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Dishin’ up good-time memories in downtown Rehoboth

July 3, 2020

One of the most popular topics every Friday on this page and on my weekly radio shows is the history of restaurants here at the beach. I love competing with Cape Gazette Editor-in-Chief Trish Vernon and copy editor extraordinaire Berni Hearn to see who can remember all the restaurants - in chronological order - that did business in a particular location. Trish and Berni always win. I quietly skulk away - taking notes all the time.

After 10 years of fussing over The Business of Eating in this paper, and almost 15 years of writing for RehobothFoodie.com, I decided to make a list. There are more places on that list than would ever fit onto this page, so I’ll hit on some of the highlights and hope they bring back a memory or two.

Who can forget LaLa Land, with the hand-painted tablecloths, the bubbles and the sheet-draped bar manned every day - yes, every day - by master barkeep David Engel? Fear not, Engelphiles: he will return to The Pines forthwith. And don’t forget the original location of Cultured Pearl (directly across the street) which is now home to Breakfast Guru. And yes, Nancy Wolfe’s bouillabaisse at Chez La Mer is still the stuff of legend (Chez La Mer begat Porcini House, which begat Papa Grande’s which is now Azzurro).  If my email box is to be believed, there will never be an acceptable replacement for Doris Lynch’s chicken and dumplings at the Captain’s Table, now sadly empty after a rapid succession of failures. I love reading wine columnist John McDonald’s articles here in the Cape Gazette. They remind me of his popular Garden Gourmet restaurants in Ocean City and Rehoboth. He was (and still is) quite the accomplished chef.

Of course no retrospective is complete without Fusion (now Salt Air), Ground Zero and Celsius (now Henlopen City Oyster House) next door. The gone but not forgotten Stoney Lonen (used to be Anne Marie’s that also included what is now Confucius) became 208 Social and is now Aroma Mediterranean restaurant. Sydney’s Creole and jazz joint was just around the corner. I never led an EatingRehoboth.com restaurant tour up Baltimore Avenue without recounting the sad story of the Camel’s Hump - the locals’ cherished hangout in its day (it is now JAM Bistro).

While we’re in the neighborhood, we’ll do a polite nod to Betsy LeRoy to thank her for the nice new building she built next door for her Pizza by Elizabeths (now home to Eden). Directly across the street was the subterranean Dish! which became Mixx, owned by The Pond’s Pete Borsari and Fork & Flask bar manager Ginger Breneman. Next door on the corner was Adriatico. It’s now DiFebo’s. Diagonally across was Jakes Seafood House which became Steamin’ Blues for a couple of months. It will soon light up again as something brand new for Rehoboth.

Café Solé on Baltimore Avenue had some of the best lunches I’ve had downtown. It became Solé, and then…gone. a(MUSE.) modernist restaurant moved in and then gave way to the new Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits. At First & Wilmington, George Vrentzos was happiest frying eggs, scrapple and gyro meat on the flattop at his Corner Grille which is now Goolee’s Grill. George’s daughter Irene kept at least 10 conversations going at once while dad flipped his impossibly moist and overstuffed omelets. Up by the Boardwalk, the Hearn family took over The Country Squire which became Seaside Thai after the Hearns moved on to The Starboard in Dewey. The Thai place is now the very popular Semra’s Mediterranean Grille.

If you’re not from Maryland, go refill your martini during the next three sentences. I miss the pastry-thin crust and chunky pepperoni of Ledo’s Pizza. Marty McDonald did his best there in Midway (where Crust & Craft is now), but the Maryland brand recognition just wasn’t there. Don’t believe me about the Maryland thing? The Ledo’s in Ocean City is packed just about every night.

Remember Manos at Wilmington and the Boardwalk? In spite of the attitude issues, the food was good. Another quick turnover or two finally landed Shorebreak Lodge in that spot. A block west was the glitter and glow of Planet X (owner Justine is still going strong in Berlin).  The adjacent building alternated between dismal failures like Atlantic Jazz Yard and Cypress, but had a few hits like Square One and Alison Blyth’s Yum-Yum. Both were absorbed by the Avenue Inn’s expansion. The original location of Plumb Loco quickly became Dos Locos on N. First where Lily Thai thrived for a long time. The little spot will soon be Square One, created by the same guys who opened the original Dos Locos there. Fans still mourn the Brooklyn Pizza (not sure why they called it that) at America’s Pie, but those four 20-somethings did a good job until the sadly predictable squabbles began.

The Robert Lee on Rehoboth Avenue was renamed the Robin Hood by the late Harry Tsoukalas. His wife and son still run the joint after almost 60 years! A few steps east, Irish Eyes morphed into The Greene Turtle which finally settled down as Blackwall at the Beach. Next door toward the ocean, a clothing store gave up the ghost to Bill Gibbs and his OC favorite Dough Roller. Unfortunately that exceeded the critical mass for pizza in the ocean block, so after a major overhaul, father-and-son team Suraj and Raghu Kumar opened their popular Indigo Indian restaurant.

I’m barely halfway through my list, and I’ve already run out of paper. Email me 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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