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June 25, 2008 4:15 PM

The Vacation: Part Two

Posted by Nancy Leson

So, once I left NYC and the James Beard-centric part of my trip, I rented a car (with one of those "no-key" ignitions, don't get me started -- so to speak) and hit the Garden State Parkway, heading south to my old adopted "hometown," Cape May, NJ. Cape May, for those of you've who've never been, is located at the southernmost tip of the Jersey shore and home to hundreds of Victorian-area homes and other period architecture, including the place where my professional life began: the Chalfonte Hotel:

I learned the truth at 17, and it was this: If you can wait tables and do it well -- something I learned to do at the Chalfonte -- you will never want for a job or a meal. You will make friends you'll keep for years thereafter, like my pal Pam Kulkowitz (seen below with her daughter, Tessa), co-owner with her husband Mark, of the Mad Batter :

I worked at the Mad Batter for three sunny summers, having the time of my life. And it means a lot to me to be able to go there still, 30-years later, and enjoy a leisurely brunch on the front porch:

Back when we all first met, Pam waited tables and was dating Mark, whose dad owned the restaurant and its adjoining inn, the Carroll Villa. Mark had just returned from a European tour, courtesy of the U.S. Army, and spent the summer cooking at the Batter where his dad, Harry, regularly busted all of our chops. I can still remember Mark standing at the stove with several dozen flats of eggs and a garbage can at his elbow, cracking one egg after the other before frying them "over easy" in a practiced attempt to flip the eggs without breaking the yolks.

And I'll never forget the day that Pam and I, taking a busman's holiday, were brunching on the deck at the Batter. We'd ordered a platter of smoked fish with bagels, and when our waiter brought our food out she leaned over and whispered, "Look under the lettuce" -- where we found a few "extra" slices of lox, courtesy of the prep cook. Today, Mark runs the place, just like his dad did, though I'd like to think he's a bit sweeter than good old Harry used to be:

I spent (huge sigh!) a grand total of a day-and-a-half in Cape May, visiting with my Aunt Rose and Uncle Rich, and exactly three glorious hours with my feet right where they feel most at home:

So if any of my Cape May pals are reading this and thinking, "Hey! Why didn't you come see me?" it's because I didn't have time. Had I stayed any longer, I would be showing you photos of me slurping clams on the half-shell and eating fresh lobster at the Lobster House; scarfing a cheesesteak-hoagie (that's one very long sandwich, not a typo) from Westside Market; and buying Tastykakes at the Wawa. But I never had a chance to do any of that because my husband and son were waiting for me at home. Once home (where the day's headlines blared "Colder than Siberia!" -- interesting, having come from "Hotter than Hell!"), we beat feet (and ferry) to Beach Haven Resort on Orcas Island. There I spent a wonderful week cooking, baking, fishing and reading, and checked out the changes at Christina's restaurant, reported in the Times today. More on that low-key leg of my journey, later.

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