OCEAN CITY - This resort town has come a long way in recent years when it comes to family-friendly, affordable restaurants that offer quality food. Add the Ocean City Seafood Company to the list.
Since opening last summer, the quaint, unpretentious seafood house has become a favorite for locals and tourists. After a visit on a recent Friday night, we realize why.
My family walked into the corner restaurant around 8 p.m. to discover a half-full restaurant despite the late hour. With just 35 seats that are pushed together rather tightly, it's the kind of place that's a local treasure in the offseason and a bustling tourist attraction in the summer.
We were immediately greeted by a friendly waitress who took our drink orders as we perused the simple, yet satisfying, menu. She brought back our drinks quickly along with some stellar, fresh-baked rolls from Bennie's - an Ocean City bakery and institution - and a tasty olive oil-spice concoction.
On the appetizer side, we chose Chef John's Wings ($5.49) and calamari ($7.99). Both exceeded expectations. We chose the sweet Thai chili wings over the BBQ and hot-sauce versions and were more than pleased with our choice. Sweet with a slight tang, the wings were perfectly cooked and seasoned. Our only gripe was the $5.49 price tag for six medium-sized wings seemed a little steep compared to how everything else was reasonably priced on the menu. Eight or 10 wings would be more fitting for the cost.
The calamari were dipped in a buttermilk batter and were also served with the same Thai dipping sauce the wings were slathered in. Fresh, tender and not chewy at all, it's no wonder they won Philadelphia Magazine's "Best of Shore" prize.
My 12-year-old son had the fish and chips ($4.99) off the six-item, inexpensive kids' menu. The fresh haddock was dipped in a delicious homemade batter that was fried to a golden crisp and rivaled any fish and chips we've had in the area. They were certainly not your typical kids' menu fish and chips.
My 11-year-old stepdaughter's equally scrumptious fried flounder sandwich ($7.99) was served on a Bennie's kaiser roll with fries and slaw. Like the haddock, the fish was fresh, white and pleasing.
The broiled seafood platter ($20.99) was also a big hit with my wife. The dish featured three jumbo shrimp, three scallops and a large piece of flounder that had just enough butter for flavor. While all three seafood items were great, the mild scallops stood out among the rest.
My "Chef Paul's" crabcake sandwich ($9.99) was also a bargain. Featuring a mix of jumbo lump and claw crabmeat, the nicely portioned cake was full of flavor and crab, with just enough cream, butter, vegetables and spices for binder. I chose the broiled crabcake to save a few calories, but found it very difficult to eat on the roll as it fell through the sides of the bun with each bite. I would recommend the fried version for the sandwich and the broiled version for the platter. Since everyone else had fries, I optioned for the homemade sweet potato fries, which were so good that everyone at our table was reaching for them throughout the meal.
For dessert, we split a slice of "Chef John's Famous" key lime pie. Equally sweet and sour as a good key lime pie should be with a light graham cracker crust, our only disappointment was how small the slice was for $3.99. Each of us literally had one bite and it was gone.
Our waitress was on top of our every need throughout the evening, even offering to change the channel on the plasma TV so that we could watch the Phillies game. We saw other diners sharing bowls of cream of crab soup - a good sign - and feasting on Brazilian lobster tails. We all agreed we would come back.
We left with full bellies and some takeout containers for a seafood meal that only cost $65, thinking it was a real bargain. The southern New Jersey shore may be lined with tourist traps. The Ocean City Seafood Company is certainly not one of them.
Ocean City Seafood Company
846 Central Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, noon to 9 p.m. Sundays (hours change seasonally)
Liquor license: No
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Price range: Appetizers, $3.99 to $7.99; sandwiches, burgers and wraps $7.99 to $9.99; entrees, $9.99 to $25.99; kids' menu $2.99 to $5.99
Our bill for four: $65 plus tip