Despite the challenges, there’s no shortage of new restaurants and fresh ideas

By Pam George
Photograph by Scott Nathan
From the June 2022 issue


Visit one of the Facebook pages dedicated to coastal Delaware, and you’ll repeatedly read the same question: “Where should I dine?” Tourists want local recommendations for seafood, Asian cuisine, crabs, steak and family-friendly spots. And both residents and visitors want to know about new options.

Despite supply-and-demand issues and virus variants that challenged the industry, many restaurants have opened over the past year, and their focus covers the gamut, from coffee to shakes to fine dining. 

(Since openings are subject to permits and inspections, call first before visiting newer businesses.)


Date-night delights

The big news is that The Buttery is back — sort of. Restaurateur Megan Kee opened Bramble & Brine at The Buttery in the Lewes landmark, and chef Paul Gallo — a Nage veteran — has created a menu that spotlights seasonal fare.

Although a mouthful, the name salutes two restaurants. For decades, the Second Street mansion was home to The Buttery restaurant, which the Gates family purchased in 2016 and changed to 2nd Street Tavern. In 2021, Big Fish Restaurant Group purchased the property, which Kee leases. She resurrected the name Bramble & Brine to honor the Rehoboth restaurant she relinquished after a divorce. Bramble & Brine 2.0 is “much more elegant because I’ve grown quite a lot from 27 to 37,” Kee says.

She did an impressive job renovating the establishment with new wallpaper, paint, and vintage and antique decor. Horse show ribbons flutter above the bar area, dubbed The Pink Pony. “It’s very whimsical because it’s named for the old Rehoboth boardwalk nightclub,” she says of the decidedly pink section.

Bramble & Brine’s Victorian neighbors are Raas, an upscale Indian restaurant, and the acclaimed Heirloom. While at the latter, chef Matthew Kern racked up two semifinalist honors for a James Beard Foundation Award. Now he’s brought his talents to Fenwick Island. In January, Kern and wife Karen purchased One Coastal. 

The Kerns were close to leaving the area for urban opportunities when they learned that the restaurant was for sale. Of all the dining establishments in coastal Delaware, One Coastal best lives up to its farm-to-table billing, Kern says.

“We’re going to bring back the slow food movement to Delaware,” he maintains, referring to the mission of promoting local food and traditional cooking styles. The avid fisherman is passionate about supporting local growers and producers.

Seafood central 

The craving for fresh fish is expected at the beach, where you’ll find many seafood restaurants, and this year the ranks have increased.

Lewes Oyster House will open early this season in the former Jerry’s Seafood (or, as locals call it, the “old Rose & Crown”). Well-known chef Sean Corea and restaurant manager Tom Little, who met at Nage, are the forces behind the Second Street restaurant, which they’ve dubbed the “tavern by the sea.”

Along with oysters, the restaurant will offer rotisserie chicken and a “great burger,” Little promises. Corea has won several fried chicken contests, so don’t be surprised if the Delaware staple appears on the menu. A sommelier created the wine program, and the bar will pour craft cocktails.

Drift, which focuses on raw-bar food, is opening this season in a late 19th-century building on Baltimore Avenue. The renovation and restoration of the Reho­both structure took a village, namely Second Block Hospitality Group, made up of The Pines owners Bob Suppies, Tyler Townsend and David Gonce plus Lion Gardner, formerly of the Blue Moon. The menu will highlight oysters, stone crab claws and chilled lobster.

You won’t find spirits at Fin & Claw in Ocean View, but you will find spirited to-go food. For instance, owner Scott Viselli has whipped up crab-and-scrapple potato skins, red curry rockfish tacos, and soy-apricot-glazed salmon. The seafood market also sells steamed crabs and fresh fish.

Viselli previously worked at SoDel Concepts, which late last year opened its third Matt’s Fish Camp location in Ropewalk’s old building. Like the flagship MFC in Bethany and the Lewes-area location, the Fenwick Island iteration marches to its own drumbeat. The menu and atmosphere differ only slightly from those at its siblings, but the overarching theme is that of a coastal New England roadside eatery.

Also in Fenwick, Fins Ale House & Raw Bar swooped in to snatch the old Smitty McGee’s, which closed in February. This is the sixth restaurant for the Fins Hospitality Group, which has built a solid reputation for fresh raw oysters, daily fish boards, happy hour and brunch. No doubt, you can order Big Oyster Brewery beer, also part of the Fins family.

Here’s the beef

Nothing complements hoppy beer like a juicy burger. Chef Jamie Parsons put his SmashMouth Burgers food truck on the road in August 2020, and it’s so popular that he has a steady parking spot next to Big Chill Surf Cantina in the Rehoboth area.

The truck specializes in “smashed” burgers, which are placed on the grill and then, well, smashed. The goal is to produce the Maillard reaction, which occurs when protein hits high heat. If executed well, the patties develop a toasty browned exterior but remain juicy inside.

Farther up Route 1, Hammy’s Burgers & Shakes opened in the former Palate restaurant near Safeway. The rest­aurant is part of Ava’s Hospitality Group, which owns the relatively new Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits in Reho­both Beach. Both started in St. Michaels, Md.

Hammy’s, named for owner Chris Agharabi’s dog, hams it up with such concoctions as the Philly Burger — steak, cheese and onion straws piled atop a patty. The menu also includes turkey and veggie burgers.

