Last-minute gifts go a long way to help our local eateries
Even with all the unpleasantness going on in and around our beleaguered restaurant community here at the beach, I maintain that Cape Region dining is still among the best for everything from super-casual-through-a-window to white tablecloth dining.
Rather than the same-old-same-old this year, why not give the gift of a good meal? The great majority of our local restaurants sell gift cards, and if your gift is a bit late you can always call it a New Year’s present. Either way, it’s still the gift that keeps on giving - at least until you use it.
Venture upstairs at First Street Station to grab a gift card from Cooter Brown’s Twisted Southern Kitchen. The cleverly presented Texas Frito Pie pairs perfectly with Cooter’s Ghost Ain't Real Margarita whipped up with Libélula tequila (a Mexican “joven” or blend), Cointreau, pomegranate, ghost pepper agave and the obligatory lime juice.
Speaking of Christmas spirits, that lucky foodie in your life will love the custom-made Manhattan at Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits. Use it to wash down Theo’s delightfully Stinky Cheeseburger and an order of those Tempura Fried Green Beans. A few steps east is the always reliable Café Azafran. Tell your giftee to hold on to that gift card until Chef Richard presents another of his freshly made-before-your-eyes Paella Feasts. This exclusively Rehoboth event always sells out! If you’ve been checking your list twice, then you won’t want to miss the new Aroma Restaurant (where Stoney Lonen and 208 Social used to be). My pick hits include the Piyaz Salad loaded with plump cannellinis laced with garlic, spices and lemon, dished up with red onions, parsley, sumac, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Still hungry? Get the Aroma Sampler (the Lebanese call it a mezze) made up of freshly baked pita along with four delectable dips loaded with flavor.
Matt’s Fish Camp and Northeast Seafood Kitchen are still the go-to spots for remarkably light fried Ipswich Clams. You can’t get them just anywhere (it’s a long way to Massachusetts). They arrive hot and crispy cuddled up to salt fries and a polite lemon wedge. Chris and Gary Desch at Chap’s Pit Beef are still dishin’ up exceptional (and very wallet-friendly) beef, ham and turkey at their tiny but tasty spot on the highway behind Iron Hill Brewery. A gift card can go a long way there!
Speaking of beef, when all this started in March, one of the places I was worried about was 1776 Steakhouse. After all - will people order a $40 porterhouse served up in Styrofoam? Well, apparently they will - and in droves! Customer loyalty to this restaurant’s 30-year fine-dining reputation has kept the lights on for Tom, Tammy and Johnny there in Midway. We’ve been there several times and witnessed carryout bags lined up waiting for hungry customers. Do it up right: While you drive to Midway, warm up your own plates in the oven. Get out your best silverware. Decant your finest wine and enjoy 1776’s handiwork in your own home. Don’t forget to tip the server who hands you that carryout bag!
If your significant foodie loves barbecue, follow the plume of smoke to Bethany Blues in Lewes or Bethany Beach. A B’Blues gift card can easily morph into a tasty trifecta of pulled pork, beef brisket and pulled chicken sliders. And if you find yourself in Dewey Beach, slip into Woody’s Dewey Beach Bar & Grill. Jimmy O’Conor’s crab cakes are among the best around, but don’t miss out on the burger, the French Dip and the fried green beans.
In spite of the current craziness, brave entrepreneurs continue to open new restaurants! Gift cards from some of these fledgling spots can snag you fresh-out-of-the-fryer goodies at Duck Donuts. Or perhaps that tender pork chop and amazing wings at Atlantic Social. Back to the south, Mug & Spoon’s new digs (where Iguana used to be) still pours a fine cup of coffee, but the pastries and ice cream should not be skipped! Milton’s new Beaches restaurant (where Gilligan’s used to be) is keeping with their Lewes tradition of steamed-to-order hardshells (in-season, of course), along with fresh seafood dishes.
Indigo Indian restaurant, Raas Asian/Indian Fusion restaurant, Cabanas Salvadorean restaurant and Minh’s Bistro Vietnamese place continue to be among our flagship ethnic joints to brave the recent vagaries of the business of eating. Indigo’s Onion Kulcha and Lamb Vindaloo (do you dare ask for it “10 hot”?), Raas’ Chana Masala and garlic/cheese naan, Fredy’s savory pupusas and tamales at Cabanas, and Minh’s crisp and salty Lime Wings (alongside an overstuffed bánh mì or an Olympic-size bowl of Phở) are the ideal rewards for picking up a gift card or two. Or three. Do I hear four?
The newest member of that little ethnic enclave is Sticky Rice across from Five Points center on Savannah. A member of my vast network of spies, moles and operatives just reported 100 percent success with the summer rolls, the Pad Thai and the Ka-Tiam Prik Thai sauce with chicken.
Just around the corner, Alex Kotanides’ pizzas at Pat’s are certainly tried and proven, but why not encourage your giftee to branch out! Pat’s lasagna is a freshly made surprise, and their regulation-style club sandwiches are perfect for lunch. A different kind of pizza - wood fired - is also available in Lewes: Mr. P’s. The puffy, slightly charred crust has framed that go-to pie for years. Touch of Italy also has great lasagna, and the chicken parm will make your yuletide foodie smile. Snag a dozen Italian cookies to take home… just in case.
So many restaurants, so little ink. But you get the point: If you want your favorite hangout to survive, ‘tis the season to do your part.