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Long Beach Island is exactly as the name implies...an 18-mile-long narrow barrier island off New Jersey's central coast complete with sugar soft beach the entire length, body surfing, and plenty of frozen custard and grill joints to fortify you along the way. Upon crossing the causeway on the Manahawkin Bay Bridge, your options are simple. Turn left (north) and hit quieter more residential beach communities crowned by Barnegat Light at the tip or turn right (south) onto Long Beach Boulevad where the crowds flock during summer.
But just because south of the bridge is outfitted for tourism doesn't mean these beach communities are an endless strip of motels, chain restaurants, and souvenir shops. Locally run eateries like Uncle Will's Pancake House near side streets like Centre St. in Beach Haven are quaint, walk able, and often historic. It is here at # 212 that large twisty trees shroud the extensive porch and grand entrance to The Gables, a gorgeously renovated B&B and restaurant.
Continuously settled since 1690 in such a fragile ecosystem right on the Atlantic Ocean, it's no wonder that 2012's Hurricane Sandy was only the latest in a steady stream of storms to pound Long Beach Island. But damage is typically sporadic across the island with streets protected by dunes, like those in Beach Haven, remaining comparatively untouched while other neighborhoods aren't so lucky.
Staying at The Gables
The Gables owners Sondra and Steven Beninati are certainly familiar with rebuilding but not so much in response to storm damage as to restoring their circa 1892 bed & breakfast's structural integrity after years of neglect. When they purchased it back in 2005 for $1.3 million, the entire back of the house was sagging, 5 layers of shingles covered the leaking roof, and the original limestone foundation was crumbling. Sondra and Steven immediately called some contractors over to assess the damage and provide some repair estimates. All of them recommended tearing it down despite the fact that it's in a historic district. But Sondra and Steven persevered eventually spending $750,000 beyond their initial purchase price to make all the necessary repairs. The glorious front porch was completely replaced and enlarged essentially creating an outdoor living room.
The Gables' kitchen overlooks outdoor dining courtyard
It's hard to imagine that before rehab, the Gables had more than the 5 guests rooms it has now. All of them retain their historic charm with original gas fireplaces, crown moldings, and original plank floors yet the experience is enhanced with modern comforts like private bathrooms, spa tubs, and flat panel TVs above the mantels. The front desk is constructed from an ornate fireplace frame and marble mantel while against the wall to your left in the foyer, a 1933 Steinway Baby Grand Piano awaits for an impromptu serenade or the occasional maestro for special occasions. The Gables experienced many lives over the years ranging from an all-girls school, postal drop, and produce market before becoming the island's first B&B in the 1970s. This is also when a professional kitchen was added that to this day overlooks the outdoor courtyard dining area.
Eating at the Gables
Open nightly for dinner during the summer season, and every weekend during the fall and spring, executive chef Richard Diemer crafts fresh and local New American dishes, prime steaks, and home made pastas like their super light and airy ricotta gnocchi.
Inside dining features white table cloth candle-lit tables, an extensive wood burning fireplace, crystal chandelier and wide plank flooring. When dining outside, you have your choice of the front veranda or heading through to the back of the inn under columned pergolas covered with grape vines to the Victorian garden courtyard framed featuring a fountain, and extensive flower gardens. Regardless of whether you choose the Prix Fixe Tasting Menu, or dine a la carte, you'll get daily specials often based on produce from local New Jersey farms, micro greens from Blue Moon Acres in nearby Buckingham, Pennsylvania, Niman Ranch organic meats, D’Artagnan organic poultry, and fresh diver scallops from just offshore. The restaurant doesn't have a liquor license but offers a fine selection of wines from nearby Bellview Winery making it the perfect opportunity for a local pairing experience.
Photos: Steve Mirsky. Coverage made possible by participating in a partially sponsored trip.