A black Angus burger is on the menu at Harvest Tide Steakhouse in Bethany Beach, a younger sibling to Harvest Tide in Lewes. Not surprisingly, Danio and Enrique Somoza of Coastline Restaurant Group showcase other cuts, such as dry-aged New York strip and rib-eye. The Bethany newcomer has a second-floor location on Garfield Parkway near the group’s Zoca, a Mexican restaurant.

South of the border

Speaking of Latin cuisine, Agave is now open seven days a week at the Route 1 location between Lewes and Rehoboth. Unless you’ve been living under a cactus, you know that the original Agave in Lewes attracts customers who are happy to wait for an hour or more for a table. Credit the potent margaritas, fish tacos in puffy shells and guacamole.

The owners ditched plans for a second site in downtown Rehoboth; no reason was provided. Instead, they slipped into the old Jake’s Seafood House on the highway. The city’s loss is a gain for anyone who prefers plentiful parking (which is most of us).

Taco Reho is the second Latin-themed restaurant to open near Midway. The old Burger King has been transformed into a tribute to rock ’n’ roll. So what’s the connection between fajitas and a Fender? Chef/owner Billy Lucas, who grew up vacationing at the beach, previously handled catering gigs for musicians in Southern California — the land of tacos. Taco Reho, which started as a food truck, hasn’t lost its get-up-and-go: The old Burger King drive-thru is still in use.

Something’s brewing

Like fish tacos, craft beer has not lost its appeal — it’s now part of the Culinary Coast’s identity. (Thanks, Dogfish Head.)

In downtown Rehoboth, Sussex Public House is open in the old G Rehoboth building — which locals call “the old Cloud 9” in reference to the dance club that closed in 2012. The rotating draft list might feature selections from Dewey Beer Co., Evolution Craft Brewing Co., and Big Oyster Brewery as well as regional beers.

South of the inlet bridge, SoDel Concepts opened Ocean View Brewing Company in the spring. It’s the second brewpub for the group. The first, Thompson Island Brewing Company near Rehoboth, was also built from the ground up.

Like its sibling, OVBC highlights fried chicken, but you’ll also find some unusual combinations, such as buttermilk-fried lobster tail with a sunny-side egg and a glazed doughnut and duck confit egg rolls. The fried green tomato sandwich, served 

in ciabatta, gets a kick from pizza spice.

More pizza, please

The Delaware resorts seemingly can’t get enough pizza — round, square, oval or flatbread. Now there are even more options.

For instance, Dewey Beer Co. opened the Pizza Machine across from its production facility and tasting room in Harbeson. You can create your own or choose from the list of “premeditated pies,” one of which is the Death Star (ricotta cream sauce, shredded cheese, sausage, green pepper, arugula, chili oil and balsamic glaze). The eatery is on Iron Throne Drive, making Pizza Machine a destination for Comic-Con fans.

In Rehoboth, the folks behind Hammy’s opened Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar, which has siblings in St. Michaels and Cambridge, Md. The newbie is in the downtown Jake’s Seafood House site. Garage door-like windows allow guests to take in the Baltimore Avenue action. Pedestrians, meanwhile, 

can catch the scent of brick-oven pizza, Detroit-style pizza (baked in a steel pan) and Italian dishes.

Breakfast, brunch or lunch

If there’s anything beach diners appreciate more than pizza, it’s breakfast and brunch. SoDel Concept’s acquisition of Surf Bagel created a buzz about town, and a Milford location is in the works. It should open in late 2022.

Already underway is Sunny Bay Cafe, which specializes in savory, sweet and breakfast crepes — plus burgers, subs, steaks, paninis and Greek dishes. It’s in the former Cuvee Ray Wine Bar & Restaurant, which everyone calls “the old Sydney’s.”

And Danio Somoza is back at it with Zava Cafe, which took over Duck Donut’s Rehoboth space in the Avenue Inn & Spa building. D.C. coffee shops inspired Somoza and girlfriend Thaina Bittencourt. “They were nice and cute,” Somoza recalls. “And they served fresh ingredients.” At this new establishment, expect bowls, fresh-squeezed juices and coffee from Brazil, Ethiopia and Guatemala. 

Dinner and a show

Did you hear the one about the magician who walked onto an organic farm? Find out what happened at Dickens Parlour Theatre, which moved into a new building at Good Earth Market & Organic Farm in Ocean View.

Theater owners Rich and Sue Bloch and Good Earth owner Susan Ryan collaborated to build a 5,200-square-foot structure with a seated theater space and commercial kitchen. “We had a series of meetings, and we were all in alignment,” says Ryan, whose daughter worked in the theater’s previous location. “We have a cabaret-style dining room and a fabulous bar — it’s just really great.”

Good Earth still has a restaurant in the market.

On the go

Of course, not everyone wants to make a meal a significant experience. Takeout took off during the pandemic, which prompted Bethany Blues’ owners to put Bethany Blues Express at the top of their to-do list. 

The counter-service concept, which 

has limited seating, is now at one end of Bethany Blues near Midway. From the start, the addition demonstrated a return on investment. While the remainder of the restaurant underwent renovations, Bethany Blues Express handled the demand for its award-winning barbecue. 

We undoubtedly missed some restaurants in this compilation, so write and let us know about them at the link below. Because as sure as the tide turns, new restaurants will open to cater to the Culinary Coast’s voracious appetite. 

Pam George has been writing about the Culinary Coast for more than 20 years. Her appetite grew to such an extent that she bought a home here so she could dine on demand. She also has a home in Wilmington.