Caviar is not usually considered boardwalk food.
Neither are shrimp, crab and chanterelle crêpes, shrimp and lobster omelets, granola or Belgian waffles with seasonal fresh fruit.
And that may be the least remarkable thing about Breakfast in the Sky, a unique dining experience that's been offered for about five years at Mariner's Landing on the Wildwood boardwalk.
Looking for a different way to spend a summer morning? Breakfast is served — on a Ferris wheel.
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"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Catherine Connolly, 14, of Stone Harbor, told The Record about the Ferris wheel "gondola" (the preferred term) she shared with her mother, Lisa Connolly, and her grandmother, Pat Yonchek, on a recent morning.
It seems like a simple, elegant idea. A fancy breakfast served on a gently-turning Ferris wheel. Patrons sipping orange juice and buttering croissants as they admire the ocean, the amusement pier and the less fortunate visitors munching corn dogs below.
In fact, it's a bit of a challenge, logistically.
There are 40 cabs on this 156-foot wheel — the tallest in New Jersey — and they have to be served in sequence, with clockwork precision. "We have to have your order before you get here," says executive chef Walter Jurusz. "It's a timing issue. We're cooking four tables every 15 minutes."
Breakfast in the Sky is offered Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning, through Aug. 21. Seatings start at 9 a.m. and run through 10:45 a.m. Reservations are a must.
When you and your party take your seats (a minimum of two, and a maximum of four people per cab, for balance reasons), a drop-leaf table, specially retrofitted for each gondola, flips down, and a white tablecloth is spread.
Then, in quick succession, comes a relay team of waiters bearing flowers, coffee, silverware, condiments, a bread basket. Then the final flourish: A series of covered dishes is placed on the table, the covers are whisked away — and at the same instant, off you go.
"It's pretty darn cool," says Jack Morey, executive vice president and second generation partner for Morey's Piers, which runs Wildwood's three amusement piers and two beachfront water parks. "Being in the middle of a honky-tonk amusement park, it's about the last thing you would expect."
Breakfast in the Sky has been an attraction at Wildwood since about 2012. Earlier, Morey says, Morey's Piers had tried a more down-market version with ordinary bacon-and-egg entrées, but it didn't catch on. "We've been doing it this way for about five years," Morey says. "We had a couple of events 10 years ago, but it wasn't until we brought in the china, glass and tablecloths that it became successful."
Up top, you can sip your coffee, bite into fresh blueberries, enjoy the fresh ocean breezes, and see Wildwood wearing its 11 a.m. just-got-out-of-bed face. "You get to eat breakfast with a view of the not-so-full boardwalk," Catherine Connolly says.
The wheel, built in 1985, is slowed down to about a third of its normal speed for the hour-long breakfast excursion. (Patrons are advised to use the restroom before boarding, though they can be let off in case of an absolute emergency).
It's not the most exciting ride, as a ride — but speed is never what Ferris wheels were about, Morey says.
"Back in the day, way, way back, 100 years ago, the joy was not about gravity and acceleration and centrifugal force," Morey says. "The joy was about sightseeing, and being on a mechanical device."
George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. didn't actually invent the Ferris wheel (similar contraptions had been turning up in fairgrounds as early as the 17th century). But the mammoth 264-foot wheel he built for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 — meant as an engineering feat to rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris — captured everyone's imagination. It had 36 cabs, each the size of a railroad car, which sat 60 people apiece. During the run of the fair, 1.45 million people got a bird's eye view of Chicago from its super-sized gondolas. Sightseeing, back then, was more than enough.
"There was a man who was apparently afraid of heights, and he became very distraught and had to be restrained," Norman Anderson, the author of "Ferris Wheels: An Illustrated History," told The Record in 1993. "So the story goes, a lady took off her petticoat and put it over his head, and he calmed down like an ostrich does."
Carousels and Ferris wheels, the last word in excitement in 1893, have long since been overtaken by rowdier rides — Scramblers and Gravitrons and Hurricanes and Zippers and Rock-O-Planes and Paratroopers that promised to pummel, wallop, slam, somersault and clobber riders into euphoria.
But lately, the old, sedate charm of the Ferris wheel has begun to reassert itself. The London Eye, the 394-foot wheel on the Thames that opened in 2000, has proven to be one of the city's most popular attractions. It spawned similar "sightseeing wheels" in Nanchang, Singapore, Las Vegas, Seattle and one under construction in Staten Island that is scheduled to open in 2018 (though reportedly stalled by budgetary difficulties).
To the tranquil allure of the Ferris wheel, add the attraction — in Wildwood — of a leisurely brunch.
"I swear, people's heart rates slow down when they get on this thing," Morey says. "That's what I love about it."