My image of the Hobbit restaurant was formed weeks before ever visited it, the day I first moved to Ocean City and my television set broke down. While the repairman worked on the TV set, I talked to a friend about restaurants I might want to visit, and said I'd heard that the Hobbit was dressier than most of the restaurants in town.
"Dressier?" the repairman piped up, unsolicited. "In Ocean City, that just means you don't wear your flip-flops when you go."
His friendly advice to the contrary, the Hobbit is a little less casual than most of the restaurants in this casual resort town. But the food, service and setting are worth putting on your real shoes.
The Hobbit has a cafe that serves light fare from 11 a.m. to midnight, and the more formal dining room is open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Both settings feature walls of windows that overlook the Assawoman Bay, and the complimentary sunsets are spectacular. There's an unpretentious elegance that is comfortable and romantic in the charming, mythical style of the J. R. R. Tolkien fable from which the restaurant takes its name.
One of the season's first really beautiful beach days had put us in the mood for serious seafood.
I started with a crock of very spicy Maryland crab soup ($3.95) that was deliciously thick with tomato broth, vegetables and crab. My companion ordered the seafood salad ($6.75), a fine concoction of scallops, shrimp and crab lumps in a mayonnaise-based sauce with crispy celery and tasty seasonings.
My entree, the stuffed rainbow trout ($14.95), was eye-catching in its presentation, hearty and flavorful. The whole fish was split and filled with shrimp, crab, bread crumbs, scallions, green peppers and Parmesan cheese.
Our second entree was one of the evening's specials, the stuffed shrimp ($17.95). The jumbo butterflied shrimp overflowed with fantastic crab imperial and a -- of Old Bay seasoning. The entrees were accompanied by a romaine-packed salad, new potatoes and perfectly steamed fresh asparagus.
For dessert, we tried extremes simple and fancy. Mary's Delight ($3.50) featured layers of cream cheese, chocolate pudding and whipped cream on a quarter-inch bed of crushed walnuts, topped with chocolate shavings. The mix of flavors worked harmoniously, with the result being neither too rich nor too bland. My companion opted for a generous and satisfying scoop of Ben and Jerry's French vanilla ice cream ($1.25), topped with whipped cream and a cherry.
Our waitress and the bus staff did a beautiful job. The waitress never seemed to hover, yet we never found ourselves looking around for her when we wanted a drink refill or the next course.
As Ocean City goes, the Hobbit is a little bit dressy, so you'd probably do better to leave your flip-flops on the beach instead of wearing them here.
81st Street and the bay, 524-8100
Hours: lounge, 11 a.m. to midnight; dining room 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Credit cards: Visa and Mastercard