Every year for the Fourth of July, my family shuffles into the Lexus and goes up to Sea Colony, a small condo community located in between Ocean City, MD and Rehoboth, DE. A lot of my family also has places around the area, so the week is a bit hectic for all of us as we go around seeing everyone. Obviously, since I’m a twenty-one-year-old recent college grad, I’m expected to both have a job and a serious boyfriend. My count on both of these things has pretty much been zero since birth, so my family’s extra worried about me. My conversations with everyone pretty much went like this:
“We should set you up! Irani??”
“No, I’m not really into Persian guys. I like my guys lanky and with no distinguishable ethnicity.”
Instead of realizing that I meant emaciated guys as pasty as vanilla ice-cream, I received this in response: “So, what do you think about Indian guys?” It’s not that I’ve never found a Persian guy or an Indian guy attractive, it’s just that I tend to like my guys pretty darn white. It probably has a lot to do with the hordes of hairy Persian men I grew up with, but I’d rather not get into the psychological implications of my type and would prefer to steer this blog back to food….
Although we spent quite a bit of time going out to restaurants with various family members, my mom promised me that I would get to choose one place during the time I was there. This almost didn’t happen, which meant I almost threw a fit and cried like a five-year-old, but all was eventually well and I quickly opted for one of my longstanding favorites, Catch 54.
This restaurant, owned by the formidable restaurateur Matt Haley, is heavy on the seafood, and with its beachy, shack-like exterior, it was certainly created with location in mind. Several years ago the original Catch 54 burned down; it was a bit lower key than this new one, but I was happy to see it come back in any capacity. However, I’m not the only one who knows the joy that Catch 54 can bring to any belly, so we had to wait an hour before we were seated. I didn’t mind though because while I normally thrive off of new foods and continually try and push my culinary boundaries, this spot consistently provides me with what I’m looking for at the beach: simple, good food that reminds me of summers spent picking crabs and nervously swimming in the ocean. For the quality of seafood here, the wait is generally worth it as long as you’re prepared. It’s non-existent though in the off seasons, so if you don’t like waiting and can enjoy beach towns in October, check it out then.
Luckily, the bar area is fairly large, so we snagged a high top to start in on the booze portion of the evening while we waited. I decided to try a Lemon Drop Martini, which was citrusy, strong, and perfectly refreshing for the summertime. This was a part of my very general effort to try drinks besides gin and tonics and red wine, and I would say this flavorful martini was a nice way to kick this effort off. For the younger people in our group, this spot had a number of specialty bottled sodas that they loved. Although I’m not a big soda drinker (unless it’s part of a mixed drink), there were some combinations that even I would be tempted to get, including Strawberry Basil Chili and Lemon Berry. Of course, I think they’d probably taste even better with a shot of something in them, but I’m sure I’d enjoy them on their own as well.
After our wait, we were seated upstairs in one of the many booths, and we quickly looked over the food menu to decide on some appetizers. The one thing we always get when we dine here are the Crab Claws. As a devoted Marylander, I love crab claws, and the ones here were a perfect snack to prepare us for the rest of our meal. Doused in a healthy shake of Old Bay and served with a tangy mustard/mayo sauce for dipping, these claws were every Marylander’s dream.
One other appetizer we tried was the Raw Oysters, two of each type they had. Both the crab claws and the oysters came from the raw bar downstairs, which meant that they were not served at the same time as appetizers from the kitchen. They did take a little bit longer than usual to come out, so one of the impossibly attractive servers there threw in an extra oyster. Even though only two of us were partaking in them, we definitely appreciated it, especially since the extra oyster was the size of my hand. There wasn’t a bad one in the bunch, though I did generally prefer the really briny ones to the sweet, supple varieties.
Outside of the raw bar appetizers, we also tried the Deviled Eggs and the Shaved Brussels Sprouts. The eggs came with lump crab and bacon chips, which added a bit of meatiness to this rich, tangy appetizer. It accompanied our other, lighter appetizers well by adding a deeper dimension to our choices as a whole. The Brussels sprouts, highlighted through the inclusion of pistachio, pecorino, and a honey vinaigrette, were light, crunchy, and packed a lot of flavor into each bite. These appetizers were on point and though they were all a little different, they each categorized the feel of fun, breezy beach food.
On this particular evening, I ended up opting for someone else’s definition of homey food and ordered the Seafood Gumbo, a staple dish I’ve always wanted to try. I was just a tad bit hesitant to order it because I haven’t really heard many good things about okra. I decided to take the plunge though, and I’m very glad I did. I’m a bit odd because if we were talking about liver or tongues or something along those lines, I would have fearlessly jumped in, but with a new veggie I was all kinds of freaked out. After visually analyzing the okra from all angles, I hesitantly put one piece up to my mouth and chewed. I don’t think I could eat a ton of okra, and it’s certainly not something I’d want all the time, but I didn’t have the adverse reaction to it I was expecting.
While I didn’t mind the smoky veggie that was the basis for this gumbo, the star of this dish was the oyster. The buttermilk fried oyster that sat on top of the plate like a king was incredibly decadent and left me wishing everyone fried things this way. All the seafood was flavorful and added additional texture and salty, ocean flavor to the gumbo, but of course another necessary element was the grits. Although I know grits are just as polarizing as okra, I’ve loved grits for as long as I can remember. The grits of this gumbo were cheesy and thickened every bite to create a truly hearty meal.
Though there were a number of entrees at our table, the other one I feel the need to highlight is the Crab Mac-n-Cheese. I am extremely picky about my mac-n-cheese because, much like a martini, it’s either really great or the most terrible thing I’ve ever tasted depending on who makes it. With white cheddar, mustard, and celery, this mac-n-cheese was creamy and sparked to life on my tastebuds. It also included cracker crumbs, my number one requirement for this popular food; they transform a good mac-n-cheese into a great one. It added just a touch of texture to an otherwise soft dish and made it all look deliciously golden brown. This was another heavier dish on our table, but it was also one that was worth trying out despite the summer heat.
Others at our table ordered everything from a Cod Sandwich to a New York Strip. There were dozens of options for either lighter meals or more substantial ones, and I have yet to hear one bad thing about any dish at this establishment. After finishing our dinner I did the one thing I never do, I didn’t order dessert. On the rare occasion when I’m too full for dessert, I still tend to nibble on something sweet before I go to bed, but I was so fulfilled by this meal that I didn’t crave anything when I was done. I think that, more than anything, is the biggest testament to the phenomenal food this restaurant churns out.
There are tons of exciting places around the Maryland and Delaware beaches, but Catch 54 has had my heart for years. Matt Haley is the Stephen Starr of Delaware, but unlike Starr, all of his restaurants impress and they’re a choice I never regret making. If you’re looking for fresh seafood, good service, and summery cocktails, make an easy choice and stop by Catch 54.