On The Bay
42nd Street and Coastal Highway
August 23, 2010
Sweeter will be the word that comes to mind when you crack open the crabs from On The Bay. The seasoning is a doctored-up variation of J.O., a common crab seasoning. But On The Bay’s version is one where your mouth isn’t burning after your sixth or seventh or tenth crab. I’m not sure what happens after No. 10, we only ate 20 crabs of our ½ bushel during our first sitting.
Co-owner Rosemary Corbey will tell you there’s no cayenne. You and your kids already get sunburned at the beach. Why make it worse by having your lips burn? Their own seasoning is one reason the crabs Corbey and partner Rob Wyne sell stand out, but it’s not the only one.
Corbey is one of those crab shack folks you’ll remember. She tells you about the crabs as she’s ringing you up at the register. She then makes the rounds and talks with her customers as they eat their crabs on a sandy beach of long, white wooden picnic tables outside. There’s no inside seating. On the night we were there Corbey took great care to make sure it was OK to seat us at the same picnic table as another family to ensure we were in the shade.
It used to be that everybody got a picnic table under a bright blue umbrella, but now On The Bay has an under-cover pavilion. The new shady area, complete with overhead fans and decorations of Canadian goose decoys and buoys, makes the outdoor eating experience one you’ll enjoy. Trust me on this one. You will want to be under cover. On The Bay is a people-loving kind of place where you end up chatting with the family next to you because, well, you want to. How else would I know that the guy next to us was a veteran who grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York, served in the first Gulf War and now works construction in Arizona? His family ended up at On The Bay because another restaurant down the road served crab cakes that were mostly filling, and they never had that problem at On The Bay.
Of course, if you don’t like Jimmy Buffet music, you’ll need to take your crabs home. Buffet plays endlessly here, and yes, the 20-somethings who are customers do like to sing “Cheeseburger in Paradise” while chugging back their beers and pigging out on the $25 crab feast. With Coastal Highway as their backdrop (On The Bay is on the ocean side of the highway), singing outdoors is acceptable. On the five-point scale, On The Bay gets a 5 for atmosphere.
For taste and size, the crabs are solid 4s. The sweetness is a change of delightful change of pace. At $50/dozen for medium-large crabs, we knew we’d eat 1 ½ dozen. Since it’s never really certain in Ocean City what a medium-large crab is, we opted for a different strategy. Rather than pay $75 for a 1 ½ dozen, we decided to blow another $5 and get a ½ bushel. Having previously eaten at On The Bay, I didn’t think it would be too much of a risk. For our $80, we ended up with 36 decent sized crabs. There were no wimpy crabs (by wimpy, I mean light or watery) in the ½ bushel. Many of the crabs had that blackened look they get when they’ve been buried down and allowed to mature, ie. not caught too young in life. For the two of us, this translated into dinner one night, lunch the next day and a bunch of claws and legs for an upcoming soup. The ½ bushel option gets a 5 on my value scale.
While you might expect to find Chesapeake Bay crabs in Ocean City, Corbey tells you up front that the crabs are from North Carolina. On The Bay has a crab plant in North Carolina and three people who crab for the restaurant. Corbey says having the Outer Banks operation gives On The Bay a reliable source of crabs and lets the restaurant dictate quality control. The business model seems to work. While a transport company sometimes delivers the crabs to Salisbury for On The Bay, that wasn’t the case the night we were there. Instead, Corbey, who said the restaurant needed crabs, was waiting for Wyne to arrive from North Carolina. In this case, reliability isn’t a bay away, it’s a highway away. But from the customer perspective, it doesn’t matter. In Ocean City, On The Bay is a journey worth taking – if you love crabs and good service.