Impress your friends with our Culinary Coast
It’s no secret that our winter “ghost town” days are long past. Most restaurants are staying open, and we even have a few new ones. I regularly get emails from readers and listeners saying they are having friends and family visit. They ask me to outline a little dining itinerary that best shows off what Southern Delaware Tourism calls our Culinary Coast. We are certainly on the radar of Food Network and Netflix, which recently featured chefs Dru Tevis, Hari Cameron and Robbie Jester on food competition shows. See? Ghost town no more.
The great majority of our restaurants are skilled at doing what they do. If they want to survive, they have no choice. Resort food service is challenging, to say the least, and without local word-of-mouth, a poorly run eatery can easily lead to a “for lease” sign. Yes, we have a few duds that somehow make it through, but they are very much in the minority.
So, I’ve put together a little itinerary for locals who want to impress their guests. Of course, it’s not all-inclusive; the Cape Gazette only has so many pages. But perhaps it will jump-start some fun times. One caveat: It’s still the off-season, and some restaurants use that as an opportunity to remodel or take a well-deserved rest. So always call first! Websites and even Facebook pages can’t be trusted 100 percent.
There’s nothing like a hearty breakfast at the beach. Some of the best include Eggcellent in Lewes; Sunny Bay Cafe, Robin Hood, Goolee’s Grill, Crystal and Breakfast Guru in Rehoboth; and Dewey Beach’s Sunrise, Starboard Shark Tank (the abbreviated winter Starboard), and the new Dewey Post (don’t miss the fresh pastries). For those of a more northern persuasion, you can’t go wrong at Dina Escamilla’s Nook at Paynter’s Mill in Milton and Madula Ntinoy’s wonderful Westside Restaurant in Milford, where pancakes are king. Or trek west to Mike Oxbrough’s Café on The Circle in Georgetown. All of them dish up generous, made-to-order breakfasts, and many offer lunchy items like sandwiches and soups. Some can even pour you a nice mimosa, an Irish coffee or a bloody mary to start your day. You won’t go hungry (or thirsty) in the morning around here.
Be careful with that mimosa, Irish coffee and bloody mary, because you want to be upbeat and chipper for lunch. Of course, you could always call an Uber. Either way, one of our shining stars for off-season lunch in Rehoboth is Henlopen City Oyster House. Rehoboth Foodie pick hits include Joe and Chris’ delicious chowder, an icy pan loaded with fresh oysters, the lobster reuben and of course that amazing Chicago Dog. Another lunchtime favorite is Big Fish Grill next to the equally popular Arena’s near the canal on The Highway. I love plopping at the BFG bar for an always-fresh shrimp salad sandwich. Next door at Arena’s it’s got to be that mountain of nachos and an overstuffed BLT.
Another Coastal Highway afternoon favorite is Fins Ale House & Raw Bar, just across the highway from Pete’s Steak Shop and Hammy’s Burgers & Shakes. Pick hits at Fins include the crispy fish & chips and the Peacemaker (think fried oyster po’boy with an attitude). Petru Cornescu’s Pete’s serves up overflowing ribeye cheesesteaks and very good pizzas. But the sleepers there are his made-from-scratch chicken noodle soup and the New York cheesecake. It’s just a short walk (or at this point, a waddle) over to Hammy’s. It’s all about creative burgers, but be sure to get the jerk or Thai wings. They are exceptional. Speaking of Uber – you can wash it all down with an “adult” milkshake.
So many lunch spots! I’ll never cover them all, but a few of my favorites are Sticky Rice next to Capriotti’s in Lewes (oh, Sawanya’s green curry!), and longtime go-to spot for subs, Casapulla’s. Who doesn’t like a well-built Italian!? But you can also branch out with their house-made meatballs and their surprisingly good tuna salad. The salads and club sandwiches at Pat’s Pizza in Lewes are certainly lunch-worthy, as are the delightfully smoked meats at Bethany Blues Express. Again – lunch is king here are the beach, so use these few suggestions as inspiration to do your own exploring.
Dinner falls into three categories around these parts. And it all has to do with how much you’re willing to spend. Fine dining at the beach must include 1776 Steakhouse (35 years in Midway!), Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits on Baltimore Avenue, and neighbors Drift and Eden to the east and The Pines to the west. In the wallet-friendly category are Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar (get the Detroit Pizza), Blackwall at the Beach (good Sunday brunches), Yolanda Pineda’s Mariachi, DiFebo’s, Mediterranean flavors from Aroma and Semra’s, Dos Locos (I love the DIY tacos), longtime favorite Confucius (oh, the salt & pepper shrimp!), and Café Azafran. The value-added at Azafran is Chef Richard’s in-season paella feasts. And if the veal sausage and/or haricots verts are on the menu, get them. Trust me on this.
Feeling frugal? The Cape Region is nothing if not family-friendly! The very reasonably priced Chaps Pit Beef (behind Iron Hill Brewery) will certainly satisfy with minimal trauma to your wallet. A few steps north is rock ‘n’ roll taco central, Taco Reho. Their virtual ordering system is fun. Down by the Boardwalk, Louie’s Pizza toasts up melty grinders and pepperoni pies. Just across the street is the brand-new appetizer menu at Grotto Pizza. They’ve been swirlin’ pies for over 60 years, but also give the new mushroom potstickers a try. Just steps from Hammy’s near the Safeway is longtime music venue The Pond. The relatively new location came with a nicely kicked-up menu. While you’re cruising The Highway, stop by Hari and Orion Cameron’s Grandpa MAC. Yup: mac & cheese from a James Beard-nominated chef and TV personality! Down where Wilmington Avenue meets the ocean is yet another longtime don’t-miss: Gus & Gus’ Place. I love the fried chicken, but the cheesesteaks are secretly delicious too. Step behind Gus’ to find the tucked-away Zogg’s, where fish tacos and a virtually infinite selection of rums are the stars.
Obviously, this barely scratches the surface for good eats here at the beach. So pin this article to your shirt as a handy reference, and get out there and support our brave, hardworking friends and neighbors who keep our Cape Region fed when the vacationers aren’t looking.