By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
TJ Ricciardi has had the good fortune of having some of the country’s most acclaimed chefs as his mentors, including Luke Palladino, Stephen Kalt and Tom Harkins.
By working in the kitchen with some of the luminaries of the culinary world, he cultivated his own extraordinary cooking talents and has brought them to the Jersey Shore as the new executive chef of the Deauville Inn in Strathmere.
Combining flair with flavor, Ricciardi has reshaped the menu. The new menu is the latest change in the restaurant’s transformation under owner Dr. Tim Fox, who bought the Deauville in 2019 with the goal of blending the historic building’s old-fashioned charms with modern upgrades to create a more upscale experience for customers.
The new menu crafted by Ricciardi reflects how the Deauville Inn continues to evolve to cater to the tastes of its customers. Ricciardi noted that the most alluring part of being a chef is that it has allowed him to explore his creative side while making the customers feel happy at the same time.
“I love feeding people,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone who was unhappy after just eating a great meal. That’s part of what makes my job as a chef so rewarding to me.”
The Deauville’s revamped menu offers some classic seafood selections, such as seared sea scallops, grilled swordfish and crab cakes. There’s also a shrimp dish featuring bacon and cheddar grits, shishito peppers and spicy honey.
For meat lovers, the selections include pork chops, filet mignon, New York strip and bone-in ribeye.
The menu also offers an array of sandwiches, among them the Chicken Deauville featuring grilled chicken breast, sautéed spinach, roasted red pepper and provolone cheese.
Customers interested in seafood might want to try the crab and avocado club sandwich or the oyster po’boy featuring Creole classic fried oysters and dijonnaise sauce.
A selection of hot and cold appetizers, wings, salads, soups and side dishes are other highlights on the menu. One of the more intriguing side dishes is the Brussel sprouts with apple mostarda and aged balsamic dressing. As a hot appetizer, consider trying the tempura cauliflower with sweet and sour glaze, Fresno chili pepper and pine nut.
There’s also a kids’ menu featuring macaroni and cheese, hotdogs, chicken tenders and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Sunday brunch is also served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Ricciardi pointed out that he and the Deauville have gone to great lengths to procure the freshest seafood and produce from local vendors and farmers to ensure high-quality meals.
“One of my main focuses is fresh and local – using local farmers and fresh seafood,” he said. “We’re getting local produce literally a day after it’s picked. We’re really busy here picking out and using the freshest ingredients. Using fresh ingredients is the best way to do it.”
When Ricciardi worked with celebrity chef Luke Palladino for 10 years, one of the reasons for their success was their partnership with local farms for fresh fruits and vegetables, he said. Ricciardi eventually oversaw all six of Palladino’s restaurants in New Jersey and Philadelphia.
A lifelong resident of South Jersey, the 37-year-old Ricciardi has spent 17 years in the restaurant business. Before coming to the Deauville Inn, he served as executive chef at the upscale Sinatra Italian Restaurant that is part of casino mogul Steve Wynn’s Encore Boston Harbor Resort.
One of his first jobs in the restaurant business was spent working in the kitchen at the old Busch’s Seafood Restaurant, a former landmark in Sea Isle City. Ricciardi currently lives in Sea Isle with his wife, Amanda, and their three children, Rocco, Giovanni and Mayer.
Ricciardi’s hiring and the new menu at the Deauville Inn are part of a whirlwind of activity at the restaurant under Dr. Tim Fox’s ownership.
Fox, a Strathmere resident, is the founder of the Cherry Hill-based Fox Rehabilitation, a healthcare company that specializes in physical and occupational therapy for older adults. He has a doctorate in physical therapy and is board certified in geriatrics.
During the pandemic, Fox and the Deauville’s staff have emphasized safety measures to protect customers from COVID-19 and promote the idea of “safe dining.”
As an extra step to observe social distancing, Plexiglas partitions have been set up in the restaurant to separate the tables.
“This is just another layer of safety to make the customers feel comfortable,” Michael Sullivan, the Deauville’s vice president of marketing and events, said of the partitions.
Sullivan explained that the Deauville’s enhanced safety protocols include sanitizing the entire property all day.
Staff members wear protective masks and have pre-shift meetings to “re-energize our company policies, procedures and communicate critical information,” Sullivan noted of additional safety measures.
“We are always teaching and training our team members and it shows in our service experience,” he said.
During its peak operations, the Deauville employed 311 staffers. Fox has stressed that he wants the Deauville to excel in customer service. The British-born Fox said he began appreciating the importance of customer service in the restaurant business after he came to the United States with his now-deceased parents and began working as a bus boy and waiter.
Perched on the bay at the foot of the Corson’s Inlet Bridge, the Deauville came under Fox’s ownership in October 2019 after he purchased it for an undisclosed price from the Carpenter family, which had held it for 40 years.
The building dates to 1881 and originally operated as the Whelen Hotel before becoming the Deauville Inn, according to the history of the property that can be read on the back of the menu.
Fox immediately set out to freshen up the interior and exterior while also preserving the building’s historic appeal.
He has likened the Deauville to a treasured piece of artwork that was in need of a touch-up.
“The charm of that building is amazing,” Fox said in an interview last April. “I fell in love with the charm.”
Among the major changes made by Fox, a new beach bar was built to capitalize on the location overlooking the bay.
In addition, the main dining room was completely renovated to give it a more upscale feel. The bar area was turned into a pub.
The Deauville’s grand patio was also remodeled. Covered by a new canopy, the patio gives customers the option of dining outdoors during the pandemic.
There is also a new 50-foot-long patio bar allowing patrons to stand and savor the water views.
Longer-range plans for the Deauville include replacing the old docks that accommodate the summer boating traffic.
The Deauville Inn is located at 201 Willard Road in Strathmere. For more information, call (609) 263-2080 or visit deauvilleinn.com.