Is time a good indicator of quality? In an industry like the food business where trends and taste change constantly, staying open and relevant is extremely difficult. That’s why 20-year-old restaurants are considered ancient, making time a seal of quality. Restaurants like Peter Luger’s has been making the same steak for decades, and for that they have a cult following and a Michelin Star. Yet, there is another class of old timey restaurants like White Manna (or Mana. There are 2 of them), where they represent a museum-like experience for food that existed outside of our time zone. The food themselves might not be bad, some are even delicious, but it will be impossible for them to be as famous by selling only thin patties in a tinier bun today.
And about time – Atlantic City is only known for gambling in the last few decades, after New Jersey became the 2nd state to legalize casinos in the late 70s. With that, fancy and expensive restaurants on the Boardwalk – yes, the one on every Monopoly sets – are meant to cater to high rollers and tourists. The theme being gambling and the ocean, therefore, the most common dish served here is the surf & turf. Unfortunately, the reviews for many of these places are downright horrible. Knife and Fork Inn stand out from the garbage crowd, the “glamorous” Atlantic City restaurant scene, as it is old. Very old. Opened in 1912, the Inn survived prohibition, and was recently in the Jersey Shore episode of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. That is the last approval I need to rubber stamped my decision to visit to the old timey restaurant.
Knife and Fork Inn was built long ago and not meant to cater to the resort crowd. It is so old, the roads were built around the very tall, very slim and odd looking restaurant. Even the neo-classical World War I memorial built across the street appears much younger than this medieval-style building. It truly stands out in the glitzy town. Unfortunately, Knife and Fork adopted modern expensive habits, and only offers valet parking. I’m too poor, and choose the street parking right next to the restaurant. We are then led straight to the 3rd floor. The first floor has a rustic all wooden bar with rowdy crowd; 2nd floor is much cozier and very dead at 5:30pm. The 3rd floor has a small service counter for mixing drinks, and a temperature/humidity control wine room. Unlike the lower two floors, the windows bring in much sunlight and brightens up the room – I like this floor the most. We are serve immediately and place the order for the smoked black pepper bacon, classic wedge, 20oz bone-in Porterhouse, 18oz dry-aged bone-in cowboy steak (ribeye) and the Knife & Fork dinner – which includes corn and crab chowder, Jersey tomato & Buffalo mozzarella salad, 1lb lobster thermidor and medium well 8oz. filet mignon.
We marvel at the elegant room. The bacon is served first; it is unlike the usual greasy fried bacon found at breakfast places, or the thick fat bacon served by Peter Luger’s. The smoky flavor profile with a thin mango dressing on top reminds me more of the stir fry version of pork belly. Delicious but unexpected. The soup is very rich, and the wedge salad is what it is. The Jersey tomato salad is just three (be it freshly) sliced tomatoes with mozzarella cheese slices on the side – who eats this thing? I’m getting a bit hard on them, and appetizer isn’t a strong point here. After all, this is a surf and turf restaurant too. The entrée are served as we finish with the non-entrée items, timing is almost perfect. The portions of the steaks feels smaller than the promised weights, but we have ordered so much food to argue for a few ounce more meat. All the steaks do not possess that gorgeous sear that even Burger King’s patty have, and they are not crispy on the outside; I think they didn’t grill the steak and might have been baked. The lobster is a lot cuter, with its inside stuffed with its own cooked meat. Kind of cruel if you think about it, but everything is worthwhile as long as it is tasty.
The lobster is very heavy on taste, especially the smell of coconut oil. That might be from the mixture of brandy and egg yolks, and it isn’t of my liking. For the uninitiated, lobster thermidor is a fancy French dish – they dig out the lobster meat, and made into a creamy mixture (like a potato salad), and stuff back in the lobster shell. I am never a big fan of lobsters, and this new dish didn’t change my mind. On the other spectrum, all the steaks tasted a bit sour, which I don’t believe came from the dry age process. They are also not well seasoned. I tried to add more salt and fresh pepper to improve the flavor profile, even then, I couldn’t tell them apart from a regular flank steak. It is brutal to say this, but I prefer Outback Steakhouse. The one that is fake Australian. The ingredients and the skill here just do not cut it.
Outside of food, we had a great time. The service is very attentive, refilling drinks and helping us out whenever possible. The building alone is worth the visit, as the rooms are well preserved and decorated. The wine list is extensive, but still draw critics online. The Knife and Fork Inn is a taste of history and atmosphere, but not for the taste palette. The price point is very reasonable, and much more compare to any restaurants on the Boardwalk. Be prepared to dress nice, as I’m sure they turn away customers in shorts and flip-flop. After all, the restaurant was built when those clothing were considered scandalous.
Visited: October 13th, 2018 at 1730 for dinner.
Address: 3600 Atlantic Ave, Atlantic City