The resort restauranting rollercoaster ride
It’s time again for my Annual New Year’s Restaurant Roundup. For a change, the news is mostly good, in spite of the craziness of the last couple of years. In no particular order, I’ll start with the resurrection of the old Seafood Shack (and the even older, original Dos Locos) on the second block of Baltimore Avenue. Former Blue Moon partner and Chef Lion Gardner teamed up with a couple of the guys from The Pines and created Drift, a tiny oasis of craft cocktails and creative cookery by Executive Chef Tom Wiswell. Just between you and me, keep an eye on the old Lily Thai space on N. First Street. These guys are plotting yet another culinary slam dunk.
Some of the biggest news this year is the sale of longtime Rehoboth Avenue icon Summer House from Big Fish Restaurant Group to Regan Derrickson. It reopened a couple of weeks ago, and the transformation is amazing. The core menu remains the same, and Burger Night, Mooney’s Iced Tea Night, etc., etc. all survive. (Did you know that that cocktail is named after bartender Terry Mooney? Think Long Island Iced Tea, but lose the tequila.) The icing on the Summer House cake is the low lighting and cozy vibe of Regan’s Libation Room. He transformed the former no-man’s-land of the back dining room (punishment for arriving late for Monday Burger Night) into a warm and comfy spot with its own music, and a special food and drink menu. Regan won’t specifically say the word “speakeasy,” but you certainly can.
High on the list of 2022 happenings is Nicola Pizza’s big move out onto Coastal Highway. The huge complex includes plenty of parking, a dedicated carryout area, outside seating and an interior that pays major homage to the feel of the very first Nicola’s. Interestingly, the buildings they vacated in downtown Rehoboth didn’t stay vacated for very long. Bethany Blues is reproducing its wildly successful Bethany Blues Express carryout/grab ‘n’ go (also new this year on The Highway) in the N. First Street location while the Jacona Brothers refit the two-story annex around the corner where Tiki Jac’s will soon debut. This is yet another addition to their Zogg’s, Wheelhouse, Bushels Crab House and Sea Hogg truck empire. Still trying to figure out when these guys sleep.
Construction continues at Starboard Claw in Dewey with the rebuild of the old Hammerhead’s (the Hammerhead’s at Indian River Inlet remains). Steve “Monty” Montgomery will even further honor that way of life by featuring Chicken Ed’s famous chicken along with featured items from Bethany Blues. The Claw will also be the only hardshell crab joint in Dewey – at least for now. By the way, if you’re wondering where the Dewey Grotto went, Jeff Gosnear and team are totally rebuilding and modernizing that location.
Speaking of Dewey, if you weren’t paying attention, you’d never know that Ismet Bulut quietly stepped aside to bestow Sunrise Restaurant’s golden spatula upon Rob Holson. Rob’s mom worked at Sunrise for years, and he always dreamed of making it his own. With Ismet’s help and advice, he’s doing just that – right on down to duplicating Ismet’s amazingly moist omelets and “no shoes, no shirt, no problem” approach.
Longtime denizens of downtown will never forget the late Nancy Wolfe Wayson’s Chez la Mer at the corner of Second and Wilmington. Nancy’s authentic French concept was followed by a series of ventures, some good, some not-so-good, until John Bragg brought his Bel Air, Md. concept to Rehoboth in the form of Unwined at the Beach. They’re closed for a few weeks, but when things warm up, the treehouse is the place to enjoy a burger at sunset. Just a few blocks east, the old Greene Turtle on the Boardwalk shed its shell and is now Above the Dunes. And the spectacular view remains.
Our very own Touch of Italy went off-book last March by opening Royal Prime Steakhouse at the Bally’s Casino in Dover. Situated in the old Michelle’s space, the TOI team went all out with top-end management and kitchen talent. You’ll recognize familiar faces in both the piano bar and the lavish dining rooms. Even more Italian came to Coastal Highway this year in the form of Red, White & Basil (where Bonkey’s Ice Cream used to be). The build-your-own pasta plate concept is part of the Eden, JAM Bistro and Coho’s Market & Grill family of restaurants.
Testament to the fact that Fins Hospitality Group must be doing something right is their new and always packed Fins at West Fenwick. Jeff and Kim Hamer brought their creative team to Route 54 to completely remodel the old Smitty McGee’s. It’s bright and inviting with a huge bar and lots of seating. There’s even parking. Lots of it.
Speaking of Rehoboth (were we?), Bryan Derrickson’s Conch Island Key West-themed restaurant and music venue moved from the Sandcastle building downtown out to the West Rehoboth space that used to be Murph’s Beef & Ale. 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. A new Milford spot just opened, and I suggest (wink, wink) you keep an eye out for more Surf Bagel stores in 2023.
Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar and Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits got a new little brother this year in the form of Hammy’s Burgers & Shakes in the Safeway center on Coastal Highway. I know it’s all about burgers, but I urge you to try the wings! The jerk and Thai versions are definitely Rehoboth Foodie pick hits. Cool the heat with an adult milkshake.
When Fork & Flask closed last year, fans lamented that it might be the last we’d see of Executive Chef Sean Corea. While they were busy lamenting, Sean, along with restaurant management guru Tommy Little and longtime food industry expert Tim Bartley hatched the new Lewes Oyster House in the old Jerry’s Seafood spot. I urge you to get reservations. The bar (open to walk-ins) is my favorite place to plop for an old fashioned and an order of the charbroiled LOH Tide oysters with butter and cheese. Trust me on this.
One of the very first things I typed into a fledgling RehobothFoodie.com website 18 years ago was “Only the Strong Survive.” And it’s even truer today. I admire these brave entrepreneurs who take so many risks to bring their cherished concepts to us. 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 2023, keep an eye on The Business of Eating, and thank you for being patient with my weekly scribblings. Have a scrumptious new year.