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Eating al fresco: a thin silver lining around an otherwise dark cloud

June 19, 2020

The last three or so months have been difficult for our local businesses, especially restaurants. Arguably draconian restrictions continue to drive several of our longtime restaurateurs and retailers out of business. As part of the slow reopening process, restaurants have been permitted to use their outdoor property for dining. Though many do not have the space, some are welcoming guests onto their front sidewalks, side patios and front porches.

Last year, Thierry Langer, the outspoken owner of Kaisy’s Delights in Rehoboth and Lewes, wrote a letter to the city commissioners urging them to approve sidewalk dining in downtown Rehoboth Beach. The charmingly French restaurateur likened the experience to his memories of outdoor cafes and eateries in Paris. Nothing really came of his letter, but in spite of the stress foisted on our local eateries, the sight of diners enjoying an al fresco breakfast, lunch and dinner - perhaps with a bottle of wine - is actually rather comforting - if not even a bit European.

One of the most attractive (albeit probably the smallest) outdoor dining rooms is at Goolee’s Grill at the corner of First and Wilmington. Coming in at a close second on that same block is The Pond. Both have spruced up their storefronts with plants, new paint and even carpeting. Down the block, Mariachi did the same out front, along with Blackwall at the Beach.

Outdoor dining has been a way of life for restaurants that have the facilities for it, including Azzurro Italian Oven. This inviting venue is perched high above the corner of Second and Wilmington. Equally inviting is the rooftop lake atop Cultured Pearl.

Back Porch Café was one of the first to use their … well, back porch … for outdoor hospitality. On the Boardwalk, Greene Turtle’s elevated balcony takes full advantage of the Atlantic. A block west atop First Street Station, Dale Slotter and John Buchheit put a lot of effort into decorating their one-of-a-kind outside dining area at Cooter Brown’s Twisted Southern Kitchen and Bourbon Bar. Not everybody is lucky enough to have aerial dining, but street level isn’t so bad either. One of the best is Victoria’s Restaurant in the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel. On-Boardwalk dining with wrought iron appointments and experienced waitrons is dished up with a side of unobstructed ocean views. Just a block away there’s Rehoboth icon Obie’s by the Sea, celebrating years of sun-drenched beach and ocean views.

People-watching should be an Olympic sport on Baltimore Avenue. Nocturnal partygoers flock to JAM Bistro’s outdoor bar; the bistro tables in front of Eden; the huge patio at DiFebo’s and the sidewalk-side tables at Arena’s. The newly opened Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits (where a(MUSE) used to be) will soon be expanding to the little adjacent patio. Café Azafrán’s patio is in the back, but it still counts - especially when owner and Paella Master Rich Steele stages his reservations-only paella feasts. And don’t forget Baltimore Avenue’s party central, Aqua Grill: Noshing and sipping under the stars is part of the fun there, along with new outdoor seating across the street at The Pines. Brand-new executive chef Nina Maddox is keeping things top-notch at that multi-level eatery.

On Wilmington there’s Green Man’s front porch, Zogg’s festive courtyard (you’ll love the Tiki bar), the iconic Royal Treat and the cozy firepit in front of Blue Hen. Bring your game face to the sandy biergarten at the capricious yet always fun Purple Parrot. Lunches and dinners on Rehoboth Avenue sidewalks and porches couldn’t be more in the middle of it all: Dogfish Head’s courtyard between the brewpub and Chesapeake & Main; G Rehoboth’s tucked-away backyard patio; Claws’ front porch; Penny Lane’s Café Papillon; Grotto Pizza and Cilantro. Slightly off the beaten path on Lake Avenue are Stingray’s elevated deck and Sazio’s quietly elegant porch.

Of course, eateries on Coastal Highway, in Bethany, Dewey and Lewes have their own special spots where you can nosh unencumbered by walls. Restaurants need us now more than ever. Forget any “new normal” nonsense: Our normal normal was just fine and we want it back.

  • 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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