Ocean City and its surrounding area is home to some of the top restaurant establishments in the country, especially when it comes to seafood. Maryland, known as the blue crab capital of the world and the birthplace of Old Bay Seasoning, crushes the competition. Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay leads the United States in blue crabs, responsible for 50% of the nationwide harvest. Residents undoubtedly take their seafood seriously, as the industry makes up a massive $600 million in the State’s economy each year. During your next trip to Ocean City, visit the place that offers delicious seafood galore in a fresh way – the Shrimp Boat.
History – It All Started on the Side of the Road
Founded in 1989 by “Captain” Joe Crocetti, the Shrimp Boat had quite an unconventional start. Initially, Joe would set up shop on the side of the highway and sell fresh shrimp right out of his truck. After a successful first year, Joe moved to Route 611 and upgraded from his pickup to a more aesthetically pleasing boat. Even if it was simply for effect, that boat changed the trajectory of the seafood industry in Ocean City. The Captain has famously said, “I’ve owned fifteen boats in my lifetime, and this is the only one that has ever made me money!”
For the following two decades, the Shrimp Boat remained solely a fresh market in West Ocean City, offering clams and crabs too. Joe captivated his customers with not just the savory taste of the food but with the stories behind how it arrived. In those times, the business only opened up a few days a week because Captain Joe spent most days riding up and down the mid-Atlantic coast to North Carolina to pick up shrimp and clams at the docks. Along his journeys, he met countless interesting people and had plenty of “fish stories” to tell once he returned.
The Shrimp Boat never actually cooked food for its customers until recently but always instructed people on exactly what to do. However, as demand and popularity continued to build, the team realized that it was time to start getting in the kitchen themselves. In 2009, the business opened a small kitchen aimed at serving customers who were on vacation and without a place to boil shrimp or steam crabs. That miniature kitchen did not last long and was replaced with a larger space the following year. The original transformed into a crab room, which remains in use today.
Restaurant & Evolution
By 2012, the Shrimp Boat expanded even further when management put a roof over the building and constructed a large restaurant armed with a liquor license. Outdoor seating, which later proved necessary during the pandemic, was also added.
Captain Joe remains active, but after the restaurant opened its doors, he sold the business to his nephew, another Joe. Now-owner Joe White began his career at the Shrimp Boat as a young kid back in 1993 and has witnessed every incarnation.
“The Shrimp Boat has attracted people for three decades now because people like to know where their food comes from. That is what makes this place unique,” White said. “When Captain Joe started, he never set out to start a seafood restaurant, he just wanted to listen to the customers’ desires and figure out how he could meet their needs.”
One image that White says will always stick with customers is the iconic “boat” itself. He remembers the original, which he “thought was the greatest thing since sliced bread.” Recently, Captain Joe revealed that when he started, he was without running water, showing how far the business has truly come. The old Shrimp Boat along the side of the road is now one of the most well-known seafood restaurants along the Eastern Shore.
Top of the Line Seafood
If anyone knows how to cook shrimp, it’s the team at the Shrimp Boat. Although it may sound simple, their rule of thumb when cooking shrimp is to leave the head on because it preserves the flavor. Boil the shrimp all at once, allow them to boil in water twice, and then the job is done. Along with this technique, the secret seasoning contains much less salt than others on the market.
Similar to the shrimp, crabs are cooked fresh to order and are not pre-steamed. The restaurant has an advanced crab room, equipped with a wall steamer capable of cooking up seven bushels at a time.
“We’ve taken the mentality of cooking to order with all of our seafood, whether it’s shrimp or crabs. We also make our own hush puppies to order and source our corn locally,” White explained. “It’s all part of the dining experience. We always try to have at least three craft beers on tap because we want to give people a sense of the local beer scene. We are passionate about promoting the local food scene all in one stop.”
Demo Kitchen & Quality Crab Cakes
Cooking shows are all over television, but now the restaurant is launching a series of videos showing customers how to cook their favorite meals from their own kitchens. On Facebook, White recently demonstrated the process of making crab cakes while telling fascinating stories with Captain Joe.
Joe White, the host of the videos, believes that the demo kitchen opens up new possibilities. “The demo kitchen will allow us to show our fresh seafood at the boat, but make it into alternatives they can do at home, even if we aren’t serving it in the restaurant,” White said. “We want to cater to folks who are either trying to eat healthier or maybe want to try a new way of cooking something.” Look out for new episodes weekly.
If you are looking for a savory crab cake in Ocean City, there are plenty of places to go, though few with the quality of the Shrimp Boat. The restaurant and market planned ahead of the pandemic and throughout this offseason to ensure that their supply of crab meat is stable and does not require any substitutes. “Crab cakes at some places use substituted materials right now, and that is not the quality folks have come to expect from us,” White added. “The price might be lower, but if you don’t feel like you are biting into a local crab, you probably aren’t.”
New Spice Shop
While the Shrimp Boat certainly will not reveal their secret seasoning, diners will now have the chance to make their food at home taste like the food they eat on vacation. A new office adjacent to the restaurant houses seasonings, which are perfect when purchasing fresh seafood. Many of the spices are available right inside the restaurant, but the office will remain open outside of regular hours. Favorites so far include garlic crab, black pepper crab, along with chicken and rib spices.
Impacts of the Pandemic
As with all other industries, the seafood business felt the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Research from NOAA Fisheries shows that seafood sector revenue decreased by an average of 29% between January and July 2020.
Despite mass interruptions to the flow of the supply chain, the Shrimp Boat continued to push ahead and succeed. “Commercial fishermen everywhere lost their ties to restaurants and other businesses, but the fishermen working for us were not negatively impacted. The pandemic disrupted the scene because not all the sources that were available to restaurants before last year still exist,” said White. “Some found alternative jobs and were not able to wait around for restaurants to reopen. We made sure that the partnerships we developed in the last 32 years remain strong, but it is going to be a while before the industry stabilizes. We haven’t slowed down, but the industry has.”
One major change for the Shrimp Boat location was the addition of outdoor dining, an endeavor that included installing surround sound music, new landscaping, and sun shades. The new area proved to be highly successful, with people who said they would not feel comfortable eating outdoors at other restaurants telling staff that they felt safe at the Shrimp Boat. That is the highest compliment any restaurant could have received in such an uncertain year.
Click here to learn more about the Shrimp Boat and order your next meal. The restaurant now delivers and is also open for indoor dining. Soon, the Shrimp Boat will expand operations to seven days a week for the summer.