With all that big-ticket star power, it's no wonder Revel's hype seems to be sucking all the dining-buzz oxygen from that coastal sea breeze. A closer look, however, shows a number of other worthy new ventures - many of them from familiar names - that also hope to make their summer mark.
This year marks the return of the Latz family (formerly of the Knife & Fork) to the local dining scene, with Latz's by the Bay in Somers Point. Operated by Andrew Latz in a charming, century-old fisherman's cottage with a view of the water, the location has some family history, sitting across Bay Avenue from the building where Andrew's grandparents, Milton and Evelyn, ran Latz's Inn on the Bay for two decades before World War II. Latz's modern menu, though, will not dwell too much in the lobster Thermidor-era classics of the Knife & Fork, but rather focus on sustainable ingredients and more contemporary presentations, from scallops with Meyer lemon vinaigrette to halibut with spaghetti squash.
Breakfasts, always a cherished Shore meal, should get some extra attention down in Cape May, where Quahog co-owner Deanna Ebner and her husband, Lucas Manteca, still chef at the Ebbitt Room, have converted the Cape May Point General Store into the Red Store, a breakfast-lunch coffee shop and bakery where everything from the brioche and pies to the breakfast sausage, smoked ham, and fruit conserves are made in-house. The family lives upstairs ("pretty convenient!" says Manteca, for "cafe au laits . . . and the sour-cream biscuit we bake and spread with our tomato jam").
The LoBianco family is multitasking, too, expanding on their self-named fine-dining Italian concept in Margate with Salt Ayre, a 30-seat neighborhood bistro in Ventnor in the former Gertrude's (and, ironically, the original LoBianco). Focused around raw oysters and a more wide-ranging repertoire of updated comfort foods for about $20 an entrée, such as N.Y. strip steak frites, lemon sole with artichokes, house-made fennel sausage, and serious burgers, "this is something I've always wanted to do," says Nick LoBianco. His longtime sous chef, son Sage, 22, will be manning the kitchen by June.
Two other family-run Italians are also on the move. Gia, the Chiarella clan's home-style hit in Wildwood, has stepped up from its original 100-seat BYO to a 300-seat space with a wine list in the former Garfield's nightclub.
"Mom . . . 28 burners!" screamed chef Mia Chiarella after her first peek into the new kitchen (the old spot only had five). Whether bigger is better remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen how the culinary-schooled 24-year-old will collaborate alongside her veteran chef-dad, Vincent, who ran Chiarella's for 30 years. Gia's classic South Philly-style Italian flavors - from fried provolone with anchovies to house-made broccoli rabe sausage to pork chops with long hots and mozzarella - still rules the bill of fare. But mother Bethie promises that Mia has infused those old-school flavors with "her twist."
The Salvo family, meanwhile, which previously owned Presto! in Margate, has decided to focus on what they do best: gnocchi. As in, an entire restaurant built around the airy ricotta dumplings; it will also be called Presto. Snug in a Somers Point strip-mall space, there will be spinach gnocchi soup, toasted gnocchi with spicy marinara dip, and gnocchi with ragu with meatballs and sausage. The big question is not really whether this unique venture can compete with all the big guns stealing the publicity over at Revel ("We've got our clientele," says chef David Salvo). It's whether Salvo can make it through another summer of rolling thousands of dumplings daily with his limbs intact: "My husband," says his proud wife, Lori, "suffers from gnocchi elbow."
Contact Craig LaBan at 215-854-2682 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @CraigLaBan.