The race is on! Pass the guacamole and chips

April 21, 2011
The view from the deck at Agave. Add tequila to set it in motion. BY BOB YESBECK

Things are heating up on Wilmington Avenue as four eateries sprint toward the Memorial Day finish line. So far, Beal Thomas and Ken Gerhart are in the lead with their Cosmopolitan Grill taking shape in the former Retro Café spot. Carol Levasseur (remember her from Sydney’s?) will be whompin’ up her magical potions along with Charm City barkeep Peter Lomuscio, formerly of Gertrude’s at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Uber-bartender David Engel had been slated to head up the mixology department, but elected to remain at Espuma. No hard feelings, I’m told. Beal, a talented musician in his own right, is lining up jazzy entertainment for your noshing and listening pleasure.

La La Land and the old Atlantic Jazz Yard (here one day, gone the next…) are getting facelifts from builder/developer/restaurateur Ken Heaps. Ken replaced Big Easy in Bethany Beach with Chalkboard, eventually changing the name to Rumor Has It.

I’m happy to report that the plans at La La Land include preserving the tucked-away courtyard bar (Engel’s domain for years). If those walls could talk! (Personally, I’m glad they can’t.) The venerable old haunt will be reborn as Mallory Square Fish House and Grill. The AJY spot will become Cypress, apparently sporting a New Orleans flair.

Tony Nomikos continues to brighten the old Cultured Pearl space with his new Tuscan Grill, but there’s still no word on an exact date. Who will open first? We’ll see.

Matt Haley predicts an April 20 debut for Matt’s Fish Camp Classic Seafood and ToGo just south of Indian River Inlet. What could be beachier than a little outside window where sandy toes can order goodies for snacking in the sun? Haley promises the authentic toasted split-top roll for the New England clam and lobster rolls. Lunch, anyone?

Northward to Lewes: Owner Chris McKeown hopes to unveil the newly remodeled Agave by the second week of May. Most everyone knows by now that he’s expanding his popular Mexican joint and tequila bar into the space vacated by chocolatiers Roberta and Klaus Wuttke, but did you know that his mom, Leisa, used to own and operate Second Street Popcorn and Candies in that very same space? A 15 year-old Chris roller-skated his way through Lewes to help out at mom’s store. She’s returning the favor at what is now her son’s place by lending a hand where she can.

Chris McKeown is a success story if there ever was one. He moved from popcorn and candy to pizza, sugar rolls and grilled savories at the Roadhouse restaurant, honing his skills on long lines of vacationers. He regularly supplements that experience by attending cooking classes in Mexico where he developed a fondness for tequila - no, not just the distinctive taste, but also the chemistry and botanicals involved in its creation. As recently as this January, Chris toured several Mexican distilleries, using his discriminating palate to add and subtract labels from Agave’s considerable inventory.

The new space will also house Agave Marketplace, where those one-of-a-kind margarita glasses will finally be for sale. Chris figures they’ll go for about $25 each. You can also take home Agave’s signature salsa, queso, salad dressings and mole sauce.

When he told me they would be selling their delicious guacamole, I asked him how they would keep it from oxidizing and turning brown (that’s why they always make it to order). So get ready for the Do-It-Yourself Agave Guacamole Kit! Avocados, fresh ingredients, spices and chips will be bundled with guidelines for whipping it up “the Agave way.”

Chris will further moderate the seemingly endless waits with the cozy upstairs lounge, complete with its own bar and unique lighting. Waiting diners can plop on the deck for a view of the harbor and Lewes’ historic buildings.

It’s a busy springtime! Chris, Matt, Beal, Tony, and the two Kens are just a few of the restaurateurs betting that 2011 will be a record season here at the beach.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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