Now that Labor Day has passed and bathing suit season is officially over, the New Jersey beach town of Cape May is ready to fatten you up.
The charming town, known for its Victorian architecture and stunning beaches, is once again hosting the Cape May Food and Wine Festival. The event, now in its 14th year, runs nine days, starting Saturday and ending Sept. 26.
The centerpiece is this weekend's Harvest Wine Festival at the Cape May Winery, which for the first time will be two days instead of one.
Elsewhere, restaurants will host progressive dinners, tastings and special deals. Tutorials, with plenty of food and drink, will help unravel the mysteries of food-and-wine pairings or beer styles around the world.
The Food and Wine Festival is sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities, a nonprofit culture and history organization that organizes local events throughout the year. Margo Harvey, a spokeswoman for the organization, said the Food and Wine Festival has grown over the years through partnerships with local restaurants, wineries and chefs.
Each event has its own admission price. The least expensive is a self-guided wine tour that includes a tasting glass and samples from the participating wineries, Natali Vineyards, Hawk Haven Vineyard & Winery, and Turdo Vineyards.
One of the more extravagant offerings is a $125 five-course progressive meal, with each course served at a different restaurant. Participants travel by trolley, and are given wine suggestions at each location. Kay Busch, restaurant manager at the Mad Batter Restaurant and Bar, said her restaurant has signed on for a fish course during one tour and a salad course for another. The fish, she said, will be a Chilean sea bass marinated in mirin, with a sweet soy glaze and accompanied by Asian slaw.
The Harvest Wine Festival's $25 admission includes wine tastings, live music and food samples. At least one other winery, Hawk Haven, will also be on hand, offering wine samples and selling bottles of wine, said Darren Hesington of Cape May Winery.
"It's basically like a mini festival, with food," he said.
In past years, as many as 700 have attended the event, said Hesington. Extending it to two days means more people are likely to experience it, but the crowds may be thinner.
One highlight is likely to be a chowder-making contest Saturday. Visitors sample the chowders, then vote by dropping ballots in a jar. On Sunday, a Chefs' Cook-Off will be emceed by beer reviewer and radio contributor Gary Monterosso. Also on tap are winery tours, live music from blues and rock band Bluebone, and vendors selling food and crafts.
The two-day festival will be held rain or shine. Even though the weather is supposed to be nice, tents will provide protection from the elements.
Oenophiles who want more after this weekend's festival can plan a return trip for A Cape May Wine Weekend, beginning Sept. 24. The event is $135 per person and includes a four-course meal and wine lesson at the Washington Inn and tastings and tours at the Cape May Winery.
Also new at this year's festival is a beer tasting and lesson, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Mad Batter. For $25, participants sample beers from Germany, England and elsewhere, and learn about differing beer styles. Snacks will be offered, and a larger menu is also available.
"It's a chance for people to try some beers they probably haven't tried before," said Busch. She said Mad Batter is happy to participate in the annual event because it "brings a lot of people to town so it's good for everybody.
She also noted that the ocean is typically warmest in September, so there's no reason to consider the beach off-limits.
If you go Cape May Food and Wine Festival
The nine-day event runs Saturday through Sept. 26, with events taking place at restaurants and vineyards in Cape May, N.J. Prices for events vary from $10 to $135. Highlights include the two-day Harvest Wine Festival at the Cape May Winery, and Chefs' Dine-Arounds of five-course meals, with each course served at a different restaurant.
Cape May is about three hours from Baltimore by car, and is reached by driving north on Interstate 95, crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and then driving south in New Jersey. Participants can park at the Washington Street Mall Information Booth and take free trolleys all day to various events. Another option is to take the Cape May- Lewes Ferry across Delaware Bay. For schedule and fares, go to capemaylewesferry.com or call 800-643-3779.
Cape May is known for its waterfront lodging and historic inns. Here are a few:
The Gingerbread House Bed and Breakfast, 28 Gurney St., Cape May, 609-884-0211, gingerbreadinn.com. Rates start at $148.
The Manse Bed and Breakfast Inn, 510 Hughes St., Cape May, 888-554-7447, themanse.com. Rates start at $220.
Angel of the Sea, 5 Trenton Ave., Cape May, , 800-848-3369, angelofthesea.com. Rates start at $135.
For more on the festival or Cape May, go to capemaymac.org or call the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities at 800-275-4278.