A world of tastes just waiting for you and your fork
The off-season seems to be getting shorter every year, but I still maintain that it’s the locals’ time to come out and play. Seems a shame to waste our local gastronomic creativity just on our visitors. (No offense, vacationers….)
One of my fondest memories of growing up in the Washington, D. C. area is the seemingly endless variety of ethnic restaurants. Everything from all-night Mandarin to hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian to authentic Peruvian - you name it. One of my favorites has always been Lebanese Taverna, a family-owned group of Middle-Eastern spots owned by the extended Abi-Najm family. Since 1979 they have been fire-roasting puffy pitas, stuffing grape leaves (mahshi wara’ enab to the Middle-Easterners; dolmades to our Greek foodies) and hand-forming kibbee (bulgur wheat, minced onions, mint, lemon, ground lamb and spices).
Over the 16 years I’ve been publishing RehobothFoodie.com, many of the comments center around the desire for more ethnic restaurants here at the beach. Chinese, Mexican and Italian are so popular that they’ve pretty much blended into the mainstream. But small, specialty eateries need a large local population to survive. Even the most faithful aficionados probably won’t eat a delicately spiced bowl of Ethiopian Misir Wat every day. But that hasn’t stopped a few brave entrepreneurs from stepping up to the plate to bring us the food they grew up with.
Since the sad closing of the Camel’s Hump on Baltimore Avenue, we’ve quietly pined away for authentic Middle-Eastern fare; that is until Semra Tekmen brought her grandmother’s Turkish recipes to the beach at Semra’s Mediterranean Grill. Two of my pick hits are the Iskender platter (thinly sliced gyro with a one-of-a-kind marinara) and the gyro sandwich. Pronounced “yeer-oh,” meaning, “to turn” (i.e., the meat rotates on a vertical spit), these traditional delights are stuffed with roasted and spiced doner kebab, lettuce, tomato and tzatziki (a refreshing yogurt-based sauce of cucumber, dill and garlic).
The fact that Semra and her husband John introduced local diners to the nutty and lemony taste of Turkish food was not lost on former Lewes Pizza owner Mustafa Murat Tan (aka, “Mike”) and his daughter Yasmin. So in March 2020 they took over the old 208 Social/Stoney Lonen/Ann Marie’s space to dish up their own regional versions of Turkish cuisine. I can’t get past the Piyaz salad, a bright and refreshing mix of cannellini beans, tomatoes, parsley, peppers, feta and house vinaigrette. Another pick hit is the Muhammara (a walnut dip). Their Aroma Platter offers a taste of all their dips - along with fresh-out-of-the-oven pita - including hummus and smoky babaganoush, Don’t worry about pronouncing it. Just order it.
Authentic Indian food debuted in downtown Rehoboth Beach several years ago when father and son team Suraj and Raghu Kumar brought their Indigo restaurant from Annapolis to Rehoboth Avenue’s ocean block. In addition to the popular Indian dishes such as tikka masala and vindaloo (roasted in their hotter-than-blazes tandoor oven), these guys also bring Indian favorites including eight versions of made-to-order naan, chicken jalfrazie, lamb biryani and one of my favorites, the gajar ka halwa dessert. I’ll leave that one as a surprise. Trust me. You’ll love it.
Again, Indian took off quickly, and soon we were treated to Raas Asian/Indian fusion restaurant in Lewes. One of the values-added at Raas is the outgoing Chef GG who shares the spotlight with his recipes. In the movie Ratatouille, Chef Gusteau exclaimed, “Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great!” and GG fearlessly blends flavors and cultures to come up with brand new tastes. My favorites are the tempura prawns, the honey/chili waterchestnuts, the Keema Pao (think deeply spiced lamb sloppy joe with an Indian accent) and the startlingly presented Lamb Shank Rogan Josh.
It took a long time for the Cape Region to get its very own Vietnamese restaurant, and thanks to entrepreneur Thinh Pham, we can now enjoy his slow-cooked Phô (pronounced “Phuh”) at Minh’s Bistro. My favorites include gỏi cuốn, a cool and crunchy spring roll consisting of pork, prawn, pickled vegetables, cilantro, daikon and other goodies rolled inside a transparent bánh tráng wrapper. Don’t miss the bánh mi crafted from a crispy French baguette stuffed with any savory combination of pâté, roast pork or simmered beef paired with pickled veggies, jalapenos, cilantro and a house mayo.
The tiny-in-size but big-on-flavor Cabañas Salvadorean joint is tucked away across the street from Bethany Blues Lewes. Fredy and Joachim’s pupusas, tamales and chili rellenos are no longer a secret out on The Highway. Even Mariachi owner Yolanda Piñeda loves them!
One of the newest kids on the block is Sawanya Conway’s tiny storefront near Capriotti’s in Lewes. Sticky Rice does it right with a Thai tapas concept that lets you sample a lot of things at the same sitting. Like it spicy? Sawanya’s green curry will definitely get your attention! The not-quite-so-adventurous will love the flavorful Tom Yum soup and the red curry bowl. Ever had your rice served up in a banana leaf? That can happen to you at Sticky Rice.
These are trying times for our beloved beach eateries. Many of us came to the beach because of the great dining opportunities. It’s now time to get behind your favorites. And don’t forget to tip!