A look back: What was, what is, what will be and what’s no more
Twas the night before New Year’s, and all through the town, restaurants were opening, though some were shutting down. “For Lease” signs were hung on front doors with care, while others spent money, their good food to share. Beach dining’s a challenge, for that there’s no doubt. Some places are in, while others are out.
Alright, it’s a weekly column. What did you expect, Ralph Waldo Emerson?
Speaking of expectations, the time has arrived for my annual retrospective. Only the strong survive in a seasonal town, and part of what I do is to keep track of it all. So fasten your seatbelts. You must be at least this tall to ride this ride:
Sydney Arzt, Alison Blyth, David Keener, David Engel and all the rest must be sad at the sight of the vacant lot that used to be LaLa Land. So much history! The Charcoal Grill next to Food Lion is also history, but look for a former LaLa Land chef (he’s no stranger to Nage either) to open soon in that space. Directly across the highway, the Fins/Claws gang wasted no time opening their new Fins Ale House & Raw Bar where Bonwich Café faded out. The new façade on the building is impressive, and early returns suggest that the food is following suit. Just south of there, the Beachcomber suddenly went dark and stayed that way. You know there’s a back story.
On a more upbeat note, the new Touch of Italy has taken the highway by storm. Weekend seats are a valuable commodity at that bit of the Bronx across from Tanger Seaside. All three TOIs are so busy that they are remodeling their central bakery in Five Points to handle the demand. Don’t tell anybody, but look for yet another Touch of Italy in the near future - my lips are sealed (for the moment). Another success story: former Venus on the Half Shell, JAM Bistro and La Virtù (Philly) cook Joe Churchman and his wife Megan horrified everybody with a mid-autumn opening of Bramble & Brine. But the kids hit the jackpot: Just try to get a seat in there.
The delightful Meg Hudson is on Cloud 9 in anticipation of her new Brazilian-themed eatery in Rehoboth. New kitchen, new everything. If it’s anything like her original Domaine Hudson in Wilmington, it will be great. Slightly east, remodeling at First Street Station relegated both Maggio Shields Café and Gallery Espresso to history. Congrats to Corner Grille’s Irene Vrentzos on her brand-new son, Leo George. That, along with the restaurant’s new and very Hellenic dining room, spells success for her and her charming parents, George and Soula. Speaking of ethnic food, Semra Tekmen is cookin’ up a storm in the old Country Squire/Seaside Thai spot on The Avenue. Semra’s Mediterranean Grill also has regularly scheduled belly dancing shows. But beware - take the stage and you’ll end up on Facebook. (Ask me how I know....)
Out of the ongoing turmoil between Frank and Louie Bascio and their Touch of Italy investors grew Frank & Louie’s Italian Specialties next to Hobos. You can be sure to get a smile and a hug from these friendly guys every time you visit. Speaking of friendly, Kevin Reading changed the face of Rehoboth with the original Espuma, Sweet Dreams Bakery and Nage. Reading ventured north to replace Smith & Co. Steakhouse in Milford with his successful Abbott’s Grill. So successful, in fact, that he opened a second one in Laurel: Abbott’s on Broad Krik. (Sorry, judge, I had to do it. You too, Sue. I’m a pushover for a cheap laugh.) The new spot by the water is doing great under kitchen boss and former Bonz chef Ryan Cunningham.
Diagonally across from the Milford Abbott’s is the fifth and newest incarnation of the successful because they are straight-ahead and down-to-earth Arena’s. At Arena’s No. 4 at the Georgetown airport, it’s fun to watch the planes take off while munching a California Club Dude (add bacon, please) and sipping a frosty 90 Minute IPA. Slip into Milton to congratulate former Baywood Greens chef Mike Clampitt on his acquisition of Lee and Amy Stewart’s Po’Boys Creole & Fresh Catch. Clampitt is wisely keeping the concept. The new Po’Boys will open around January 9.
In Fenwick, Papa Grande’s spring opening at Matt Haley’s Catch 54 compound transcends Tex-Mex with authentic Mexican and South American street food. And what a view! Get anything with that mole sauce.
A few weeks ago, EatingRehoboth food tours finished a sold-out inaugural season. Now there’s a success story. They tell me that people are already booking tours to start around Easter 2014.
You knew it was coming: I can’t let this year end without a nod to those we lost in 2013. Leo Medisch, Frank Vasilikos, Tom Kopunek and Lyn “Rocky” Frieman made Rehoboth Beach dining a little bit better with their talent, smiles and hospitality. They will all be missed.
By the way, this is my 150th column in Cape Gazette, and I love that you visit this page to read my hungry ramblings. Y’know, Virginia Woolf said it best: “One cannot think well, love well or sleep well if one has not dined well.” So I wish you good thinking, great loving, peaceful sleep and happy dining in the New Year.