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A long, strange trip, indeed!

December 31, 2021

I suspect that in 1977 the Grateful Dead’s similarly titled album wasn’t centered on our Cape Region restaurants. Given the events of the last couple of years, though, it certainly could have been. Openings. Closings. Renovations. False starts. Crippling “mandates”… hmmmm … maybe they were thinking of us.

Vinyl LPs notwithstanding, it’s time again for my Annual New Year’s Restaurant Roundup. Warning: it contains as much good news as bad, so fasten your seatbelts. In no particular order, I’ll start with the sad demise of Pickled Pig Pub. Outside efforts to damage small businesses paid off as the friendly little spot became part of Rehoboth history. Another loss in the downtown direction was G Rehoboth (in the old Cloud 9 space). But there’s an upside; Karly’s silent partner has turned the lights on yet again with his Sussex Public House concept. Just a few steps east, Leo Cabrera’s Modern Mixture became yet another casualty of the craziness. But, lo and behold, another upside: Ellen Kassoff and Todd Gray, the owners of Washington, D.C.'s Equinox restaurant, brought their clever Federal Fritter & Bistro concept to Rehoboth. These restauranting pros not only make a tasty fritter (think Italian arancini kicked up as few notches) but also serve fine-dining entrees in their small but smartly appointed dining room.

The removal of the Dolle’s sign on the Boardwalk was big news! Dolle’s has moved several doors west into the Ibach’s space. That iconic corner will house a new Grotto Pizza restaurant. Speaking of pizza, Nicola is gearing up to vacate downtown Rehoboth. Their new digs will be across The Highway from Grotto’s Grand Slam sports bar. Billy Lucas’ popular Taco Reho truck has expanded into a sit-down and drive-thru restaurant in the old Burger King space. This place pays homage to the hallowed taco in a deliciously musical way. Back downtown to the immediate right of Blue Moon was the first Touch of Italy restaurant. Now there are three TOIs, plus three associated eateries including the soon-to-open Royal Prime Steakhouse at Bally’s Dover casino. That tiny downtown Touch was succeeded by Hari Cameron’s first Grandpa MAC. After Hari took his pasta machines to The Highway, Rudy Gilbert opened his cozy cheese/sandwich/charcuterie/pizza concept. It was quite popular, but alas, Rudy’s is no more. Speaking of Blue Moon, Meg and master chef Lion Gardner have moved on – across the street. Lion is working with a couple of guys from The Pines/Aqua Grill complex to resurrect the old Seafood Shack (was the very first Dos Locos!). It will be called Drift.

Hammerhead’s Dewey gave up the ghost this year, but the dockside spot at Indian River Inlet is still going strong. Starboard boss Steve Montgomery’s Starboard Claw (a play on his Starboard Raw eatery) will soon open in the old Hammerhead’s spot offering Bethany Blues' ribs & brisket, Chicken Ed's legendary chicken and, of course, crabs. It will be the only hardshell crab joint in Dewey – for now. South of the Indian River Inlet, Matt’s Fish Camp No. 3 is up and running on Fenwick Island, and Ocean View will soon have its second SoDel Concepts installation in the form of Ocean View Brewing Company, loosely modeled after Rehoboth’s Thompson Island Brewery. Speaking of Rehoboth, Bryan Derrickson is relocating his Key West-themed Conch Island restaurant and music venue from the Sandcastle building downtown to the Rehoboth Avenue Extended space that became OcnBlu Beach Bar & Grill after Murph’s Beef & Ale moved out. Yet another upside: parking! On an even more recent note, SoDel Concepts stepped in to keep Lewes’ Surf Bagel up and running after the founders decided to take a well-deserved break. Keep an eye out for more Surf Bagels in 2022!

The brand-new Agave in the old Jakes Seafood spot near Midway is channeling the mothership in Lewes with long lines, and good food and drinks. The physical plant is beautiful. By the Boardwalk in Rehoboth, Indigo Indian Restaurant will close for January to rebuild, revamp and remodel. Their authentic Punjabi cuisine is delightfully addictive. Back on The Highway, Poké Bros. will soon appear next door to Pete's Steak Shop. Think Chipotle, but with Hawaiian-style cubed fish.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include Bishopville’s longtime dining destination, Grove Market. Co-owner Leslie Lunga decided she’d had enough and placed the wildly popular spot into the capable hands of Brett Fetterolf and his dad Bill (former boss at Talbot Street Cafe in Ocean City). Brett is also the creator and co-owner of Elvis' Beach Bar in Sandy Ground, Road Bay on the Caribbean island of Anguilla. The one-of-a-kind reservations system at Grove Market remains in place. It’s part of their charm.

A bit northwest in Seaford, Karen and Chino Pedemonte recently completed an extensive remodel of Bon Appétit, wisely preserving the informal Country French atmosphere that reflects their menu. This place is a hidden gem if there ever was one. While we’re lingering to the south, be sure to check out Summer Salts Beach Grill in Bethany’s Sea Colony Center near Fins. John and Randy Fels are hands-on bosses. One of the stars of the show is the French onion soup. Go. Order it. You can thank me later. While in Bethany, check out Harvest Tide Steakhouse No. 3. It’s by the boardwalk above the same owner’s Mexican spot, Zoca.

Petru Cornescu, Haken Ak and partners continue to expand the popular Honey’s Farm Fresh idea with new locations in Ocean View (the place with the trains where Salted Rim used to be) and in Ocean City. Salted Rim moved a few blocks west to the old Fat Tuna/La Tonalteca spot. Energizer Bunny Lisa DiFebo expanded her Italian concept with DiFebo’s Market – directly across Route 26 from her original sandwich shop turned full-service restaurant. It’s all about panini, pizza, pastries, prepared grab & go foods, and basic groceries.

It’s pretty hard to miss the new Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar occupying the old Jakes spot in downtown Rehoboth Beach. Executive Chef Alisha Knosp is keeping the tried-and-true concept on track (the other two are in St. Michaels and Cambridge). The arugula/fennel salad is a pick hit, but do get the Detroit pizza. It’s an entirely new thing and you’ll order it again. Around the corner, The Pond left the downtown crush and opened to amazing success in the old TGI Fridays spot. But LGBTQ+ fans of the former Pond location will not be disappointed with Freddie’s Beach Bar. Founder Freddie Lutz wisely duplicated his mothership operation in Arlington, Va. He makes a point of welcoming everyone – evidenced when both Mayor Stan Mills and a Cher impersonator shared the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

2020 certainly gaveth, and most definitely tooketh away (tooketh … really?). The siren song of restauranting is hard to resist, but only the strong survive. The fact remains that even the strong can choose to walk away from the relentless grind that might or might not bring success. As we peek into 2022, keep an eye on The Business of Eating, and thank you for continuing to endure my weekly scribblings. Have a delectable new year.

  • 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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