Open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. No credit cards. No reservations. Prices: Platters $4.50 to $12.
Phillips is nearly an historic landmark, a legend in its own time, multiplying like a rabbit and still lining them up. It is one of those haughtily low-priced restaurants that refuses to take reservations or credit cards or any of those modern cushions of civilization.
Herewith is a guide to the Phillips family of restaurants.
The newest is in the Beach Plaza Hotel, at 13th Street on the Boardwalk. Hotel guests can make reservations, but otherwise you wait in line. It is open daily, 5 to 10 p.m., and is the only one to take credit cards.Here you dine at tablecloths, served by waiters in tuxedos, and costing about 25 to 50 cents an item more than at the other two Phillips branches. The menu is, of course, primarily seafood, but includes a few meat dishes.
The Phillips that is considered the real Phillips is the crab house at 21st Street and Philadelphia Avenue. Here, unlike the others, you can sit down and hammer steamed crabs into submission, or eat tamer seafood - no meat.
The advantage of Phillips Seafood House, the one I visited, is that amid the stained glass, Tiffany-style lamps and sewing machine treadle tables, you can find a touch of privacy, a droplet of intimacy. The bustling waitresses wear shorts, the food is served on plastic trays, but the place specializes in what is known in the trade as "atmosphere."
The news in Ocean City, in case you don't keep up, is that Phillips restaurants now serve liquor. They are likely to serve a lot of it, given the prices; most wines are $4 to $7, and a glass of house wine costs only 75 cents. Price is, likewise, the drawing card for the food. Platters with two vegetables, bread and butter (six pats for a single person) start at $4.25. Crab dishes - imperial, thermidor, au gratin - are about $7, shrimp dishes $8, lobster $11 to $13. For $10 to $13 you can order multi-course dinners of steamed seafoods including lobster, clams, crab, shrimp, scallops. Steaming is the specialty, and most of the waitresses were carrying steamed lobsters to their customers.
The food is by no means great, but it is generally fresh and pretty well prepared. At Phillips you will not find light crab cakes free of filler, but they are made with fresh crab. The potato salad and coleslaw are made in the house, good but not manna. The steamed seafoods would be better if they were taken out of the steamer a few minutes sooner, but they pleasantly satisfy a seafood craving. Although the restaurant shamelessly serves frozen fried clam strips in clam country, and the vegatables taste frozen, it breads its own fried seafoods and lives up to moderately high standards.
Phillips proves the rule - not by being an exception - that you should not bother with dessert at a seafood restaurant. Despite the fame of its blueberry pie, it is standard factory-made stuff. The strawberry pie, constructed in the house, has a tough, salty crust and a gluey red glaze doused with something that pretends to be whipped cream. Stop with the steamed clams or crabs, and your memory of the Phillips tradition will remain intact.