OCEAN CITY – Ocean City might not just be an escape for tourists anymore, as it’s starting to be considered a viable “culinary destination.”
Several local establishments received nods of recognition when the nominations for the 2009 Restaurant Association of Maryland “Stars of the Industry” Awards Gala were recently announced, and one local businessman could walk away with the association’s highest honor.
Leighton Moore, owner of Seacrets niteclub and restaurant, has been nominated for “Restaurateur of the Year,” which came as quite a surprise to Moore who spoke via phone interview on his nomination.
“When most people think of Seacrets, they think of the niteclub and for the liquor, but people forget sometimes that we have great food and great service, said Moore. “So, to be nominated as a restaurant is visionary on the association’s part, and it’s a huge honor to be recognized finally for our food.”
Seacrets took home the award for “Favorite Bar and Tavern” in past years, but Moore said that being recognized for the food would be an even greater honor.
“Enjoying too much food is never against the law, and we have always had good food. There may be fancier places, but people who come to Seacrets one night might come for the band, and then be back a day later to enjoy dinner, and then be back the following week for drinks. There is just as much quality in what we do as there is quantity, and I’m tickled and honored to be recognized for that,” he said.
Two Ocean City establishments got nods for “Favorite Bar and Tavern” as Fager’s Island and the Greene Turtle will go up against Canton mainstay Nacho Mama’s and two others for this year’s award.
Fager’s General Manager Kevin Myers said that the recognition is a true testament to the staff at Fager’s Island.
“It’s a big thrill to be nominated and it certainly ratifies a lot of what we do here, said Myers, “but what it comes down to is our bar staff, and their longevity and their loyalty. We have seven people that have been here for over 20 years, and four or five others that have worked here for 10-15 years. In this industry, that kind of loyalty is very rare.”
Myers agreed that the fact that so many establishments from Ocean City were nominated shows that the word is starting to spread that the town is no longer just a 10 mile-stretch of buffets.
“People know that they can get value in Ocean City, but they are starting to realize the amount of quality that is here, and it’s growing, and that trend will make it better for everyone,” he said.
Fager’s Island is no stranger to these awards as Myers cited that owner John Fager won “Restaurateur of the Year” 10 years ago and praised the town for helping to extend the town’s appeal throughout the year.
“It’s not just Memorial Day to Labor Day anymore, and the town has done a great job in trying to draw more people here in the off-season,” said Myers.
Marlin Moon Grille was nominated again for “Favorite Restaurant” in the state and owner Gary Beach says that whether they win or lose, the nomination will not go to his head.
“I’m not one to have a huge ego, said Beach, “but it would certainly be a nice thing if we won, but I believe you have to compete against yourself and always try to get better at what you do. It’s a great honor to just be nominated.”
Moore said that Ocean City restaurants face a tougher challenge than other restaurants throughout the state due to the town’s seasonal attributes.
“I’d like to see any of the other restaurants nominated make their money essentially three months out of the year, and then either break even or lose money the other nine. You have to be a special type of entrepreneur to make your business work in these conditions, and it’s a testament to the quality of businesses and businessmen in this area to have so many people nominated,” said Moore.
Another local establishment up for an award is Liquid Assets, who was nominated for the “Wine and Beverage Program of the Year.”
Liquid Assets owner John Trader said that the bar’s unique setting mixes well with great service and a large product inventory.
“We have 1,600 different types of wine at all price points, but when people come here for the first time, they don’t know what to think, and an hour later, it’s their favorite place, said Trader. “We are proud of our program and we’ve never been fortunate enough to win, so to be nominated by our peers is very exciting.”
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones said the recognition of the town as culinary destination is overdue.
“It’s about time so many of our local businesses made the list. The restaurant association represents more than 3,000 restaurants statewide, so there is stiff competition, but I believe that Ocean City has finally made a mark,” she said.
The awards dinner will be held at Martin’s West in Baltimore on March 23, 2009, and more information on the event can be found at www.marylandrestaurants.com