80th St. and Bayside
8003 Coastal Hwy
Ocean City, MD 21842
Hooked Restaurant; in Ocean City, MD, is the sister property to two other popular local seafood restaurants; Off the Hook in Bethany Beach, De and Just Hooked in Fenwick Island, De. All three properties have the same basic concept “to offer the freshest seafood, innovative cuisines and exceptional service” and fortunately for all of us on the Delmarva Peninsula they pretty much succeed at all three. Their newest property just opened for the 2013 vacation season in a structure that was once the old La Hacienda restaurant but walking in you would not recognize the room. Hooked has scrubbed the place clean (believe me it needed it desperately) and repainted the walls, added new light fixtures and generally redecorated the place into a lovely, comfortable and airy eatery. The table tops are covered with nice white tablecloths and then those are covered with butcher paper. The linens are nice clean, crisp bar towels and the silverware is sturdy but simple. The artwork is vibrant in deep reds and oranges with coastal motifs and the floors are a nice polished hardwood. All in all Hooked gives off a casual, comfortable and trendy feel the minute you walk in.
There are three dining areas to choose from; the main floor, upstairs and outside courtyard, with about 225 seats all totaled. Each area has its own bar and that is where I would suggest anyone going to Hooked begin their evening. Almost every mix or syrup is made in-house which in itself is truly a novelty in the Ocean City area. The specialty drink list is the best place to start with cocktails like the Blue Berry Pie with house pickled blue berries being a special favorite. Hooked also makes their own sour mix which informs their Margaritas with a delicious, non-chemical taste that is very reminiscent of an authentic Mexican Margarita. Also of note is their version of an Orange Crush, which among other differences, uses St. Pellegrino Orange drink instead of Sprite or 7UP thereby making the drink crisper and less cloyingly sweet. The bartenders are friendly and informative which is the same with all the employees I have encountered during my visits.
On my first visit I ate at the bar and ordered the Grilled Tuna Pinchos which are skewered Tuna chunks on a bed of house made Kim–Chi (spicy Korean cabbage slaw) and a creamy Sesame Peanut Sauce. While the Tuna was just a touch over cooked the Kim-Chi was fresh, tangy and spicy and the sesame peanut sauce added a nice contrast in texture. I followed that up with the Truffle Burger and let me just say that this is now my favorite burger on the Eastern Shore. It came out perfectly cooked to my specifications on a soft Brioche bun smothered in sweet caramelized leeks and a rich Gruyere Mornay Sauce (creamy Swiss cheese sauce) and crisp bacon. The burger was served with hand cut fries lightly coated with pesto which was pleasant but left me thinking it needed a little more classic pesto flavor.
On subsequent visits I tried the Buttermilk Battered Calamari which was nicely coated and fried crisp with a good amount of tentacles (my favorite part) and lightly dressed in a spicy mayonnaise and garnished with micro greens. The Buttermilk Battered Oysters were fried to perfection coming out crisp on the outside while leaving the oyster soft and juicy and was served with a spicy mayo on the side and some blue cheese which added a nice creamy tang. Entrees of note were the Cioppino and the Grilled NY Strip for different reasons. The Cioppino had a lovely rich broth perfumed with white wine, fennel and moderately spicy chorizo, unfortunately the Shrimp was over cooked and chewy while the “fin fish” was Salmon and also a bit overdone and dry. The Clams and Mussels, while being cooked properly and tasty, were the smallest I have ever seen and instead of pesto on the crostini might I suggest a classic Rouille to pump the flavors up as well as the aroma. On the other hand the NY Strip steak was cooked exactly as ordered with a very nice grilled Corn and Poblano Pepper Relish and some nice crispy Fingerling Potato Frites. The reason I comment on the steak is that rarely is a piece of meat cooked properly in an otherwise seafood centric restaurant, Bravo Hooked! Next time you might consider a really nice thick cut Rib Eye as a special, I know quite a few people who would be waiting at the door for one. The two fish entrees I tried were grilled perfectly; the Mahi was served with a delicious Warm Artichoke and Fingerling Potato Salad and the Grilled Swordfish Special was moist and flavorful.
After great drinks, yummy appetizers and a lot of sharing of entrees I rarely have any room for desserts but I can whole heartedly suggest the Key Lime Pie. The crust was thick and short with butter and the filling was silky, rich and palette cleansingly tart. The final verdict is that Hooked is an excellent addition to the Ocean City dining scene and I hope that other properties and chefs take note of their willingness to combine multi-ethnic flavors with local products and move away from pre-fab Sysco products to come up with combinations of cuisines of their own. Wake up boys and girls! There are less than a hand full of restaurants in the Ocean City area that have taken the step towards multi-ethnic cuisine and since this trend has been growing stronger all over the United States for at least the past 10 years I for one am thrilled that Hooked has gotten on board and we are all the better for it.