These two giant seafood restaurants in the Inlet, along with other classic eateries, dominated the restaurant scene for decades in Atlantic City.
In the early 1960s my brothers and I had a Saturday morning summer ritual. We would hop on our bicycles and ride the six-mile length of the Ventnor and Atlantic City Boardwalks. When we reached Captain Starn’s Seafood Restaurant we would buy the seal chum and feed the seals and sea lions in the pen by the restaurant.
Captain Starn’s and Hackney’s Seafood Restaurant, both located off the Boardwalk in the Inlet section of town, were two of the most famous restaurants on the entire East Coast.
They were part of a glorious era in Atlantic City — the 1940s to the 1960s — when the town was still a bustling tourist mecca in the summertime. The decline of the “Queen of Resorts” and “The World’s Playground” was just around the corner, but before that decline Atlantic City, the whole of Absecon Island and the surrounding region was well known for great restaurants.
Hackney’s, opened by Harry Hackney in 1912, bragged in its advertising that it was, “as famous as the Boardwalk.” This monster-sized facility could seat 3,200 patrons for dinner, and once claimed that it was the largest seafood restaurant in the world. It was famous for its lobster dinners and its lobster tank where you could literally pick up your dinner. Amazingly enough, there were enough customers to keep both Hackney’s and Captain Starn’s hopping despite the fact that they were just down the Boardwalk from each other. Captain Starn’s Restaurant, had seating for 750, and was opened by Clarence Starn in 1940.
As noted in a 2005 article by columnist and author Jim Waltzer in Atlantic City Weekly, “When Capt. Starn’s Restaurant and Boating Center was in its prime, the attraction was indeed more than just cuisine. ... A fleet of sailboats and motorboats provided sightseeing excursions round the island. A seaplane took the courageous on thrill rides, ending its run with a nerve-wracking dive into the ocean. Starn’s may have offered a four-star stuffed flounder and broiled Alaskan crab, but it was the atmosphere that kept the place packed.”
Also in the city were Dock’s Oyster House on Atlantic Avenue and the Knife And Fork Inn, the odd-shaped restaurant with the Flemish design, located on Albany and Pacific avenues. These two elegant, long-time culinary icons have survived to this day. So has Tony’s Baltimore Grill, at Iowa and Atlantic avenues, still a local’s favorite for its pizza and spaghetti.
Other Italian favorites that are still around are Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern (opened in 1935), at 2300 Fairmount Ave., and Angeloni’s II Restaurant at 2400 Arctic Ave. Both are local favorites in the town’s Ducktown neighborhood.
If you were in the mood for a great Jewish deli experience you had two excellent choices, Kornblau’s at Virginia and Pacific avenues in Atlantic City, and Lou’s Restaurant on Ventnor Avenue (at Nashville) in Ventnor. Kornblau’s, operated by Morris and Alex Kornblau, was known for its tasty corned-beef and hot pastrami sandwiches. Lou and Helen Adelman opened Lou’s restaurant in February 1946. It featured classic deli sandwiches, salads and soups.
It was dress-up time and a special occasion when we went to Zaberer’s on the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township. Home of the “Zaber-ized” cocktail (a mug of root beer in my case), it was opened by Charlie Zaberer in the 1940s and, in its heyday, this huge facility and popular banquet spot could seat 1,200. We would also go for a longer trip on rare occasions to Ed Zaberer’s (Charlie’s brother) in Wildwood. (When you take the escalator up to the House of Blues Music Hall at the Showboat you can see an old-style advertisement for Zaberer’s.)
When visiting Atlantic City nostalgia sites online, it becomes clear that the three Kent’s Restaurants were popular tourist stops for summer visitors. Kent’s Restaurant & Baking Co. was founded in 1903 by Morris Walton at 1208 Atlantic Ave. The second location was on Pacific and Illinois avenues, and the third at Atlantic and Arkansas avenues.
Here is one ode to Kent’s pastries found on the site iloveac.com: “Kent’s Restaurant-Bakery Uptown made delicious twice-iced chocolate cakes. The vanilla layers were covered with two chocolate icings, the first frosting was light chocolate and over this was a shiny dark chocolate icing. The cakes sat in the window on raised glass cake stands fancied with white paper doilies.”
On the Boardwalk at Tennessee Avenue, later moving to South Carolina Avenue, was Childs, part of a chain of restaurants started by Samuel and Williams Childs in 1889. Designed to provide “economical meals for the working class,” the chain is credited as the first to use a tray line self-service cafeteria format. The restaurant in Atlantic City could seat 1,000.
This article barely scratches the surface of the great Atlantic City dining experience back in the old days. If you have memories of favorite eateries, please add them to the comments section below.
From the early days of the city through the 1950s, the Inlet was a solid working-class neighborhood buttressed by summer rentals and home to many of the city’s workers.
SPEND SOME TIME IN ATLANTIC CITY AMID ITS FLASHY CASINOS, the fine restaurants, and the rolling beaches and Boardwalk, and you can’t help but marvel at how far the resort has come. But every step you take is still gently haunted by all that has been here before. Atlantic City wears its history like a comfortable old coat — tattered, but comfortable. From its days as a “health” resort in the 19th century, to its naughty and haughty days of irreverence during Prohibition (highlighted in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) to its eventual decline and then rebirth as an East Coast gambling mecca, Atlantic City and the region has been attracting visitors since its inception. In this issue, our first “Then & Now” issue, we look at Atlantic City’s long journey to get to this point in time. We look at a resort thriving...