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The cycle of life continues – restaurant style

January 8, 2021

One of the most popular topics on this page and on the radio is the dining history of our Cape Region. People love to reminisce about long-gone restaurants. So I put together a list – which ended up far exceeding my allotted word count on this page!

Add those to the restaurants that recently closed as a result of prolonged and unfairly applied restrictions and lockdowns, and this column could be a three-parter. Don’t worry; I won’t subject you to that, but I do feel the need to hit on a few highlights – some long departed and others sadly shuttered over the last year.

Notorious locals’ hangout LaLa Land, with the hand-painted tablecloths, the bubbles and the sheet-draped bar will remain in our memories forever. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the delightful Nancy Wolfe who opened Chez La Mer because she liked French food – and ended up as a favorite in the Rehoboth history books. Out on the Forgotten Mile, if the subsequent parade of short-lived restaurants in that space is to be believed, nothing will ever equal Doris Lynch’s chicken and dumplings at the Captain’s Table.

Another ancient memory is the Avenue Restaurant and the heady aroma of coffee, bacon and pancakes grooming a skinny 5- or 6-year-old to be a not-so-skinny food writer an inordinate number of years later. I love reading wine columnist John McDonald’s articles here in the Cape Gazette. His Garden Gourmet restaurants, followed by his successful tour at Bishopville’s Grove Market, are testament to his amazing cheffing talents.

Of course no retrospective is complete without Fusion, Ground Zero (and Celsius) and the gone but not forgotten Stoney Lonen. Just around the corner, Sydney’s Creole and jazz joint housed two more relatively recent losses in that space: Pig & Fish and Cuvee Ray Wine Bar.

When I lead EatingRehoboth.com restaurant tour guests up Baltimore Avenue, I always recount the sad story of the Camel’s Hump, a cherished watering hole in its day. Across the street was Ginger Breneman’s MIXX. While we’re in the neighborhood, we’ll do a polite nod to Betsy LeRoy and thank her for the nice new building she put up to house Pizza by Elizabeths. It’s now home to Eden.

Zebra survived for many years across from that iconic Stingray building that formerly housed Third Edition and 59 Lake. But nothing lasts forever – Big Fish Restaurant Group is now working to duplicate that hard-earned mystique with Sazio. Back up on The Avenue, the always accommodating Karly Gamaitoni did her best to keep G Rehoboth running, but when her business was forced to turn away 70 percent of her potential guests, she turned the key. An investor is considering a different concept in that legendary building that played host to Meg Hudson’s Lula Brazil after being Cloud 9 for so many years. John Orlando’s Potpourri gave way to Finbar’s, which has now become Chesapeake & Maine, part of the Dogfish Head complex. John is now keeping his faithful regulars happy at Just in Thyme.

Café Solé on Baltimore Avenue became Solé, and then … it was gone, followed by a(MUSE.), which eventually gave way to Chris Agharabi’s Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits. A few steps west, you’ll notice that the old Iguana is gone forever. In its place is Mug & Spoon, which escaped The Avenue to expand its brand to breakfast and lunch. A few steps south at the corner of First and Wilmington, George Vrentzos was happiest frying eggs, scrapple and gyro meat on the flattop at Corner Grille. His daughter Irene juggled at least 12 conversations simultaneously while distributing her dad’s cheesy omelets. The Corner Grille was home away from home for many.

If you’re not from Maryland, go refill your martini during this paragraph. I miss the pastry-like crust and chunky pepperoni of Ledo’s pizza. Marty McDonald did his best there in Midway, but the Maryland brand recognition just wasn’t there. (Precooked bacon! Again, a Maryland thing.) Don’t believe me about the Maryland thing? The Ledo’s in Ocean City is doing just fine.

Remember Manos at Wilmington and the Boardwalk? A popular hangout – in spite of the attitude issues. Shortly thereafter, Cosmopolitan took a run at the space and closed as quickly as it opened. A block west was the glitter and crimson glow of Planet X (owner Justine is still going strong in Berlin, Md).  The adjacent building alternated between dismal failures (does anyone remember Cypress and Atlantic Jazz Yard?) and slam dunks like Square One and Yum-Yum. Another loss is Joey Churchman’s Bramble & Brine. I’ll never forget the young chef’s duck ragout.

Fans (including the owner of a prominent Italian restaurant!) still mourn the Brooklyn Pizza (not sure why they called it that) at America’s Pie, but the 20-something partners succumbed to the inevitable squabbles. Across the street, Dough Roller’s short-lived pizza joint morphed into the popular Indigo Indian Restaurant. Around the corner, Azzurro replaced Papa Grande’s at the corner of Second and Wilmington. The lights would still be on if it had not been for arbitrary restrictions that stripped them of resources and help. In the same spot one block east was Joe Lertch’s Vineyard Wine Bar. An unfortunate fire broke his spirit, and he went back to his successful installation in northern Maryland.

Adriatico dominated the corner of First and Baltimore for years, even trying their hand at a second location in Midway. The concept remained Italian when Lisa DiFebo brought her Bethany mainstay DiFebo’s to that corner. As Lisa moved in, next-door neighbor Lily Thai closed its doors. Lily’s mom created Seaside Thai where the Country Squire used to be. Semra’s is there now. Speaking of corners, the closing of Jakes Seafood “downtown” preceded the closing of its sister restaurant on the Highway. The downtown location will soon be Ava’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar.

Just a few steps across Baltimore Avenue was Seafood Shack. Two hardworking women kept fans in fried seafood, fries and cocktails. One of the last true hangouts on Baltimore Avenue.

I haven’t even finished half my list, and I’ve already run out of real estate on this page. Let me know your favorite long-gone spots and we’ll do this again someday. Include your favorite dishes and the owners’ names.

  • 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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