Big tastes can often arrive on small plates
Extensive studies have shown that the increase in food delivery and curbside carryout has resulted in excessive (and often surreptitious) snacking behind closed doors. These studies were conducted by yours truly. Late at night. Perhaps over the sink. (Please note the suffering I endure for my readers and listeners.)
But it still begs the question: Do appetizers count toward the amount of food you eat? After all, they’re just “appetizers” – not really food. In spite of the dubious research that might (…or might not) have taken place, many of our local restaurants are ramping up their creativity in the “starters” department. Here are a few of my pick hits.
We’ll start with Italian: Lupo Italian Kitchen’s arancini are warm and cheesy on the inside and delicately crisp on the outside. Never had arancini? Imagine an orb of savory risotto laced with cheese that’s been flash-fried to a delicate crispness. It’s very easy for arancini to become a habit. Touch of Italy’s arancini are also quite good – and designed for sharing. By the way, both restaurants have great meatball apps: tender and savory, crowned with a bit of cheese.
The villagers would show up at the door with pitchforks and torches if Blackwall at the Beach (formerly Blackwall Hitch) were to remove the Shrimp Blackwall from the appetizer menu. Tender shrimp bask in a lake of warm white wine, spiced butter, garlic and scallions. In all truth, the shrimp are just an excuse to get this sauce into your mouth. About 10 steps east at Indigo Indian Restaurant, I end up taking half my main course home because I can’t stop gnawing on the naan. Baked on the sides of the red-hot tandoor oven, this homage to breads everywhere is best when stuffed with roasted onion or topped with coarsely chopped garlic. Raw bar offerings are perfectly acceptable as an appetizer, and it’s a lucky ramekin of mignonette that gets to drizzle the chilled oysters at Fins Fish House (and Ale House), Starboard Raw, Big Fish Grill, both Matt’s Fish Camps, Big Oyster Brewery in Lewes or Henlopen City Oyster House.
It’s a toss-up for best appetizer at Yolanda Pineda’s Mariachi restaurant. I like to alternate between the queso fundido (house-made chorizo encased in a sea of melted queso) and her handcrafted tamales. Across the street at Zogg’s, don’t miss the fried alligator (tastes like chicken, really), and the coconut shrimp. Just west of there at Confucius, start your made-to-order Chinese feast with some of the best fried rice around. Confucius is also home to one of the four best string bean preps here at the beach. Their Szechuan version shares the spotlight with Woody’s crispy-crunchy green beans, the tempura-encased delights at Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits, and Café Azafrán’s haricots verts nesting languidly in butter, blue cheese and hazelnuts.
You will be surprised at how good the salads are at Pat’s Family Pizzeria in Lewes. Though it’s a pizza place, starting out with one of the cool & crunchy salads negates all the calories to follow. Moving to the east (the Middle East, to be exact), you can expand your horizons at Semra’s Mediterranean Grill with house-made babaganouj. Don’t let the name scare you: Think hummus, but with oven-charred eggplant in place of the garbanzo beans. Add tahini (sesame seed butter), lemon, garlic and Semra’s secret spices for a dip that might be difficult to pronounce, but supremely easy to devour.
Wings are ubiquitous here at the beach, but there are a few unlikely spots where the wings are major pick hits. For example, Chaps Pit Beef (on The Highway behind Iron Hill) and Minh’s Bistro Vietnamese Restaurant. Thinh Pham’s salty lime wings at Minh’s are a star starter in that relaxed and friendly spot. Another place where great wings lurk is Revelation Craft Brewery in Rehoboth. Laced with sautéed onions and spices, these crispy morsels are finished off to a delicate char in the wood-burning oven. Of course, the icky-sticky wings at Fish On haven’t won about a dozen awards for nothin’. They’re a happy hour staple at Five Points.
Step away from your email box! I’m quite aware that I haven’t even scratched the surface. But hopefully this will inspire you to get out there and help keep our restaurants open. Whether you call them small plates, tastings, tapas, or whatever, one thing is certain: Don’t skip the apps!