Like any good Foodie worth his salt (and pepper), I do, from time to time, venture southward to the Bethany Beach and Ocean City grazing grounds, and one of the venerable Ocean City pub grub standbys is BJ's On The Water. When I think of Ocean City, I think of places like BJ's: Basic meat ‘n' potatoes with a beautiful bay view, a noisy bar (I believe there is always at least one person sitting at every Ocean City bar at any given moment) with about four thousand TVs, friendly servers and predictable food. Predictable is a good thing nowadays when every dining dollar counts!
When you enter, you'll pass the brightly lit popcorn machine, the T-shirts for sale and the umpteen framed photographs of employee sports-teams past. The aroma is unmistakably Ocean City: beer, fryers running at full tilt, and the slightly musty smell of wood infused with years and years of salt air, beer and hot grills loaded with Old Bay-seasoned comfort food. The appetizers are exactly what you would expect: poppers, mozzarella sticks, potato skins (all fried in higher priced but better tasting peanut oil). But BJ's also has some surprises, including Smoked Mountain Trout (with horseradish), clams and oysters (steamed or on the half-shell, in season) and a crunchy little plate of what they call “Shrimp Jammers.” Fried shrimp, stuffed with cheese and served with salsa. Crispy and hot, and perhaps the perfect welcome to O.C.
For such a grill and fryer kind of joint, BJ's has a large selection of salads, including such esoteric offerings as Shrimp or Chicken Teriyaki, and a fresh Seafood variety (shrimp, scallops, snow crab, whipped up with spices and served as a platter). Their chicken salad is particularly good, sporting big cubes of tender white meat and crunchy celery. And it's nice and firm too, not all wet and mayonnaisey (…is that a word?). If all that salad seems just a little bit too healthy, you can top their Caesar with fried oysters or char-grilled yellowfin tuna. Something's got to balance out all that dangerous low-calorie fiber!
My preferred noshing companion likes the Maryland Crab soup. It's full of crabmeat and veggies in a light tomato base and has a spicy bite (a couple of drops of Tabasco can't hurt either). I've had the onion soup with its jaunty little cap of warm melted provolone. It's always good.
The main courses at BJ's (other than the occasional specials) are big sandwiches. My favorite, hands down, is the chicken salad sandwich. They offer it on Texas toast, but I get it on pumpernickel. And I am not in the least bit ashamed to tell you that I add bacon. Always add bacon to a chicken salad sandwich! Another great sandwich is the “Black Russian” (turkey, roast beef, swiss and lettuce on pump with Russian dressing). Add that bacon and it satisfies any and all cravings. There's an open-faced turkey sandwich crowned with bacon (of course), ‘shrooms and swiss, slightly charred under a hot Salamander. I do not suggest ordering this just before you start a 10K run, but on the other hand, it is served on 12-grain bread, so it must be good for you. Same thing for BJ's famous “Razorback”: a stack of hot ham, tomato, mushrooms and melted swiss, all piled high on that 12-grain bread.
The sandwich menu includes soft-shell crab, a surprisingly tasty black bean (vegetarian, yet!) cheeseburger, their regular burgers, a mountainous BLT, a 3-decker club and lots of other intriguing combinations.
If you are looking for a quiet, intimate little spot where you can nibble politely on a grape and a hearty side of watercress, this is not it. But if you're feeling “beachy” and you're hankerin' for some basic bar food along with an unobstructed view of the setting sun and a parade of ducks cavorting 10 feet from your table, then turn bayside at 75th St. the next time you are in Ocean City. You won't be sorry.
BJ's On The Water is … on the water at 75th bayside. They have entertainment regularly, and their southernmost outpost (at 1st St. and the bay near the Rt. 50 bridge) even offers a free little sunset cruise with the purchase of dinner. Give them a call to find out what's happenin' (410-524-7575). Click here for BJ's menu (it even includes the duck feeding schedule for the kids!). (L., D., Bar) Price range: Inexpensive.