Fork in the Road thinks you should get out of town this summer, even if it’s only for a day. In this Summer Fridays series, we’re covering the best spots to eat in popular daytrip locations.
The dining scene in Atlantic City has seen its fortunes rise the past few years, so don’t go braving an Academy bus out the Port Authority and down the Garden State two hours to splurge your winnings on satellites of Bill’s Bar & Burger, Dos Caminos, and American Cut. Use your weekend instead to explore the guiltiest local pleasures of the Garden State’s Sin City by seeking out salt water-brushed pizza crusts on the edge of the Atlantic, then binging on late night Philly eats (nachos from Jose Garces, Tony Luke’s cheesesteaks) after dancing at Revel and Borgata. And before you go, let Stephen Starr and Geoffrey Zakarian cure your hangover that started sundown at Margaritaville and ended confetti-down amidst a bevy of rock and roll burlesquers.
Tell any cabbie your casino of choice, and he may get you there before the meter maxes out at $13, but name any off-boardwalk culinary landmark and you’ll be grateful the fare can’t climb any higher. Some of AC’s most iconic dining institutions, like Tony Boloney’s (300 Oriental Avenue; 609-344-8669) and the White House Sub Shop (2301 Arctic Avenue; 609- 345-1564) are known even to elude the locals. Lucky for you, both are only steps from two of the city’s biggest tourist draws.
Only a block from Revel, in the shadow of the Absecon Lighthouse, you’ll find Tony Boloney’s owner Mike Hauke’s award-winning pizza house, where 33 red and white pies — like the Pancho Franco’s, made with grilled chicken, cheddar, avocado, and jalapeño — garnered praise from Guy Fieri and Live With Kelly and Michael. Whitehouse, a 68-year-old corner sandwich shack, sits merely two blocks from the Ducktown thoroughfare of Tanger Outlets, and come lunchtime, you’ll find a line out the door. Claim an orange vinyl stool at the lunch counter and soak in the nostalgia, oil, and vinegar of a house special packed with a tightly pressed salami, ham, provolone, and capicola.
Getting a tan at a strip club isn’t so easy in Manhattan, but since you’re down the shore for the novelty, head to Scores (1000 Boardwalk; 855-500-7267), set here atop the Trump Taj Mahal — it puts its New York sister joint to shame from the top down. At 36,000 square feet, this newcomer is now the flagship, and its canopied roof deck offers $6 drinks more premium than any penny slot ‘tails plus bowls of double-smoked bacon popcorn all day and night. Consume unparallelled views of the ocean and the fairly benign moves of go-go dancers no more indecently exposed than the girls on the beach. What goes on indoors is an added fee and another story.
Head back down those steps and you’ll be face to face with the fact it’s five o’clock somewhere. Margaritaville took over the facade of Resorts Casino last summer, but you can avoid it: On the beach opposite stands Landshark Bar & Grill (1133 Boardwalk; 609-431-4120), which, as of this summer, has expanded out onto the shore. Embracing the cheesiness and then eat some cheese — opt for breaded cheddar curd with blueberry ketchup. Or walk out Landshark’s back door and sip with your feet in the sand. Choose from among three dozen shots and cocktails that blend frat party staples like Firefly and Fireball, the latter of which you’ll find chilled on tap.
Steakhouses are plentiful in this town: Revel is home to Marc Forgione’s American Cut, Borgata’s got Old Homestead, and outlets of The Palm, Gallagher’s, Morton’s, and Ruth’s Chris lurk at every turn. But refinement and sirloin melt together at Robert’s Steakhouse (1000 Boardwalk; 609-428-6505) in a way you won’t experience back on Eleventh Avenue, where Frank Bruni once finished his bone-in strip with a mouthful of schnapps and Reddi-wip. Robert’s at the Trump Taj Mahal feels less like a gentleman’s club and more like a club for gentlemen, where beyond a fireplace-lit lounge, you can sink into a plush banquette and cut into the blood red slabs of six-week-dry-aged rib eyes and gold label Kobe.
Dinner isn’t showtime the way it is in New York and Chicago because entertainment here comes in other blurring, thumping, strobing forms. If you’re intent on hitting two clubs in one night, you have only two options: Borgata is home to Mixx and mur.mur (1 Borgata Way; 609-317-1000) where Samantha Ronson and Sky Nellor regularly spin; across town at Revel, you’ll find the multistory EDM temple that’s EMM Group’s HQ (500 Boardwalk; 609-345-2211) plus Ivan Kane’s Burlesque Nightclub Royal Jelly (500 Boardwalk, 609-225-9898) where tasseled dancers are recruited from across the nation to perform old school stripteases and an after-midnight rock show. Want to keep popping bottles back in your room? Take a trip to Atlantic City Bottle Company (648 North Albany Avenue; 609-348-6400), the best curated liquor store in town where you can walk out with any of 200 whiskeys by the bottle. Or sample them by the nip inside The Iron Room, the shop’s backdoor speakeasy, the city’s first since Prohibition.
If you’re hungry for more after last call, Revel and Borgata have that covered too. Opened Memorial Day weekend and soon serving 24/7, Borgata Baking Company caters to more unorthodox cravings like this ham-and-Swiss on a glazed doughnut, mason jars loaded with chili or cupcake trifle, and cheesesteak croissants. In the food court beneath the poker room, you’ll find an all-night Fatburger and OG cheesesteaks and pork sandwiches from Philly import Tony Luke’s, which are griddled until 4 a.m.
Philadelphia Iron Chef Jose Garces rules Revel with casino floor outposts of his Amada tapas bar, dim sum walk-up window Yuboka, bourbon-and-burger joint Village Whiskey, and Distrito, an indoor taco truck parked around the corner from Royal Jelly. Head to the latter in the wee hours for plates of chile-flecked veal tongue tacos, bowls of guacamole under a blizzard of shaved cotija queso, and black bean-layered nachos fired up with poblano, jalapeño, and chile peppers.
Another Iron Chef keeps it going all night at The Water Club (1 Renaissance Way; 609-317-1000): Geoffrey Zakarian designed the hotel tower’s room service menu that includes hangover cure-alls like an entree-sized bowl of cheesy mashed potatoes with a side of garlic bread, stuffed French toast with hazelnut butter, and this pick-me-up combo of Red Bull and an arugula-flecked cheesesteak dressed in an oregano vinaigrette.
If getting out of bed is essential to your Sunday morning, don’t head back to New York City until you’ve fueled up with brunch at Stephen Starr’s take on a retro bistro. One of the concepts he’s yet to replicate in Manhattan, The Continental (1 Atlantic Ocean; 609-674-8300) mixes 50s kitsch with tinted ocean views atop The Pier Shops at Caesars. It offers sweet and savory morning winners like waffles — try the banana-Nutella Fluffernutter or the white cheddar piled with fried chicken. And sure you could pair either with a deeply sobering cup of black coffee, but we say go for the mustard-seeded bloody mary — isn’t the bus ride home the one memory you’d rather leave behind?