If you want some of the best seafood you've ever had in your life, you need to pay a visit to Ocean City, Maryland. I understand that's a bold statement from a guy who lives (just 20 minutes) outside of Boston, but I promise once you try the food you'll agree too.
(Below: One of Ocean City's fine bartenders making Harrison's Harbor Watch famous Oyster Stew)
Visiting Ocean City about 4 weeks before the start of the tourist season there, I can assure you I was sceptical about what quality of restaurants we would encounter. As it turned out, each one was as good or better than the last. With Ocean City being only 4.5 square miles and water on both sides, almost every restuarant also had breathtaking views of the ocean.
During the summer months, the weekend population of Ocean City can reach 345,000 people, but in the offseason, the normal population is barley more than 7,000. What this meant for us during our recent visit (see my blog article about our golf trip and review of the Hilton) was we really got to experiance the sense of community that exists among the people who actually live in Ocean City. Sitting at the bar at Harrison's Harbor Watch, we were getting live updates from the staff there on how their own entries into the annual oyster schuking contest were doing. In fact, later in the evening we were informed by the bartender that Harbor Watch's very own Tom Creveling repeated as the champion by schucking over 60 oysters in 3 minutes! We also shared some beers with Ocean City's legendery DJ, Mike "Batman" Beatty. Apon shaking his hand Mike asked where I was from and when I responded "Boston", he affectionitly told the bar patrons, "Good luck understanding anything he says!"
Being someone who enjoys sitting on a barstool, I have a real appreciation for exceptional bartenders and Ocean City has a great group of them. Most bartenders can make a good drink but an outstanding one makes the customers feel like they belong. Rumbas, Sunset Grille and Harrison's Harbor Watch stick out in my mind the most. The collection of bartenders who worked at each were very personable, made all the customers feel welcome and were happy to chat for as long as you were there. That, along with good food and a cold beer, well what else do you need!
So with around 400 restaurants and bars in Ocean City, I want to wrap up my article by making your search for a good one just a little bit easier. So here is my top 3 list of restaurants we visited (in no particular order):
1) Harrison's Harbor Watch - This restaurant and raw bar is an Ocean City institution. Their oysters come fresh from Deal Island, MD and Delaware Bay. These oysters are used in their locally famous Oyster Stew. I had the stew and it is a MUST! They use heavy cream in their broth which makes the stew incredibly rich and delicious. The stew is made to order and takes 30-40 minutes to prepare. As a result, it is only served to those sitting at the bar. So get there early and get a seat.
The views are outstanding as well, with glass windows wraping the building. Customers can dine while looking out at the Ocean City Inlet or the boardwalk that runs down the length of Ocean City. You truly get the feeling your eating in an historic seaside restaurnat when you eat at Harrison's Harbor Watch.
2) Fager's Island - While the food is wonderful, the real treat about eating here is the spectacular views of the sunset you get each evening. To celebrate each sunset, the speakers in the bar play Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. The overture is timed to the exact setting of the sun each night so when the song ends the sun dissapears behind the horizon at the same time. Something you do not want to miss.
(Left: Sunset at Fager's Island)
3) Sunset Grille - Just a short drive into West Ocean city is Sunset Grille. The restaurant is located right on the waterfront and offers great views of the bay surrounding Ocean City and plenty of outside seating. I was there on a Monday night which was Italian night. They had a great 3 or 4 course fixed price menu. I got the 4 course menu for $12.99, the highlight of which was the Seafood Risotto.
If you're looking for suggestions on booking a trip to Ocean City, I would reach out to the Harrison Group. The Harrison Group owns 10 hotels and 3 restaurants in Ocean City. We had a fantastic experiance with them, as they had outstanding knowledge of the area, great accomodation options. They offer a variety of travel package options and you can check them out at tee1off.com
Check out all my Ocean City trip photos on my Flickr account here