Vacationer's palate craves everything under the sun BEACH EATS

August 10, 1994|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,Sun Staff Writer

Ocean City -- So here I was, having a Sunday breakfast of a thick chocolate milkshake and some fried chicken. It wasn't enough, so I had a Polish sausage topped with chili. The boardwalk fries smelled delicious, but I had just finished a big bucket of them the night before.

So I bought a basket of fried shrimp. They held me -- for a while. Then it was time for the fudge.

I was on the Ocean City boardwalk. It was the middle of the summer and I was doing what every right-thinking vacationer down at the ocean does -- eating myself sick. And for a whole weekend.

Up and down the boardwalk, you could see people in all sizes, all shapes, gobbling the most egregious sort of junk food as if they had just been freed from a year on the grapefruit-and-coffee diet. Rich stuff. Sweet stuff. Impossibly heavy, greasy, just-open-the-veins-and-pour-in-the-fat food.

To wit: Pasty-faced office wonks plunking down 6 bucks for a huge tub of Thrasher's boardwalk fries. For 51 weeks, these are the guys who order only soup for lunch and skip dressing on salads. But with the sun shining hot on their bare skin and the salt air perking up their appetites, they stood in line for a half-hour so they could stuff down pounds of carbohydrate-filled, fat-laden, salt-heavy fries. With vinegar.

I could understand, for I love the beach, and I love the food that comes with it: the pit-beef sandwiches, the boardwalk fries, the ice cream and the fudge and sausage-and-peppers subs. On our honeymoon in England, my wife and I stayed the first night in Brighton, a terrific seaside resort. We had no sooner checked into the hotel than I was down at the pier, hunting for some fish and chips.

While in Los Angeles recently, I had a Saturday night to myself. I could have eaten almost anywhere in that fabulous restaurant town, tried almost any kind of food. I drove down to the Santa Monica Pier. I watched the sun set over the ocean -- a pleasant novelty for an East Coast person -- while polishing off fish and chips, then fried shrimp, at a modest joint on the pier. I finished the night with a corn dog.

Nutritionists may scream and diet doctors may despair, but beach goers seem to regard unabashed gorging as both a right and a rite. With the waves crashing and the morning fog burning off over the ocean and the masses beginning to swell boardwalks from Ocean City to Rehoboth, who wouldn't want a slice of pepperoni pizza from Ponzetti's or Louie's, a cheeseburger from Alaska Stand or a freshly deep-fried funnel cake from Auntie Anne's? You might even be tempted to try something truly awful that you thought you'd never eat -- blue cotton candy, or frozen bananas dipped in chocolate.

Eating to excess

That's why I decided to make last month's trip a weekend of fabulous excess. Usually I limit the intake of nasty stuff because the body invariably suffers. But this time, for two days, from morning to night, I'd eat only the junkiest of the junk.

There were skeptics in all corners.

"Don't forget the Maalox," a co-worker advised.

My wife, Lettie, spent many summers at the Jersey shore and also appreciates beach food, but she was concerned. "Nobody eats just junk food at the beach," she protested.

"Teen-agers," I answered. "They live that way all summer long. I can do it for a couple of days."

Certain rules had to be established. Hemingway maintained that the true big-game hunter must do as much of the stalking as possible, and not leave it all for the high-priced guide; one lives by a rigid moral code, he maintained. For the Ultimate Beach Food Weekend, I devised my own unyielding standards:

* No eating at big-name franchises. You can go to McDonald's or Pizza Hut any time. This is the occasion to sample the fare so unique to the Maryland-Delaware beach experience: boardwalk fries from Thrasher's and other establishments, the frozen custard from Kohr Bros., the pit-beef sandwiches from Bull on the Beef, the chocolate shakes from Dumser's Dairyland, the seafood from Hooper's Crab House. These places define beach living. Anybody who eats a Big Mac when he could have a thick, gooey Philadelphia-style cheese steak from Comero's in Dewey Beach has no couth.

No knives or forks allowed

* Only carryout food was acceptable. Ocean City must have a million all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants -- do people in this city ever stop chowing down? -- but true beach food should be carried away and eaten by hand. If you use a knife and fork, you're cheating.

* Nothing healthy was permitted. If you're going to loosen culinary standards at the beach, then let 'em really go. That leads to the most important, the most sacrosanct rule:

* No vegetables.

My wife gamely went along with the restrictions. On Saturday, we started at Dewey Beach and continued south on Route 1, grazing as we went. She helped me eat a Comero's cheesesteak (very good!) and cross-cut fries in Dewey; then we had dessert at Moss Wagner's Boss Ice Cream Scene in Bethany Beach.

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