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Fried Oysters, Pickled Jalapenos & Other Seasonal Depression Cures-A Cozy Atlantic City Escape Plan

Updated: Jan 10

Do you have the post-holiday icks? The magic of the season has dissipated, Santa has come and gone, the celebratory champagne flutes are packed away, and all we're left with is cold, gray monotony. This winter doesn't even have the decency to bring us any snow. We have the antidote for what ails you: a toasty and tasty weekend escape to Atlantic City.

With Valentine's Day and President's Day on the horizon, you might want to plan your visit to coincide with the holiday or to avoid it altogether. Whatever your preference, you'll want to make your hotel and dining reservations sooner rather than later. Our itinerary includes some popular restaurants that tend to book up quickly, and we don't want you to miss out on any of the fun we've mapped out for you.

Cut out of work a little early on a Friday and check yourself into the Ocean Casino Resort. It's too blustery for a beach day, but it's the perfect weather to enjoy the floor-to-ceiling ocean views from your hotel room. Ocean is as high-energy and exciting as it is conveniently located. It is, at most, a short Uber ride from the other destinations on this itinerary.

You'll begin your evening downstairs at Ocean, with cocktails at American Cut. A Smoke on the Water (Woodford Reserve, orange bitters, cedar smoke), will remind you of sitting by a cozy campfire. We’re big fans of a tableside preparation. After all, if a cocktail costs $22, it really should come with a show. The Roxanne invokes a different kind of warmth. If the combination of tequila and cognac doesn’t make you feel fiery, the spicy heat of jalapeno sure will. You'll be here during "Cut Hour," if you also want to enjoy discounted appetizers or items from the raw bar. We suggest keeping it light, as both the options and portion sizes for dinner will be plentiful.

Bundle up for a quick 2 mile drive to Café 2825. The intimate dining room can be a tough-to-get reservation, and requires a $100 minimum spend, per guest. The indoor garden seating offers the same menu without a check minimum and has no shortage of ambience. Since we're escaping the winter blah's on this trip, we'd opt to sit in the garden and dream of warmer, greener days ahead.

The menu at Café 2825 is scratch Italian and includes many unique tableside experiences. Order the handmade, warm burrata-style fresh mozzarella to be prepared right at your table. It’s on par with the excitement of sizzling fajitas being presented to your table at Chili’s. The spicy stuffed calamari, filled with breadcrumbs and crabmeat in spicy marinara will take the chill off, and the warm, cozy theme will continue with your entrees. The chicken parmigiana Bolognese ala vodka fra diavolo sounds like what Mouth would order from Ma Fratelli in the Goonies, a little bit of all the essentials: chicken parm, Bolognese, vodka sauce, and make it spicy. The Sunday gravy is ideal for purists, but also

the indecisive, with its holy trinity of meatballs, pork braciole, and Italian sausage. The wine program here is outstanding. We suggest sharing a bottle, as there is a price and varietal for every budget and taste. The servers are very knowledgeable and personable; and can help you select the perfect bottle to complement your meal. Ask to see Joe's dessert specials, and keep your eye out for the Italian or coconut cheesecakes.

After dinner, choose from 40 craft beers on tap at Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall, curl up in an adirondack chair, and relax by the fire pit in the outdoor beer garden. You'll forget you're in the midst of a Northeast winter, with the laidback summer cookout vibes.

Less than 100 feet away, head indoors to Bar 32 for a nightcap. The intoxicating scent of bean-to-bar chocolate will welcome you at the door. Enjoy decadent dessert drinks from the snuggly sofa seating, cozy up to a coffee table book, and take in the relaxed, artsy atmosphere. While the cocktail menu highlights Bar 32's signature chocolate confections, the drinks are boozy and not overly sweet. With espresso martinis being the big thing right now, we recommend the Stromfather 2.0, a coffee and cacao infused riff on a Godfather, and its cold brew liqueur variation, Late Night at Bimbo's 365. If you didn't have dessert earlier, or if you just can't resist the mouthwatering chocolate aromas, check out the awe-inspiring dessert menu.

On Saturday, you’ll have a window between 8am and 1pm to grab a hot drink to-go from Hayday Coffee. The epitome of a neighborhood coffee shop, even out-of-towners will feel right at home at Hayday. The French toast latte is like a hug in a mug, with all of the familiar flavors from Saturday mornings as a child. All that’s missing are the cartoons. The loaded chai is another must-try if you need a high-octane, but smooth and comfy, pick-me-up.

