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Now you see it - now you don’t

January 4, 2019

Beach resorts have a way of playing sleight-of-hand with restaurants. Competition is fierce, and if you’re not fortified with operating capital and the knack for keeping a close eye on your costs, you can end up replacing your grand opening sign with a for rent sign. 2018 has proven once again that only the strong survive here at the beach. 

They say bad things come in threes, and the last few weeks suggest that that might be true. Over a very short time, we lost Jimmy’s Grille in Shore Plaza on Coastal Highway, A Different Kitchen in Milton’s Paynter’s Mill, and everyone’s beloved El Dorado restaurant at Route 24. Earlier this year, Zebra restaurant closed its doors - but don’t jump to conclusions: Restaurants close for any number of reasons that may - or may not - have to do with sales. The Business of Eating is a very personal commitment, and changes can happen in the blink of an eye. 

Indigo Indian Restaurant overpowered a difficult downtown location with fresh, well-prepared food, so they live on to cook another day. In fact, things are doing so well down there by the Boardwalk that father and son team Suraj and Raghu Kumar are opening a second location in Columbia, Md. Beach Nomad Brewery brought their beer and entertainment concept to another notoriously challenging spot on Baltimore Avenue, but they did not fare so well. At the other end of Baltimore Avenue, things are looking much brighter. Former Baltimore Orioles player Tyler Townsend and business partner Bob Suppies’ The Pines restaurant is in a high-visibility spot - totally remodeled to the particular needs of this two-story eatery/lounge/event space. In Lewes, we were treated to two newcomers: The Wheelhouse (in the old Wharf space) and Chef Danio Somoza’s Harvest Tide Steakhouse in the long-abandoned Da Vinci’s location. 

Early this summer Iron Hill Brewery brought its tried-and-proven concept to Rehoboth Beach. As is always the case with new restaurants, the parking lot overflowed for several weeks. Things have settled down, but Iron Hill is doing quite well out there on the highway. Directly behind Iron Hill is the future home of Baltimore’s popular fire-roasted beef concept, Chaps. Brothers Gary and Christopher Desch have always dreamed of owning their own eatery, and sometimes a successful franchise with strong brand recognition is the way to go.  

In Dewey Beach, Maria D’Ambrogi honors her father by way of her Mexican concept, Sirveza. Tucked into the tiny strip center that plays host to the wildly popular Woody’s Dewey Beach Grill, Maria is on hand every night making sure her new customers are happy. And she’s not the only newly lighted sign in Dewey Beach. Longtime restaurateur Greg Plummer (of Hammerheads fame) is known for his dry sense of humor. And the brightly lit storefront known as the Dewey Beach Country Club is proof of that. He hit the jackpot by bringing Chef Mark Schaeffer into the kitchen, so expect a few notches higher than just mundane bar food. 

Shrimpy’s little Boardwalk food-through-the-window carryout took over the Midway Center space vacated by Hooked Seafood & Martini Bar. Early returns for Shrimpy’s Bar & Grill are good, and hopefully that will draw customers to that somewhat tucked-away spot. We are still in mourning for “Martini Tom” Garvey’s delectable cocktails. 

Out with the old, and in with the new, says Warren Rosenfeld of Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli. Warren recently sold his “Wandering Jew” food truck and opened a third emporium of towering sandwiches in the Wicomico Regional Airport (aka Salisbury Regional Airport). He was all smiles on Christmas Day as he informed our table of eight that he had just finalized an airport parking deal for customers who are not boarding a flight. 

Touch of Italy has a knack for staying in the news, and they continue to be happily overwhelmed by the local response to their new Italian joint on Concord Pike in Wilmington. The place could just as well be called Touch of The Bronx, as all of TOI’s meats and cheeses are imported from one of the few remaining neighborhoods that can truly call itself “Little Italy”: Arthur Avenue at 187th Street in New York. Speaking of Italian, Papa Grande’s in downtown Rehoboth (the original home of the still-legendary Chez la Mer) has morphed into Tonya and Fran Agostino’s Azzurro restaurant. The cool and colorful bar is one of my happy places. 

Regan Derrickson is bringing his Dewey Beach Nalu concept to Rehoboth in the old Wilmington University building. They also have a long way to go, and hope to join Back Porch Café, Blackwall Hitch, Semra’s and Cooter Brown’s on the ocean block as more seated dining spots have quietly invaded that traditional pizza/corn dog/burger block (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Two of the biggest pieces of news this year involve the surprise takeover of the old 16 Mile Brewery in Georgetown, and the future Agave Mexican place next door to Summer House. Rehoboth’s upstart beermaker Revelation Craft Brewery is making the Georgetown facility its own. These guys know what they’re doing, and I suspect they will uphold the good reputation earned by the 16 Mile brand. Agave is building from the ground up, so don’t hold your breath. But if history repeats itself, it will be a popular addition to our Mexican lineup. 

Oenophiles near and far love the fact that we now boast two (count ‘em, two!) actual wine bars in downtown Rehoboth. Ray Kurz of Cuvee Ray and Joe Lertch of Vineyard Wine Bar (finally reopened after last year’s devastating fire) bring their vast knowledge of the grape to our little beach town. And they both have tasty food. Cuvee Ray is where Pig & Fish used to be, and Vineyard is in the old Espuma spot. Out on The Avenue, Fins Hospitality Group swooped down and scooped up the wasn’t-doing-so-well Beachside. Jeff Hamer named it El Jefe Gordo and it remains as beachy as ever. It’s all about lots of tequila and basic Mexican fare. 

So the beat goes on. Who knows what 2019 will taste like? Stay tuned, and happy 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.