East County Times Dining Guide



The Crazy Tuna
203 Nanticoke Road
Essex, MD 21221


By Emily Blackner

Boaters and drivers alike have a lot of restaurants to choose from along the rivers, but one place that should definitely be on everyone's list is The Crazy Tuna Bar and Grille, located at 203 Nanticoke Road. The variety of food will appeal to any palate, as a coworker and I discovered on a recent trip to the restaurant. The Crazy Tuna was formerly known as Steele Fish Grill until ownership changed and the place was remade this spring. The goal, according to manger Susan Savino, was to "make it like Seacrets in Ocean City, locally." You definitely get that vibe; this casual dining establishment features both indoor and outdoor seating. They have also built a beach and a new tiki bar that Savino says they plan to keep open into November by tenting it and piping in heat, because she says many local watermen (and others as well) like to enjoy the outdoors as long as possible. The Crazy Tuna offers 45 boat slips on Hopkins Creek for patrons to utilize. If you are driving, parking is available in front of the restaurant or down the road on the other side of the marina. After your meal, you can catch the Tuna Taxi and be driven back to your car. After we had learned a bit about the restaurant, my coworker and I were first presented with a beautiful wedge salad, crisp iceberg lettuce topped with blue cheese dressing made in-house and applewood bacon bits. The creamy dressing combined with the slight crunch of the lettuce was a great way to start the meal. That got our appetite going just in time for the arrival of the appetizers. The rockbites, tempura-battered rockfish fillets, were delicious, especially when dipped in the mango chipotle aioli sauce that had a nice kick to it but wasn't overwhelming in flavor. The batter had just the right amount of saltiness to it, and a coworker commented that it wasn't greasy like rockfish can tend to be. We also sampled the Crazy Shrimp. These fried shrimp were tossed in a sherry sauce that had a hot spiciness that sort of snuck up on you, but in a good way. I was excited for the main courses to arrive after the delicious starters we had received. First was the seafood portofino, one of the day's specials and a recipe created by head chef Dallas Wells. Wells has been cooking for 15 years and served as a head chef at three different restaurants, most recently at The Purple Orchid, a five-star establishment in the city. But Wells grew up in the area and took the job at Crazy Tuna to get back to his roots and for the opportunity to unleash his creativity. In his six months there, he has completely revamped the menu. He also offers different specials every day. "I don't think I've ever repeated a special in the six months I've been here," he commented. Wells noted that most people wouldn't think to pair a red sauce (in the case, marinara) and pasta with seafood, but he did for the portofino. The dish contained delicious shrimp, clams, mussels, mushrooms and salmon (a recent addition to the recipe, said Wells) served over spaghetti noodles. It was a lighter pasta dish but very delicious, with all the seafood flavors mingling in the sauce. Next up was the salmon picatta, which was a salmon filet served on a bed of rice and parsley. It was served with a light sauce that had a great mix of citrus and tangy flavor. At the risk of losing my Maryland credentials, I will admit that I am not the biggest crab cake fan. But the crab cake served at Crazy Tuna was honestly my favorite dish of the afternoon; another coworker raved that it was "the best crab cake ever." It is served as a platter with two succulent cakes, garlic redskin mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and carrots in this case). It was ever-so-slightly sweet on the first few bites and wonderfully creamy in the middle while maintaining a very appetizing golden crust on the outside. It also contained a generous portion of meat. Wells said that he went through four different recipes before finding this one, and his hard work really shows. He noted that the crab cake is spiced down a little bit in order to appeal to the restaurant's older patrons. But trust me, you will love the crab cake, whatever age you are. As for my coworker, he enjoys a good steak, so his favorite dish was the 12-ounce ribeye, with a white wine reduction. But the most interesting and unique thing about the steak was the crabmeat bruschetta that topped it. It created a fresher flavor for the ribeye than you usually get. And the fat was delicate, as it is in all good ribeye and actually melted in my mouth. I also really enjoyed the mashed potatoes, which the chef had managed to get deliciously creamy while leaving the pieces of skin intact. The contrast of textures, the creamy "meat" of the potato with the tougher skin, made each bite interesting. I thought I would be too full for dessert, but with the arrival of the cakes, suddenly there was room in my stomach once again. The first one was a slice of the caramel crumb cake, a delicious moist, denser cake with caramel filling (including a layer where the caramel is mixed with crunchy morsels that give the cake its name). It was very sweet but not too rich- perfect after a hearty meal. The caramel that covered the top of the cake and drizzled over the edges was the perfect golden color, and it was mixed with salt for a heavenly taste. Wells warms the slices up prior to serving them, so the caramel practically slid into my mouth of its own accord. I am not exaggerating when I say this cake alone is worth a trip; it was that delicious. We also sampled Crazy Tuna's red velvet and coconut sheet cakes, which are homemade for the restaurant by a local woman in the neighborhood. The coconut cake had a whipped cream icing and was described by my coworker as very fresh-tasting and moist. And the red velvet had a sweeter, thicker icing than you may be used to, but it definitely worked with the chocolately flavor of the cake. I left The Crazy Tuna feeling very full and satisfied after sampling all of the delicious dishes Wells and his team made, and definitely eager to come back. Each night of the week offers an excellent reason to do so; the restaurant has a special night every day, from Pasta Night on Tuesdays to sushi Wednesdays to Crab Night on Thursdays. They also have special events such as a cigar and bourbon sampling, a fall festival, a breast cancer charity night and more. Or, you can get the delicious food for holiday parties, business events or other occasions through the restaurant's catering services. However you experience it, though, you really should check out the Crazy Tuna Bar and Grille. Hours are 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. Sunday - Thursday and 11 a.m. - 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

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