By Donald Wittkowski
Kim Thomas and her family were having what could best be described as a smorgasbord of seafood on Sunday.
“I got everyone a little bit of everything,” Thomas said with a hearty laugh while glancing at her crowded food tray.
There were clam fritters, a crab cake platter, clam chowder and lobster bisque soup for starters. Thomas noted that her husband, Pete, would probably go back for clams.
And why not? When you visit the Ocean City Seafood Festival, the idea is to eat as much stuff plucked from the sea as possible – whether it’s fried, broiled, grilled, steamed or served raw.
Kim and Pete Thomas are regulars at the seafood festival, making it one of the highlights of their annual weeklong fall vacation in Ocean City. They estimated they have attended it about 15 years in a row.
“It’s the atmosphere,” Kim Thomas said of why her family enjoys the event so much. “We know we can get seafood on the street, but by coming here, it makes it special.”
The Thomases, who live in Atco, N.J., were joined by about eight family members at the seafood festival Sunday. On Saturday, they were among the estimated 50,000 people who attended the Ocean City Fall Block Party, a hugely popular shopping, dining and entertainment event that unfolds on the Asbury Avenue retail corridor.
Events such as the seafood festival and block party are designed to boost the local economy after Labor Day. Although the town begins to slow down after the summer tourists head home, the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce sponsors a series of special events in the fall to draw the visitors back.
The seafood festival, for instance, was one of the centerpieces of the city’s Indian Summer Weekend celebration, which is spread out on the Boardwalk and in the downtown shopping district along Asbury Avenue.
Normally a venue for concerts, the Music Pier on the Boardwalk was transformed into a giant makeshift grill of sorts for the seafood festival. Local vendors were busy taking orders from the hungry crowds lining up at their booths in front of the Music Pier.
Corey Farrell, a cook at Spadafora’s Seafood Restaurant, a well-known local eatery, said the festival helps to enhance Ocean City’s reputation as a place for fresh, high-quality seafood.
“People have been coming down here for many, many years and they know what is good seafood. Much of it is word-of-mouth,” he said.
Spadafora’s sold a lot of clam chowder, lobster bisque soup, shrimp salad subs, crab cake sandwiches, oysters and clams at the festival, Farrell noted.
Friends Lois Wright, of Old Bridge, N.J., and Eleanor Dalotto, of Jackson Township, N.J., saw a promotion for the seafood festival in a magazine and decided to give it a try as part of a day trip to Ocean City.
Wright and Dalotto enjoyed oceanfront views from the outdoor balcony of the Music Pier while savoring their shrimp salad, oysters and clam chowder.
Calling the seafood excellent, both women said they will consider returning next year for the festival.
This year, they not only wanted to check out the festival for the first time, but there was another reason for them taking a Sunday trip to Ocean City.
“She wanted to get away from all of the football,” Wright said of Dalotto.