Duck and Cover
Sun, Sand, and So-So Food in Bowleys Quarters
I know you must be as sick of this summer as I am. You’re dying to wriggle your bare toes in cool sand and feel a refreshing breeze whip through your hair. You wanna head downy ocean, but the closest you’ll get is the mall and a cup of Thrasher’s fries. Been too long since your passport was stamped “Margaritaville”? Well, there is a cure for the summertime blues.
Limbo down to scenic Bowley’s Quarters, next to Essex. There, on the banks of the romantically named Frog Mortar Creek, hibiscus blooms in barrels, and the Wild Duck Café (Bowley’s Quarters and Red Rose Farm roads,  335-2121) has a beach umbrella with your name on it. Something else in its favor: You’re never far from a bar at the Wild Duck. I counted three on our visit—one on the beach, another on the restaurant’s rambling deck, and a third in the smaller of two glass-enclosed dining rooms. The scenery and accessible libations can make one forgive a good deal—which is a good thing for the café’s kitchen.
Up in the lounge, a television in the corner kept reminding us of the 110-degree heat index and the roar of the blender made conversation intermittently impossible, but the view of the water almost made up for the noisy distractions. Incredibly, a number of people had chosen to dine outdoors. Most of them had children, who were able to come inside and choose toys and games from a stack of activity boxes, which kept them quiet and occupied.
Mom started her evening with Maryland crab soup ($2.50 a cup). It had too little spice and too little crab to suit her. C.C. and I split half a pound of stone-crab claws and another half-pound of crayfish ($6.95 each). If, like us, you’ve had the semireligious experience of savoring stone-crab claws at Joe’s of Miami Beach, the high temple of the stone crab and its renewable claw, you’ll have to suppress a sneer at the half-dozen midgets put before you. Ditto on the tiny crayfish, although our server did procure the services of some crayfish cognoscenti to guide us through the extraction process.
The best of our dinner entrées was Mom’s. After pondering all the selections, she ordered a half-pound of shrimp ($7.95) and an à la carte baked potato ($3). “Super,” Mom pronounced over the six jumbo specimens, which were heavily seasoned, perfectly steamed, and served with a sinus-clearing cocktail sauce. The spud—large, flavorful, and not overcooked (as most baked potatoes are)—rounded out the simple meal. And simple is a good bet at the Duck. We envied the regulars, who were devouring trays of shrimp steamed with veggies (half pound $13.95, full pound $16.95). The broccoli crowns, heads of cauliflower, and ears of corn on the cob were brightly colored, fresh, and gorgeous. (Vegetarians, shellfish eschewers, and the frugal can order a steamed vegetable medley for $6.95.)
C.C. threw out a line and reeled in catfish ($9.95), two large fillets in a crisp, albeit greasy, coating that tasted fine and kept the fish moist. The meal included soft, warm rolls, another excellent baked potato, and good tossed salad. It all added up to one tasty supper for a 10-spot.
Lamentably—unforgivably, really—the tossed salad was the best thing about my meal. It couldn’t make up, however, for lackluster macaroni salad. (Yes, Virginia, there is great macaroni salad. The Amish make it, it costs just under two bucks a pound, and you can get it at Giant’s deli counter.)
The crab imperial ($15.50) was as awful as they come. The imperial sauce tasted like pure mayo, and the crab was a pathetic collection of shreds—there was nary a lump, and I got a mouthful of cartilage in almost every bite. Pretty soon I was craving bar food. Each time a server passed by with an order of nachos or buffalo wings, I wanted to mug her for the grub.
Desserts, alas, had sold out early, except for ice cream. Vanilla ice cream. We lingered instead over glasses of iced tea and watched dusk descend on Frog Mortar Creek. The end-of-day haze took on a shimmering, hallucinatory quality. As the glow of tiki torches lit the night and music drifted up from the beach, I forgot about the meal’s missteps and sensed my toes yearning to be free of my orthopedic shoes. I wanted a drink—any drink—as long as it was tall, cool, and had a maraschino cherry and a tiny umbrella on top. For the first time in years, I felt the urge to limbo.