The food is fine at Phillips, but the highlight of the evening was when the strolling banjo player crooned "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby" to a nearby diner in a high chair. If that doesn't sound like your idea of a good time, you're not ready for Phillips Crab House.
The Phillips family opened their original restaurant next door to the 21st Street spot in 1956. They now operate six restaurants -- three in Ocean City -- that consistently rank among the busiest in the country, so obviously they're doing something right.
Fresh seafood -- the family operated a Chesapeake Bay seafood packing plant before they ever got into the restaurant business -- is what brings people to Phillips restaurants in Baltimore, Washington and Norfolk. In Ocean City, where seafood eateries abound, people line up around the block to eat at Phillips. Inside, they find a lively, noisy, family-oriented environment; friendly if somewhat harried service; and traditional Maryland seafood.
We started with cream of crab soup ($2.75 for a cup) and shrimp cocktail ($5.95). The soup wasn't creamy at all; it was milky. Much too thin and bland, it tasted like oyster stew with crab instead of oysters. The shrimp cocktail featured six jumbo shellfish -- some not deveined, which was disturbing -- with a sweet, spicy sauce.
Between the appetizers and the main course, we were entertained by a strolling banjo-and-tuba duo who served up wisecracks along with their dixieland music. We also sat through at least four wait-staff renditions of "Happy Birthday," since Phillips will provide a birthday cake and make a fuss over a birthday if you ask.
When our entrees finally arrived -- it did seem to take a long time between courses -- they were mostly successful. Crab imperial ($12.95) is "the house specialty," and rightly so. It was bursting with fresh crab meat, slightly spicy, light on the mayo and topped with melted Cheddar. The broiled filet of flounder almandine ($12.95) was tasty but a little dry, its large filet flaky under toasted almonds. The accompanying broccoli and cole slaw both seemed mass-produced and bland.
Along with a selection of pies made fresh on the premises, Phillips offers a selection of store-bought goodies for dessert. We tried a slice of apple pie a la mode ($2.25) and a brownie deluxe ($2.95), which also had an ice cream topping. Like everything else at Phillips, the desserts were good in an unpretentious way.
Phillips Crab House
21st Street and Philadelphia Avenue, 289-6821.
Hours: Open daily noon to 11 p.m.
Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa.
Reservations: Not accepted.