(Editor’s Note: Another in a series of stories detailing new operations and changes to the local business landscape.)
OCEAN CITY – Culture in West Ocean City is aiming to bring diversity to the local palate starting off with Peruvian cuisine.
Owners Travis and Jody Wright, long-time owns and operators of the The Shark on the Harbor, opened Culture on April 24, two days after Earth Day. The restaurant is located on Route 611 in the former Peppers Tavern home.
“When we signed the lease, we had already been working on the concept for a year and half,” Jody Wright said. “As long as I have known Travis, he has always wanted to open a Peruvian chicken joint.”
Travis Wright, a chef at both The Shark and Culture, grew up in Arlington, Va., near one of the most culturally diverse cities in the United States, Washington D.C.
“There is Pollo a la Brasa [charcoal chicken] places all over the place that I had been going to since I was at least 12 years old … I have always been addicted to this chicken,” he said.
For years, Travis Wright would talk about opening a Polla a la Brasa in the Ocean City area, but Jody Wright was hesitant as Ocean City’s local population is much smaller than Arlington and wasn’t sure if there would be enough interest to sustain such a business.
“One day we just started talking about it and thought if we could build more around it where the chicken would be the base but have the supporting menu change annually just enough to keep it interesting. That is something I felt confident in,” Jody Wright said. “It is interesting that this culturally driven chicken is such a big deal in many areas of the world, and we like to travel and learn about different communities where we always ask about food and learn what the locals are eating, so we thought we could take the chicken as the backbone of the menu and have it be culturally inspired.”
The idea is every year on Earth Day Culture’s supporting menu will take on a different culture complimenting the rotisserie chicken.
“The golden rule is we are only doing it if we have been there,” Jody Wright said of the culture to be chosen.
Days after signing the lease in late January, the Wrights were on a plane to Peru to explore the culture.
“We didn’t know going to Peru that we were going to do Causa. I had never heard of it but we had it so many different ways there we knew right away that it should be on the menu,” Travis Wright said. “A Causa is basically a mashed potato cake flavored in number of ways. We had them with spinach, cheeses, avocado, beef, shrimp, chicken …”
For example, on the menu at Culture the Beef Causa is all-natural beef skewers, anticucho sauce, Peruvian potato and cheese causa, grilled vegetables and pickled escabeche. Culture also offers a Peruvian Chicken Causa and a Grilled Veggie Causa.
“We had a lot of ‘a ha’ moments. Another big revelation was when we went to a really fantastic cevicheria,” Travis Wright said. “In Peru they do it in a sushi bar style … you order the ceviche you want, they pull the fresh fish out of the case, cut it up right there and squirt what they call leche de tigre [look of the tiger] on it that is basically lime and cilantro based sauce and serve it to right there. There is no marination time, just super fresh raw fish served with leche de tigre. So we took that approach to the ceviche we serve here, but adjusted it to the American palate by cooking the shrimp.”
Culture’s Shrimp Ceviche is a mix of corn, plantain chips, leche de tigre and pickles onion escabeche.
The Wrights recommend when coming to Culture for the first time to start with the chicken A quarter, half or whole rotisserie chicken is available that comes with two sauces and two sides, of which they recommend the simple salad and the hand cut fries.
“That is a traditional Peruvian meal,” Travis Wright said.
The second part to Culture is fast casual dining.
“Fast casual is still a term that is being defined in the industry. Our model is cook to order but the food comes out fast and convenient,” Jody Wright said, adding beer and wine is available for dine-in and carry-out.
Besides ordering your meal at the counter or over the phone, online ordering will also be available through Culture’s website, www.culturerestaurant.com, where an order can be placed to pick up a few minutes later or at a designated time.
“We have put a lot of time in environmentally packaging, so that it comes out perfect,” Travis Wright said.
In taking over the former Mexican restaurant, the Wright’s transformed the space to be culturally neutral, displaying artwork the Wrights brought home from Peru but when the culture changes, the space will also visually change to reflect the new culture.
“When we were in Peru, they had a lot of structures built of living landscaping, everything is covered with plants, so we wanted to create a visual in this space that reflected that,” Jody Wright said.
She snapped many individual photos of a landscape structure in Peru and handed them over to Wyatt Harrison of Plak That, who recreated the photos into a “living wall” that is displayed in Culture’s dining room. Another wall has been dedicated to local artists.
The early response to Culture has been overwhelming, the Wrights said, with guests returning multiple times in a week.
“We are so very thankful for the local support,” Jody Wright said.