Location, location, location.
Having plenty of space to work with overlooking the Delaware Bay, Grain owners Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue knew the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal was the perfect place to expand downstate.
Grain On The Rocks is the fourth restaurant for the duo, who opened their first location in Newark in 2015, shortly followed by restaurants in Kennett Square, Pa., and in Bear on the C&D Canal.
The goal, Mikles said, is to be the neighborhood spot on the water.
“We’ve been talking about creating a place that we would want to go to, a place where we could bring our families often, not just once a month,” Mikles said. “I think we’ve accomplished that.”
Mikles describes the menu as polished casual, featuring a variety of sandwiches, burgers and appetizers, but also a seafood-heavy selection of entrees. For dessert, they’ve collaborated with Hopkins Dairy Farm for homemade ice cream sandwiches.
“It’s just good food without pretense,” he said. “We’re not trying to compete with Heirloom and other places. We’re trying to be a really good place to come hang out.”
To create the atmosphere they were looking for, Mikles and O’Donoghue had to extensively renovate the terminal space. The most noticeable change is the removal of the dated glass atrium along the bay side of the restaurant. It was replaced with a long, open-air bar with stools both inside and outside.
“Our whole goal is to bring the outside in,” he said. “You’re on the water. That’s the whole reason people are going to come here. So we wanted to make sure everybody has a really good view of the water.”
By having the bay-facing wall mostly open, Grain is able to project live music on stage inside the restaurant to those enjoying a meal or drink on the deck. Amplified music is permitted in very limited circumstances at the ferry, so Mikles said it was important to figure out a way to get the music outside.
The plan is to have acoustic acts play Wednesdays and Thursdays. Live music is expected during happy hour and later in the night on Fridays and Saturdays, with a steel drum performer outside on the deck on Sundays.
“Music has always been a part of all our locations, so it was really important for us to bring that part of our brand here,” Mikles said.
Mikles also plans to use the large grassy area next to the ferry terminal to host a few concerts each summer. The first is slated for July 9, with special setup for social distancing.
Grain On The Rocks is expected to be open year-round. To make that happen, the owners purchased a 54-foot retractable awning that gives them the ability to enclose the entire bar and a portion of the outdoor deck during the winter or inclement weather. Due to the pandemic, the awning is currently stuck in Italy.
Behind the small indoor stage is a Lewes postcard mural painted by Liz Sexton, who also painted the mural behind the stage at Bethany Blues Lewes, and most of the interior walls at Mango’s in Bethany Beach.
Mikles said the mural makes a great backdrop for musicians, but also a perfect Instagram wall for friends and families when the stage is empty.
The Dogfish Head food truck called Off-Centered On The Rocks, which opened on ferry property in 2019, will remain and be operated by Grain. Mikles said it will feature a quick-grab menu with items such as paninis, sandwiches and hot dogs.
Grain is open daily for lunch at 11:30 a.m; a brunch menu is available beginning at 10 a.m., Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant and bar are open until 11 p.m., Sunday and Monday, and 1 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
Also part of the renovated space is Lewes Coffee Co., operated by Grain. Open daily at 8 a.m., the to-go shop is just inside the main entrance to Grain, offering coffee, lattes, and espressos, as well as breakfast sandwiches, yogurts, smoothies and light lunch options. Bagged ice is also available for those on the way to Cape Henlopen State Park.
To learn more about Grain On The Rocks and Lewes Coffee Co., go to www.meetatgrain.com or call 302-291-3900.