Owners and patrons alike have a strong appetite for outdoor dining at coastal restaurants

By Pam George  |  Photographs by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
From the July 2016 issue

culinarycoast The Alfresco Factor - Delaware Beach LifeIn 1974, the Back Porch Cafe opened in a former hotel with a backyard. Fresh from a tour of Europe, where people dine alfresco in all kinds of weather, owners Victor Pisapia, Libby Fisher and Fisher’s husband, Ted, envisioned dining under the stars at their restaurant. They built a deck on the ground and a second-level deck with a stair access. Guests were initially perplexed. Why would they want to forsake air conditioning to eat with the bugs? Over the years, however, the alfresco dining option has “put us on the map,” says Keith Fitzgerald, who now owns the restaurant with Marilyn Spitz. The 70 seats outside are in high demand.

Alfresco dining has become a popular addition to any restaurant’s services. “People love the fresh air and the relaxed atmosphere,” says Meg Hudson, owner of Lula Brazil in Rehoboth Beach. Not surprisingly, outdoor space for dining is a competitive advantage at the beach. Located within the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites Residence Inn, 99 Sea Level has outdoor seats with views of the boardwalk and ocean. “Since opening last July, the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Donna Serafini, director of operations. “Hearing the ocean, feeling the warm summer breeze while eating good food is very rare.”

But offering outdoor dining has its challenges, namely the dismal weather that plagued the coast this past spring. Managers need to juggle reservations so they’re not caught with 70 diners in a squall. They must also make smart staffing decisions.


Different strokes along the coast

Alfresco dining at the beach offers a varied experience depending on the location. Like 99 Sea Level, Victoria’s Restaurant in downtown Rehoboth is steps from the beach. An outdoor room with a view is understandably popular near the coast, but it needn’t be a view of the ocean. Consider Paradise Grill, a lush tiki-style compound on the Indian River Bay in Long Neck, which has multilevel dining, several bars and boat docks. Marinas also come into play at Hammerheads Dockside on the Indian River Marina and Harpoon Hanna’s in Fenwick Island. 

In Dewey Beach, Two Seas Restaurant has rooftop dining with views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Rehoboth Bay on the other. Across the street, Que Pasa Mexican Restaurant features tables on the sand with views of the bay. “It’s such an amazing feeling to relax with your toes in the sand, drinking a margarita,” says Dan Phelps, the general manager. “It’s the epitome of beach dining.” On one visit, a diner got up, took a swim and returned to his plate of nachos. 

Que Pasa is in the same complex as The Lighthouse, which has a deck for dining that wraps around an indoor bar, and it’s near the Rusty Rudder, which has a deck on the bay that’s so large it can accommodate a spacious stage for bands with six or more members. The Rudder’s sister restaurant, Ivy, is also on the bay. These restaurants benefit from pink-and-purple-stippled sunsets over the water.

But not every restaurant can offer a water view. Lisa DiFebo-Osias has looked at alfresco from several sides now. The original site of DiFebo’s is on Garfield Parkway, west of Route 1 in Bethany Beach. Alfresco dining is offered in a 60-seat courtyard decorated with plantings maintained by the owner’s mother, Charlotte DiFebo. “It reminds me of somewhere in Florida,” says DiFebo-Osias. “Even though the parking lot is out front, we’ve created a space that’s so tranquil. It’s a great place to enjoy a glass of wine and great food.”

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