Good eats and nightly music keep the Dewey Beach way of life alive
One of the busiest guys in Dewey Beach has to be Highway One LP Executive Chef Pete McMahon. As the go-to guy for everything food and catering for Alex Pires’ group of restaurants, McMahon ensures that the seasonal influx of comfort-food aficionados continues to enjoy Rusty Rudder, Northbeach, the Ivy event space, Jimmy’s Grille and Jimmy’s Catering.
Highway One LP’s ownership extends beyond food with the longtime Dewey rock ‘n’ roll venue Bottle & Cork, along with Dewey Beach Liquors, Outlet Liquors in Rehoboth, and the newest musical venue, Hudson Fields just north of Lewes, where upcoming concerts will entertain up to 6,000 fans per event. That outdoor venue brings name talent to our area, and Pete, bolstered by a crew of about 20, feeds the crowds with not only the obligatory burgers and dogs, but also pork BBQ, mini-chicken cordon bleu bites, focaccia bread topped with ham and cheese, turkey and cheese on pretzel rolls, pasta salad, shrimp salad … and all of this outdoors. Of course, all manner of beverages are available to wash down the goodies.
This is not Pete’s first rodeo. Around 37 years ago, he came to Rehoboth with his college roommate to, in his words, “surf and meet girls,” and landed his first kitchen gig at the Blue Moon, back when Victor Pisapia and Joyce Felton were busy putting Blue Moon on the culinary map. Pete moved out west for a while but returned to the beach where, in 2005, he opened JD Shuckers with longtime restaurateur Jamie Davis. In 2009, the opening of Jimmy’s Grille in Dewey Beach brought him south to work with the Highway One organization.
Fast-forward to now, and Pete’s making big changes in Dewey. Perhaps the most noticeable is the upgraded Rusty Rudder menu. With a nod to next-door neighbor Hyatt Place, the old mob-scene buffet has given way to menu items with higher-quality ingredients and preparation. They even offer online ordering for carryout. New goodies include Blackened Grouper Tacos topped with an Asian slaw and Sriracha cream, IPA beer-battered fish ‘n’ chips, and their popular Rudder Lumpcake. With Jimmy O’Conor’s Woody’s East Coast Bar & Grill and the Starboard complex just a few steps away, Dewey Beach is ground zero for the crabcake wars, and Pete’s are among the best.
But it’s all in a day’s work for Pete McMahon, whose grandfather worked at New York’s Russian Tea Room for more than 25 years. Pete earned his culinary degree from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., and has been thriving in food service since then.
When Dewey’s Venus on the Half Shell morphed into Ivy, Pete, along with co-owner John Snow, capitalized on the bay view by revamping the menu and the physical layout. McMahon’s popular concept, “Keep it upscale, but not over the top,” worked well there, but the layout, striking décor and breathtaking view turned out to be more suited for special events. And it has paid off. This season alone, there are more than 100 weddings booked at Ivy. Next-door neighbor Northbeach also enjoys a major facelift not only in the front of house, but also in the kitchen in the form of a high-tech double-deck pizza oven that cranks out late-night pizzas and toasts up some of the menu sandwiches. The pies have proven to be so popular, Northbeach has replaced its longtime Friday happy hour Taco Toss with a Pizza Toss.
Around 2006, Highway One purchased the now long-gone Jimmy’s Grille in Bridgeville to capitalize on Jimmy’s well-established catering business. They sold the property, but under the able leadership of Ron Culver, Jimmy’s Catering lives on in the huge kitchens at Rusty Rudder. One of the surprising elements of the venture is the reasonable prices. Many (many!) years ago, I was a partner in an upscale catering operation in Washington, D.C., and our prices then were higher than the prices at Jimmy’s are now.
On any given summer’s day, Pete can be found hovering over the Rudder’s kitchen, supervising the (in Pires’ words) “happy beach food” just a few hundred feet away at Northbeach, and staying in constant touch with the other eateries. With so many different price points and levels of culinary execution, paired with daily live entertainment at all the venues, Chef McMahon has his work cut out for him. And so goes this Business of Eating here at the beach.
Bob Yesbek writes and talks beach eats nonstop. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.