Eating Like Termites Through Rehoboth Beach
It’s been a long time since I’ve had an opportunity to write about Rehoboth Beach restaurants, but John’s and my honeymoon last month gave us a long overdue opportunity to eat our way through town like ravenous termites devouring a cherished woodpile.
Unlike termites, which eat 24 hours a day, we did pause for naps, a stroll on the beach, and our wedding ceremony. But I gained so much weight during our bistro binge that not even my post-trip morning swims of 100 laps a week have succeeded in bringing me back to my premarital poundage. Though dismayed at how fast shellfish, good breads, and sinful desserts added to my waistline, I am delighted that Rehoboth continues to be the foodie capital we loved in the 1990s— probably even more so.
Even with a seven-day stay we couldn’t hit every place on our wish list so we focused on revisiting some of our favorite dining (and drinking) spots from the years we lived in town. For our wedding night, we knew we wanted to return to The Back Porch, the scene of countless memorable meals back in the day. Although our old friend Chef Leo Medisch passed away last year, his longtime business partner Keith Fitzgerald and other veterans of the team have continued to serve up creative American cuisine during the Porch’s 40th anniversary season.
I began with a golden beet, orange, black olive and fennel salad that was as delicate as it was delectable. Then came my entrée of wild Atlantic halibut accompanied by baby squash, fingerling potato and foraged mushroom ragout. It was presented in such a high stack of melt-in-your-mouth whitefish that I initially thought the server had delivered a huge slice of vanilla layer cake in error. With my mouth still full, I couldn’t help but proclaim to my husband and friends that The Back Porch is still among the best restaurants I’ve experienced anywhere. (The food was so fine we had to return for Sunday brunch to assure ourselves that the scones and classic eggs benedict were still as good as in days of yore. They were, as was the champagne. Thanks, Keith.)
Although The Back Porch has remained in its same home for four decades, many of our favorite restaurants have moved to larger locations since 2000—with great results. We remember Dos Locos in the 1990s as a small seasonal carryout with great food run from a cramped Baltimore Avenue house by two hardworking crazy women (thus the name). They eventually expanded onto First Avenue, adding a bar and seating. In 2000, the current owners (two crazy guys named Joe and Darryl) bought the place and a year or so later moved it into a much larger year-round space on Rehoboth Avenue. The atmosphere is fun yet the place still feels cozy, and the vastly expanded menu is far more imaginative than your average Mexican-inspired restaurant.
I seemed to order a lot of food served in mounds during my honeymoon, from the halibut at The Porch to the Lobster Stack at Dos Locos. The latter was a tall pile of succulent shellfish, layered with sliced tomato and avocado with chipotle sauce, fresh cilantro and lime. Simply divine.
I enjoyed meeting co-owner Joe Zuber who was at the host’s desk (husband Darryl is often tending bar), and he briefed me on the restaurant’s remarkable growth story. He even pulled out a recent picture of Darryl and him with the original owners. Nice to see they’re all still a loco family.
Another restaurant that has moved since our last visit is Eden, now on the ocean block of Baltimore Avenue. Bathed in white curtained booths with soft wood accents, the current location is as beautiful and relaxing as the food is bold. Our group went gaga over Eden’s innovative interpretation of Cioppino, a wood-oven fired blend of clams, shrimp, fish (of the day), fennel, tomato, baby potatoes, cipollini onions, peppers and saffron fumetto. I also enjoyed the pan-seared Day Boat Scallops with tricolor quinoa fried rice and beet dashi. Upon learning that John and I had married the day before, our server brought us complimentary flutes of pink champagne—a lovely gesture.
Way back in time (we’re talking 1980s), John and I agreed (as did many of our friends) that the best crab cakes in all of Delmarva came from Murray’s Topside Restaurant off Route 17 near Ocean View. Unfortunately, Topside burned down a couple decades ago, and our search for the perfect crab cake has continued ever since. Recently, our friend and former Rehoboth resident Joan Thompson told us about Woody’s in Dewey Beach. “The crab cakes are as great as Topside’s,” she raved. Sure enough, Joan was right. Woody’s is a small restaurant (once the location of the notorious Colonel Mustard’s) and it’s rather hard to find in a strip of businesses along busy Route One. In-season parking can be a nuisance, but it’s worth a daily parking pass to enjoy their perfectly seasoned and broiled lump crabmeat cakes with no filler, just enough of a binder to hold the crab together on the plate. Slightly browned at the top, they are absolutely scrumptious served either as an entrée or a sandwich on a brioche roll.
Purple Parrot, another favorite hangout from the late 90s and another restaurant that has moved—in this case across Rehoboth Avenue, also serves up topnotch crab cakes on buttery buns, as well as terrific tuna and other salads. The tropical beach bar out back is a great spot for lunch, and the handsome staff is very friendly.
Speaking of buttery, I took a break from all the shellfish I was eating (fearing I could become like a friend who indulged too much and ended up with a bout of gout) when we went to lunch at The Buttery in downtown Lewes. At one time John and I were part owners of the historic building the restaurant now occupies on Second Street, and we were eager to see how the place was doing. Just great that busy September lunchtime. All of the historical details of the building’s interior remained as they were 15 years ago, the addition of a side porch was lovely, and the food was terrific. I especially enjoyed the freshly roasted Leg of Lamb Pita with shaved red onion, tomatoes and cucumber mint tatziki.
On the day of our wedding, a friend took our party to lunch at The Brick Restaurant & Tavern in the Brick Hotel in Georgetown. What a stunning job owners Lynn and Ed Lester have done renovating the historically important inn, built in 1836. And the food was first-rate. The Tavern Turkey Club with bacon, Swiss, and cranberry mayo on Texas Toast won my vote (ask for extra cran-mayo on this one), but the “$100 Baked Potato (now only $7)” with chicken or seafood was another crowd pleaser.
Of course, we also had to make multiple evening pilgrimages to the Blue Moon. On our wedding night, our friend Dan mentioned that we were newlyweds to the singer, who serenaded us with a rousing rendition of “Going to the Chapel” and, a little later, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” It wasn’t until after her set that we realized the singer was disco diva Pamala Stanley, whose star shone brightly with big hits in the early 1990s. We ended up having a drink with Pamala the next evening, and what a pleasure it was to get to know her. Having her sing for us was a perfect touch for our perfect honeymoon.
I didn’t even mention the sumptuous home-cooked meals served up by several master chef friends, including Jack and David, Matt and Billy, and traveling companions Greg, Rick and Dan. It wasn’t planned that way but all their meals featured pork recipes, and John and I happily pigged out on all of them.