Fresh Seafood Hangs Ten at Surf House Restaurant
Stepping into Urbana’s Surf House restaurant can be almost jarring: It feels more like stepping off of Coastal Highway in Ocean City than just off of Md. 80.
Decorated in beach shack chic, the restaurant, which opened in March, has a laid-back island vibe, with surfboards adorning the walls, a floor reminiscent of coral and beach-style shutters. A large TV silently streaming a surf competition amid large rolling waves, coupled with large paintings of surfing and swimming, complete the look.
“We wanted it to not only be a place we enjoy, but also a place [to where] our customers can escape,” says Tom Seymour, who runs the restaurant with his father, Charlie (who previously ran Turning Point Inn). “If you live in Urbana, you’re most likely commuting somewhere. We want people to come in off the highway, take a load off and unwind. The best way to do that is eat, drink and be merry.”
Rather than feeling like a manufactured corporate environment, Surf House is warm and inviting. The bar, painted in a wave motif, features 20 rotating beer selections, which change frequently; new selections arrive after a keg has been kicked, offering lots of variety.
For Tom Seymour, food runs in the family. In addition to running the Turning Point Inn for 20 years, he says the family frequently hosts large get-togethers, with family members turning out lots of dishes to share. “We have a really big family,” he says. “My grandma’s always cooking for everyone, my mom’s always cooking for everybody. We really like getting groups of people together, like-minded individuals, kind people, just to get together and have fun.”
Though Turning Point closed more than 10 years ago, the desire to run a restaurant never waned for the Seymours. And opening nearby Orion Wine & Spirits a few years ago brought lots of customer interaction, which helped to rekindle interest in running a restaurant and ultimately led to the opening of Surf House.
For Tom Seymour, the opportunity to work with his father is one he cherishes. “He worked with his parents and now I’m working with my parents,” he says. “I love it. We don’t always have the same idea for something, but that’s good. We’re always testing each other, checking each other, making sure we come up with the best idea.”
Seymour says that process sometimes involves poking and prodding each other’s decisions in the hopes of coming up with the best idea. “If we agreed on everything, realistically we’d never make progress,” he says. “We always challenge each other. Even if we do agree, we’re always making sure everyone’s playing devil’s advocate. He could have a great idea and I’ll say, ‘I love that but what about these things?’ It’s working out great so far.”
Surf House has 60 seats, but is in the process of building an outdoor patio space that will expand seating. It’s slated to open by the end of the summer, offering a last chance at enjoying the nice weather.
In addition to being printed on the menu, the restaurant’s commitment to fresh food is obvious when dining; sauces and salad dressings are made in-house, boosting the natural flavors of the fish.
On the appetizer side, the guacamole ($6) is studded with large chunks of fresh avocado and offers a vibrant flavor, while shrimp gyoza ($8) pack intense flavor in a crispy dumpling topped with a sweet pepper sauce.
For heartier fare, overstuffed fish tacos ($5, with shrimp, rockfish, ahi tuna and other options available) feature large pieces of bright, clean meat atop a crunchy cabbage slaw with a hint of ginger, pico de gallo and crème fresca. A couple of tacos can be a filling option, especially if paired with an appetizer or side.
Of course, there are also options for the seafood-averse as well, with beef, chicken and pork options available on many of the dishes. “I’m very much a clean, neat freak and it carries through the recipes,” Seymour says. “Everything has to be balanced like a fine wine with no flavors overpowering anything else. Nice, smooth balance is key.”
Seymour says he and his father created the menu by combining dishes and concepts they love, like conch fritters from their trips to the Bahamas, or the seafood dishes Charlie enjoys in Florida. “If you’re from Urbana, you’re thinking farm town, you’re not thinking beach,” Seymour says. “You walk in, you think you’re in California, you’re in Mexico, Cozumel. These are all places me and my dad have been, and we brought it back to Urbana.”
Other influences on the menu come from Tom’s trips to San Diego, which brought a sort of Baja flavor to the mix, like the cilantro crème fresca served on
the tacos. “I was out in San Diego and brought a lot of cool concepts back,” Seymour says. “I loved the fish tacos and burritos and food I had out there. Out there it’s a blend, a melting pot of California, a little bit of Mexican and a little bit of Asian flair. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Though not all of the seafood available is from Maryland (ahi tuna comes in daily from North Carolina, for example) Seymour says the focus of the restaurant is using local ingredients wherever possible.
“Most of our proteins are coming from Maryland, our vegetables are coming from Maryland—trying to enhance our community also means buying from local farmers,” he says. “We weren’t just going to open any run-of-the-mill restaurant. If we were going to open a restaurant it was going to be something we could stand behind. We always go for local stores—I go to the farmers market here every Sunday.”
You may not be on the beach, but if you focus on the food and décor while dining at Surf House, you just might believe you are.