Dining scene: changing tides

Whether traditional or cutting-edge, new places cater to many tastes of beachgoers

Beach Eats

May 23, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Eating in Ocean City just isn't what it used to be. Blame it on the condos. The real estate explosion of the past few years has meant that old favorites like Weitzel's and Captain Bob's are lost forever. They've been torn down to make room for high-rises. The next casualty could be the Hobbit Restaurant, although that O.C. institution may eventually find a new home inside a yet-to-be-built condominium.

In the last year, says Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, O.C. lost almost 900 restaurant seats.

On the plus side, those very expensive condos are bringing in sophisticated new customers for upscale eating places. If you think Ocean City has nothing to offer in the food line except all-you-can-eat buffets, saltwater taffy and boardwalk fries -- well, try the Iguana Surf's snapper on green tea coconut rice cake and think again.

Of course, you'll want to go to Phillips, or whatever the favorite eatery of your childhood was (if it's still around), but for something different, try one of the restaurants that have opened up in the past couple of years. Visit a gourmet grocery. And relax. Not all the new food places are cutting-edge. Corned beef, pizza and hamburgers are on the menu too.

Alex's Fine Dining, Route 50, West Ocean City (next to Bogey's), 410-213-7717. $$

The location (it shares space with a sports bar) isn't romantic, but the dining room and the tableside cooking are. This classic Italian restaurant is the newest venture of Alex Fraschetti, a restaurateur well known around O.C.

Signature dish: Alex's Caesar salad, fixed tableside

Caffe Cafe, 115th Street and Coastal Highway, Gold Coast Mall, 410-524-2233. $

A traditional European-style coffee cafe, with hot and cold drinks, breakfast pastries, panini, homemade pasta and bean salads, and guilt-inducing desserts like tiramisu and strawberry shortcake.

Signature dish: Chicken chipotle panini. Have it with a Mexican cocoa mocha freeze.

Coins Corned Beef Palace, 28th Street Plaza, 410-289-4440. $

This new-this-season New York-style deli has mammoth combination sandwiches, soups, desserts and lunchmeats by the pound.

Signature dish: Rob's Riptide, a fat reuben of corned beef, sauerkraut and melted Swiss with Russian dressing -- on rye, of course.

Connoisseurs, Route 611, Teal Marsh Plaza, West Ocean City 410-213-0620. $

This elegant little food and wine shop specializes in gourmet-to-go salads, with a couple of dinner specials each night like coquille St. Jacques and chicken piccata.

Signature dish: Apple-blue cheese-citrus salad

Coral Reef Restaurant, 17th Street and the boardwalk, 410-289-2612. $$

The Coral Reef Cafe opened a few years ago; now a full-fledged restaurant has joined it. The theme is Hemingway's Key West, so you get south Florida specialties as well as traditional Maryland crab dishes.

Signature dish: Island mahi-mahi with a pineapple-mango chutney and plantains

Iguana Surf, 127th Street and Coastal Highway, bayside, 410-250-8700. $$$

This may be too much of a hip bar for some tastes, but the food can be fine, with an ever-changing menu that features dishes like fried green tomatoes and sea bream steamed with ginger.

Signature dish: Shiitake-crusted filet over Asiago potatoes with truffled shiitake and fava saute.

Jive, 82nd Street and Coastal Highway, bayside (next to Fresco's), 410-524-1111. $$

Open late last year, Jive is a lively bar with a bayside deck, lots of wines by the glass, even more martinis and, yes, food -- including some killer desserts. The light-fare menu features appetizers, wraps and a soup of the day.

Signature dish: "Mighty mini" crab cakes

Johnny I.'s, 42nd Street and Coastal Highway, oceanside, 410-524-0977. $

Once this was a Tastee-Freez. As of March, new owner Johnny Ioannidis started selling sandwiches, burgers, subs, salads, cheese steaks and fountain treats like ice cream cones, sundaes, shakes, floats and malts. Eat at the picnic tables outdoors.

Signature dish: A fat California burger with lettuce, tomato, mayo and onions.

Jules, 120th Street and Coastal Highway, Ocean Square Plaza, 410-524-3396. $$$

One of Ocean City's new little jewels, the restaurant specializes in local ingredients and global techniques. Check out the $30 food and wine pairing menu on Sundays and Mondays, three courses and three wine selections.

Signature dish: Blackened rockfish with beurre blanc and sauteed lump crab meat

Liquid Assets, 9301 Coastal Highway, 410-524-7037. $

This wine and martini bar and liquor store has been around, but it only recently started serving bar food extraordinaire, which you eat sitting among the wine bottles. Liquid Assets is part of the Nebula-Galaxy constellation. (See below.)

Signature dish: Hamburger with Canadian cheddar on Italian roasted garlic bread and hand-cut fries

Marlin Moon Grille, Route 50 in the Francis Scott Key Motel, West Ocean City, 410-213-1618. $$$

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