Dining Review: Panico’s Bistro – Cape May, New Jersey
While there are many dining options in the Wildwoods, our favorite things to do is travel twenty minutes to Cape May. Cape May is the last beach town on the Jersey Shore line and is known for the quaint, peaceful atmosphere. In the past, we have enjoyed bike riding around the area, visiting the wineries (such as Willow Creek), shopping the downtown mall full of treats, and even watching a NASA Wallops Flight Facility rocket launch from Cape May Point.
Cape May is also home to wonderful restaurants of which we love to take advantage of when visiting. Every time we visit, we always make time to dine at Panico’s Bistro.
Panico’s Bistro is located in a converted church where a large brick oven is featured in the center of the restaurant. This spot is one of our favorites for the creative daily specials, BYOB (bring your own bottle) policy, and the consistency of delicious food. Since they do not accept reservations, we usually get there at 5PM open to ensure a table. One year we went with friends as a party of six and waited almost two hours to get seated! But not to worry, Panico ’s has a great downstairs waiting area where they provided us with wine glasses and a bottle opener so we had a great time waiting for our meal, which we all agreed was worth the wait.
Like most visits, the list of daily specials on the chalkboard is what keeps us coming back. These dishes are always so tempting that I do not think we have ordered much off of the regular menu!
Upon sitting down at our table, we were brought a basket of bread to start while we perused the menu and heard the specials.
(Yes, the truffle fries are amazing!)
We started with a bottle bottle be brought (BYOB!) of Collide, a red blend from California- super inky and fruity.
If you forget your alcoholic beverage of choice, there is a liquor store conveniently located across the street. The restaurant does not serve alcohol so make sure to bring your own if you want to indulge.
Kevin and I love fried tomatoes so when we saw this appetizer option, we were all in. The Battered Jersey consisted of fried tomatoes layered with crab and bleu cheese all baked together.
Underneath the tomatoes was housemade marinara and on top was reduced balsamic vinegar. It was magical- by far the best version of fried tomatoes we have had to date! Hidden throughout were large chunks of crab meat. The dish was simply the best combination of ingredients- the potent bleu cheese with the salty fried goodness and the sweetness of the crab meat and the tomatoes.
Our entrees both came from the daily specials menu. We certainly had a tough time deciding as everything sounded so good. In the end, I got the Seafood Lasagna in a sherry cream sauce topped with salmon and whole clams.
When my dish came out, I could not believe how enormous the portion size was! Several clams surrounded a mound of lasagna which was all topped with a generous piece of salmon. It sounds silly but the description was exactly what appeared on the plate. The lasagna was layered with cheese and a variety of seafood including shrimp and calamari. The entire dish was swimming in this sherry cream sauce that I enjoyed sopping up with bread. Most surprising was how light the dish was and I did not feel weighed down. It was a perfect dish and delightful until the last bite.
Kevin chose the Greek trio with pasticcio, chicken parmesan, and cheese ravioli.
We learned that pasticcio is a type of Greek pasta dish that most resembles a baked ziti but baked further so it maintains shape like lasagna. Another very full plate, there were several house made cheese ravioli, the pasticcio in the center, and a large piece of chicken topped with mozzarella cheese. The entire plate was doused in house made marinara which also benefited from a good bread treatment. Each item was delicious and was perfect for Kevin, giving him variety in one entree to alleviate making tough meal decisions!
While Kevin was too full for his own dessert, I was feeling generous enough to split one with him. There is no set dessert menu and instead an entire tray of about eight different dessert options peacock for the guests. It is an impossible display to miss as you eat your meal so we already had eyed up our options. Our choice was the peanut butter mousse with chocolate ganache- only the best peanut butter cup ever. Rich chocolate coating and creamy peanut butter on the inside. Just perfection.
Pleasantly stuffed, we walked around the block to aid digestion before getting back into the car and driving back to Wildwood where we ended the evening with a long walk on the beach as the sun set.
We always look forward to this meal when we go down the shore and it never fails us as an incredible treat. The menu is always innovative and the service is wonderful. Getting there at restaurant open always guarantees a table. And if you have to wait, relaxing in their bar area to pass the time is not a bad option either. We also agree that the meal is reasonably priced and the BYOB option certainly helps that as well. We cannot recommend Panico’s enough to everyone!