Beach Eats: Changing Tides
New restaurants offer a departure from traditional beach fare.
Half Full, a cozy new restaurant in downtown Lewes, serves nine styles of homemade pizza and rotates a list of 12 wines. photograph by Keith Mosher www.kamproductions.com
Crab and rockfish may always reign as favorite beach foods, but several local restaurants hope to come up with a winning combination that’s a little less fishy.
Ian Crandell thinks it’s time for some non-traditional restaurants. A French-trained chef, he and his wife Joanna Goode, along with Matt and Ali DiSabatino, who own Striper Bites, are developing two new places.
Their first restaurant opened in Lewes in January. It wasn’t the normal time to open a restaurant at the beach, but the locals gave Half Full (113 Market St., Lewes, 645-8877) a warm welcome this winter. Crandell attributes part of the restaurant’s success to the fact that it is so different from most restaurant and bars around the beach.
The cozy restaurant and wine bar has fewer than a dozen tables, but it’s been a big late-night hit. The dinner-only restaurant, which opens at 4 p.m. daily, serves nine styles of homemade pizza and rotates a list of 12 wines. Customers can enjoy a small, varied beer selection that includes local favorite Dogfish Head to the obscure Rougue Dead Guy Ale. Goode, a dessert specialist, makes brownies and cookies.
Half Full’s location in historic Lewes and its small structure give the restaurant a life of its own. “This little place has its own soul,” Crandell says. “You can’t take this and transplant it to Rehoboth and have it be the same thing. It’s not possible. Part of this concept is it’s small and it is where it is. I wouldn’t want to try and replicate it anywhere else.”
The location and view of the canal capture heavy walk-in traffic. Wine bottles hang from the walls, alongside a sign that states the restaurant’s attitude: “Half Full—eternal optimism; constant state of positive thought.”
It’s that mood that sets Half Full apart. “Part of the concept of the restaurant is that we really try to make it a social atmosphere so that it’s not like a restaurant where you sit down at a table and you only talk to people at your table,” Crandell says. “We really want it to be more of a mingling social atmosphere, where people can chat with the table next to them or somebody who’s walking by. And I think we’ve been successful in creating that atmosphere.”
The owners hope to re-create the success with their second project, in Paynter’s Mill off Route 1 near Milton. The 200-seat Kindle (Route One, Milton, 682-1987) is named for the 10-foot-around fire pit in the lounge. The restaurant, to open early this summer, will feature American food with a touch of Crandell’s French influence, a departure from traditional beach food. But that’s what the partners are aiming for.
“There are a lot of restaurants that are just open during the season,” Crandell says. “We want to be a place where people can come in all year round, a destination.”
Kindle will be a dinner-only restaurant, open from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Located in Millville’s Giant Town Center, just outside Bethany Beach, Steakhouse 26 (238 Atlantic Ave., Millville, 539-0626) straddles the line between brew spot and upscale steakhouse. The restaurant leans toward the prime rib rather than baked salmon. There are no fish items on the menu, but there are daily fish specials.
Owner Jerry Richard says the restaurant fills a hole in the market, and the customers’ stomachs, with its beef-centered meals. “We just felt like everybody always wanted to do fish and seafood,” he says. “But people love beef.” Steakhouse 26 feeds everyone from the hungriest eater to the low-carb dieter, which is one reason it’s caught on.
Executive chef Steven Hagen led Big Fish Grill’s kitchen before taking over at Steakhouse 26. His background in seafood allows the restaurant to supplement its regular menu with oven-roasted salmon and pan-seared rockfish, among other dishes. Hagen says the seafood options on the menu please many guests.
“As a well-rounded restaurant at the beach I think we have the ability to do it well, and we do,” he says. “So why not bring that to the table?”
The restaurant opens for lunch every day but Sunday at 11 a.m. (Sunday brunch starts at 9:30 a.m.) and stays open until midnight.
