Locals dish up creative fare with Mediterranean accent

July 18, 2019

It was all about big pastel polka dots and “pancakes with personality” at Libby’s Restaurant in Fenwick Island. Though Loretta Steele’s breakfast spot is long gone, 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 (and became Crabby Dick’s) he and his brother Mark opened Café Azafrán in Lewes. The name is Spanish for saffron, the bright orange and very 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.

The Lewes Café Azafrán closed in March, 2014, but feedback about the just-steps-from-the-ocean spot on Baltimore Avenue in Rehoboth 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 reasonable prices – 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 cannellinis prepared baked-bean style.

And then there’s Paella Night! An aromatic 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.

Trust me when I tell you that this is a don’t-miss event.

Notice above that the Rehoboth location is the only Café Azafrán currently open. But there’s a loophole: The Steeles have since returned to Lewes under the name of Olive & Oats. Richard longed for 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 next door to Olive & Oats) into the mainstream. Bagels, frittatas, pastries, salads, freshly baked cookies, wraps and panini dominate the menu, along with Richard’s legendary baked oatmeal.

Enjoy these longtime traditions at Café Azafrán at 18 Baltimore Ave. in Rehoboth and Olive & Oats at 113 W. Market Street in Lewes.

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