It all started with the sound of a gavel
All the excitement this week over the opening of Papa Grande’s Rehoboth, Matt Haley’s eighth Delaware restaurant, got me thinking about how it all started. Shortly after I arrived here in Delaware, I was fascinated by the idea that one of my favorite Bethany Beach restaurants was going to be auctioned off. The restaurant was RedFin, and the auction was brought on by the court-ordered dissolution of the partnership between Haley and Greg Talcott, who jointly owned the land and the building. I remember standing there by Salt Pond on that cool Saturday in March 2004, knowing full well that the auctioneer’s patter wasn’t hiding the fact that Matt, one of only three bidders, was going to win back his restaurant.
The details are ancient history, but suddenly the red roof of RedFin became the blue roof of Bluecoast. It wasn’t long before Northeast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View and Fish On! in Lewes opened for business. SoDelConcepts was off and running, and now there are eight.
Interestingly, one of the first chefs to work at RedFin was Jason Dietterick. After Haley took over RedFin, Dietterick became the opening chef at Northeast Seafood Kitchen. After a few years making the rounds (not unusual in the cheffing biz) Jason recently returned to his Bethany Bluecoast roots after the closing of the short-lived Table and Taproom on the Forgotten Mile.
I like all the SoDelConcepts eateries in varying degrees, but Bluecoast never ceases to amaze. The restaurant can’t help but capitalize on its location with massive picture windows looking west toward Salt Pond and spectacular sunsets. A light-attenuating shade keeps the sun from frying your retinas late in the day, but as the sun sets, the shade quietly raises - as if by magic - so you can watch the event. As a lover of buttons, knobs and things that go blink in the night, I would like to think that the entire process is automatic. So if it’s actually a bartender keeping one eye toward the west and a finger on the button, please don’t tell me.
Ignorance is bliss.
The restaurant is done up in typical Haley style, with lots of white space and minimal wall décor. In-season waits are always long, but you can while away the time with a glass of wine in an Adirondack chair on the front porch. You can even stock up on some of SoDel Concepts’ homemade goodies there, like the delicious Black & White soft drink (think ginger ale on steroids!).
Whenever I write about calamari, I compare it to Bluecoast. It’s crispy, salty, totally devoid of excess grease, and is presented simply with red sauce and lemon. One of the great appetizers this restaurant shares with Matt’s Fish Camp is the blue crab claws, served with nothing more than cocktail sauce and a lemon wedge. You pick them up by the claw like a crabby lollipop and bite off the cool, Old Bay-laced meat.
Deep down I wish they would offer the fried Ipswich clams served at Matt’s and around the corner at Northeast Seafood Kitchen. But Bluecoast’s mouthwateringly plump fried oysters are a good substitute. They are lightly crispy, and the current menu pairs them with cheese grits. If the restaurant’s not busy, they might be kind enough to sub the salt ‘n’ vinegar Tater Tots. Yup, T-Tots. Don’t frown. Just order them. You’ll be surprised.
Haley’s mantra of quality ingredients simply prepared is apparent in the pan-seared New England cod. The snow-white fish shares a plate with buttery whipped potatoes, bright green and still firm-to-the-tooth green beans, and a tomato veal gravy. A forkful of that flakey white cod with a little of that gravy is like a bouncy castle in your mouth.
Bluecoast is one of my go-to places when I want friends to be impressed with our local eateries. Give it a try. And remember, if you figure out how that shade knows when to go up, don’t tell me.