I’m happy to report that The Franklinville Inn, in (of course) Franklinville, New Jersey is not one of these dubious locations and indeed far exceeded my expectations. This is classic American “fine dining” fare, yes, but exceptionally prepared, skillfully served and well worth experiencing. Indeed I’d have to say that my meal there Saturday night was perhaps one of the best I’ve enjoyed in Southern New Jersey since moving to the area almost two years ago.
We came to dine at the Franklinville Inn while looking for a place on the way between our home and Vineland, where we had tickets to see a show at the Landis Theater. I was skeptical but saw extremely positive reviews for the Franklinville Inn on-line from numerous sources, so felt we had to give it a try. Our concert start time was 8pm and, being St. Patricks Day AND a Saturday night, I knew we’d have to get there early if we wanted any chance of getting a table without a reservation. We arrived at about 4:30pm (the restaurant starts serving dinner at 4pm) and, after a very brief wait, were told we could be seated sans reservation without problem. Whew!
In the 1700s, Franklinville became “the” place to take a pit-stop while taking a stagecoach between Philadelphia and the seaside resort of Cape May. Franklin itself was formed in 1820 and the first meeting house was Cake’s Tavern – on the location where the Franklinville Inn in now sits. The Inn has a very long and storied history – a printed version is available for you to read when you arrive at the restaurant. As it is today, the Inn has a charming, dark bar area in the back and multiple dining rooms throughout the Inn. The decor is classic Colonial American – comfy although I could have done without some of the kitschy Thomas Kinkade (or similar) small prints throughout and a little more true Americana art of the time on the walls.
Our server introduced himself as we began looking over the short menu and wine list. The wine selection is a bit limited, but affordable with some nice bottles in the $30-40 range. The wine selection is heavy on French, Italian and California varieties with a few from Oregon as well. We selected an Italian Verdiccio at $33 which was absolutely perfect for the meal ahead.The dinner menu features a number of classic appetizers as starters – Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms, Crab Bisque, Bacon-Wrapped Scallops. Crab is a big thing at the Franklinville Inn – crab and steak. In fact there isn’t a vegetarian entree on their menu, so such a diner would likely be stuck with nothing but salad and side dishes to eat. A few specialty salads are available such as a Caesar Wedge and Spinach Citron Salad. For entrees, the selections cover most of your expected fare: several types of steak, prime rib, lobster, fish or shrimp stuffed with crab, crab cakes, barbeque ribs. One nice feature of their dinner menu is the ability to order a “Combination Entree” to create your own selected “Surf & Turf”, or seafood mixture. The prices for most entrees are in the $20-30 range, which may seem a little high for the area but reflects both the quality – and quantity – of food you are about to receive.
I ordered the Flounder Stuffed with Lump Crab, served with a Red Pepper Cream Sauce and Caesar Salad to start. My companion ordered a seafood combination of Crab Cake and Crab Imperial, with the Spinach Citrus salad. When our salads arrived they were indeed generous – and delicoius! Their Caesar is not exactly traditional, including chopped tomatoes, but the romaine super-crisp and fresh and the entire salad well-dressed. The Citron-Spinach salad was also tasty, including candied pecans, dried cranberries, and crumbled cheese (the menu says blue, but it tasted more like mild goat cheese to me). Despite wanting to save room for our entrees, we both polished off our entire salad plates. Along with the salads we enjoyed their wonderfully crusty, hot, fresh-baked bread.But our entrees were definitely the pleasant surprise of the night and confirmed that all of the reviews I’d read before about this place were true. My flounder was perfectly cooked, fresh tasting, well seasoned and generously topped with fresh lump crab meat. This was definitely not a pre-made frozen piece of stuffed fish just popped in the microwave or the oven to rewarm, as can be the unfortunate case at so many restaurants. The cream sauce was a nice subtle touch that didn’t overwhelm the delicate flavor of the flounder. The crab cake was excellent – all crab, no filler, just enough binder to keep it together and broil to perfection. The cocktail sauce was also clearly house-made, and one of the few times I’ve tasted one in a restaurant that was as spicy-hot as I like to make it at home. But the real star of our selections was the decadent Crab Imperial. This baked casserole contained lumb crab, cream sauce, sherry and Old Bay, topped with nicely browned bread crumbs. Evil, rich, and oh so good.
Our selected side dishes were also too excellent to be ignored. We enjoyed the horseradish-laced Potato Salad and the Mashed Sweet Potatoes. In fact everything was so good it was hard to stop eating, even as we were getting beyond full. Somehow we still managed to order dessert, as the selections looked too tempting to pass by. We selected the Key Lime Pie – with ice cream – and our eyes bugged out when we saw the huge bowl of ice cream that came with the fresh (and not overwhelmingly sweet or “lime-y”) pie. My partner’s Amaretto coffee was a surprise as well, topped with cookies, cream and a fresh strawberry. We ended up drinking the coffee, eating the ice cream, and saving more of the pie, cookies and cream to enjoy at home the next morning for breakfast (and it was still delicious!)Overall this was an incredibly satisfying and well-executed meal. We lingered for about 2 hours total, not rushed at any point in service, yet also not uncomfortably delayed either. The total bill was about $120 before tip, perfectly reasonable given the wine and food we’d enjoyed. I would certainly recommend The Franklinville Inn to anyone who might be traveling through the area, or looking for a destination worth driving to for a special occasion meal. If you’re looking for cutting edge, innovative food, look elsewhere – but if you want to enjoy satisfying, classic American steak and seafood, then it’s hard to beat The Franklinville Inn and I’m sure we’ll be back many times in the future.
The Franklinville Inn
Reservations recommended, particularly on weekends.
Dinner: Tuesday – Thursday: 4:00pm – 9:00pm, Friday – Saturday: 4:00pm – 10:00pm