Ocean City is known and loved up and down the East Coast for its family-friendly foods. Images of pizza slices, custard cones and boardwalk fries dance across childhood memories like the amusement rides that call you to the boards. While those are all still very much a part of the “boardwalk experience,” Ocean City is quickly becoming known for its vast variety of healthy dining options.

Fresh-pressed juices, smoothie bowls, fresh fruit whips and a bevy of gluten-free options are now as much a part of Ocean City as those pizza and fries. So, what’s fueling the health food renaissance of America’s Greatest Family Resort?

Can’t eat that…

Over the eight years Marie McCullough has been working at Yianni’s Café in Ocean City, she has noticed some distinct trends toward healthier eating habits.

“There are a lot of gluten-free request and, in general, a lot of food allergies. There are also a lot of vegetarian and vegan requests. People are just really looking out for their health,” McCullough says.

Even the traditional boardwalk favorites have gone gluten-free and allergy sensitive. At Manco and Manco Pizza and Tony P’s Pies, you can get your favorite slice sans gluten. At Yianni’s Café, gluten-free options are clearly marked and take center-stage on the menu. Most sandwiches, burgers and entrée selections have a gluten-free option. You can even get gluten-free French toast and more.

If you crave another boardwalk favorite—ice cream—but avoid dairy, there are plenty of options for you, as well.

“We had a lot of people with food allergies and families looking for a dairy-free option to soft serve ice cream,” says Lee Geiger of Goji Juice.

Goji Bowl Lifestyle

Try the Goji Bowl at Gogi Juice for a healthy alternative to ice cream.

Goji Juice offers its take on soft serve with an all-natural, dairy-free version of ice cream with its Goji Bowls. The Goji Bowls are a combination of fresh juice and fruit and some flavors may have honey and coconut milk that look and taste just like ice cream.

Goji is not alone in its offering of fruit cream. Banana whips have become incredibly popular.

“Our banana whip is just bananas that come out like soft-serve, and it’s our most popular item,” says Heidi Edwards, owner of the Bashful Banana Café on the Boardwalk in Ocean City.

Fresco Frullati also offers a banana whip. “When I first started making the banana whip, people used to top it with all kinds of candy, but now they are asking for fresh fruit and peanut butter,” says Mira Vasseva, owner of Fresco Frullati.

It’s in the city…

As a resort destination, Ocean City welcomes many visitors each summer, many of whom are seeking a shore haven from city living.

“Juicing is becoming really big and a lot of people from the Philadelphia area were looking for the healthy options that they are accustom to,” says Grant Pfund of Goji Juice.

Both Philadelphia and New York City are heavy-hitters when it comes to vegetarian and vegan dinning

“People are looking for fresh fruit and vegetables more now than ever before,” Vasseva says of Fresco Frullati. She explains that people want to eat fresh fare over fried foods. Her most popular offering at Fresco Frullati this summer has been her avocado toast, which is whole wheat bread topped with avocado, fresh organic greens and a superseed blend. “Everyday someone comes and says thank you for being on the boardwalk,” Vasseva says.

Bashful Banana and Starfish Café also cater to the vegetarian and vegan diner. Bashful Banana has a large selection of vegan and vegetarian wraps, burgers and breakfasts. Starfish Café has options including vegan cream cheese, veggie burgers and a large selection of smoothie bowls including its loaded oats bowl with blended oats, coconut flakes, chia seeds, coconut milk, spinach, banana and apple then topped with banana, fresh berries and granola.

Feel good

“It’s really not even about health for us. We specialize in food that makes you feel good,” says Maryanne Nolan, owner of Starfish Café.

Unfortunately, Nolan explains, the majority of the public have become accustom to fast food. “Nothing is from scratch anymore, it’s not seasonal, it’s not fresh, it’s prepackaged and it’s fast,” Nolan says while lamenting that waiting for food has become a thing of the past in this corporate-driven dining world.

However, she adds, on a brighter note, people are starting to seek out real food again. “We are anti-processed foods,” Nolan says. Starfish Café also specializes in organic and locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. “Ocean City is a beach town, the vibe here lends itself to an organic lifestyle which is what we try to build on here (Starfish Café).”

Or, maybe the reason Ocean City is becoming South Jersey’s healthy-eating mecca is simply because there is only so much junk food a person can eat.

“When people are here for a week, they will have pizza one night and fries, but after a couple days they want to eat something normal,” says Edwards of Bashful Banana, explaining that the Bashful Banana does not try to be an overly healthy eatery. Rather, they offer normal food that’s not fried, overly sweet or pre-packaged. “We get entire families here that are just looking for healthier options.”

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