For many of us when we think Ocean City, we think seafood. I start mentally setting up my seafood dinners at least a couple of weeks prior to our beach vacation. Actually, that’s one of the best parts of any vacation for me, having my biggest decision of the entire day be “where are we going to eat at tonight”? When in Ocean City, the answer is easy: someplace offering up fresh seafood! Oftentimes it’s the very first thing we do upon arriving in town, even before we check into our hotel. For some reason it just doesn’t seem like my vacation really starts until that very moment when I stab a crab cake with my fork, and twist out a bright white lump of meat from it’s golden brown crust.
Now, with all that having been said, sometimes there really can be too much of a good thing, and even if I’m not the one ready to throw the towel in on the eastern shore fare, after about three straight days the rest of my family is tapping out! So, being the team player that I am, and for the sake of harmony in general, I’ll agree it’s time to switch it up, and we move on to another one of my favorite cuisines – Italian!
Yes, Italian in Delmarva. Doesn’t really sound like it goes together, but trust me there are some really good options right here in Ocean City, and I’m not just referring to the pizza shops that are spaced out about every 20 feet along the boardwalk. I’m talking about good authentic Italian cuisine that could rival the likes of New York, Philly, or Chicago. No need to waste your effort pouring over reviews (the chances are they were written by me too) to figure out where to go, to experience these culinary delights throughout the resort – The Outsider, has saved you some time by listing my top 5 favorite Italian restaurants below.
The Ocean City Outsider’s 5 Favorite Italian Restaurants
Number 5 – Davinci’s by the Sea
Located right on the boardwalk at 14th Street, chances are you’ve probably walked past this little eatery hidden underneath Harrison Hall’s hotel and wondered what it is like. It’s a small Italian restaurant, offering traditional favorites that you’d expect, like spaghetti with choice of different sauces, lasagna, and chicken parmigiana, but they also incorporate seafood into some of their dishes. I’ve eaten just about everything on the menu over the years, but for some reason, I usually find myself ordering the Linguini Con Cozze Marinara, which is simply mussels simmered in marinara sauce over a huge bed of linguini. For well over a decade it was a long standing tradition of ours to eat dinner here on the 4th of July. This way we could walk from our hotel to a place we could have a great meal, then proceed on from there, and go down and watch the fireworks. I placed them in 5th because they are not open year round, and while they might lose a point or two for this, it’s still one of my favorites, and I believe with their prices, it’s one of the most affordable places you can take a family out to dinner in Ocean City.
Number 4 – Touch of Italy
I’ve only eaten here twice and both times I’ve been impressed with not only the food, but also the friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff. The location inside the the Holiday Inn Oceanfront. used to be home to Reflections – a rather stuffy upscale restaurant that had run it’s course, and (in my opinion) never really quite fit in a family orientated beach hotel. Touch of Italy is a proven concept, all along the east coast of Delaware, and this location is quickly gaining traction among locals and vacationers alike. The dish that I’m most found of so far is the Tagliatelle Fra’ diavolo – that’s a mouthful in more ways than one! To put it into layman’s terms, it’s thin flat pasta, like linguini with shrimp, clams, mussels, and calamari tossed in a spicy hot marinara sauce. Also worth mentioning they have a first class deli and offer great takeout options. On our last visit we did a takeout tray of lasagna, that gave us something to look forward to at the end of our 6 hour ride back home, and needless to say it didn’t disappoint.
Number 3 – Mio Fratello’s
For the third restaurant on this list, we’ll have to travel up to the north end of town and hang a left onto Fenwick Island Delaware. We started going here right after they opened and have been hooked ever since. They offer all the usual traditional Italian dishes, my favorite being their Sausage Puttanesca.
Served over pasta, this sauce traces it’s origin back to kitchens in the brothels of Italy, and as the legend suggests the strong aroma of tomatoes, with black olives, capers, anchovies, onions, garlic, and herbs was invented to lure men inside their establishments. I can’t say for sure how true all that is, but I can tell you it’s made a repeat customer out of this guy. Also worth mentioning, I realize ordering calamari is viewed as a “cop out” by some, but I have to admit I’m a huge fan of it here. It’s lightly dusted, fried just right so it’s not tough or gummy, and the basil infused marina they serve with it is a winner by itself, but if you really want to take it to the next level, ask for a few extra lemon wedges and squeeze them liberally over the squid before you start dipping.
Number 2 -Ristorante Antipasti
Ristorante Antipasti, made the list of top 5 Italian restaurants in the country, (not just by the Outsider),but by the Food Network. All you need to do is visit just once and it’s clear how they achieved such an honor. The owner is an outgoing chef/restaurateur that greets every man with a firm handshake and kiss on the cheek for the ladies. The style of this establishment is more indicative of European dining. For the cuisine think Northern Italy, instead of the traditional Sicilian spaghetti house that most might expect. Small plates, seafood dishes, and pasta is more of a side dish than a main course here. I highly recommend the “Garlic Steak for 2”, and opt for the side of pasta with (and I can’t stress this enough) the PINK sauce. As the name would imply It’s a seamless blend of rich alfredo and tangy tomato, then they guild the lily by throwing in salty capers which allows this sauce to hit practically your entire taste pallet. ~ it’s a flavor I’ve tried to duplicate many times in my own kitchen, but continue to fall short.
Number 1 – Sello’s Italian Restaurant
Located on golf course road in West Ocean City, this place might appear to be a newcomer, but the owners have established deep roots in the resort as they formally owned and operated the legendary Fresco’s which was a favorite among residents and visitors for many years. I chose this one as number one because I believe it works on just about all levels. It’s a trendy, upscale and the food is unparalleled. As you walk up to the entrance a careful eye will notice the mint and basil plants nestled in landscaping. The decor inside has a contemporary Modern American feel, but one look at the pasta machine and pizza oven, and it’s clear that you’re in store for authentic Italian!
If you go, I strongly suggest the Papardelle alla Bolognese, has rich beefy flavor that you’d want in a bolognese. The classical trinity of meats used in this tomato sauce come together perfectly, coating the homemade pasta making it a truly cohesive dish. You also can’t go wrong with the Penne Granchi, the pasta is cooked to a perfect el dente, the tomato/ cream sauce is flavorful, without over powering the sweet lumps of crab meat, that are both large and plentiful. The protein to pasta ratio works as practically as it does aesthetically. If pasta isn’t your thing pizza is another great option here.
So there you have it, from West Ocean City all the way up to the Delaware line, a great Italian meal is never far away when on the Eastern Shore!
This story originally appeared on OceanCity.com in 2016. — Ed.