The Mad Batter occupies the first floor of the Carroll Villa, an ornate summer mansion that's one of the best places to stay in Cape May. It's now trying to stay open year round - at least weekends. The dining room is big and old-fashioned, with beamed ceiling and prints that reflect the fact that the owner once ran a fine little art gallery.

If you eat brunch here on a Sunday you may run into the mayor, and you will surely get very, very good food. The orange or grapefruit juice (95 cents) is freshly squeezed; a pot of filter coffee ($1.50) comes with warm milk if you like. Pancakes, buttermilk or whole wheat, cost around $2.50 depending on what you want on them. I tried fried apples in the middle of the stack and homemade hot applesauce on top.

There is no liquor license, so bring your own wine for dinner. Chestnut soup ($1.50) is a thin broth with little bits of chestnut and the sweet grainy taste of chestnuts, too. Zuppa ($1.50) - six small tender, fresh clams in a sauce of fresh tomatoes, wine, garlic, parsley, lots of butter and just a little bit of anise - was even better than the soup.

Paella ($7.50) was very pepper-flavored but very good, with plenty chicken and clams, no mussels, and chunks of fennel-flavored sausage. Seafood in parchment ($7.50), fresh fish sealed in paper and steamed in butter, was excellent. With it came fresh green beans, crisp and buttery, and rice too seasoned with mace or nutmeg.

Pecan torte ($1.75) was like pecan pie without the goo - nothing but excellent crust, lots of chopped nuts and a topping of whipped cream. "Very, very chocolate chocolate cake" ($1.75), with the same whipped cream. Dark, almost bittersweet, moist and superb. American coffee at 45 cents was not nearly as good as the $1.50 filter coffee. The Ugly Mug, in Victorian Village Mall, is the best bar in Cape May - a good place to get a stiff drink (sit at the bar, and tip the bartender), a mug of draft beer (a mere 50 cents), and some food. The steamed clams ($2) are fresh; the cheeseburger ($1.15) weighs a quarter-pound and is good enough, though it won't make you forget McDonald's. The Ugly Mug Special is a hamburger topped with shrimp salad and a slice of sharp cheese. "That sounds funny," I said to the busy waitress. "Yeh, a riot," she said. So I ordered it. Some jokes are more brutal than others. After I scraped off the shrimp, though, it didn't taste so bad. Washed down with another mug of beer.