From there, you’ll make your way to a low-key quick service breakfast at Hot Bagels and More, a true hidden gem of Atlantic City. As the name suggests, their fresh, hand-rolled bagels are the main event, but you can order all of your morning faves: a wide variety of breakfast sandwiches, eggs, omelets, pancakes, home fries, muffins, and (pun intended) more.

There are plenty of activities available to you back at Ocean. Whether you enjoy slots, table games, or sports betting, you’ll find a game to pass the time on the sprawling casino floor. If you’re longing for summer, take a swim in the indoor pool. If you really want to feel cozy, take in the amenities at Exhale Spa: saunas, a steam room, jacuzzi, and even a Himalayan salt grotto.

Saturday brunch at Rhythm & Spirits is an amazing deal with equally amazing food and drinks. $40 will get you an entrée and unlimited mimosas, frose’, aperol spritzes, or bloody Mary’s. We like to order one sweet and one savory entrée to get the best of both worlds. They’re known for their fried chicken, which you can order on a pizza (!!!) or as a sandwich. Our other choice is the Italian American waffle: the lovechild of a cannoli and a Belgian sugar pearl waffle.

After a walk on the world famous Atlantic City boardwalk or some more time exploring the expansive Ocean Casino Resort, take a tour of Little Water Distillery, sample their whiskey, rum, vodka, and gin, and take a seat at the bar for the best cocktails in the 48 blocks of the city. The menu is seasonally inspired, constantly rotating, and unbelievably creative. At the moment, we’re obsessing over Colonel Mustard in the Lobby with a Jalapeno. Just what the doctor ordered: Little Water’s own Whitecap Whiskey, pickled jalapeno, sweet and spicy mustard, agave, and ginger beer will clear your sinuses and scare the seasonal affective disorder right out of you.

Following drinks, you’ll dine at our favorite restaurant in the city: Dock’s Oyster House. Our first visit was on New Year’s Day 2010, and we have returned at least a few times a year, ever since. We’ve celebrated countless birthdays, anniversaries, our engagement, a pregnancy and eventual birth of our daughter, promotions, and our first home here. Essentially every milestone of our adult lives has brought us to Dock’s to toast 2 flutes of prosecco over a chilled seafood tower.

Tradition dictates that we arrive for our reservation early enough to enjoy a round of expertly crafted drinks at the bar, while we wait for our table.

Go to our free itinerary to see what we’d order while we bask in the lobby buzzing with eager anticipation, greetings between friends, and delightful live piano melodies.

We’ve tried the entire menu over the years, and with the exception of soft shell season, we tend to order exactly the same items over and over. The aforementioned chilled seafood tower for two, with an additional half dozen Cape May Salts, is the perfect start, year-round. In the colder months, you’ll appreciate hot appetizers like the fried calamari and steamed clams in spicy tomato broth (save your dinner roll for dipping).

We used to hang onto our server’s every word as they recited the specials, praying that we’d hear them utter the magic words “oysters marinara.”

Docks Oyster House: Oysters Marinara
Oysters Marinara

Lucky for us, this item has become a permanent menu fixture that we can, and do, order every time we’re at Dock’s. After so many starters, we like to share an entree, and the crab meat au gratin is our go-to. A myriad of molten cheeses and jumbo lump crab meat are ideal for turning an otherwise dreary winter evening into something special. End your meal with the dessert that sealed the deal for us on that fateful January 1st. Joe’s cheese pie is not quite a cheesecake, not quite a pie, but it IS incredible.

After a Waterboy packet, perhaps some in-room bacon, egg, and cheese, or a stop at Caffeccino in the lobby, we always end our trip by picking up takeout from Tony Boloney’s. The menu reads like a mad scientist’s composition book. The pizza, subs, and fries each have never-seen-before ingredient combinations. For first timers, we think the Ducktown Melt (ribeye cheesesteak) and Diving Buffalo (breaded buffalo chicken) subs are total crowd-pleasers. The handcut, triple-fried french fries could be a meal on their own, with toppings like elote, stout barbecue and Fritos, and coconut curry tikka masala, just to name a few. We can’t see the display case without grabbing at least a couple slices. The Pinky (pink vodka, smoked cup pepperoni, smoked mozzarella) and Adios Mio (chipotle mac and cheese) fit the bill to complete this cozy weekend escape.

Atlantic City isn’t just for summer. You’re not bound to the casino. It’s rich in both history and innovation. It has a soul and it enriches both of ours. It just plain doesn’t suck. Subscribe to our mailing list to follow us on more adventures to this underrated destination. We’ll show you the very best it has to offer.


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