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Phillips Seafood, a Maryland Chain Serving Frozen Southeast Asian Crabmeat

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We decided on Thursday afternoon to head for the shore this weekend. After an absurdly easy drive we arrived in Ocean City at 3 this afternoon. Went for a quick dip in the ocean, then off to hunt for some seafood. For some reason, Phillips came to mind and we looked up the closest (141st St). We were asked if we wanted the buffet upon arriving and not knowing any better we said yes. Never has $100 been wasted for so little.

Gritty, inadequately shucked oysters. Seafood so heavily breaded it was unrecognizable. Grey, fatty slices of "prime rib" floating in liquid. "Vegetable of the day" consisting of frozen peas & carrots. Salad bar composed mainly of fatty "salads" and cottage cheese. And an endless parade of overweight children lining up for the soft serve machine. sad.gif It was pathetic and depressing. My children, who will eat almost anything, hated it. Apparently there was a menu we could have ordered from if we had been told...although I have no illusions that it would have made it a better experience.

So what do we do? We're here until Monday morning. We have cereal, milk, fruit, sliced raw veggies, bread, and PB & J, so lunches and breakfasts are taken care of. Is there anywhere to have dinner in this town that isn't a.) a ripoff or b.) horrid? Good sushi? Thai? Fresh seafood? Help!

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Quoting directly from a recent Washington Post Travel article, and hoping it isn't a copyright violation:

[it actually is a copyright violation, so I'll put a link in to the article itself here. (Normally I'd forward this back to Ellen and have her re-post it, but since Heather needs it on a timely basis, I'll do it this way.) Cheers, Rocks]

Apologies for the length of the post. Also sorry I can't speak from personal experience. Hope you have a good weekend!

Edited by DonRocks
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I think that I would rather lick the inside door handle of a porta-john than eat at Philip's, I can remember when it used to be the place to eat in Ocean City, but that was in 80's. By the time I spent the summer there while in college, it had already become a hole of culinary despair, and I understand it has only gotten worse.

I have not been to Ocean City since the weekend when Princess Diana died (can't remember the year, but has been a while) so some of my ideas are a bit dated, and were mostly centered around food you would eat while drunk, and short on money. Not sure they would be much help.

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I was at Phillips in 1964 the night after I graduated from high school. Then, it WAS a crab house with waittresses our age who we tried to pick up (today, my God, they like myself are thinking about retirement!!!) and truly outstanding Chesapeake Bay crabs. Probably 100 to 150 seats total. A very limited menu but food that was simply as good as even Pennsylvania Avenue's O'Donnell's which was D. C.'s best or the Chesapeake, Bawlmer's best.

Of course McDonald's was legitimately good then, too. Today, neither McDonald's nor Phillips have anything in common with 40 years ago. But Phillips was THE definitive Ocean City seafood experience then; at Blair one student ran for class president on the platform that his wealthy father would open a McDonald's in Ertter's, the adjacent DGS. Of course McDonald's never opened in Ertter's and Phillips added another room or two or three and now, as McDonald's, has nothing in common with the quality and taste that helped build it.

But Ocean City DOES have several good restaurants. Two of them are in West Ocean City frequented mostly by locals: the Sunset restaurant and Crab Alley. I've written about both of them elsewhere; I mention them here since they are both worth seeking out and crossing the bridge for.

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OK. Well..................forty years ago (choke!) I first went to Phillips Crab House on Coastal Highway in Ocean City when I was in high school. It was a crab house, a real honest to God crab house with about 150 seats. Today, I think there are 1,200 or so.

It was also good then. Very, very good. (There's a reason why Phillips grew to become so popular-because the original in the 1960's and 1970's, leading up to their opening in Harborplace, was a legitimately great Maryland seafood restaurant.)

Unfortunately this did not last past the late '70's.

Today, with their promotion of Indonesian crabmeat (among other non native seafoods) I am no longer a fan of this as I once was.

I say all this because if one thinks that Phillips is a good/great/respectable Maryland seafood restaurant I believe they have never had great Maryland seafood. For this I would suggest a day trip to either Suicide Bridge near Cambridge or Waterman's Crab House in Rock Hall.

After these two I would like to hear what you, then, think of Phillips...and, please, don't be mad at me for suggesting an alternative to Phillips!

Edited by Joe H
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Is this for real?

(Daniel, it's been 20 years since I've been there. smile.gif )

I am thinking a joke. I did try it about fifteen years ago and thought it was a pretty bad pig trough.

