OCEAN CITY – Hooked has opened its doors in Ocean City, bringing its tradition of fresh, honest and local food to Maryland, but adding a twist to the new location with a one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted cocktail list.
Owners Steve Hagen and Kevin Frey started Indian River Seafood Company in 2010 and opened their first restaurant, Off the Hook, in Bethany Beach that year.
One year later, the company opened its second restaurant, Just Hooked, in Fenwick Island, and as the company took on a second location and catering they found the need to add a commissary/seafood market. Off the Hook Market opened last July besides the restaurant in Bethany.
Following a trend moving south, the company has now opened a third restaurant in Ocean City on 80th Street and Coastal Highway adjacent to South Moon Under.
Hagen explained the opportunity to open another restaurant came around Thanksgiving of last year, and negotiations took place until the deal was signed in early February, and renovations immediately began
The space has become lighter and open with a white and pale blue paint pallet, accenting the dark wood beams and floor. The restaurant took on a coastal design theme presenting the work of local artists on the walls. The kitchen and bathrooms were transformed with new fixtures and appliances.
Hooked seats about 220 guests with downstairs, upstairs and outdoor seating offered. There are three bars with one on each floor and outside. There is also an abundance of parking in the rear of the building as the restaurant has at least 50-plus parking spaces between the front and back of the building.
Hooked will continue the company’s tradition with the farm to plate mentality for lunch and dinner, sourcing local artisans, farmers and watermen.
“It is a new menu,” Hagen said. “I feel like it is one of the best menus we have put out in our company, and we have started a new cocktail and wine program here that we are really excited about.”
Hooked has released its signature cocktail list, or as Hagen puts it “farm fresh cocktails.”
“We have done a great job on the food. Our plates are very clean and the things we are bringing to the table are very fresh. Its fundamental-based cooking in a very fun tasteful way,” he said. “I think the thing we were lacking was more creativity on the cocktail end and more variety on the wine end.”
There is not a single specialty cocktail on the menu that is not processed and commissary on the premises. Besides squeezing their own lemons and oranges for their freshly made Hooked Lemonade and Orange Crush, the restaurant has taken it to the next level by pickling and infusing cocktail ingredients. For example, fresh strawberries, blueberries, cherries and heirloom tomatoes are pickled and to be served in the one-of-kind concoctions like the Blueberry Pie, Uptown Pig and Smokey Mater.
A cocktail Hagen was sure to point out was the Return to Youth, a grown up chocolate banana milkshake with 360 Double Chocolate Vodka, banana liquor, banana chocolate milk, with a banana dust rim served up.
“It is amazing … it is just ridiculous,” he said. “You can see it. The proof is in the pudding when you come in here. Every bar has our infusions up on the rack … we are taking a lot of pride in it.”
Hooked’s wine list has been extended offering more variety when it comes to wines by the glass and by the bottle. It includes 11 white wines and 10 red wines by the glass, plus a selection of at least 45 bottles of wine that were all thoroughly researched before hand selected.
The food menu is different but follows the company’s concept of staying in taste with the season. The expected and popular entrees of pan roasted chicken, local crab cake, filet mignon, seared scallops, salmon, mahi and tuna remain but the menu has been left open ended to include at least three to four specials a night.
“We are always sourcing things, such as black sea bass is huge around here, something that is local and tasty, like tog, sheepshead, or rockfish,” Hagen said of items that pop up in the local market. “Matt [Cornelius, managing partner and executive chef] and I have been playing around in the kitchen since we opened Off the Hook years ago … and people have become familiar with our chalkboards.”
Each location has a chalkboard displayed presenting that day’s special whether it be an appetizer to an entrée.
In the week Hooked has been open, the kinks are being worked out between getting comfortable in the new space to training new employees.
“I feel like we are ready, and there is no better time to be ready then for Memorial Day weekend,” Hagen said. “We are excited to have the success that we have had in such a short period of time, and I think the addition of this place lends itself into becoming something really special. It is a gorgeous location … we are happy to be here and part of what Ocean City has going on.”