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Hot, happening, and huge: Six new restaurants at the Jersey Shore for 2024

Angeloni’s Club Madrid, Black Cactus, Lamberti’s Sunset Marina, LaScala’s Beach House, Memories in Margate, and Mexiquila are the latest splashy restaurants on the Jersey Shore scene.

Matchbooks from Angeloni's Club Madrid, 2400 Arctic Ave., Atlantic City.
Matchbooks from Angeloni's Club Madrid, 2400 Arctic Ave., Atlantic City.Read moreMichael Klein / Staff

Jersey Shore restaurateurs are thinking big.

Take six splashy restaurants now in their first seasons. LaScala’s Beach House in Brigantine has a capacity of a thousand people inside and on its beach. Mexiquila in Somers Point has 280 seats, three bars, and an outside patio. The rebuilt Lamberti’s Sunset Marina can hold 350 people, including 30 at the bar, after it gained a second floor. The revived Memories in Margate also fits 350 people, inside and out. The large number at the Black Cactus in downtown Avalon is its liquor license: It cost $2 million, according to borough records. The sixth newcomer on my list is considerably more intimate, though Angeloni’s Club Madrid has a big goal: charmingly recapturing the rogue milieu of 1980s Atlantic City.

This weekend may see the opening of Simpson, the Atlantic City location of chef Wenford “Patrick” Simpson’s Brooklyn Caribbean/soul food restaurant, at ACX1 Studios, the former Pier at Caesars. Also this summer, Ocean Casino Resort is expected to roll out Samuel’s, a deli, and Pearl & Mary, an oyster bar, both from chef Michael Schulson.

Angeloni’s Cafe Madrid

“Everybody has their what-if,” reads the menu at Angeloni’s Club Madrid, a bar-lounge that opened a few weeks ago in Atlantic City’s Ducktown neighborhood. “What if President Kennedy hadn’t gone to Dallas? What if Whitney never met Bobby? What if the Club Madrid didn’t die in 1981?”

Club Madrid, a watering hole founded in Center City Philadelphia in the 1920s, moved to Atlantic City in 1927 after one too many police raids and later settled into the current building at Georgia and Arctic Avenues. Club Madrid “died” in 1981 when Albert Angeloni and his son Alan bought the place from longtime operator Tony Parisi. They renamed their Italian bar-restaurant Angeloni’s II, after their original in the Trenton area, and later bought the shady pool hall next door to expand the dining room.

Alan Angeloni retired last year and sold it to Julie Aspell, who owns the nearby retro gem Tony’s Baltimore Grill.

“We planned to just do some retouching and give it another go as it used to be,” said Julia Vain, who oversees day-to-day operations. “But when we started doing our deep dive, we found out there was so much more history than we even could have imagined with this place.”

What if the Angelonis had kept Club Madrid going after they bought it?

Ergo, the spirit of Club Madrid lives again, a mixture of South Philly and Ducktown. Vain and designer Kate Rohrer of Rohe Creative took the look and feel back to the crushed-velvet 1980s. You sweep inside through a heavy curtain. There’s a restored ’80s Marantz receiver in an étagère behind the bar. The TV is a Sony Trinitron that plays ’80s Atlantic City newsreels and commercials from the casinos when they first opened.

Security-camera globes from a casino form part of the lounge’s ceiling. A chandelier that hung in the South Philly home of mob boss Angelo Bruno hangs in one corner. You can sit at mob boss Nicky Scarfo’s dinner table. A monogrammed car phone belonging to onetime Atlantic City political boss John Schultz sits on a table. There’s a plastic slip-covered couch, too. “If that doesn’t make you feel like you’re at your grandmother’s house, nothing will,” Aspell said.

Vain’s cocktail list is studded with references to the old days: The Tony Parisi is a gin cocktail. A drink mixing Averna and Cutty Sark is called 26 N. Georgia Ave., Scarfo’s Atlantic City address. Bubbles, wines, and beers fill out the list.

Food — and you can order the entire dinner menu for $399 — is straight-ahead Italian: house-extruded pastas include lumache with pistachio pesto and orecchiette with crab, shrimp, and basil. There’s a wedge salad with sub ingredients from White House Sub Shop down the street. There’s eggplant Milanese and chicken Parm. Among the snacks, they serve focaccia from nearby A. Rando bakery with dip, and spicy garlic cheese spread with fried bread. From 4 to 6 p.m. Friday to Monday, the bar offers a comp apertivo with the purchase of every cocktail, and brunch is coming in August.

