Dinner and a show! The perfect pairing at Debacle
Thank you for the flood of delightful emails commenting on my munch down memory lane in last week’s column. Some in-the-know readers even filled in a few blanks, like the little nail joint and rare bookstore that helped comprise Gingerbread Square Mall where Java Beach Cafe started, and Claws Crab House now resides. Another longtime resident clarified the original location of Anne Marie’s Italian Restaurant, before they moved to the highway and eventually gave way to Saketumi. Give up? It was where Stoney Lonen is now, at the corner of Second and Wilmington.
Anne Marie’s sister restaurant, Taylor’s Seashore Restaurant, also spent a short time on Wilmington Avenue, where Anne Marie Taylor’s daughter, Susan Brooks, created her signature homemade desserts back in 1995. One of the most obscure memories was of Walfie’s Waffles and Deli in the Admiral Hotel just off the Boardwalk on Baltimore Avenue.
Another example of an eatery created by restaurateurs with a rich Delaware history is Debacle, now in its second season on Baltimore Avenue. Owners Mike Rodriguez and Debra Holmes have both been around the proverbial block when it comes to beach eats. Debbie (former wife of Tom Holmes, proprietor of The Pint in Millsboro and 1776 Steakhouse in Midway) was one of the early food and beverage managers at Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View. After the golf resort’s food service was turned over to DiFebo’s, Debbie teamed up with Steve Hagan, chef and co-owner of his trio of restaurants in Bethany, Fenwick and Ocean City. Nothing is permanent in the restaurant business, and Debbie soon found herself dreaming of her own place.
Long Island-born Mike Rodriguez was having the same dreams. Mike spent most of his early life helping his dad sell food additives, spices and dry ingredients for a small company in Pennsylvania that was eventually purchased by spice giant McCormick. Mike migrated south to Cripple Creek Golf and Country Club about 10 years ago, working his way up from dishwasher to sous chef. His dad had taught him well! Rodriguez cooked at Striper Bites and Dana Banks’ Parkway Restaurant in Bethany Beach, meeting Debra when they both worked at Bear Trap Dunes. Mike made a name for himself in Rehoboth at Lauren Cox-Ristenbatt’s Café Solé (where Hari Cameron’s a(MUSE.) is now), but when Café Solé became Solé, he returned to the Bethany Beach area, teaming up for a while with Steakhouse 26 and Nancy Down Crass’ Kool Bean Bistro.
Debbie and Mike had had enough of bouncing from place to place. They joined forces, and Debacle opened in mid-2012 in the old Epworth U.M. Church, now called Celebration Mall. The cozy restaurant shares the building with Clear Space Theatre Company, Morgan & Gower Cheesemongers and talented artists and galleries. For Debbie, “her little gem” is a quiet and comfortable respite from the hustle and bustle of Baltimore Avenue. Possibly the most comfortable restaurant chairs in Rehoboth embrace you as you order another sip of your favorite self-medication. For pre- and post-theater noshers, there is no better spot, with Clear Space just a flight of stairs away.
Mike Rodriguez sees Debacle as the chance to do things his way. “I’m Puerto Rican and German,” he explains. “I love to fuse cultures onto one plate, and I love to mix temperatures, like with my raw spinach, hot fish and cold tropical salsa dish.” Mike loves cooking with wine and uses his knowledge of ethnic foods and spices to reduce multiple flavors into new taste experiences. Mike’s fall menu promises some surprises like his mushroom martini, a chorizo lobster mac and cheese, and a selection of gluten-free dishes for families with kids or adults who are allergic to that wheat protein.
Looking for some peace and quiet as the season winds down? Visit Debacle, Debbie’s “little gem.” Be careful, however: Those cushy chairs can be habit-forming!