Local entrepreneurs go with the flow
One of the keys to success is the ability to adapt to unexpected situations. A prime example of that sort of flexibility is Hari Cameron’s a(MUSE.) restaurant on Baltimore Avenue. Hari opened with a lofty concept (at least for eastern Sussex County): Lots of visually appealing and cleverly named small plates, artistically crafted from the freshest ingredients.
Many locals, craving whatever cosmopolitan flavor they might have left behind in Washington, D.C. or Manhattan, were immediately on board. But it’s no secret that some vacationers were not quite ready for the upscale, tongue-in-cheek tenor of the menu. They wanted bigger plates, brimming with more familiar food. Today’s menu at a(MUSE.) is still witty, and the dishes still include only the freshest components. But some are now entrée size, with more clear-cut descriptions. Diners can choose from all sorts of small/large plate combinations. And it’s working. I was there last weekend, and at 10 p.m. the restaurant was over half full without a single vacant seat at the bar. Cameron expanded his initial concept and made it attractive to an even larger cross section of resort diners. Isn’t that what business is all about?
Out on the highway, Zack King (I call the young entrepreneur a “restaurant savant”) was also in adaptive mode. He took over the getting-more-tired-by-the-minute Roadhouse Steak Joint and morphed it into Old Bay Steak & Seafood Grill. I’ve known Zack since his Bethany Beach busboy days. His first foray into ownership was with his uncle Mitch at the popular Port Dewey restaurant. But like Sussex County’s iconic restaurateur Kevin Reading, Zack’s not satisfied with the status quo. He thrives on the thrill of the chase, i.e., opening new eateries. Reading calls it “restaurant ADD.”
Old Bay Steak & Seafood Grill was to be a departure from the aptly named Roadhouse. Upmarket fish entrees would share the menu with quality steaks and chops in decidedly more sedate surroundings. What King didn’t anticipate were the loyal Roadhouse customers, not quite ready to give up the Western-style ambiance. (And let’s not forget that huge mechanical bull over in the corner.)
So the 24-year-old restaurant savant fashioned a concept filled with contrasts, but not contradictions - and it’s working. Wasabi-sesame-encrusted tuna politely shares the room with Tuesday night dart leagues (wadayaknow … dart players have leagues!). During the upcoming Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival, avant-garde sax man Dave Schiff will blow his signature riffs as that big mechanical bull watches (and, I assume, listens) from the sidelines. By the way, Old Bay’s an official festival sponsor, so there’s no cover charge for the music.
Tap Takeover night features representatives from 16 Mile, Dogfish Head, EVO and Fordham. The selection of drafts shares the room with Michelle, who in conjunction with a country karaoke DJ, will teach you to line dance on Wednesdays. Yup, line dancing right here in Rehoboth Beach.
Pig wings and fiery chicken tenders are served up alongside wild boar, medallions of elk, venison sausage and bison rib eyes. And yes, before you ask, there will be emu. For the gastronomically nervous, the wild game is also available for small-plate tasting before you invest in an entire entrée. Of course, Texas dry-rubbed New York strips from actual cows are always available.
Neither Cameron nor King is old enough to get stuck in the status quo. Hari still constructs imaginative tapas alongside more beachy fare. Zack fulfills his dream of dishing up live jazz and wild game to the adventurous, as mechanical bull riders stream in for line dancing and steamed shrimp. It’s a win-win for everybody.