OCEAN CITY – In these economic times where value is king, Ocean City Restaurant Week may be more relevant than ever before.
Quantity used to be the main talking point when speaking about restaurants in Ocean City, but lately, many visitors are starting to rave over the quality of food in the resort.
As the 3rd Annual Restaurant Week reaches its final days, Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones said that the town’s excellent showing at this year’s Maryland Restaurant Association awards was a huge step in people starting to notice Ocean City as a place to find some exceptional cuisine.
“It’s always nice for businesses to win something, and be able to put a title like best restaurant next to the name of their business,” said Jones, “but I really think that restaurant week shows the value in the meal itself, and allows people to enjoy the fine quality of cuisine here for a great price.”
Almost 30 local restaurants participated in the annual promotion, which showcases three courses for $30 or two courses for $20 at various restaurants in both the resort and the surrounding areas.
There is a new trend in dining, with the emergence of food aficionados or “foodies”, as city’s and smaller towns try to establish themselves as a culinary tourist destination.
In some respects, the Eastern Shore of Maryland is known nationally for a few dishes, and rather than restaurants simply playing up new ways to create a crab cake or a nouveau way to sprinkle old bay on a bushel of crabs, the real goal in establishing your town as a culinary destination is to provide a unique and memorable experience and showcase both quality and originality.
According to Mark Mayers, who oversees 10 restaurants for the Harrison Group, the town has taken great strides in establishing itself as more than just a simple dining destination.
“We are a family resort, so there is a proliferation of all-you-can-eat-buffets and sandwich shops,” said Mayers, “but Ocean City is the home for many very talented chefs and great restaurants who believe in fresh products over frozen ones and are experimenting with more and more creativity.”
Another way to help set Ocean City aside from other destinations is the growing trend for restaurants to buy their products locally, rather than ship them in from far off destinations.
“There is so much indigenous food right in our backyards and the mood is certainly to buy local and get more creative with the resources we have right here,” he said.
Mayers said that despite the fact that the average Ocean City diner has a conservative palate, he noted there is a growing trend to try new things when they are out to eat.
“There is a quest for fine food and wine down here now, but in the end, we are still a beach town, and many people don’t want to be languished over the course of three hours dressed up in a suit,” said Mayers. “It’s much more casual here.”
Tammy Patrick-Cebula, co-owner of the Galaxy 66 Bar and Grille in Ocean City, said the annual restaurant week has provided a substantial spike in business thus far.
“People are calling and making reservations two weeks in advance for restaurant week, so we have been very pleased with being a part of the promotion,” said Cebula. “It always brings us new customers that had never been with us before, and I think it’s been the best promotion that the HMRA has ever done.”
Jones agreed that the economic conditions took the already great value provided by the promotion to a different level and said that the town wasn’t that far off from really establishing itself as a true culinary destination.
“I don’t think we are that far off,” said Jones. “Diners may only go so far here, but restaurant week is a great way to create a unique dining experience while pushing the envelope a little bit, and allowing chefs to get very creative for a price that isn’t too risky.”