A Culinary Legacy Thrives at Café Azafrán
Nestled on vibrant Baltimore Avenue, Café Azafrán continues to enchant diners with its rich culinary heritage and exquisite food. Café Azafrán is our go-to for Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine, so we were delighted to have the opportunity to review this family-run establishment.
A fascinating backstory enhances this eatery. Azafrán shares its roots with the iconic Lamp Post restaurant, now the location for Crabby Dick’s. In 1979, Ruth Steele and her family opened the Lamp Post, which eventually paved the way for her grandsons, Rich and Mark, to establish Café Azafrán in Lewes in 2002. In 2010 they opened a second Café Azafrán at 18 Baltimore Avenue in Rehoboth. The Lewes location has since closed. However, Azafrán’s sister restaurant, Olive & Oats, is going strong in Lewes as a breakfast and lunch haven.
Owner Rich Steele’s son, Ryan, is the executive chef at Azafrán and works with his cousin, Sean. Donna, a long-time employee going back to the Lamp Post days, prepares salads and other dishes.
At the heart of Azafrán’s menu lies its tapas. Our favorites include Shrimp a la Plancha with a unique and delicious flavor served with a green herb sauce; Seared Sea Scallops in marinated butternut squash and cauliflower puree; and their famous to-die-for Azafrán Green Beans with toasted hazelnuts and gorgeously melted Gorgonzola cheese. You can even order an Imported Cheese Board with dried fruit chutney and baguette, or the La Mancha Plate consisting of Manchego cheese, chorizo, serrano ham, and romesco. You can easily make a meal out of tapas, and we have!
Our server, Lana, was full of great recommendations for tapas that we hadn’t yet tried. We selected the Beef Short Rib Birria Tacos. They are fried with jalapeño jack cheese, cilantro, onion, and consommé lime. (We had to look that ingredient up! It is sauce made with beef stock, softened dried chiles, adobo sauce, and other ingredients and cooked down and pureed into a smooth, velvety sauce.) Azafrán’s has a wonderful smoky flavor that pairs perfectly with the just-right spice of the tacos. The tacos were substantial, but we didn’t stop there!
Salads offered include a Café Salad with a Mediterranean influence of pesto and black olive tapenade and a saffron vinaigrette, Beet Salad, Grilled Caesar, and Shrimp Panzanella Salad. We selected the Autumn Chopped Salad made with romaine and kale, shredded Brussels sprouts, apple, squash, Manchego, cauliflower, red onion, and pumpkin seed crumble, mixed with a maple tahini dressing. Maple here does not mean too sweet; this dressing was just right. And those little chunks of Manchego added a nice touch.
For the main course, we ventured into uncharted territory and ordered two large plates. Debbie selected the Phyllo Crusted Halibut (her favorite fish) bordered by goat cheese mashed potatoes, a silky and delicate cauliflower purée, and balsamic glazed carrots and Brussels. Leslie tried the Duck Confit Pot Pie, which was adorned with an herbal biscuit on top. This comforting dish delighted the taste buds with its flavors. (Lana also shared with us a sample of the cherry compote, a highlight of the Grilled Pork Tenderloin that the diners in the restaurant were raving about.)
By dessert, we were so full we just couldn’t. However, Lana told us about the Carrot Cake, and we succumbed to temptation and took home a slice. It was a decision we didn’t regret as we tried it later and declared it two yums up! The menu also boasted enticing options like Affogato Mocha brownie squares and Mississippi Mud Cake, ensuring a sweet ending to any meal.
Keeping our vegetarian friends in mind, we can report that none of the salads contain meat (but do have cheese—which can easily be omitted). There is always a vegetarian large plate on the menu, and several tapas are vegetarian as well.
Of course, we can’t forget the cocktails in the full bar. Our favorite is Holly’s Cosmo, made by local crooner and bartender Holly Lane or by David Leonard. We also noticed a Caramel Apple Martini—perfect for the fall season.
Café Azafrán offers a number of specials: Monday is Shrimp Night, where all shrimp dishes are discounted. Tuesday is Tapas Night, offered at $12 each, and Thursday is their popular Steak Night for $30 (which includes entertainment by Holly, with John Flynn on keyboards).
In the summer, the restaurant is famous for their pop-up paella nights. Reservations are a must in the back dining area to see Rich mix up the paella in a huge four-foot diameter skillet. So be on the lookout for paella next year.
Café Azafrán stands true to its legacy of leaving patrons satisfied and eagerly anticipating their next visit. We can only echo the sentiment from Azafrán’s website: Each dish, from tapas to large plates, is a testament to the culinary artistry that defines this remarkable restaurant. ▼
Leslie Sinclair and her wife Debbie Woods are longtime fans of the Rehoboth Beach dining and entertainment scene and have been fulltime residents since 2009.