A peek at the past that’ll make you hungry

March 24, 2023

Barely a week goes by when I don’t receive an email from a reader or a listener about a long-gone restaurant that held special memories. I’m blessed to have a small legion (can a legion be small?) of Favorite Foodies and Foodettes who generously act as my culinary eyes and ears in and around the nooks and crannies of the Cape Region. My list of restaurant history is waaayyy longer than my allotted word count on this page, but here’s a quick hit on some of the highlights. I hope they bring back good memories.

Who can forget LaLa Land, with its hand-painted tablecloths, bubbles and sheet-draped bar manned every day – yes, every day – by master barkeep David Engel (now at Café Azafran)? Just slightly west of there, the late Nancy Wolfe Wayson’s bouillabaisse at the Chez La Mer is still the stuff of legend. (That’s the truth. Google it!) And if my email box is to be believed, there will never be a replacement for Doris Lynch’s chicken & dumplings at the Captain’s Table out there on The Mile.

How about the early-morning aroma of Garrison’s doughnuts wafting up and down The Avenue? And speaking of avenues, another ancient memory is the Avenue Restaurant with its heady aroma of coffee, bacon and pancakes. Standing in line there unwittingly prepared a skinny 5- or 6-year-old (me) to be a not-so-skinny food writer an inordinate number of years later. I love reading wine columnist John McDonald’s articles here in the Cape Gazette. They remind me of his popular Garden Gourmet restaurants in Ocean City and Rehoboth. Our wine columnist is also quite the accomplished chef – in fact, he helped put O.C.’s Grove Market on the map.

Of course no retrospective is complete without Jonathan Spivak’s Fusion, Ground Zero (and Celsius) right next door, the recently gone but not forgotten Stoney Lonen (now Aroma), and Sydney Arzt’s Creole and jazz joint just around the corner. Which of course brings up another loss in that space: Pig & Fish Restaurant Company. But the remaining pigs live on in Lewes as Pig & Publican. I never lead an restaurant tour up Baltimore Avenue without recounting the sad story of the Camel’s Hump – the locals’ cherished hangout in its day. Get one more look: It’ll be gone soon, as JAM moves south to the old Chez la Mer space. Across the street was Ginger Breneman’s MIXX. While we’re in the neighborhood, we’ll do a polite nod to The Steele family’s Café Azafran and also the nice new building Betsy LeRoy built to house Pizza by Elizabeths. It’s now Eden, and Betsy’s still slingin’ good pies in Greenville.

Café Solé on Baltimore Avenue offered some of the best lunches I’ve had downtown. It became Solé, and then … it was gone. After that, a(MUSE) took over, and now it’s Theo’s. George Vrentzos was happiest frying eggs, scrapple and gyro meat on the flattop at his Corner Grille. His daughter Irene kept at least 10 conversations going at once while dad whipped up good omelets at First & Wilmington. The place was a home away from home for many. It’s now home to Goolee’s Grill.

If you’re not from Maryland, go refill your martini during the next two sentences. I miss the pastry-like crust and chunky pepperoni of Ledo’s pizza. Marty McDonald did his best there in Midway; Sue & Richard Krick (of Summer House fame) even gave it a try in Dewey, but the Maryland brand recognition just wasn’t there. Pre-cooked bacon! (Don’t believe me about the Maryland thing? The Ledo’s in Ocean City is doing just fine.)

Remember Manos – and its attitude issues – at Wilmington and the Boardwalk? The food was good, and it was also a popular hangout. A block west was the glitter and glow of Planet X (owner Justine is still going strong in Berlin, Md.). The adjacent building pretty much alternated between dismal failures like Cypress and Atlantic Jazz Yard, and hits like Square One and Alison Blyth’s Yum-Yum. Ocean-block fans still mourn the Brooklyn Pizza (not sure why they called it that) at America’s Pie. Those 20-something partners did a good job until the inevitable squabbles began.

The upscale Drift now resides where the “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” Seafood Shack was. Before that it was the original home of Dos Locos, and way before that it was a piece of early Rehoboth Beach Methodist history. Summer House boss Regan Derrickson’s menu pays homage to the old Sir Guy’s and Sea Horse restaurants in the third and fourth blocks of Rehoboth Avenue. Here’s some history: Oscar’s restaurant adjacent to what would become the Hotel Rehoboth. Around the corner on Lake: Bob Chin’s (now there’s some drama!) where Stingray is now. A young Matt Haley toiled in the kitchen there when it was Greg Talcott’s Third Edition.

I haven’t even finished half my list, and I’m already running out of real estate on this page. Email me your favorite long-gone spots and we’ll do this again someday. Include your favorite dishes and the owners’ names.

  • 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

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