Today, the Shrimp Boat on Route 611 in West Ocean City consists of the iconic roadside boat carrying the day’s specials, outdoor seating for carryout and tableside service, and a restaurant that’s 10 years old in 2019. The shrimp are still cooked with the heads on to seal in all the juices, and every customer can still sample one of the famous fresh shrimp; “Try it before you buy it” is Captain Joe’s motto. “I want people to know they are getting the freshest product possible.”
It was 1989 when the business first started, after Captain Joe set up shop under an umbrella with a scale and a couple of chairs on the side of the highway. The next year, he moved his inventory inside his boat and started selling shrimp along 611, where the Shrimp Boat has remained ever since.
The Shrimp Boat has seen its share of families spanning multiple generations who return to their favorite seafood joint summer after summer, or even fall after fall — the Shrimp Boat opens in April and runs well into October. Many of its returning customers still remember the place before the restaurant came along, back when it was just an unassuming boat on the side of the road, and it still often feels like the secret it once was. Even with the restaurant and its growing outdoor seating areas, the Shrimp Boat still feels like the kind of place that’s frequented only by in-the-know locals who know that, aside from a lot of Old Bay, the secret to a flavorful crustacean is to cook with the head still on.
The cat’s been out of the bag for a while now, and plenty of tourists know that one of the best places to find fresh seafood is out of a boat of 611. However, in 2019, the Shrimp Boat still cultivates a casual and friendly atmosphere that could keep most diners out on the patio, sipping a local craft beer for hours on end. That’s especially easy this summer, because each week the Shrimp Boat will offer a $5 craft beer — this week it’s a Shore Craft Beer, Big Oyster Brewing Co.’s Hammerhead IPA, but next week it’ll be Maryland brewery Flying Dog’s Numero Uno summer cerveza, in celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
As of 2019, the Shrimp Boat has also been designated an ocean-friendly restaurant by the Surfrider Foundation, which means they engage in a number of practices that reduce single-use plastics. They recently replaced their styrofoam carryout containers and soup bowls with biodegradable alternatives, and now when a customer asks for a straw, they receive a PLA straw rather than a plastic one. It looks and feels just like plastic, but Captain Joe’s nephew and current owner of the Shrimp Boat, Joe White, assures that it is biodegradable and compostable — they’re not cheating!
Other recent additions to the Shrimp Boat include an expanded carryout seating area adjacent to the boat. They no longer offer tableside service in that area, but customers are welcome to enjoy their carryout at one of the tables or drink a beer there while their food is being cooked. Crab-stuffed flounder has been added to the menu, and as of this week, the Shrimp Boat is open seven days a week through the remainder of the season.