Angeloni’s Club Madrid, 2400 Arctic Ave., Atlantic City. Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Thursday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m.-midnight Sunday and Monday.

Black Cactus

Chef Jason Cichonski and his team (Attico, Messina Social Club, Tulip Pasta & Wine Bar) have been working for years with developer Ed Kennedy on this sharp-looking, date-night bar-restaurant inspired by coastal Mexico. The new building replaced a Coldwell Banker real estate office across from Pirate Island Miniature Golf.

Black Cactus is offering a four-course, $85 fixed-price menu for parties with reservations, but walk-ins may order a la carte: king salmon aquachile, guacamole with black truffle crema, crab tamale with smoked avocado, duck wing carnitas, strip-steak tacos with pepper and onion sofrito and black garlic mole, and lobster tacos. Papas + cebolllitas puts roasted whole baby potatoes and burnt onion beneath a creamy queso sauce. There’s a decent agave list. Note that drinks, at least, carry city prices: $18 for a margarita; $21 for an al pastor old-fashioned with bourbon, Reposado tequila, pineapple, corn, and achiote; and $7 for Miller Lite on draft.

Black Cactus, 2688 Dune Drive, Avalon, N.J. Hours: noon-11 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday for the bar; dining room opens at 5 p.m.

Lamberti’s Sunset Marina & Restaurant

Luciano Lamberti opened his Italian restaurant and marina on the bay in Margate in 2000. After nearly two decades, the building needed work, so he shut it down in 2019 for what turned into a nearly five-year ordeal that raised the building one story and increased the floor space to 12,000 square feet.

Lamberti’s, which reopened last month, has counters running along the walls for bayside eating and drinking. The first floor’s lower ceilings afford better acoustics; the second floor dining room, which has a lot of marble, can get quite loud. Traditional Italian menu includes pasta, steaks and seafood dishes, plus pizza.

Note that Lamberti has a parking lot on Monroe Avenue, a precious asset in this part of Margate.

Lamberti’s Sunset Marina & Restaurant, 9707 Amherst Ave, Margate. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

LaScala’s Beach House

Restaurateur Rob LaScala, who owns Chicken Or the Egg on Long Beach Island and Marlton, has brought his Italian brand, LaScala’s, to Brigantine’s former Laguna Grill & Rum Bar. Most of the restaurant is outside beneath shades, but even the indoor seating (particularly the main bar) gives great views of the beach. There’s a beachy food menu, with plenty of $14 cocktails and $15 frozen drinks.

Last Saturday afternoon, as the customer count inside and out hovered near 1,000, a manager told me that 118 employees were on the clock. Also it’s fair to note that street parking is a hassle in Brigantine, but there’s free valet.

LaScala’s Beach House, 1400 Ocean Ave., Brigantine, N.J. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday (kitchen closes at 10 p.m).

Memories in Margate

Having known Jerry Blavat for 35 years, I’m reasonably sure that the Philadelphia DJ and promoter would be tickled at what restaurateur Teddy Sourias and associates have done with his Shore club, Memories in Margate. Blavat was all about socialization, and Memories is all about that, under eight disco balls.

Even in the early evening Saturday, people were dancing to a DJ and gathering around the bars, which includes a tiki bar out back. Some were even having dinner — your usual Italian fare — something you couldn’t do when Blavat ran it, since there was no kitchen to speak of.

Memories in Margate, 9518 Amherst Ave., Margate, N.J. Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-4 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Mexiquila

This sprawling Mexican restaurant in the former Clancy’s by the Bay — from the crew behind the former Draught Horse on Temple University’s campus — has an indoor-outdoor feeling in season as the indoor seating spills outdoors through garage doors.

Frida Kahlo prints are everywhere, and so, it seems, are bars, well-stocked with agave spirits. Tacos on house-made tortillas are popular, as are the specials on tapas hour (3 to 5 p.m. weekdays).

Mexiquila, 101 E. Maryland Ave., Somers Point, N.J. Hours: 3-11 p.m. daily; kitchen closes at 9:30 p.m.