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A not-so-hidden gem in Dewey Beach

July 17, 2020

Jimmy O’Conor really has no choice but to serve a killer crabcake. After all, he was born in Baltimore, and very few towns are as militant about their crabcakes. Beer-fueled discussions about this delicacy will certainly include such names as Gunning’s (expertly fried seafood, but sadly closed forever), Faidley’s (brave the line at Lexington Market for a softball-size behemoth on a fresh roll; then stand and eat it), and, of course, Obrycki’s (also closed, but they dished up meaty cakes since ‘44). Yes, I know that there are at least 3,126 others. These are my favorites, and it’s my column. 

Locals and visitors alike sing the praises of the pocket-sized Woody’s in Dewey Beach. It’s Jimmy O’Conor’s pride and joy, and he has certainly paid his dues. At the tender age of 17 he was already flippin’ steaks as the broiler chef at Rustler Steak House. After 10 years as a bartender and general manager of various Baltimore hot spots, Jimmy finally left food service altogether. For the next seven years, he worked in the mortgage business, owning his own title company in Frederick, Md. 

It seemed like business as usual when he was asked to handle the mortgage for a friend who was buying a house in Dewey Beach. At the settlement table he met his friend’s Realtor, Anne Marie Delle Donne. It wasn’t long before he was commuting back and forth between Maryland and Delaware. He coos, “Anne Marie was the best commission I ever got!” Little did he know that she would make his life better in ways he couldn’t yet imagine.

Through the former owners of his friend’s  new house, Jimmy learned that Big Mike’s Frozen Tundra, a little joint tucked away on the east side of Coastal Highway, was about to be offered for sale. He completed the purchase and moved here permanently in 2009. By the time the regulatory hoop-jumping was done, Highway One LP had opened Jimmy’s Grille across the street, deep-sixing O’Conor’s plan to turn Big Mike’s into Jimmy O’s. And thus was born Woody’s East Coast Bar & Grill. Since that time the name has morphed into Woody’s Dewey Beach Bar & Grill. 

Life is not without its twists and turns, and in June 2011, Jimmy found himself in dire need of a kidney. In order to overcome donor incompatibility, a Kidney Exchange Program facilitated the donation of one of Anne Marie’s kidneys to a woman in Baltimore. In turn, the woman’s daughter donated one of hers to Jimmy. Talk about a win-win! 
After that heartwarming interlude, it seems anticlimactic to jump right back into crabmeat and ground beef. But this IS The Business of Eating, after all, and that’s why we’re gathered here today. Armed with his brand-new kidney (and irrefutable proof of his wife’s affection), Jimmy has been a tireless hands-on owner. Since then, there have been other medical adventures, but O’Conor prevails every time. 

His initial intention was to have Woody’s be known for the ultimate hamburger. But his Baltimore roots took over and it turns out that his one-of-a-kind crab cakes were consistently packing them in.

A freshly grilled roll with a fresh, eggy consistency gently caresses its crabby contents. Other highlights (all of which I’ve tried and liked) include the fried green beans, fried pickles, the cheesesteak, and yes, the hamburger.

You can enjoy those goodies and others (accompanied by some of the best house-made potato chips around) for lunch and dinner seven days. 

Woody’s is Jimmy’s baby, and he guards his crabcake recipe like the nuclear codes. After your first bite, you’ll taste why. See more at www.DeweyBeachBar.com.

  • 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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