Phillips Seafood had a long history of presenting fabulous seafood well before its arrival at the Pier Shops at Caesars.
As an original restaurant tenant on the third level of the Pier Shops at Caesars, Phillips Seafood has always carried with it a certain undeniable cachet.
After all, the Maryland-based enterprise has virtually become synonymous with first-rate Eastern Shore seafood, and our local outlet — number eight in their empire — arrived with great anticipation from both natives and visitors alike.
A recent Sunday afternoon trip — and, by the way, a low-traffic time to enjoy the Pier’s eye-catching design elements — proved that the kitchen and wait staff are working to exceed those lofty expectations.
Start with the fact that Chef Paul Drew was out of town for the weekend, competing in the annual Chowderfest competition on Long Beach Island. That alone would give some places the opportunity to slip up. No such problems were evident during our visit. In fact, if this is how a kitchen responds to his absence, their training with Drew has been quite exemplary.
The visit began with my appetizer, a jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail. Presented in a Martini glass, the inside of which had been lined by shredded lettuce, the snow-white crab practically leapt out. Served simply with a pair of lemon wedges and a mustardy sidecar of dipping sauce, no element upstaged the clean, cold crustacean. Somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen clusters of meat were included, each one seemingly larger and more naturally delicious than the last. These literally required no accompaniment, as we ate half of them with nothing more than a spritz of citrus.
My dining partner also chose a crab-related starter, hers a nightly soup of King crab bisque. Faintly orange-pink, the viscous liquid was milder and sweeter than any lobster variant we’ve ever sampled. Rich and hot, this luxurious, seasonal creation served as a nice introduction to autumnal dining. Like a warm, welcoming embrace from a friend you haven’t seen in quite some time, the bisque reminded us of the hearty food pleasures which lie ahead in the harvest season. It was also laden with enough King crab to almost fill the sizable bowl. Only a faint layer of broth, steamy and fragrant, disguised the treasured meat.
Next up was a pair of salads, highlighted by tableside preparation that is a Phillips signature. Arriving as a large metal bowl filled with colorful lettuces, surrounded by a half dozen smaller glass devices, our classically schooled server walked us through the process.
First, he doused greens with their proprietary apple cider vinaigrette, then, whisking gently, added other elements one by one. Cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, red onion, tiny croutons and bacon all found their way inside prior to a gentle plating. The result was not only crisp and fresh, but also capable of producing an indelible impression upon the patron. You pretty much can’t help but thinking that these people really know what they are doing.
My creation was more basic — a combination of baby spinach, arugula and slivered red onion. Finished with a warm bacon dressing, the dual vegetables were just slightly wilted and soft. While this dressing is regularly employed in spinach salads, it is one of the only times we can remember arugula being along for the ride. The pointy greens — called “rocket” in Europe — intense, peppery nature played well with the punched-up dressing and tangy onions.
Gazing around the open floor plan, one realizes the multi-purpose functionality of Phillips’ space. To the side closest the Boardwalk, a cozy bar and lounge area beckons invitingly. At the restaurant’s front flank, both booths and tables are available, elevated and spread out across separate levels to insure clean lines of sight for all. But the place we like best to plunk ourselves down at is one of the many booths surrounding the open, theater-style kitchen.
Here, you can experience the entirety of what Phillips’ waterfront location offers — observing cooks carefully tending to their stations, foot traffic moving through the Pier and beyond, the golden sands, blue Atlantic waters and, on this day, a spectacular sunset.
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