OCEAN CITY – For the past five years, 128th street has been home to a prime rib and seafood buffet known as Higgins Wharf. 128th street may no longer be home to Higgins Wharf Restaurant, but it is the home to the Higgins newest restaurant, Big Tuna Grill.
According to the manager George Madden, the transformation took place earlier this year as owner Bob Higgins decided to take out the buffet and replace it with a vintage bar that had been hiding in storage for the past five years. They restored the charming old bar, making it one of the new focal points of the restaurant.
The restaurant re-opened in February under the old name but was soon renamed Big Tuna Grill in March brining with it not only a new name, but also a new menu and atmosphere. “We wanted to go in a different direction,” Madden said of losing the buffet style restaurant. Madden says he likes the interaction that coincides with the new set-up, “this way servers can interact with customers more, it’s not just here’s your drink, here’s your plate, the buffets right there.”
Although they have lost a few customers with the loss of the buffet, more have stayed and enjoyed all that the new menu had to offer.
Some of the feature items on the menu include the Big Cedar tuna, baked on a cedar plank and served with a teriyaki glaze, and the jumbo lump crab cakes, which the menu proudly states needs no explanation. Madden referred to one of the most popular item so far, the Chesapeake Bay Rockfish saying, “It is really unbelievable how good it is.” He also mentioned the 6-ounce filet that will be appearing on the menu within the next week or so.
If you’re in the mood for lighter fare or drinks, the new bar is the perfect spot to sit. While there you can take advantage of the two 46 inch plasma televisions or the Happy Hour specials. Happy Hour can be enjoyed Monday through Friday from 4pm to 7pm with a 2 for 1 drink special. Madden favors the 2 for 1 idea over set drink specials. “It makes it pretty much their choice,” he said. “This way we’re not dictating to them what they have to drink.” The bar can be enjoyed past Happy Hour until closing time, which usually occurs when business slows down around 9 or 10pm. Madden’s brother Steve, the bar manager, has been playing around with new drink ideas. Madden boasts that the “Big Tuna-Rita” Steve has created is pretty tasty.
Despite the new bar, Big Tuna Grill is also considered a family restaurant with an atmosphere and menu that is inviting for families. “The family style restaurant is defiantly what we’re going for,” said Madden.
For Madden, running a restaurant and interacting with the customers is exactly where he wants to be. “I like the interaction with people that ranges from employees to customers. I couldn’t imagine being stuck behind a desk all day. I like how I get to move around and do different things, from the kitchen to the bar to helping the servers.”
This past Memorial Day Weekend gave Madden and the rest of the employees a taste of that interaction. According to Madden it was there first extremely busy Saturday and their first taste of the summer rush. Although it was a hectic weekend, it evoked excitement for what the summer has in store for them. They hope to see a busy summer and Madden is looking forward to a few signature days. “I’m really looking forward to Father’s Day and Forth of July, those should both be big days for us.”
As for the hustle and bustle of the summer customers, Madden doesn’t think that the loss of the buffet style restaurant will affect business. “I think as far as customer service, it’ll actually be better.” The enhanced server-customer interaction will bring more satisfied customers, and although there is no longer a buffet, Madden feels the new bar, menu, and atmosphere more than make up for it. “I really think that it is going to be a good choice in the long run.” Besides the fishing décor and bar that make the inside of the restaurant feel inviting and comfortable there is also plenty of outside seating to enjoy all summer long.
“For people who are not looking to dine in we also have the carry-out beer, wine, liquor and seafood store” Madden added, explaining that it provides just about anything that you would want to take-out. The store, located around the side of the restaurant opens daily at 10am, which is perfect for those wanting to take out, or get a head start before the restaurant opens at 4pm.
As for the name, Big Tuna Grill: A Real Seafood Restaurant, Madden boosts that it truly is a real seafood restaurant. “The owner has been involved with Higgins and the seafood business for so long, he has all kinds of connections and is able to get the freshest fish.” Madden also said the menu speaks for itself, proving this is a “real seafood restaurant.” “Our head chef can make any kind of seafood dish or really any other dish that you’re looking for.”
From the menu to the atmosphere, to the restored bar to the great service, Big Tuna Grill promises to surpass the former popularity of the prime rib and seafood buffet.