Small plates bring big tastes to Rehoboth, Lewes

July 20, 2017

It was all about big pastel polka dots and "pancakes with personality" at Libby's Restaurant in Fenwick Island. Though Loretta Steele's popular spot is now the stuff of history, it spawned several present-day eateries owned and operated by the Steele family. Young Richard Steele toiled in the kitchen at the old Lamp Post Inn in Rehoboth (after Loretta closed her satellite Libby's there), and when the Lamp Post disappeared he and his brother Mark opened Café Azafrán in Lewes. The name is Spanish for saffron, the bright orange and expensive spice derived from the crocus plant. And it is absolutely necessary for making good paella. Azafrán was an instant hit. Then they wondered, "Would it work in Rehoboth Beach?" Well, maybe. And yes, it did.

Though the Lewes Café Azafrán closed in March, 2014, feedback about the just-steps-from-the-ocean spot on Baltimore Avenue has been consistently positive. Richard's son Ryan is the kitchen boss there, and one of the keys to their success is the selection of small plates. With choices to satisfy carnivores and vegetarians alike, it's easy to make a meal out of two or three. And, indeed, Tapas Tasting Night specials offer a great selection of diminutive goodies at a reasonable price – even for the ocean block.

Two of the Rehoboth Foodie's pick hits include the short rib sliders with caramelized onions, and the haricots verts (a French green bean extravaganza that involves bleu cheese, butter and hazelnuts. Beware: It's addictive!).

Another must-get is Café Azafrán's veal sausage; simply delicious surrounded by plump cannellini beans prepared baked-bean style.

And then there's Paella Night! An aromatic cooking display worthy of anything on TV greets reservation-only ticketholders who gather around Richard's 48-inch paella pan to witness the construction of this traditional Spanish feast. The evening is fun from the moment the oil starts shimmering to when Steele tosses in the scallops & shrimp to finish the dish. It happens on Sundays and Wednesdays during the peak of the season – again, by reservation only.

Notice above that I wrote that the Rehoboth location is the only Café Azafrán currently open. But there's a loophole: As of a couple of weeks ago, the Steeles have returned to Lewes under the name of Olive & Oats! Richard longed to return to his Lewes roots, and the menu at O&O is almost identical to the original breakfast/lunch fare that catapulted the original Lewes' Café Azafrán (that used to be located right next door to O&O) into the mainstream. Bagels, frittatas, pastries, salads, wraps and panini dominate the menu, along with Richard's legendary baked oatmeal.

Café Azafrán is in downtown Rehoboth Beach at 18 Baltimore Ave. Olive & Oats is located at 113 W. Market Street in Lewes.

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