From the outside, OC Eatery looks like the small, casual beach café that it is. However, the flavors that flow out of its little kitchen are big, bold and deceptively upscale. That may be because the brains behind OC Eatery, Chef and Owner Michael Giampa, spent the better part of his career crafting restaurant concepts for some of the biggest resorts and most well-known hospitality companies in the world.

The chef

Michael Giampa began his career as the executive chef at the former Cucina Rustica in Margate, where he received a number of accolades. Giampa then moved to Cape May’s Union Park restaurant. That’s where a headhunter discovered him.

Giampa took his first corporate position at Steve Wynn’s property in Mississippi at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino as Executive Chef of Fine Dining.

“After Beau Rivage, I opened my first restaurant: 27 Avenue Bistro, (in Gulfport, Mississippi) which was an upscale martini bar and restaurant. We served classic bistro fare with a hint of creole,” Giampa says.

OC Eatery in Ocean City

Manchego Chip at OC Eatery in Ocean City at 506 E. 9th Street. July 29, 2017 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)

Craig Matthews

However, when Katrina wiped everything out, Giampa began consulting. In this role, Giampa worked with large resorts, casinos, cruise ships and corporate restaurant groups where he specialized in concept development.

“I was traveling so much, I was away 20 days a month,” Giampa says.

With two small kids that are just about to turn seven and 10, Giampa decided that it was time open his own restaurant again.

The recipe

With ties to this area, Giampa chose to return to be closer to family. He opened OC Eatery in July and describes the fare as contemporary, coastal cuisine.

“It’s fresh, upscale food with fast, casual service. We wanted to remove any element of waiting, anything that gets between you and your food,” Giampa says, noting that this type of no-fuss service is perfect for beach bums, families and anyone on-the-go.

“Our menu leans toward a California feel with international flavors. It’s lighter and full of vegetables, everything is fresh and made in-house,” Giampa says.

House specialties include the Manchego chip ($6) with a homemade roasted garlic, orange marmalade dip — a dish that draws inspiration from small cafés in Spain.

“I describe this as tasting like the pieces of cheese that melt out of a grilled cheese sandwich but on a much bigger scale. It’s really meant to be shared,” Giampa says.

Other house specialties include the chilled California crab roll ($12) with lump crab, Jersey tomatoes and olive oil, served on a Brioche bun; and the seared salmon ($16) served over Japanese rice, pickled vegetables and Korean black garlic.

If you’re there for breakfast, it’s all about the bomb breakfast burrito ($8) with scrambled cage-free eggs, red beans, bacon and cheese. The shrimp and grits ($15) is another favorite, served with cheesy grits, buttered shrimp and grilled tomatoes. The OC Eatery bakes their own croissants every morning and only uses cage-free eggs.

“This is Ocean City, it’s a family resort and I have two kids, so I really wanted a great kids menu,” Giampa says.

That’s why you will find selections on the kid’s menu such as an all-natural grilled chicken breast ($9) lightly seasoned with sea salt and olive oil, seared steak ($10), grilled cheese ($7) and quesadillas ($7 to $10).

“There is really something for everyone here,” Giampa says.

The feast

OC Eatery is operating as smoothly as a restaurant that’s been in operation for years. Giampa’s expertise is evident in the five-star Yelp, Google and Facebook ratings he’s earned.

Currently, the restaurant is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, as summer fades to fall and winter, the hours will change and eventually the restaurant will close for the season, though the kitchen will stay open.

“Beginning in October, we will roll out our meal delivery service,” Giampa says, explaining that each Friday he will post a menu based on what seasonal ingredients are fresh, offering customers the chance to order until Sunday. He will make and deliver everything on Tuesday, with reheating instructions.

“This will give you the flexibility to eat the food when you want,” Giampa says. “You can heat it all up at once or stagger it through the week.”