However, about three years ago I was at a meeting in Ocean City just before the Memorial day weekend. One of our people wanted crabs and Philips (on 20th street) was the closest place. I do remember about a dozen people having some ok crabs. I also remember lots of beer that night, so maybe that helped the memories.

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No, I don't think it was joke. In as much, my reply up above was not meant to be disrespectful. What one person may find wonderful, others may find dissappointing. Hopefully some will keep this in mind.

Personally, I do not like Phillips. For crabs, Waterman's is a much better choice. As for buffets, I have never found one I liked. Though I do think Restaurant 2941 puts out a nice spread for Thanksgiving.

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I think one poster above mentioned Crab Alley and Sunset Grille (although they called it "sunset restaurant"). I would avoid Crab Alley for everything but AYCE Crabs.

Good places in Ocean City:

Marlin Moon Grille (West Ocean City, across from the outlets, in the Francis Scott Key Hotel) - good seafood dishes

Faustos (North Ocean City) and Ristorante Antipasti (30th Street) - good Italian, they have a very good Rockfish dish as I recall

The Shark (46th Street) - pretty good for seafood (including shark)

Smoker's BBQ Pit (West Ocean City) - good cheap-eats on Rte. 611 in West Ocean City, BBQ pork, ham, brisket, etc.

Mad Hatter's (35th Street +/-) - funky eatery, inexpensive sandwiches, very good

Devito's (North Ocean City) - italian deli, reminds me of Vace in DC without the pizza

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Phillips just lost their president, Mark Sneed, to a heart attack at the age of 50. Remembrance in the WSJ. He had been with Phillips since 1986 and president since 1996.

The new business [Phillips as a big-scale crab company] used a different species of crab, referred to in the industry as a blue swimming crab, to provide a year-round supply. Abundant Asian labor made it inexpensive. Unlike many ocean products harvested on factory ships, crabs are still taken from small boats and processed locally, picked from the shell by hand and pasteurized. Some tasters say the Asian crabs aren't as sweet as the Chesapeake crabs -- "metallic," says Mr. Sieling, of the Chesapeake Bay seafood group -- but once the meat was mixed with mayonnaise, mustard and bread crumbs and then fried, most customers seemed not to care. (Phillips's mail-order crab cakes were named best overall of five tested in The Wall Street Journal's Catalog Critic column last fall.)
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There's an interesting article by Scott Dance in the current Baltimore Business Journal.

Phillips has been expanding its reach in the market for blue crab meat, the type primarily used in traditional Maryland crab dishes, and using its large market share to drive up prices across the industry, they said. A Phillips spokeswoman said the company has been buying more pasteurized blue crab meat to respond to high demand, but not to create a monopoly.

Meanwhile, local restaurants have been forced to raise crab dish prices or eat into their margins. This comes as price increases of as much as 30 percent hit during peak crab-eating season and as a slow economy limits fancy dinners for many.
Steve Harmell, senior vice president for sales and marketing at Blue Star Foods, a Miami-based competitor to Phillips, said Phillips tried to buy as much crab meat as it could, regardless of price. As supply diminishes even in Asia, costs have gone up more than 20 percent in the last three months, he said.

This reminded me of the one of the other Phillips threads initiated in 2005 by Todd Kliman's City Paper article, Crab Imperialist. Might be a good time to hit Bobby's. Other threads about crabcakes in Maryland and DC.

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Sorry to belittle your Ram's Head concert, storagelady, by creating a "Dining near Inner Harbor" thread, but the Power Plant is just a block away, and we could definitely use this topic.]

We're going to a concert at Rams Head Live on a Monday (Power Plan in the Inner Harbor)....I'm not a fan of all the chain restaurants that populate the area - anyone have a suggestion of someplace that might be tasty on a Monday night for a couple of folks in jeans?

Creating a Dining near Inner Harbor thread is worthwhile. A couple of weekends ago I was at Inner Harbor getting together with friends from Southeastern Pa. Inner Harbor is a natural meeting point. It was sort of ad hoc and we had to figure where to have late brunch/ lunch on a Sunday.

We ended up at Phillips. Every part of it was great....except the food which was universally mediocre for all of us (about 6 with 6 different meals, appetizers, drinks, etc.) The food was eminently mediocre. Ambiance was terrific. Service was absolutely top notch. We were seated relatively close to the bar and the music and ambiance from the piano bar was terrific.

Food though, ---> meh.

Had we planned, had I had a go to thread....I'm sure we could have found a more fulfilling place to eat.

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