Choptank: Seafood Chip Shop With Weak Chops
Choptank’s got the location, the vibe, and the pedigree, and yet, somehow still falls short of expectations. The surprisingly expansive space on Bleecker Street, near the intersection with 7th Avenue, does a good job of evoking a casual seaside seafood chip shop (with, naturally, some West Village style).
The entry way has a cheerful and cozy fireplace as well as corkboard walls plastered with postcards of marinas, the Chesapeake Bay and the Choptank River. The restaurant itself is divided between a dining room with brown paper-covered tables and hanging nautical maps and a large square marble-topped bar area with central beer taps. The vibe is completely casual, as highlighted by dishtowel napkins, corkboard bills, and mellow rock tunes.
The menu reads like a litany of traditional Maryland seaside favorites, offering everything from basic Old Bay chips and crab dip to jumbo lump crab cakes to crab chowder, southern fish fry, fried chicken, and a fried oyster po’boy. However, despite the scrumptious -sounding options, the actual food was pretty average. Old Bay chips with crap dip were given on the house (thanks!), and the dip, despite loaded with heart-stopping ingredients), was addictive. The rock shrimp taco is actually just a few nuggets of popcorn shrimp in a soft pita with some leafy greens – I was expecting something bursting with flavor and texture, but alas, it was just weak. The jumbo lump crab cake lacked spark, served as just a big fat disk of middle-grade tasting crab meat with an anemic “Louis” side salad (read: 4 green beans, some egg whites, and 3 grape tomatoes…). The fried oyster po’boy was definitely the best of the sampled dishes, served on a crispy buttery roll with fried-to-perfection oysters, ranch dressing, pickle slaw, and onions. Tasty and crispy, it was definitely a good dish (albeit, a surefire cause of heart attacks).
All in all though, Choptank was a disappointment. I expected something remarkable from Bobby Werhane, the former owner of L’Artusi and dell’anima, and Choptank turned out to be so ordinary. As a neighborhood restaurant, it doesn’t stand out from the competition in the foodie-frantic West Village, and as a destination restaurant, it is far too plain. Thus, it simply middles. However, it is worth noting, that the raw bar, beer selection, and patio out back are all tempting draws for summer loungin’. For this reason, I recommend Choptank not for dinner but instead for drinks and snacks. The drinks menu impresses and seduces, while the promise of Boardwalk Fries lingers in the air…