Worcester County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has both the vibrant party life of Ocean City along with charming, laid-back towns like Berlin. The Eastern Shore is the market basket for Maryland and beyond: its peaches, tomatoes, and seafood have been famous for centuries. It retains a distinctly Southern feel, which makes sense, considering the Eastern Shore sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Along with relaxing activities like shopping, suntanning and fishing, you can do lots of adventurous things like kayaking, jetskiing, and parasailing. “Orange Crushes” are the popular area cocktail.
Where to stay: Berlin’s Atlantic Hotel (http://www.atlantichotel.com) is a picturesque lodging that combines Victorian décor with modern spaciousness and comfort. The down comforters and clawfoot tubs add to the luxurious accommodations. Their porches provide an eagle’s eye view of the town. You can walk to shops like the antique Toy Town and the Berlin Farmer’s Market.
The Clarion Resort Fountainbleau in Ocean City (http://www.clarionoc.com) has an indoor and outdoor pool, a private beach where you can take adult beverages, conference rooms, as well as a restaurant and bar. From many of its windows, you can see both the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
What to do: No matter what your age, no matter how sporty — or not — you are, you’ll have a wonderful time with Ayers Creek Adventures (http://www.ayerscreekadventures.com). You’ll see the beautiful hidden waterways in all their natural glory. The guided eco-tours are the way to go, whether you kayak/ canoe in the day or during a “Full Moon Paddle”, complete with local wine and cheese tasting.
Learn about the history of Berlin, birthplace of Triple Crown winning racehorse Man O’ War, and see live concerts on the lawn at the Taylor House Museum. It’s a block from the center of town.
Burley Oak Brewery is just about to open, having successfully petitioned the state for a change in Maryland’s liquor laws (http://www.burleyoakbrewery.com). You’ll be able to drink hand-crafted beer made with exceptional local water in a fun, picnic-like setting. In fact, you’re welcome to bring your own snacks or order a pizza to the site. The beer is being brewed to the specifications of a traditional, European style: more snappy bitterness than you may be used to.
The Globe Theater is located next to the Atlantic Hotel, and combines a restaurant/bar with live bands, local art, and free movie nights for the kids. Next to that is Johns Premium Cigars, a cigar store and lounge open late into the evening.
Ocean City’s boardwalk has been a favorite gathering place for the young and young at heart for generations. Swim, visit dozens of arcade rides, stores, games, and parasail to your heart’s content.
What to eat: West Ocean City’s The Shark on the Harbor (http://www.ocshark.com) uses super local produce, seafood, cheese, and herbs to create upscale dining at casual prices in a casual atmosphere. The restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a marina.
If you’re looking for real Maryland flavors — as found on Maryland’s Eastern Shore — you’ll definitely want to explore further than steamed crabs with a wooden mallet. The Eastern Shore is the epicenter for seafood caught straight out of the Chesapeake Bay and also — which people tend to forget — straight out of the Atlantic Ocean. Its flat, mineral-rich soil has been the envy of other farmers for hundreds of years. These minerals add a whole lot of something to Maryland’s famous tomatoes, sweet corn, strawberries, and other produce. You’ll get a real localvore experience at Worcester County’s The Shark on the Harbor, known affectionately to locals as “The Shark”.
The Shark is on the water, so casual attire is the way to go. However, you’ll find everything from casual favorites done with flare to upscale adventures in cuisine. The views are fun — they have floor to ceiling windows provide views of a working marina. The airy bar/restaurant is constructed to suggest the inside of a wooden sailing vessel. Live acoustic music plays, even on weekdays.
The meal starts out with an amuse bouche from the chef — in my case, it was scallop ceviche on a tortilla chip. Amuse bouches are a good sign that the restaurant wants to start the evening on a good note. The bread basket includes a homemade pimento cheese type spread, for a little Southern touch.
One of the appetizers I sampled was the Harbor Steamer Pot: mussels, crawfish, clams, jumbo shrimp, white wine, garlic, fresh herb butter broth, garlic and herb infused baguette, Old Bay, cocktail sauce. The seafood was tender and sweet, with a very cute presentation — cheesecloth grasped the shells, like a net.
Steer and Spuds, another one of their appetizers, is All natural tenderloin seared in peppercorn crust (medium-rare), golden raisin and balsamic steak sauce, truffled potato chips. The meat is a generous, juicy, tender portion. It’s a gastropub type feel.
Salads at The Shark are lightly dressed; it highlights the textures and flavors of veggies that were just lolling in the sun hours before. The Mixed Green Salad is mixed organic greens, seasonal vegetables, Granny Smith apples, spiced nuts, dried fruit, cave aged bleu cheese vinaigrette.
When at a place named The Shark, it’s imperative to order the Mako Shark, their house specialty, wouldn’t you say? You can order it broiled or blackened and really, it will satisfy the fish or meat-lover in you. It’s a big, thick, moist, meaty fish, but mild. They use homegrown herbs in their lightly panko crust. Potato-ricotta gnocchi, as well as tomato relish accompanies the dish.
Ducks and geese have been on the Eastern Shore for well, forever. You’ll want to order the Duck Two Ways: 1st Way: Crispy duck confit, fig and cherry chutney, mascarpone cheese and 2nd Way: Duck breast, balsamic reduction, fingerling potatoes, vegetable. My favorite parts were the juicy, rich duck breasts from 2nd Way, with the fig/cherry (the fruits are dried for texture and more pronounced sweetness) chutney and marscarpone cheese from 1st Way.
Desserts are made in-house at The Shark, including a homey milk and cookies dessert and even treats for your dog, that benefits the Worcester County Animal Shelter.
Drummer’s Café, in the Atlantic Hotel, serves casual but artistic twists on Eastern Shore dishes in the day and fine dining at night. There’s always a cute table set out on the porch for outdoor dining/advertising purposes. Drummer’s Cafe’ also has a glass-encased porch for people watching in total comfort. I would describe the lunch dress as dressy casual/elegant.
Drummer’s Cafe uses a lot of local produce and seafood, with fresh takes on tradition. People in Berlin really eat here — it’s no tourist trap. There are daily specials, such as the fish of the day for fish tacos, daily fruit cobbler, and other last minute changes to the menu that reflect what’s the freshest catch. There’s a vegetarian/organic corner to the menu, as well.
For a casual lunch experience, you’ll be surprised at all the fine dining touches: crumbing the tablecloth before dessert, fresh pepper grinds, housemade tartar sauce with capers, and more.
The fish of the day for fish tacos was rockfish when I was there. It was sweet and tender, no doubt swimming mere hours before.
One of the sides on special was an outstanding succotash. This was not like the dried out, chewy succotash in a tv dinner. (Am I dating myself?) This was made from the Eastern Shore’s most tender lima beans and white sweet corn tips, coddled in a milky sauce.
There’s something “country” about strawberry/rhubarb. . .it’s a combination you’re unlikely to see much on a Baltimore City menu. If you’re unfamiliar with the flavors, it’s a tangy, powerfully fruit-packed pair that is sweetened by strawberries. The cobbler of the day was strawberry/rhubarb; it was served hot, bubbly, with freshly whipped cream and rich vanilla bean ice cream.