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The Annual Labor Day 2020 Restaurant Roundup

September 4, 2020

In spite of all the financial and emotional stress that continues to be heaped upon our Cape Region restaurants and small businesses, there are still a few brave souls out there who actually took the proverbial plunge to open new eateries.

So I’m going to combine my annual end-of-summer restaurant roundup with a shout-out to those entrepreneurs who believe enough in our dining community to actually take on new ventures during this prolonged and challenging time.

Chris Agharabi could have simply continued operating his successful Theo’s and Ava’s concepts in Cambridge and St. Michaels, Md., but when the old Café Solé/a(MUSE.) space opened up on Baltimore Avenue, he jumped at it. And thus was born the Rehoboth Beach installation of Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits. In fact, Chris loves Rehoboth Beach so much that he is planning on sharing his Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar concept with us beach eaters. Hint: Keep an eye on the old Jakes Seafood spot at Baltimore Avenue and North First Street.

Mustafa Murat Tan (aka Mike Hazen) and his daughter Yasemin are on site all day, every day, keeping their new Aroma restaurant afloat. On March 16, he was so excited to open his Turkish concept in in the old Stoney Lonen/208 Social space at the corner of Wilmington Avenue and Second Street. Exactly four hours after his grand opening, the hammer came down on all Delaware restaurants and he had to close. But this lifelong restaurateur adapted quickly and was able to share the tastes of his homeland through carryout and eventually, limited indoor seating.

Blackwall Hitch partner Derek Fink and GM Zach Diogo banded together to create an entirely unrelated concept in the mercifully vacated Ruby Tuesday space on Coastal Highway. Their totally remodeled, gleaming white Atlantic Social sports a grassy indoor patio and a comfortable bar that will hopefully one day welcome his guests.

Several years ago, the ill-fated Beachside Grill (next door to Catcher's and Hotel Rehoboth) was taken over by Fins Hospitality Group's El Jefe Gordo, a casual Mexican concept. Unfortunately, it didn't last long. Realtor and former Aqua Grill co-owner Joe Maggio and Realtor Tony Sacco eventually turned the lights back on under the name of Port 251. Around the same time, Maggio's former partner Bill Shields sold Aqua Grill on Baltimore Avenue to the owners of The Pines restaurant. Maggio and Sacco turned Port 251 into an Italian aperitivo bar (with a particularly fun Sunday brunch), while around the corner, The Pines bosses have given Aqua Grill a much-needed facelift and menu revamp.

Back east, Mug & Spoon owners Aileen Hearn and Kyle Ten Eyck branched out into the world of savory-meets-doughnuts with their new Glazed in the original Shrimpy’s storefront by the Boardwalk. Over on Baltimore Avenue in the old Touch of Italy/Grandpa MAC spot, Rudy Gilbert’s Cheese Shop & Fondue Bar has already garnered a loyal following. His made-to-order cheese plates can be tailored to the buyer's specific pairing desires. Soups, salads, pizzas and baked goods round out the surprisingly varied menu for such a small place.

Speaking of facelifts, upstate restaurateurs Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue have given the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal a sleek new look with Grain on the Rocks. A huge double-sided bar demarcates an even bigger outdoor dining space and an equally large indoor space with a coffee shop and live entertainment. It’s worth a ride on the ferry just to experience this place!

Patty Jacobs’ little carryout was a longtime staple in Georgetown. But Patty has always longed to be closer to the beach, so when the old barbecue spot opened up at Hazzzard’s on Savannah Road, she snapped it up. She does a brisk breakfast, lunch and dinner business in spite of the mandated restrictions on success. Don’t miss her egg salad or those oatmeal raisin cookies.

Also in Lewes is the long-awaited Sticky Rice Thai tapas spot near Capriotti’s on Savannah Road. This very wallet-friendly restaurant has a big selection of Thai-inspired goodies, including some delicious desserts. At the moment, they are only offering carryout, but hopefully that will change soon. Co-owner Sawanya Conway is Cape Region tried-and-proven: She used to work at now long-gone Seaside Thai in downtown Rehoboth.

Just last Wednesday, Harbour restaurant opened in the old Gilligan’s space on the canal in Lewes. In fact, I had the pleasure of attending a little media/friends/family event there last weekend; if you liked the former Palate restaurant in Rehoboth, you’re gonna love this place. Loads of waterfront seating makes for great boat-watching.

Milton is not without its new spots, and I don’t think I’m wrong in comparing Foxhole/Dough Bar/Suburban Farmhouse owner Kristen Latham to the Energizer Bunny. Contemporary and reasonably priced dining is the theme at the Foxhole at the corner of Union and Federal streets. But don’t miss the cheesesteaks and pizzas at The Dough Bar. Her husband Marc presides over that casual spot. They both seem to be everywhere at once - and that’s a good thing.

Just around the corner is the new Tequila Real in the old Goodfellas building on Mulberry. After almost a year of shoring up and remodeling that space, Tequila Real opened to busy, busy, busy. And no wonder. The food is consistently good. I love the Burrito Degollado and their made-to-order guac. Over in Paynter’s Mill, the new Sydney’s is still getting its foothold in that space, and promises to become a neighborhood hangout for hungry Miltonites.

Southward to Dewey Beach: Vinny Manuele has had his eye on that strip center spot for a long time. When it finally came available, he closed his Lewes-based Fat Vinny’s food truck in favor of an eatery without wheels and a gearshift. He brings his Brooklyn sensibilities to the beach with excellent sausage & pepper subs, cheesesteaks and specialty subs named for each of New York’s boroughs. He’s not done yet: He’s installing pizza ovens.

If you made it this far on the page, then I can only assume you like to eat. Get out there and support these people who, in spite of these prolonged restrictions, have brought their favorite tastes to 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 byesbek@capegazette.com.

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