Now you see it – now you don’t
Beach resorts have a way of playing sleight-of-hand with restaurants. Competition is fierce, and if you’re not fortified with operating capital, or don’t watch your costs, you can end up replacing your grand opening sign with a for-rent sign. 2012 has proven once again that only the strong survive.
Modern Mixture has overpowered a difficult location with fresh, well-prepared food, so they live on to cook another day. (Look for the orange awning!) Debacle took over another challenging spot, but hard work is drawing customers to friendly service and a clever menu. Former Nage boss-toque Hari Cameron surprised everybody by adapting to ingenious late-night bites at a bar favored by chefs, servers and those who love ‘em. Former bartender Tia Sexton wows Bethany with the meteoric success of 14 Global. Espuma’s Jay Caputo morphed the old Chez la Mer/Porcini House into the tequila-flavored Cabo, then turned right around to resurrect the Rose & Crown in Lewes with upscale noshes at comfortable prices.
What could have been a sad story turned out well for everybody as the brothers Sugrue picked up at Salt Air where Jonathan Spivak left off, applying their magic to the wildly successful eatery. Some stories didn’t turn out so well: Chef Bruce Kingston left Bethany to create Kingston Gourmet, but the difficult location took its toll. Perhaps Root Gourmet’s strip center spot offered easier access. Rehoboth landmark Cloud 9 sold and was shuttered. It will probably not be reborn as a restaurant. Bonwich Café opened and closed. Ditto with Cake Bar in Lewes. Annie’s Banannies made us smile with cool and healthy treats, then disappeared. Annie - we hardly knew ye! (Stay tuned for possible good news for that spot.) Nourish abandoned a solid location only to find that the grass was not greener elsewhere. The upside: Big Sissies moved in and amazed everybody with a witty name, moderately priced grub and smiles all around.
Casual fast-food concepts took notice of our tiny town as Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Papa John’s and Buffalo Wild Wings brought their tried-and-proven brands to the beach. Before you knee-jerk about the evils of chains, remember that they employ your kids, neighbors and friends. Most of the money stays right here in Delaware. Could Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or Wegman’s be far behind? Don’t hold your breath.
Doris Lynch sold the Captain’s Table, and the new owners are wisely building on her legacy of Baltimore-style comfort food. Lexie's: Cute concept, but nobody noticed. RIP. Delaware hoteliers John and Semra Tekmen draw off-season diners to the ocean block with authentic Turkish cuisine and the occasional belly dancer. Another reason to venture eastward: Louie’s bangs out off-season grinders and pizzas every weekend. Back out on the highway, a rather blah Charcoal Deli relocated just a mile north to become the upbeat Charcoal Grill with a fun menu and good breakfasts. A few doors south, Pete’s Steak Shop imports a bit of Wilmington to Rehoboth. The sleeper? Their pizza and cheesecake! Dover and Lewes restaurateurs teamed up to bring us Pat’s Pizza. By the way, Pat’s isn’t just about pizza. Try the soups. Next door, the experts at Sushi Heaven add their piscine crudo to Lewes’ ever-growing culinary landscape.
Touch of Italy’s new bakery at Five Points augments their popular downtown deli/pizzeria/market. Surf Bagel expanded to almost twice the size. More room for those heavenly sesame bagels! Capriotti’s said goodbye to downtown Rehoboth and hello to the Safeway shopping center. In Midway, Port Dewey’s Zack King offers mechanical bull riding at Old Bay Steakhouse, while just a few steps away Martini Tom whomps up scrumptious libations at Hooked Seafood & Martini Bar. Midway Galleria is missing Peppers (they moved to Lewes), but still hosts Millsboro’s Pizza Palace. Wings and donuts on First Street gave way to Kay’s Kitchen and Crepes by the Sea, and across the street Dinah Lingo’s Grocery keeps a tradition alive.
Dewey’s Ivy opened with a tiny, tasty concept, and is now undergoing a winter facelift. Speaking of facelifts, Fenwick’s Catch 54 rose from the ashes last spring in classic Matt Haley style. Morgan & Gower Cheesemongers on Baltimore Avenue ain’t yo’ momma’s Velveeta. Gelato Gal is movin’ on up to the east side (pass the Chocolate Zen, please), and Whisky Beach Barbecue replaces Ponos in Dewey (all is well: Tommy Long is still cookin’). Rehoboth pioneer Alison Blyth opened Go Brit! (think Go Fish!, but with a highway) with crunchy cod ‘n’ chips.
So the beat goes on. Who knows what 2013 will taste like? Stay tuned, and happy new year.