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Maryland: Cuisine means tablecloth not required

Courtesy Wicomico County CTB

If I make a visit to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, one thing is for certain: I will eat at least one crab cake while I’m there.

There’s a lot to love about the Eastern Shore, including charming small towns, beachfront resorts and a relaxed, upscale ambiance. But one of the greatest joys of the destination is its abundance of great food and wine.

With shorelines on the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the area is a natural hotspot for fresh seafood, especially crab. Visitors can enjoy crab cakes and a number of other specialty crab dishes on the Eastern Shore, or take a tour and tasting at one of several wineries to be found nearby.

On your next trip to Maryland, make sure to enjoy the good eats and great drinks that make a visit to the Eastern Shore delicious.

Ocean City and the Chesapeake Wine Trail
Many families in the mid-Atlantic area make annual vacation trips to the beaches of Ocean City. But a newly organized and growing wine community on the Eastern Shore is creating some great tasting opportunities for adult groups in the area as well.

“There’s a Chesapeake Wine Trail now that groups can follow all the way down the Eastern Shore, from the north or the west, and end up in Ocean City as their home base,” said Donna Abbott, communications manager at the Ocean City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We don’t have any wineries on our island, but there’s a relatively new one that’s fairly nearby called Costa Ventosa. It’s a very casual, fun winery located on 10 acres of farmland, and it’s just 10 minutes from the beach.”

About a 45-minute drive from the beach Layton’s Chance Vineyard and Winery opened just a few years ago and produced its first vintage in 2009. The winery sits alongside corn and soybean fields adjacent to a small patch of woodlands. Groups can take a tour of the winery, have a tasting and explore the nature trail that winds through the woods.

Abbott expects the area’s wine industry will continue to grow, and that the cuisine scene will grow along with it. Already, a number of accomplished chefs have moved to Ocean City and opened innovative fine-dining establishments.

“We’re on the ocean, and we’re also close to the farmlands, so more and more chefs are focusing on locally grown organic produce on their menus,” Abbott said. “At some restaurants, the menus will change daily depending on what the fresh catch is and what is being harvested from the fields. It’s something that the chefs here are embracing.”

Crab cakes, a dish indigenous to the Eastern Shore, have a permanent home on many area menus. Increasingly, though, they are joined by oysters, clams and even lobsters, some of which are harvested just off of the Maryland coast.

“You’ll find a wide range of presentations, which makes it a very diverse experience,” Abbott said. “You’re not locked into one type of food here. It’s a wide range, depending on the chefs.”

Wicomico’s crab houses and more

The Eastern Shore’s Wicomico County has a variety of food and wine attractions for groups as well.

“We have a winery here in our county called Bordeleau Winery,” said Licia Gliptis, director of marketing and public relations for the Wicomico County Convention and Tourist’s Bureau. “They’re an on-site vineyard and production facility. They have a beautiful tasting room and do winery tours. It’s been a great stop for groups.”

Just outside the town of Eden, Bordeleau produces estate wines in a rural setting. Visitors to the winery often see wildlife on the property, such as bald eagles, egrets and other animals.

Beer lovers will enjoy a stop at one of the area’s craft breweries. Small-batch brewing is a growing trend in the region, according to Gliptis, and establishments such as Evolution Craft Brewery, a brew house and restaurant, are dedicated to beer tasting.

One of the most iconic culinary experiences on the Eastern Shore is a meal in an all-you-can-eat crab house. The Red Roost, a generations-old crab house in White Haven, is as traditional as they come.

“It’s the full experience — brown craft paper and all-you-can-eat steamed crabs brought out a tray at a time,” Gliptis said. “They serve steamed corn, hush puppies, fried chicken, fried clams and beer by the pitcher. You don’t wear a white shirt in there, because you know you’re going to get messy.”

The Red Roost and many other area restaurants also serve the Smith Island Cake, a treat that was recently chosen as Maryland’s official dessert. The tradition comes from Smith Island, one of the last inhabited islands in the Chesapeake Bay.

“It’s a multiple layer cake, with anywhere from nine to 12 layers of thin cake with layers of icing in between,” Gliptis said. “It was traditionally made with a yellow cake and a chocolate fudge icing, but now they use a variety of flavors.”

More on Maryland:

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WEB EXCLUSIVE! Wicomico Wine Trail

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.