A throwback to simpler times, and a cornerstone of the Historic Towne of Smithville, Fred & Ethel’s is named after two of the original movers and shakers of South Jersey
"An American Bar and Grill.”
Those words, written in dry-erase pen on a white board mounted in general manager Tina Wolfschmidt’s office, deep within the recesses of Fred & Ethel’s Lantern Light Tavern in Smithville, seem to define everything this business is about.
Opened since the complex was purchased by the Coppola and Bushar families in 1997, Fred & Ethel’s moniker serves as homage to local legends Fred and Ethel Noyes. Founders of the Historic Towne of Smithville as well as the nearby Noyes Museum and Ram’s Head Inn restaurant, the couple’s accomplishments loom large in the history of southern New Jersey.
So it only seems fitting that they’ve been given a permanent home in this rustic space, perfectly in tune with the natural environs of northern Atlantic County that they cherished so dearly.
“It’s a big family business,” says Wolfschmidt, employed here for seven years.
This family includes the Coppolas’ son, Tony Jr., serving as vice president of operations for the sprawling complex of shops and eateries scattered around scenic Lake Meone.
The food here reflects that atmosphere — hearty portions and, according to Wolfschmidt, “a little bit for everyone [and] everything from scratch.”
Responsible for the bill of fare are chefs Charlie Gallegos — an original employee — and Mike Ruggiano, on site for the last two and half years. Gallegos is a versatile veteran who can work with virtually any ingredient.
“If we have an opportunity to buy a local snapping turtle he can make a great snapper soup,” says Wolfschmidt.
Ruggiano’s influence has largely been felt through menu additions plus the institution of the Tavern’s rotating program of craft beers, currently numbering 30. He’s also been instrumental in putting together a program of seasonal beer dinners, the next of which is scheduled for Thursday, July 25 (see sidebar.)
A few of the unique items available at Fred & Ethel’s include wings treated to a special process: oven roasted and quickly finished in a deep-fryer, resulting in a crisp product not overly laden with excessive oil. Then there’s an addition going back to March of this year, a house signature plate hilariously titled “The Governor.” Referring to it as “kind of like a bread pudding,” Wolfschmidt describes how seasoned ground beef, onions, bacon bits, cheddar jack cheese and shredded brioche get combined, baked, topped with shredded lettuce and diced tomato, then finished with a decadent Guinness cheese sauce and frizzled onion strings. Priced at a modest $10, this sounds like the most food bang-for-your-buck we know of regionally.
There exists an adage about winemaking that dictates that one cannot learn the business, but instead must be born into it. We like to think that axiom also applies nicely to the restaurant industry, where many of the most successful operators we’ve encountered were second or even third-generation scions.
Traditional fifth-anniversary presents are generally crafted from wood, strong and durable, but with a few notable culinary exceptions — like cinnamon, harvested from the inner bark of trees — hardly the stuff of good eating. Notable and new this year was an official announcement made on June 25 that the organization Architecture for Humanity, along with its “Restore the Shore” fund, would be the exclusive charity partner for the weekend-long celebration.
Route 9 careens through rural northern Atlantic County like a serpent bent on returning to water. Tucked into a friendly curve on that historic roadway, just within tiny Conovertown in Galloway Township, you will find the Athenian Garden restaurant.