Support our local hidden gems – lest they disappear forever!
The majority of restaurants that have been severely damaged or simply put out of business by this prolonged and increasingly arbitrary restaurant lockdown are the small, single-location establishments. If an eatery can only seat 30 people, then the difference between a 30 percent seating limit (10 people) and a 50 percent seating limit (a whopping 15 people) won’t do much to keep the lights on. In fact, we are experiencing this up close and personal with the popular Eating Rehoboth restaurant tours. We like to take our guests to some of the smaller, off-the-beaten-path places, and many of these cannot accommodate our tour groups of around 16 guests.
So I’ve modified my occasional “hidden gems” theme to include some of the smaller restaurants that are still open in spite of the continued upstate posturing that’s bringing real hardship to our local friends and neighbors.
One of my favorite spots in the southern hinterlands of Dewey Beach is Sunrise at the corner of Clayton Street and Route 1. Ismet Bulut runs a straight-ahead eatery with few frills - other than consistently excellent food. No wonder; he’s been dishin’ up breakfasts in Dewey for decades. In fact, Sunrise has given rise to several other breakfast restaurants, including The Nook in Milton, co-owned by former Sunrise employee Dina Escamilla. In addition, Eggcellent Restaurant boss Elina Kamalova in Lewes also sharpened her restaurant skills at Sunrise.
A hidden gem in Rehoboth is the tiny Zogg’s, tucked away at the ocean end of Wilmington Avenue. Their endless selection of rums, crispy fried alligator, one-of-a-kind burgers and fish tacos make this place a Key West sanctuary for those of us who could easily step on a pop top and blow out a flip-flop.
Hidden from the street, but directly on the canal in Lewes is Gary and Lorraine Papp’s new Harbour restaurant. Firmly ensconced in the old Gilligan’s location, they are making waves not only with an unusual menu, but also a stellar bar program. Fans of Chef Andrew Guffey can find him at Gary and Lorraine’s recently reopened Palate by the Safeway. While in Lewes, drop in to Café Azafrán’s satellite location, Olive & Oats. It’s similar to the original Lewes Azafran (which used to be right next door where Eggcellent is now) with breakfast, coffees, teas, desserts and other goodies. Talk about small! The space is only 500 square feet, so full-service dinners and entertainment are relegated to the Rehoboth Beach mothership on Baltimore Avenue.
The tiny, fluorescently lit Cabanas on Coastal Highway in Lewes (directly across from Bethany Blues) is Salvadorean through-and-through, and a hidden gem if there ever was one. This is not Fredy Garcia's first rodeo. He gained his culinary experience not only at the old Fusion on Wilmington Avenue, but also with Rehoboth restaurateur Jon Orlando at Just in Thyme. He works in partnership with his longtime buddy Joaquin Cortez.
Another diminutive spot getting a lot of attention is My Sister’s Fault bakery in Milford. Everything there is good. From traditional Puerto Rican sandwiches to fried dough delights to beautifully spiced empanadas to cleverly decorated cakes and pies, I promise you will not leave this place hungry.
No discussion of hidden gems would be complete without the secretly amazing Pomodoro Pizza in Bethany Beach. Italian natives Rose and Brian Conte know their sauces and they know their cheese. The moment I took my first bite, I was reminded of Louie & Ernie's tiny award-winning storefront at 1300 Crosby Ave. in the Bronx. Thanks to Rose and Brian, I no longer have to suffer the Cross-Bronx Expressway to get my Big Apple pizza fix. Pomodoro comes closer to that magical New York taste and texture than anyone in our area.
Patty Jacobs reinvented her tiny Georgetown carryout right in the middle of the Medical Mile on Savannah Road in Lewes. Patty’s is the go-to spot for amazing salads, freshly baked cookies and overstuffed sandwiches whomped up by her smiling crew. Speaking of Georgetown, drive about 10 minutes west on Route 404 to Fat Daddy’s BBQ joint. Red-checkered tablecloths, sweet tea and the pervasive aroma of smoldering hickory whet the appetite for their beef brisket, ribs and pulled pork. Get a side of cornpone. Not sure what that is? There’s your reason to go.
While in Georgetown, snag a counter seat at Café on the Circle across from the courthouse on E. Market Street. The outspoken and talented Michael Oxbrough whips up breakfasts and lunches in his impossibly miniscule digs. But the big tastes (and portions) make up for it.
There are lots of hidden gems out there. The Cape Region’s eclectic mix of big, busy restaurants; small, tucked-away eateries and rare fine-dining treasures can be a delectable challenge for an adventurous diner.
So get out there and uncover your own tucked-away spot. Explore. It’s good for you, and it’s tasty too.