It’s summertime on the Eastern Shore, and you know what that means. The tourists are coming, and many are seeking the quintessential Eastern Shore experience. And, so are Attraction’s “Picky Eaters.”
There are a few authentic crab houses left on the byways and waterways in these parts, but few restaurants in the region have a reputation as big Suicide Bridge Restaurant in Hurlock.
Not only does this 400-seat restaurant serve intrepid tourists, it also has indoor and outdoor (after Memorial Day) bars, a waterfront banquet facility, and two paddle wheel riverboats, Dorothy Megan and Choptank River Queen. The owners welcome business meetings, parties, weddings, and group tours, and they offer dinner cruises, sightseeing cruises, and private charters.
The restaurant sits beside a bridge that carries travelers over lovely Cabin Creek. Legend claims that a number of people have used the bridge as a platform for entering the hereafter, hence the name Suicide Bridge.
Whether these stories are true or false hardly matters at all. The owners of the restaurant have turned the name into marketing fodder. There’s even a murder mystery tour aboard a paddle wheeler, if you’re so inclined.
Inside, kitsch rules the interior. Large taxidermied aquatic vertebrates, from sailfish to swordfish, hang from the vaulted ceilings. (A stuffed fish even decorates the sign outside.) Two cigar store Indians, chief and brave, guard the entrance to the main dining room and the live lobster tank. There are decoys, vintage photos, farm implements and old crabbing equipment. Certainly, there are enough artifacts that you will never get bored should you be called upon to wait for a table.
Weekly specials are designed to reel in the crowds. On Thursday night, fresh Maine lobster is on the menu along with all-you-can-eat BBQ ribs and a half-pound of steamed shrimp. Friday night features the famous all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, featuring oysters, fish, shrimp, and prime rib, which starts promptly at 4 p.m. Hot, steamed crabs are available by the dozen.
Even for Picky Eaters, the promise of endless plates of our favorite Chesapeake delicacies has its appeal, but it’s worth noting the regular menu, which we chose to explore, has some bright spots too.
Our feast began with the Suicide Sampler, partly because we love effective alliteration, but also because this is the easiest way to find the appetizer that appeals most to your taste buds. We found the BBQ shrimp to be a little sweet, but the crab balls were tasty as were the bacon-wrapped scallops.
The stuffed mushroom caps were the dish that most captured our attention. At first, the small bowl centered on the platter appeared to be a simple pile of broiled crab meat, but further exploration revealed two button mushrooms. This delicacy disappeared in no time.
We also ordered oysters, as we thought we should. But any Eastern Shoreman knows that oysters and crab are not to be had in the same season. Still, Suicide Oysters topped with barbecue sauce, cheese, and bacon are available, as are the Oysters Imperial, covered with Crab Imperial, and the more traditional Oysters Rockefeller.
Our server shared the menu changes every two weeks, reflecting the bounty of each season. It seems the owner is also the president of Kool Ice & Seafood Company in Cambridge, one of the region’s largest wholesale seafood distributors. One merely has to inquire to discover the ever-changing Catch of the Day.
Entrée selections tempted with salmon, shrimp, veal, and duck, but our server directed us to the Filet Oscar. This dish only appears twice a year, he explained, around Mother’s Day and in the fall. He orders it for his own meal every time it’s on the menu, and we followed his lead.
He was right, of course. The filet mignon was cooked to order, topped with jumbo lump crabmeat, and finished under the broiler. It was served with crisp, tender asparagus and a perfectly executed béarnaise sauce. This dish alone is worthy of another visit (though we shall have to wait until fall, apparently).
Everyone on the Eastern Shore claims to have “the best crab cake,” so we’ve learned not to take that comment seriously. Yet, we felt compelled to sample. The server described the item as the half size of a baseball, and, again, he was right. The crab cakes were made largely of lump crabmeat, with only a tiny bit of filler holding them together. Magnificent.
Other regional delicacies on the menu include crab imperial, crab au gratin, fried oysters, and soft shell crabs. Not-so-local seafood options include fried shrimp, jumbo stuffed shrimp, and cold water lobster tails.
The featured spring dessert was Strawberry Shortcake, but, unfortunately, the thundering masses had gotten there before us. We settled for an enormous chocolate éclair, “not one of those little tiny ones like the French eat,” our waiter noted. Again, his recommendation was spot on. The rich custard-filled pastry was surprisingly good and enough for the whole party to have a few bites.
We left stuffed, satisfied, and delighted that the Eastern Shore’s rich culinary traditions are still celebrated at places like Suicide Bridge Restaurant.
Suicide Bridge Restaurant: 6304 Suicide Bridge Road, Hurlock; 410-943-4689 or suicide-bridge-restaurant.com. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.