Beach Eats: A look back at flavors past
You never know when you’re going to hit a nerve. I’m still getting responses to last week’s article about the late Chef Leo Medisch and the Back Porch Café. It’s soothing to know that somebody’s on the other end of this keyboard wire.
All that Rehoboth Beach history (and all the kind responses) got me thinking about the amazing exhibition presented by the Rehoboth Beach Museum back in June 2013. Yup - almost eight years ago, but history is history. At the opening of the exhibit, I was honored to be asked to conduct an informal tour through Beach Eats, the museum’s restaurant-centric exhibit. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the tour was for the members of the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society; a shining (if not humbling) example of the tourons knowing more than the guide. In spite of the attendees’ polite attention to my babbling about stuff they probably already knew, I was actually able to get in a few interesting stories of my own.
Beach Eats was a trip down memory lane - with all sorts of savory nostalgia dished up along the way. We relived the surreptitious sniffing of the mimeograph ink on the menus at the Avenue Restaurant (admit it - every kid sniffed the menus!). Or dining at Bob Ching’s (which became Carl & Lenny’s, then Third Edition, 59 Lake and now Stingray). Or late nights listening to music at Terry Plowman’s Front Page from ’84 ‘til Halloween ’93 (after Dr. John’s, but before Iguana Grill and the new Mug & Spoon/Somewhere).
We munched our way through Rehoboth by digesting archived pages from the Cape Gazette’s popular Cape Cuisine section (each in its own menu-style jacket). Promotional articles about Fusion (before either of the Salt Airs), the Crab Barn out on the highway (now Crab House), Sir Guy’s (before Fins), and the Sea Horse (Chef Mike Clampitt left there to open Baywood and is now at his own Po’Boys in Milton). Boyce and Blanche Wallace’s Sir Boyce’s (eventually taken over by Joanne and Charlie Hopkins), Ground Zero and Celsius (where Henlopen City Oyster House now resides) are just a few of the tidbits that kept us devouring those pages. Even the little ads brought back memories: The Lamp Post, The Corner Cupboard, Manos, Boomers, TJ’s Corner, Potpourri and Twig’s, just to name a few.
Several of the exhibits stood out not only for their content, but for the emotions they evoked. Marcia and Richie Shihadeh’s legendary falafel and hummus are now just memories of the Camel’s Hump; sadly shuttered after Marcia’s untimely passing. JAM Bistro is there now. Sydney Arzt was so frustrated with her isolated, wilderness location - the ocean block of Wilmington Avenue - that she changed the name of her American Pie bakery to the Side Street Café. She went on to open her jazz nightclub just a few blocks west (recently home to the now-gone Cuvee Ray wine bar). She is also one of the local prime movers in the creation of the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival.
Museum Director Nancy Alexander and former docent Barb Smith sprinkled all sorts of tasty morsels throughout the exhibit. How can you chew through another day without knowing the history of salt water taffy? Or learning the secret behind Thrasher’s signature fries - darkly delicious on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside?
I was pleased to see a record album on display from my old friend (and occasional bandmate) Sammy Ferro, aka “Mr. Rehoboth.” This former Washingtonian kept the music playing at the Henlopen Hotel until his passing in November, 2001. Other Boardwalk memories included items from Star of the Sea - the former convent that contained a restaurant; the landmark Belhaven Hotel on the south-side corner of the Avenue and the Boardwalk, and of course, the Pink Pony.
The Beach Eats exhibit now has its own place in Rehoboth history, but for those of you who just landed here, the museum is a fun place to get an idea of where we’ve been. And Director Nancy Alexander assures me that there’s still a special exhibit that pays homage to RB eateries past. Opening day 2021 is Saturday, May 15. You can visit Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s just west of the circle, next to the Visitors’ Center and the Chamber of Commerce. Admission is by donation where you can show your appreciation for the ongoing effort that goes into keeping our history alive.
See what’s happening in the present at RehobothBeachMuseum.org.