It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it

May 21, 2013

The life of a food writer is a stressful one. The angst and torment associated with attending a grand opening, judging a best hamburger contest (at a brewery, yet) or getting a sneak peek at a new concept is just too much to bear. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Who has more fun than I do?!

In fact, the only downside to 16 Mile Brewery’s Delmarva’s Best Burger contest a couple of weeks ago was that I got my first sunburn of the season. It was hard to tell if my face was getting redder from the UV rays or from the spike in blood pressure brought on by sampling 20 (count ‘em: 20!) hamburgers.

Speaking of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, remember my article a few weeks ago about 16 Mile’s Heraldry Brew? The minute I walked in, brewmaster Brett McCrea thrust a frosty pint of the finished product into my hands to prepare me for the looming avalanche of food. See what I endure for my Cape Gazette readers?

Each contestant for Delmarva’s Best Burger submitted one beef-based and one “anything goes” burger. Three of the stars included a candied bacon burger from Delaware Distilling Co. (formerly Old Bay); a ground pork, blueberry and goat cheese version from MIXX, and Pickled Pig Pub’s ground short rib and bacon patty topped with bacon-infused peanut butter and strawberry/jalapeño cream cheese. Obviously these guys were out to get me.

Other contestants included Rehoboth’s JAM Bistro and Beachcomber, where Chef Jared Martin and right-hand-man Steve Keyek ensured proper ID by branding their bun with a red-hot wire! Dewey Beach was represented by Gary’s and Woody’s, Seaford by Applebee’s, and Georgetown by the Brick Hotel. The grand prize in the beef category was claimed by Ocean City’s 45th St. Taphouse for their Beef Wellington steakburger snuggled in puff pastry with black truffles, portabella duxelle with port demi-glace. The “anything goes” category was snapped up by that unexpectedly delicious short rib/bacon/peanut butter extravaganza from Chef Ian Mangin at Pickled Pig Pub.

Executive Chef Matt Haley and SoDel Concepts Corporate Chef Doug Ruley are also creating a hot new brand next door to Haley’s Catch 54 in Fenwick Island. Papa Grande’s Coastal Taqueria leans heavily on staples like chicken mole, empañadas stuffed with roasted peppers and chorizo, and whole fish Veracruz (Veracruz sauce contains olives, jalapeños and capers. Think Italian puttanesca, but with a kick!). “Taqueria” loosely translates to “taco shop,” and Haley and Ruley’s menu pays homage to the food vendors who trundle their carts along the streets of Mexico. Add a fully stocked tequila bar, a sugar cane crushing machine, a wraparound porch with a panoramic view of the bay, and a huge movie screen with Mexican surfing videos, and you get the idea.

Papa Grande’s concept has been five years in the making, and though the menu strives for authenticity, there’s a whimsical side. After all, how seriously can you take yourself when you offer SPAM tacos and apple scrapple? Ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible, and in fact, many of the spices and other items are purchased from small Hispanic grocery stores in Delaware. In addition, 25 percent of Haley’s bottom line will be funneled into the Hispanic community, including the Georgetown Police Department and scholarship funds for kids to learn the culinary arts.

Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts graduate Doug Ruley has been with Matt’s organization for eight years. His partnership position in the new venture, along with his corporate chef position for all the restaurants, gives him even more incentive to make Papa Grande’s all that it can be. “I’m going to keep things as authentic as possible, but always with that SoDel Concepts twist,” Doug smiles. This place might very well be worth a drive to Fenwick!

  • 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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