We knew by reputation that Grove Market on St Martin's neck road is highly in demand and so reservations are hard to come by, particularly in high season - July/August.
Still, I was on my way back from a rendezvous in Fenwick, took the inland route off of Ocean Highway, and this led me to a few spots. One, just before you reach Grove Market, is a prominent sign that advertises seafood. I went that way and ordered a half a bushel of crabs from the proprietor. Picked them up the next day. They were sweet and, we enjoyed them. At the opposite end of that road, and to the left just prior to the Grove, is a farm with fresh veggies, pickled relishes, and preserves. I got some nice tomatoes and a jar of the traditional pepper relish.
And then I made my way to the Grove for a reservation. The woman who handles the reservation book was polite and gracious and assured me that she would seat us for a Friday at five if she could. She made good on her word.
When we arrived that Friday evening, the restaurant was in an early full swing. Vintage signs and kitsch fill the walls and ceilings along with various sepia toned lacrosse posters and it's the sort of milieu that suggests a culinary adventure. Which in this case, was half true. Partly in a good way, and also partly not so good.
As other reviewers inform, there are no menus, save a wine list which seemed thoughtful. The waitress, in our case the amiable Amy, blurted specials which on our night seemed particularly weighted to foods embellished with Chorizo.
Indeed, we ordered the mussels with chorizo and were pleased by a bowl of moules drenched in a spicy, garlicky, and chorizo accented broth that was very good. However, a full quarter of the mussels were not opened. Disappointing. And, we are bread snobs. We don't eat wheat often, and when we do we like a solid bread experience. This was not the case at Grove. The various breads served were of a sort one might expect to get at Papa Ginos, not a fairly pricey local restaurant. But this is not unusual all over Ocean City in my experience, so clearly sourcing a good artisan bread vendor is not easy in that town.
Next up, a smoked fish platter. The sauce was very good, the seasonal fruits nice. I would say the fish was good, but on the dry side. Not terrible not terrific, acceptable. I have had excellent smoked fish elsewhere, for instance the Oyster Bar in NYC, so I suppose I could be called spoiled, but if that is a featured dish and you have your own smokehouse, as Grove does, it must raise the bar a bit.
On to the other appetizer. A crab meat goo is the best way I can describe what I think was called a dipsie? I have a wonderful Junior League cookbook called Charleston Receipts which features a plethora of crab dishes from that region. This appetizer was prepared in a similar vein, but unspectacularly. I think it needed a bit of sherry and morsels of mushrooms to give some punch. It was no more special than a standard dish brought by a lesser cook to a Super Bowl pre game party. And, served with saltines.
Finally, dinner. I ordered the flounder stuffed with Smith Island crab meat and identified as being Mexican in flavor. Because, you know, of the chorizo. What a disaster. I made dishes like this in college to dress up drab fare using canned cream of mushroom over cheap haddock blended with cheddar cheese, fine but umm..., well, anyway, that's what this tasted like. It was truly bad. And a shame, too, because it ruined beautiful crab meat and what under all the glop seemed to be fresh and tasty flounder. Cilantro in the stuffing did nothing to make what might have been an interesting dish compelling. I was hoping for something delicate and flavorful like the seafood tacos I fell in love with while in San Diego a few years back. You know, with that creamy dressing? But no. This too was altogether pedestrian and something a fifties housewife would have concocted with leftovers. Really, not good.
On the other hand, DH's duck was sublime. I mean about the best I have ever had. The reduction was perfect. The meat tender and flavorful, and what you would hope duck properly prepared could be.
Desert was provided for by a local vendor and we had the key lime which was excellent.
All in all an evening out for just under $200 with tip and I can honestly say I would not be inspired to go back. Emmings, just over the way in Bishopville will find you a delightful meal for far less money. It features tasty Delmarva fare that finds you walking away saying, "yum! that was really good!"
A night out on vacation for an average of $35 per entree should leave you saying at least that.
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