At first glance, you wouldn’t guess that this elegant grand dame is a tough old bird. The Gables presents a charming Victorian exterior, with the lush beauty of flowers and gardens, in both front and back, with her original hardwood floors and beautiful architectural details within and without. But make no mistake: she is a survivor.
The Gables has seen a fire ravage a large portion of herself on Easter Sunday 2012, made her comeback with seamless renovations and repair, only to be bombarded by seawater later that year (like most houses and businesses) when the ocean met the bay on Long Beach Island during Hurricane Sandy. Yet owners Sondra and Stephen Beninati, with a never-ending love and admiration for the former 19th century home of the Cahill family, pulled up their sleeves and got the work done that was necessary to restore the grand lady of LBI back to glory. By the time John and I were invited to dine there back in June as Sondra’s guests, The Gables acted as lady of her time would, reflecting a serene and beautiful countenance, while never once giving away the secrets of her past trials.
As one of the quiet treasures of Long Beach Island since 2005, it’s been holding its own amidst the vast array of pizza, ice cream, or “casual chic” restaurants. Since it’s nestled near residential houses off of the main artery of Long Beach Boulevard, many people are unaware that it exists, let alone seek out the fine dining there. Chef Richard Diemer has been discreetly racking up Zagat ratings of “27” and numerous accolades from local media, and we were finally able to find out why. Diemer never went to culinary school; he was “self-taught” both as a bored latchkey kid preparing meals waiting for his Mom to get home, and by simply apprenticing with a chef in a fine dining kitchen. His original course of study was in graphic arts, which explained the immediate visual impression he made on us with the very first dish, a simple arrangement of a fingerling potato with creme fraiche, caviar, and parsley oil. It was cool, it was comforting, and it was delicious.
The Chilled Bellini Soup was another creative hit (a play on the Italian cocktail) , using fresh Georgia peaches (it was only June at the time; Diemer almost always makes it a point to utilize local ingredients in season), Prosecco, lobster, and lump crab ceviche. The effect was sweet, tart, and surprising, as I would never think of pairing peaches and seafood.
The “Seared Viking Village Scallops” over risotto refers to the fact that these lovelys originate from only a few miles up the road, at Barnegat Light. They were, indeed, perfectly seared yet slightly underdone in the center, naturally sweet and delicate, with nary a grain of sand-just the way a dang scallop should be, yet often isn’t. The mushroom risotto stood out as the heaviest texture so far, but it was just enough to satisfy, not overwhelm.
The Burrata Bruschetta was another dish that was delicious to both the eyes and the tongue. Again, another simple arrangement, this time of Prociutto Di Parma, creamy Burrata cheese, pickled shallots,wild arugula, and 18-year-old balsamic vinegar sent us to the moon.
The main event was the richest by far: a rare squab in its own demi glace, with a beautiful ratatouille served alongside, rich and decadent. The big finish was, yet again, an excercise in simple elegance: a perfectly executed panna cotta with raspberry sauce. As a food writer, I can truthfully say that although this is not ground-breaking cuisine, it is clearly high-end dining that is flawlessly executed, something that can be difficult to find.
Although the Gables does not have a liquor license, they have one of those odd bird, only-with-New Jersey’s-laws arrangements: they are considered a “offsite retail sales outlet” of Bellview wines, and are allowed to serve them with their meals. Before you turn up your nose, if you’re familiar with this site you’ll know that these are not the low-end, syrupy wines that were traditionally produced in Jersey after Prohibition destroyed the industry; these are the high-end, respected wines that are now emerging from the area. We had the pleasure of enjoying the Petit Verdot and Viognier paired with our meal.
Afterwards, we waited for the chef to come out of the kitchen and do the usual: take his accolades, get “grilled” about his cuisine, etc. Except that it didn’t happen. He graciously refused to come out of the kitchen when a request was sent. Apparently he’s not a diva, however. “It’s just not his thing,” explained Sondra, “he’d rather you know what he’s about by seeing and eating his food.” Actually, I think I can appreciate that. In this Food Network-dominated world of celebrity chefs, we seem to demand that not only they prepare a flawless meal for us, but to also charm and entertain us with their witty banter. But who said that everyone who was talented in the kitchen had to be talented at schmoozing as well? Lately I’ve been wondering just how much kitchen talent people tend to dismiss simply because they don’t have the knack or desire to chat up their customers…
I also feel compelled to mention that this wonderful place is also a bed and breakfast. The rooms are just as gorgeous as the restaurant, albeit cozy. However, you will find modern amenities like flat screen TVs, and the “Chapel Room” happens to have a Jacuzzi tub.If all of this sounds good to you, here’s something even better: winning a free night’s stay and dinner for two here. Check out the Gables Facebook page, and in the spirit of romance, share a sunset picture you’ve taken to enter. If you happen to win, here’s a little tip from us: although everyone seems to request a table on the gorgeous front porch, taking in the ocean breezes of the island, we’d like to make a different recommendation for a beautiful summer night. Ask for a table in the rear garden in the back of the house. On a sultry summer night, the sensual pleasures of the flowers and fountains of the patio, coupled with dining under the stars, is simply amazing.
The Gables, 212 Centre Street, Beach Haven. (609) 492-3553.