The name of the Pig and Fish Restaurant Company (236 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7770) says it all. The menu strikes a balance by offering plenty of favorites from land and sea. The meals are mostly traditional American favorites like meatloaf, iceberg wedge salad and pulled pork. But there are dishes that have been revamped with international flavors—wasabi mashed potatoes, pasta with shiitake and criminis, and the Cuban grilled shrimp, which are served with bell pepper-citrus slaw and lime habañero salsa.
Mariachi Restaurant (14 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-0115) offers the latest in Spanish and Mexican food. Since opening last year, the restaurant has become a local favorite place for enchiladas, marinated pork and carne asada. The restaurant also has several vegetarian options.
Scully’s Ocean Side Café (2000 Highway One, Dewey Beach, 227-9000) promises a casual place where beach bums can fill their belly without overindulging. The restaurant’s signature offerings are the bison burger and bison steak, which have fewer calories and less fat than other red meats, but all the flavor. The menu lists calorie content by health-conscious items so that fitting into that swimsuit will be a little easier. At Scully’s, the belief is that healthy dining doesn’t have to be stuffy dining. “It’s very casual,” says Sharon Scully Roy, who owns the restaurant with her husband Ben. “We want this to be a place where people can come in and be very comfortable.”
Royal Zephyr (27 Atlantic Ave., Ocean View, 541-9555) opened its unusual dining room in 2006 to rave reviews. The restaurant is actually two dining cars—coach and first class. Coach serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and welcomes everyone from the gourmands of the world to the stroller set. The first class car offers fine dining selections like veal and filet mignon and accepts reservations. Both cars promise a diversion from your standard-fare dining.
Despite all the land-fare now available beachside, diners can still enjoy seafood favorites. One of the beach area’s most successful restaurant groups hopes to prove the traditional beach restaurant and bar still has life.
SoDel Concepts, a restaurant consortium that owns three area restaurants (Blue Coast Seafood Grill in Bethany, Fish On! in Lewes and NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View), opened Catch 54 Fish House and Marina (Route 54, Fenwick Island, 436-8600) in spring. The restaurant is at the site of the former Shark’s Cove Marina and Restaurant. The Assawoman Bay surrounds the site on three sides, which creates the impression of peninsula dining, and the restaurant’s elevation provides absolutely stunning views.
Co-owner and chef Matthew Haley plans to make the seafood house a major draw for beachgoers. “All our restaurants are very beach,” he says. “Our goal is to continue to build restaurants down here, and we want to build as many as we can on the water. You can’t ask for anything more. Yeah, it’s location, but you come into a restaurant like this, man, this is why people come to the beach.”
Haley expects the nightlife at the screened-in bar, which will stay open until 1 a.m. and serve a limited menu, to hop. Just past the screens lies the marina’s dock, which will continue to rent boats.
Catch 54 plans to stick to the basics of customer service, he says. Friendly servers and fairly priced food breeds longevity in the restaurant business. “I don’t want to be hip,” Haley says. “I don’t want to be trendy.”
Another seafood hot spot is Wahoo Raw Bar and Crab Co. (19598 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6700). The restaurant opened midsummer in 2006 at the site of the old Crab Barn on Route 1 with a new look and a new menu.
Jennifer DiDomenicis, who owns the restaurant with her husband Anthony, of popular Adriatico in Rehoboth Beach, says Wahoo’s extensive seafood menu, plasma screen-televisions and Sunday brunch provide a family friendly atmosphere. Wahoo is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily. The restaurant recently added two new chefs to revamp the current menu, but DiDomenicis promises to keep the seafood-dominated lineup. “I think the word beach says it all,” DiDomenicis says. “Because it’s a resort area, people associate coming to a beach area with seafood.”
Lewes’ most recent addition is Béseme (142 Second St., Lewes, 645-8108) in the Hotel Rodney. (The name is Spanish for “kiss me.”) The menu offers eclectic tapas-style dishes and regular dinners, with crepes and omelets throughout the day. “We intend to purchase from local vendors and local growers as available,” says chef Mike Pelrine, who partners with his stepson Eban Brittingham. The full-service bistro soothes with caramel colored wood floors, cool contemporary prints, plenty of plants “and wine, lots of wine,” Pelrine says.