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Gourmet shops offer great tastes in good taste

November 9, 2018

A psychotherapist friend of mine often talks about “the law of unintended consequences,” where an idea or action triggers an unanticipated result. One of the unexpected (and entirely good) consequences of our becoming a dining destination is the little shops that cater to food devotees and home cooks, i.e.,  those whose cooking skills extend past tearing open a cardboard box and firing up the microwave.

With our ever-increasing list of award-winning chefs and restaurateurs, this tiny resort town has earned an impressive reputation. And home cooks in the know are flocking to a couple of unusual downtown stores whose owners took the risk that budding chefs would want high-quality ingredients. Those risks paid off for Olive Orchard Tasting Room and the Spice & Tea Exchange.

Laura and Roy Eckrote’s Olive Orchard Tasting Room is in First Street Station at the corner of S. First Street and Rehoboth Avenue. Shiny steel casks called fustis (foos’-tees) brim with infused dark and white balsamic vinegars and gently flavored olive oils. Tiny paper cups urge you to take a taste - and taste you must! Some of the most amazing flavors are the cinnamon-pear balsamic, the dark chocolate and espresso balsamics (mix them for a bouncy castle in your mouth), the jalapeno-infused white balsamic, the pineapple-infused white balsamic and the grapefruit white balsamic. I have too many favorites to list here. And the olive oils! They gently whisper the aromas of basil, sage, garlic, chipotle, cilantro, roasted onion, Persian lime, lemon and even butter with the clearly defined goal of turning you off to cheap grocery store oils forever.

Olive Orchard’s co-owner Laura Eckrote spent two years in Iraq as a U.S. Air Force trauma nurse. She returned home to commute back and forth between her Rehoboth Beach store and the Philadelphia hospital where she shares her expertise in the ER and the trauma center. Her husband Roy tends to the store when Laura is tending to her patients.

Spice & Tea Exchange, just steps from the Rehoboth Boardwalk near Indigo Indian Restaurant, is one of several fragrant spots owned by entrepreneur Joy Quinn Whalen. Tell the truth: How many huge (and expensive) bottles of spice languish (and lose flavor) in your cabinets after you used a scant quarter-teaspoon six years ago? Joy’s enthusiastic GM Dan Slagle reminds the foodie faithful that the fresh spices (and the custom blends) can be purchased in tiny quantities for vacation cooking or just for trying out a new recipe. This place is definitely a must-sniff, and they carry everything from multiple varieties of cinnamon and curry and jalapeno salt, to bourbon black-walnut sugar, Himalayan salts and even catnip. Joy also sells her spicy wares in the 67th St. Town Center in Ocean City. She has assembled cleverly constructed crates overflowing with a wide range of teas, spices, salts, sugars and kitchen gadgets that make perfect gifts for friends with a culinary inclination.

The success of these stores clearly speaks to the fact that our thriving business of eating here at the beach can have tasty (if not unintended) consequences in your own kitchen.

  • 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.