SNOW HILL – During the 10 days between hearing the Palette was available and taking day-to-day ownership of the establishment, Phillip Cropper generated an immense amount of interest in the eatery.
The Berlin resident was working as the pastry chef at the Atlantic Hotel in Berlin at the time and word that he intended to take over the Palette spread quickly. John Fager, for whom Cropper has worked for much of his restaurant career, fully supported the move, Cropper said, and even tried convincing him to change the restaurant’s name.
“I told him I wanted to say with The Palette,” Cropper said, though he added “Bistro and Bar” eventually. “But every time I saw him he had another name suggestion.”
While Cropper stayed with the name, in the ensuing weeks he made significant changes to the menu and enough changes to the decor to make the place his own.
His earliest customers consisted mainly of friends and some Palette regulars, but almost immediately it’s grown to one of the hottest new restaurants in the area. The restaurant is packed most Friday nights and has a really reliable turnout on Saturdays. Snow Hill is located centrally enough – it is equidistant from Ocean City, Salisbury and Pocomoke and not too terrible far from the Virginia line – that the Palette has a regional draw.
The secret to Cropper’s success has been, in addition to his talent as a chef, the ability to stick to a small fresh, local menu. Setting aside the environmental benefits of this kind of menu, it also keeps waste to a minimum and therefore prices reasonable in relation to the fare’s freshness and quality.
His plan from the start was an untraditional approach to traditional Eastern Shore food and so far it’s been very well received.
“It’s nice to take a little bit of everywhere and bring it here,” he said. “I have to put my spin on [the recipes] or I won’t be happy.”
The result is a menu that changes daily, sometimes completely sometimes with just a new twist, depending upon which are the freshest ingredients Cropper can get his hands on. The restaurant’s website displays the day’s menu as it evolves over the weeks and seasons.
Thursday, which is tapas night, presents one of the great weekly opportunities to try something exciting for dinner. Tapas are appetizers in the Spanish tradition – lots of small bites of a variety of dishes. Cropper’s twist on tapas makes the number served fewer but the portions larger. It’s a perfect dinner solution when you know you’d like to go out and get something nice but can’t quite decide upon a food genre. The notion is Spanish but the food items, like the rest of the dinner menu, are dependent on the day’s availability.
A good example of the ways in which Cropper has re-envisioned culinary favorites can be regularly found on the Palette’s Sunday brunch menu. The scrapple and egg sandwich is served on a brioche roll with havarti or brie cheese, bringing more dimensions of taste out of a traditional Eastern Shore breakfast.
One of the menu items The Palette Bistro and Bar has remained famous for is the daily soup special, which draws pre-lunch phone calls daily from people in the area. If a soup is popular enough depending on the mood and the weather, he sometimes sells out quickly, which explains the number of late-morning phone calls.
The Palette Bistro and Bar has an upstairs dining room that Cropper said can also be engaged for special occasions.