OCEAN CITY – After practically sweeping the annual Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) awards last year, the resort area will once again have a strong presence in the annual event with a handful of popular establishments nominated in some of the top categories.
The Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) will hold its 56th Annual Stars of the Industry awards gala in April showcasing some of the top restaurants in the state in several categories. Once again, the Ocean City area will be well represented with three nominees in several of the top categories.
Travis Wright, owner of The Shark on the Harbor in West Ocean City, is among the nominees for Restaurateur of the Year, while Harborside, just across the commercial harbor, has been nominated for Favorite Bar or Tavern in the state. The Galaxy 66 Bar and Grille in Ocean City has been nominated in the Favorite Wine and Beverage Program category, rounding out the local nominations this year. Another restaurant with local connections, SoBo’s Wine Beerstro in Salisbury has also been nominated in the latter category.
Last year, the resort area dominated the annual industry awards sweeping several categories. Seacrets owner Leighton Moore was named Restaurateur of the Year, Marlin Moon Grille was named Maryland’s Favorite Restaurant, Fager’s Island was named Favorite Bar or Tavern and was inducted into RAM’s Hall of Honor, and Liquid Assets was named Favorite Wine and Beverage Program. Rounding out the near sweep was Lankford-Sysco, a Pocomoke-based food service business named Allied Member of the Year.
The challenge for this year’s nominees will be continuing the momentum for the resort area in the annual. It’s a challenge the local nominees are ready to accept, although they are clearly humbled to be included among the favorites in the state.
“It’s an extremely nice honor,” said Harborside partner Chris Wall. “When you look at the long list of past winners and some of the places nominated this year, we’re definitely honored to be included on the short list.”
Wall said this year’s nominations, coupled with the success of the local nominees last year, illustrates the resort area is definitely on the state’s culinary map.
“Based on the nominations, it looks like Ocean City could make another strong showing this year,” he said. “It’s an honor for us, but when you look at some of the other places nominated in different categories, our area is really getting recognized for having some of the best establishments in the state.”
Galaxy 66 owner Tammy Cebula agreed, saying the Ocean City area has come a long way in terms of the dining expectations of its visitors and residents.
“It’s great to see the Ocean City area doing so well in terms of nominations and awards,” she said. “For so long, Ocean City had a reputation as a French fry and cotton candy town, but this area is truly a culinary destination and it has started to get recognized as such in the last few years.”
Cebula said Galaxy 66 has spent the last several years developing its wine and beverage program and has picked up a few nice awards, but earning a nomination for favorite in the state could be icing on the cake.
“We’re very excited about it,” she said. “This is something I enjoy very much. We’ve earned the Wine Spectator Award for the last three years and I have my Grape Expectations club, so it’s something we’ve been working toward for a long time and it’s nice to get recognized for that.”
Most of the RAM awards are voted on by the state’s dining public, but the Restaurateur of the Year award is one voted on by RAM members. Wright said he was thrilled to be included on the short list, considering the heavyweights listed among the nominees including Chef Cindy Wolf and her Charleston group.
“To go up against Cindy Wolf and the Charleston Group and these other great restaurants in our category is truly a huge honor,” he said. “It’s a little humbling to say the least, but we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
While Wright said he is honored to be nominated, he was quick to deflect the attention away from himself and to his hardworking team.
“It’s a little bittersweet, honestly, to be singled out,” he said. “Our restaurant, like most restaurants, is such a team effort. Our crew works very hard and this nomination is a reflection of that. My name might be on it, and it’s definitely nice to be recognized, but it’s really our nomination, from our guys in the back to the people in the front of the house.”
After a successful run at its original location in Ocean City, the Shark attempted a move a few years back to a location in part of larger resort complex before settling into its new digs along the harbor in West Ocean City. Through it all, Wright and his wife Jody and their dedicated crew remained focused, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, with openings and closing and moves along the way, and throughout it all, my wife Jody and my parents and our whole crew have been sticking with it through everything,” he said. “We’re all very single-minded in our efforts and our goals.”