A New Focus on Culinary Tourism
Ocean City's First-Ever Restaurant Week Participating restaurants to offer fixed-price menus June 2-9
By Tom Lloyd, Former Oceana Magazine, April 5, 2007 edition
With an eye toward switching the resort’s early season focus from “June bugs” to “taste buds,” the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association will be launching the area’s first-ever “Restaurant Week” this coming June.
From Saturday, June 2, through Saturday, June 9, participating member restaurants throughout the resort area will be offering customers fixed-price two- and three-course menus with two-course meals for $20 and three-courses for $30 (taxes, gratuities and alcohol not included).
Cities across the country from San Diego and San Francisco to New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., have been serving up similar Restaurant Week promotions for years, while international destinations from London to Puerto Vallarta have also hopped on board the bandwagon.
According to Susan Jones, HMRA’s executive director, “We kept hearing and reading about success stories from all parts of the country, so it really made sense to us to organize one of our own.”
The “rose-colored glasses” version of the Restaurant Week concept is that it allows participating restaurants to showcase the culinary skills of their kitchen staff as well as the ambience, atmosphere and service that each establishment has to offer, through an appealing and attractively-priced special menu. A more “brass tacks” version is that Restaurant Week is usually held during a traditionally slower time of year for the restaurant industry, and the low, fixed-price menus are intended to help entice diners to come out and fill empty seats. Either way, however, it’s a win-win scenario for consumers.
Whether or not anything, including this inaugural Ocean City Restaurant Week, could actually shift the culinary focus of the resort from pizza to pate in early June remains to be seen, but since early June is traditionally a slow time for non-fast food establishments in Ocean City, any boost in business might be a plus, according to Jones. “With input from our restaurant members, we chose a time that was not so busy here at the beach. Then we looked at our advertising budget, made a few trades and began getting the word out,” she explained. A large part of that effort to “get the word” out can be found in the form of a slick and stylish new website: OceanCityRestaurantWeek.com.
While the site was still receiving its finishing touches as of press time, it will soon allow people to request menu information by email, answer some frequently-asked questions, provide information on lodgings for out-of-town visitors, as well as other information to be described later in this article.
And while no one really expects one first-year promotion or one website to change entirely the face of Ocean City’s early June crowds, there is some evidence that this promotion could help get cash registers ringing with a new crop of resort visitors.
“In our research,” Jones continued, “we found that not only were these events successful locally, but that they were on the leading edge of the latest trend in travel: ‘culinary tourism.’ People were visiting to take advantage of the prix fixe meals which is, of course, our motive.” Cultivating that “culinary tourism” could pay big dividends. Upwards of 20 resort restaurants have already signed on, and Jones is hoping to add more, pointing out that “there is no charge to our members for this promotion. It is simply another member benefit.”
“After all,” she went on to say, “dining in Ocean City has really evolved over the last decade.”
Among those restaurants already committed to participate are a slew of familiar names including long-time resort favorites such as BJ’s on the Water, Big Tuna Grill, Bull on the Beach, Fager’s Island, Galaxy 66, Hall’s, Harborside Bar and Grille, Harpoon Hanna’s, Horizons in the Clarion Hotel, the Marlin Moon Grille, Phillips, Reflections, Shenanigan’s Irish Pub, Sunset Grille and the Victorian Room of the Dunes Manor Hotel.
Joining those Ocean City favorites are some newer entries in the resort dining scene including the elegant 32 Palm restaurant in the new Hilton Suites hotel, the Blue Ox and the intimate Jules Restaurant. A complete list of participating restaurants, their fixed-price menus and biographies of the chefs involved in the resort’s Restaurant Week can also be found at OceanCityRestaurantWeek.com.
Relying on the worldwide web, of course, can be something of a double-edged sword. The “blogosphere” is as crowded with complaints as it is compliments for restaurants in other cities that have held similar Restaurant Week promotions. Many bloggers have complained, in no uncertain terms, that menus rife with pasta or chicken selections don’t constitute particularly great value since those ingredients are among the least expensive for a restaurant to serve.
However, that seems an unlikely criticism for most of Ocean City’s Restaurant Week chefs this year. For example, chef/owner Gary Beach of the Marlin Moon Grille has included a roasted Hereford beef tenderloin filet that is garlic-rubbed and crusted with Stilton bleu cheese with a tawny port wine demiglaze in his prix fixe menu along with twin grilled, frenched pork chops with an apricot horseradish glaze and jumbo lump crab cakes.
Chef Chris Crookston of Reflections has submitted an equally impressive bill of fare that includes pan-seared rockfish with provencal tomato and a crab, tomato and basil sauce as well as sauteed scallops and shrimp with sundried tomatoes, Kalamata olives and goat cheese served over linguini.
Not to be outdone, Chef Brian Nussear of 32 Palm in the new Hilton Suites appears to have called on all the skills he mastered as a cum laude graduate of the Johnson and Wales Culinary University as well as his apprenticeship under French Master Chef Gerrard Vullien at the four-diamond Lautrec restaurant in Farmington, Pa., to create his own Restaurant Week menu.
Among Nussear’s offerings will be his Chesapeake seafood pie with shrimp, crab, scallops, clams, oysters, mussels and lobster in a creamy vegetable base topped with flaky dough and baked until golden brown. To tempt his patrons further, he will offer a slow-roasted baby rack of veal with potato corn cakes and ancho squash gratin with fennel fronds and salsa verde.
For dessert, Nussear will offer a white chocolate and macadamia nut creme brulee served with a rich caramel brittle and chocolate gaufrette (thin, fan-shaped waffled wafers.)
Then, too, not all tongues taste with a French accent, and Ocean City’s first-ever Restaurant Week promises to take that into account as well.
BJ’s on the Water, for instance, a well-known and well-respected bastion of more American-style fare, will be joining in for Restaurant Week, too. Owner and manager Madlyn Carder, along with Chef Michael Fritz, have selected dishes that reflect this venerable bayfront saloon’s long-time roots in the community. BJ’s fixed price dinner choices will include a sizzling BJ’s-style New York strip steak, “colossal” fried gulf shrimp and the restaurant’s famous crab imperial, all served with a baked potato with sour cream and rolls along with a Caesar salad or one of a trio of soups and an old-fashioned ice cream sundae for $30. The lunch menu will also offer a trio of soups from which to choose as well as lump crab cake sandwiches, a teriyaki chicken Caesar salad or BJ’s famous overstuffed Black Russian sandwich with turkey, roast beef, Swiss cheese and lettuce on fresh pumpernickel bread, topped with Russian dressing. To top it all off, BJ’s $20 two-course menu actually includes a third course, as one of those old-fashioned ice cream sundaes is included in the $20 tariff.
With still more Ocean City restaurants likely to join an already extensive list, bargain-hungry diners, connoisseurs of fine food and all those in between will be able to monitor the offerings of this inaugural resort Restaurant Week through the HMRA website. Reservations are said not to be required but will be accepted at most participating restaurants.