OCEAN CITY - Boardwalks have long been the home of fun food. Where else can funnel cake, a slice of pizza, and a water ice be counted as a three-course dinner instead of a frivolous snack.
Yet with all of the options at your fingertips, at some point in your vacation, you and your family will be in need of a more nourishing meal. Clancy's by the Sea offers that with an ocean view.
Clancy's is on the Boardwalk between 12th and 13th streets. We played parking roulette for 20 minutes, somehow missing the available street spots by a few seconds, or turned away by the lady with a baby in her arms who was holding a spot for her husband. Then our hunger won out over free parking and we coughed up the 10 bucks for a safe place in the lot closest to the Boardwalk.
We were quickly seated at one of the last empty spots on the outside patio. No mention was made of dinner specials, so we made our selections from the regular menu as our server delivered our cold drinks.
The Clancy's Original Chowder ($3.95/cup) was a big disappointment. A thickened broth, slightly creamy looking, had only one seafood that we could recognize: surimi, the imitation crab meat. Some of it was in hunks so big we had to cut it with the spoon. There were a few kernels of yellow corn, not a potato in sight, and very little of what we expected to find in a cup of something called chowder.
Crackling shrimp ($9.95) was a portion of large, batter dipped, crispy shrimp, tossed in what the menu called a spicy hot sauce and served with celery sticks and a cooling Ranch sauce - Clancy's take on the Buffalo chicken style. We didn't think the sauce was all that spicy, adding little personality to the dish. Some of the shrimp had that translucent look about them inside, meaning they were borderline cooked. To an entree salad of spinach and romaine ($10.95) we added a grilled chicken breast for $3. Our take-out menu said it had mixed baby leaf spinach, ours did not. The menu posted on the web site doesn't mention the age of the spinach: our leaves seemed more mature. Tossed with romaine, a julienne of apples, red grapes, candied walnuts and the tiniest of feta cheese crumbles, it was finished with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
The lobster-crab cake ($21.95) was the saving grace of our meal. The menu said the chef's signature blend of seasonings were mixed with lobster and jumbo lump crab meat, then pan seared with a zesty lobster cognac sauce. Our single cake was nicely browned on the outside with big chunks of crab meat bound with finer strands of lobster and crab plus a small dice of red pepper for color. The seasonings were mild and the sauce had little character on its own. Served with slightly undercooked white rice and green beans, the plate lacked the pizzazz we were hoping for. The kitchen delivered some good basic technique but little flair for seasoning in signature dishes described as "spicy" or "zesty"
Too full for one of the plated desserts, we opted for a bowl of rice pudding that was just sweet enough for two of us.
The outfits at Clancy's were black from shoes to shirt, but not uniform.
As a line of customers started to form around the hostess station and the restaurant got busy, our server never lost her poise. Young, and friendly, our server kept up a steady pace for our meal and the tables around us. When we explained the chicken breast was undercooked inside, she immediately whisked the plate away to the kitchen, returning to tell us a new one was being made, no questions asked. When the new salad was returned to our table, we did have to ask for fresh silverware, as the original set had been contaminated by the undercooked chicken. Our server prevented a little bump in the road from becoming a culinary pot hole during our meal.
Dining outside is a great treat, even for jaded restaurant reviewers. Having a view of the boardwalk and Atlantic Ocean makes it better still. We loved the energy of families of various sizes on vacation together, dining in a relaxed atmosphere. Clancy's menu is large enough to offer something for every taste and age in your party.
The sky over the outside patio at Clancy's is populated by closely arranged wood and burgundy cloth umbrellas. Plastic chairs are paired with plastic tables that have a faux woven pattern on the top. A cool summer breeze reminded us to keep something heavy on the paper menu placemats at all times.
A "flash mob" of young kids walking the boards formed a circle during our meal and began to clap and chant, "Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye." They dispersed after one verse. That's entertainment.
Otherwise, the only vocals we heard over the din of the boardwalk and the crashing waves were from the Chairman of the Boards, Frank Sinatra.
C.C. Hoyt is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Hoyt c/o Taste Editor Felicia Compian at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.
Clancy's by the Sea
1244 Boardwalk, Ocean City
Hours: Open 7 days.
Dinner 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Liquor license: No
Credit cards: Most major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $5.95 to $9.95; entrees $13.95 to $22.95; sandwiches and wraps $7.95 to $12.95; kids $6.95
Our bill for two: $62 plus tip