Change comes slowly to Ocean City, where a favorite ice cream shop dates back to the 1930s and the town’s trademark French fry stand opened in 1929. Tradition is part of the appeal for the town’s summer visitors, who dive into their vacations there like wrapping themselves in a favorite comfy sweatshirt.
Yet there is something new in the salty sea air; a younger generation of entrepreneurs is opening restaurants on the Boardwalk and beyond, shaking things up with flavors from around the globe.
The Buzzed Word
Some business owners are Ocean City natives who left home, only to return years later. Just ask Mickie Meinhardt, who moved back to Ocean City in 2020 after more than a decade in New York. Following the death of her mother, she decided to put down roots in her hometown: “I wanted to be around my community more after that. After spending several months here, I wanted to give back to it as well.”
So she opened The Buzzed Word, a natural wine shop and bookstore that offers a slice of Brooklyn inside a North Ocean City shopping center.
“We sell what we love here,” says Meinhardt, a writer who hand-scribbles the literary descriptions affixed to bottles of wine. After picking up their next great beach read, guests can order tinned fish and caviar at the bar, or attend a wine-tasting class.
At The Buzzed Word, the focus is on female authors and winemakers, part of a feminist ethos ingrained in the business as a whole. Meinhardt describes The Buzzed Word as “women-owned and women-run. Most of the staff is queer as well.”
In the restroom, Meinhardt has a framed photo of Pepper’s Tavern, a rowdy dive in Ocean City that shuttered a few years ago. Though The Buzzed Word is a quieter affair, it’s similar, Meinhardt said, in that it’s “a place that’s here for locals.”
11805 Coastal Highway, Ocean City. 410-520-4542. thebuzzedword.com
Spain Wine Bar
Offering a new perspective on a destination as well-loved as Ocean City isn’t easy, but Spain Wine Bar, on the top floor of the Cambria Hotel, does just that.
Consider it Ocean City’s great date-night spot. The rustic-meets-mod interior includes a marble bar, gold chandeliers and brick archways. Servers and bartenders look like they just got off modeling gigs. Blissful vacationers sip espresso martinis or house cocktails like the “smoke on the water,” served with a blowtorch.
The food menu is geared toward tapas and cheese and charcuterie boards for sharing, as well as a few entrees like paella and a whole fish of the day. Though I couldn’t finish an overly acidic gazpacho, I found no fault with a huge wedge of sheep’s milk cheese from Spain’s La Mancha region.
But who can think of the food when you have this view? The restaurant’s top selling point is a circular balcony that offers an expansive view of Assawoman Bay and the bridge that links West Ocean City to “the island.” One wants to applaud the sunset.
13 St. Louis Ave, Ocean City. 410-520-4541. spainwinebar.com
Restaurants that serve local seafood are paradoxically hard to find in Ocean City. The few exceptions, like West Ocean City’s Shark on the Harbor, have understandably become foodie favorites.
Another option is Braddah Barney’s, a modern Asian fusion cafe near the Shark in a strip mall that’s also home to a surf shop and a thrift store. Though it opened a few years ago, it’s still off the radar of many tourists.
Inside, find the freshest poke this side of Hawaii. I practically was licking the dish after finishing up my spicy poke bowl, with a huge portion of glistening, locally sourced tuna along with perfectly cooked sticky rice and cucumber namasu, a refreshing side of pickled cucumbers.
Just as appealing as the food was the chill vibe that practically demands guests get into the spirit of the beach town. During lunch, a surfer popped in to chat about the day’s waves. “Good job, kitchen staff,” one happy customer shouted from the bar to the two cooks inside as she paid her bill, promising to return tomorrow.
12703 Sunset Ave., Ocean City. 443-664-7741. braddahbarneys.com
OC regulars are excited to check out the Taustin Group’s The Other One Brewery, set to open soon at the former Embers location. While that spot should keep beer snobs happy, I’ll bet parents with young kids will embrace Taustin Group’s Pier 23, a new beach bar and restaurant that bills itself as Ocean City’s “first waterfront container food port.”
It’s casual and spacious, the kind of place you could bring toddlers without needing to apologize for the mess they made. There’s a sandy area sure to keep little ones entertained while parents scarf down fish tacos and Italian sausage subs. Plentiful parking is available just across the street. Taharka Brothers ice cream is sold from a stand. A sunset cruise takes off from across the way; passengers are sometimes recruited from the bar. I was in no hurry to leave as I nibbled my lunch and watched yachts dock at the pier.
Open just a few weeks, Pier 23 is still fine-tuning its menu, which can be hit-or-miss. The rockfish in my tacos was juicy and well-seasoned, but the shells were stale, not crispy. But staff are friendly and professional, and seem eager to accommodate guests. Even little ones.
12817 Harbor Road, Ocean City. 410-289-3323. pier23oc.com
A highlight of my 24-hour stay in Ocean City was breakfast at Casita Linda, a family-run bakery and cafe just a block off the Boardwalk that serves everyone, be it beachgoing tourists staying at the upstairs hotel or employees from neighboring City Hall.
Owners and married couple Linda Barragán and Steve Kolarik met while attending Berlin’s Stephen Decatur High School. Helping out in the kitchen: Barragán’s mom, dad and little brother, who serve up home-cooked fare like that served in their native Irapuato, in Central Mexico.
At Casita Linda, it’s the little things that make the difference: handmade clay plates used to serve hearty chilaquiles for breakfast, the smoky tomatoes that go into the salsa, the fluffy scrambled eggs. Ice cold horchata is prepared according to a generations-old family recipe. Pastries are made fresh each morning: I loved the fluffy concha with sweet strawberry crumble on top. Call it an Ocean City tradition in the making.
218 N Baltimore Ave., Ocean City. 443-664-5993. casitalindaoc.com