrons. Its locally caught filet gets the classic treatment — it’s fried to a golden brown and served with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce on a Kaiser roll with a side of fries. Carnivores will be pleased to find multiple chicken and steak dishes, the standout being their Steak Baltimore, which puts a unique spin on a NY strip steak by pan-searing it in Old Bay seasoning and topping it with jumbo lump crabmeat.
Widely loved Italian options show up here as well, including chicken parm, baked ziti, and their signature Penne Bellevue, which features penne pasta tossed with fresh spinach, roasted red peppers and crumbled bleu cheese sautéed in a white wine sauce. Chicken or shrimp can be added to the dish for $3 and $5 respectively.
The mix of options is key, but one of the main reasons people return to the Bellevue is for their seafood. The crabcakes are the stuff of legend here, as they are large and made with little filler. They would be a home run on their own, but the basil garlic sauce that is served with the appetizer version elevates the dish well beyond what one might expect. Creamy and bursting with flavor, if the menu only had one item on it and this was it, folks would still be lining up at the door.
The crabcake is only one of many seafood dishes served. Other favorites include wild-caught salmon, stuffed shrimp or flounder, crab au gratin or the always popular Shrimp and Cape May scallops Rosa which features South Jersey’s favorite local shellfish served in a light blush rosa sauce over linguine.
“We try to feature as much fresh local seafood as we can,” Roberts promises.
Great seafood seems to play a pivotal part in the vacation experience for many who come to the Southern Shores of New Jersey.
“We have a lot of summer locals who have places on the island and they come here as their summer place. They come here to escape, and we provide that escape for them, just the way they remember it.”