The sun will be shining on Rehoboth’s Baltimore Avenue
When Lauren Cox-Ristenbatt and her husband Ed close their eyes and drift off to their “happy place,” it’s always to Key West, where they got married. Most couples would describe this time with tender images of romantic beaches and palm trees swaying in the breeze. But not Lauren and Ed.
The owners of Café Solé whisper sweet nothings about bold Caribbean spices, fresh flavors and inventive recipes fashioned around the catch of the day. In fact, they love it so much that they’re remodeling, rebranding - and renaming - their restaurant to bring those very same spices, flavors and recipes to their Rehoboth Beach customers.
Lauren and Ed tell me that they’re tired of being “the best-kept secret on Baltimore Avenue.”
So, sometime around Easter, Café Solé will be reborn as just plain …Solé. “It’s time to grow up,” says Lauren. “We’re ready for a change.”
Her dad dutifully paints the ceiling as she and Ed tell me about the expanded bar with the 200-year-old heart pine top crafted by Old Wood Company, the new floors, bright colors and fresh Caribbean concepts taking shape in the open kitchen.
Of course, some of the classics will remain. “We’ll always have our crab cakes,” says Ed, but the bulk of the menu will fuse Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors in the tradition of legendary chef Norman Van Aken.
In the mid-‘80s, Van Aken, along with three other South Florida chefs (they called themselves the “Mango Gang”) coined the term “fusion cooking.” In doing so, they placed Florida’s New World Cuisine squarely on the international culinary map. In a few weeks, that map will include Rehoboth Beach.
When I asked them if the lunchtime turkey sandwich survived the cut, they both rolled their eyes and told me to get out of my rut and try the new lobster reuben. OK, go ahead, twist my arm.
So be ready for lots of fresh fish and zesty Caribbean spices. Even the bar will get into the act with newfangled concoctions like the White Patrón-laced Candied Kumquat Mojito. It’s five o’clock somewhere, isn’t it?
Speaking of Baltimore Avenue, (good transition, huh?), Mark Hunker and Jeff McCracken are finally raising JAM Bistro above ground and into the old Camel’s Hump space across the street. The iconic Middle Eastern/Mediterranean eatery was a Rehoboth Beach mainstay for 30 years until proprietor Marcia Shihadeh passed away suddenly in November 2005. Her husband and chef, Mohammad “Richie” Shihadeh, closed up shop and it has remained sadly dark since then.
Mark reminisced about how he and Jeff used to nosh on Richie’s velvety pita bread and creamy hummus while negotiating the purchase of Eden, their first restaurant. In 2005, they moved Eden from Rehoboth Avenue to Baltimore Avenue, eventually opening their second place, JAM Bistro, in June 2010.
Restaurateurs universally agree that it’s a challenge to get customers to venture downstairs to dine, and it’s no secret that JAM suffers from “subterranean syndrome.”
McCracken and Hunker are changing all that by resurrecting the venerable Camel’s Hump space to accommodate a new, street-level JAM Bistro.
The building is being gutted to make room for updated décor, a new floor and a modern kitchen. Much-deserved homage will be paid to the Shihadehs: The one-of-a-kind camel silhouette fence and much of the original building façade will remain unchanged.
The guys will feature “Hump Day” specials, along with a section of the menu dedicated to dishes sporting a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flair. Sidewalk seating for up to 38 diners will certainly make the new JAM Bistro the place to see and be seen on Baltimore Avenue’s ocean block.
So much is happening here at the beach! When I started writing this column, I had my doubts as to whether there would be enough information to fill it every week. Boy was I wrong. Stay tuned: I’ve got all sorts of good stuff I can’t wait to tell you about.