Monday, September 21, 2009

Detour: Rehoboth Beach Visitor's Guide

Slight tangent here. This is a blog of many colors, after all, so why not a Rehoboth Beach Visitor's Guide? [Author's note: Check out the iPhone App that Rick and I are developing - a travel guide called "Rehoboth In My Pocket" - which is due for release in spring 2010. You can sign up now to be notified when the App comes out, or for our Rehoboth blog updates, at]

I've gotten a couple of nice compliments on a little guide I wrote for renters in our Delaware beach house. One person even said "You should publish this!" And I thought oh, pshaw, who would publish .... hey, wait. I can publish!

And what better time to post a review of Rehoboth restaurants, walks around town, and coffee shops than now, the butt-end of summer when the boardwalk teems with seven or eight lost souls wandering about, asking "Where's the boardwalk?"

We’ve sampled most of the restaurants in Rehoboth, usually with happy results, but many of them can be hit or miss, which can be infuriating when the prices are as high as they are.
* shows our favorites

◊ *Stingray Sushi Bar & Asian Latino Grill, 59 Lake Ave.
One of my biggest regrets is not trying this place out when they opened last year – we missed an entire year of this fabulous spot! Now if they'd only get rid of the horrible, loud techno music - one night we watched diners at every table in our part of the restaurant complain (including us), and the staff did their best to explain that the owners were trying to set a mood. Owners: please? We aren’t sushi eaters, so didn’t expect a lot of choice, but their menu is the most mouth watering and well-executed in Rehoboth (in my humble opinion). Once we finally went, in April, we spent 5 of our next 6 dining experiences there. On the appetizer menu (ALL of which are huge and can be a entrée) we loved the potstickers, fish tacos, duck quesadilla, ceviche, lettuce wraps, and spring rolls (not what you expect). Salads we’ve tried – both great – are the pulled chicken and the pad thai (both huge). Entrees – like so many places – aren’t quite as memorable: didn’t really care for the Eisenhower Chicken (odd flavor) or Pork Mojo (good sides, but pork rather dry and tasteless). Rick preferred the Sea Salt NY Strip over the Rib Eye (but admits that the overly salty NY Strip might have been an aberration). Outstanding sides are the yucca fries with queso fresco, the corn and black bean salad, and the wrinkled green beans. Skip the lobster pierogies. If they ever offer the lobster/edamame side dish, absolutely grab it. Interesting avocado cheesecake – not too sweet. Oh, and it’s a gorgeous restaurant, too! Moderate to Expensive.

Lupo di Mare (in the lobby of the Hotel Rehoboth, across the Avenue)
Oh, I love this place, and they have such wonderful food, but it is so incredibly loud (with wood floors and tables and no sound dampening anything) that we can only eat there when it’s empty. Wonderful small “tastes” and generous “sides” can make up your whole meal here – for $3 to $6 a plate. Particularly good are the mushroom risotto, shaved Brussels sprouts, huge fresh arugula salad.

Mariachi Restaurant, 14 Wilmington Ave., 227-0115
Very friendly restaurant with a nice, large upstairs deck for outside seating. Have tried some of the fancier items but been disappointed – stick with the Mexican basics like the chicken chimichanga and the fajitas and you’ll be very happy. Great sangria by the pitcher. Moderate.

Espuma 28 Wilmington Ave. 302-227-4199 Used to be our favorite, but the last two visits have disappointed. Wonderful atmosphere – very romantic – but the food has fallen off. Very trendy ingredients and eclectic menu, but not always well executed. Very Expensive.

Eden 23 Baltimore Ave., 302-227-3330 Consistently good. Best seating choices are the outside seating upstairs, and some cute fabric-draped booths downstairs. Great grilled romaine salad, duck with homemade fettucini appetizer , fish served over paella. Portion sizes are not huge, which is actually somewhat of a relief these days. Good mojitos. Very Expensive.

◊ *Zebra Ristorante, 32 Lake Avenue 302-226-1160. Perfect Caesar salad. You can taste the fresh in the homemade black & white pasta with scallops, and the pappardelle with mushrooms is memorable. Zebra also offers pastas in “small plates,’ saving money and calories. Very good carbonara, pasta Bolognese, risotto. Jungle décor – really cute. Nice outside patio. Definitely make reservations. Very Expensive.

1776 Steakhouse, Midway Shopping Center (next to the movie theater), Route 1, 302-645-0854. Side dishes and desserts sometime don’t warrant the price, but truly outstanding dry-aged steaks, perfectly cooked. Very expensive.

◊ *Nage, 4307 Highway 1, (302) 226 2037
In an odd location, next to the Oreck vacuum cleaner store and in the shadow of a massive liquor store in a small strip mall on Route 1, Nage is a find. It’s small – so call ahead. Lots of ambience in the lighting, and with no standard-issue anything (everything from the salt and pepper shaker to the silverware is just a little bit different). We typically go for the specials, and if they ever offer the cannelloni Bolognese while you’re there, please call me immediately! Best French onion soup ever, and the truffle frites are oddly addictive. Expensive.

Planet X Restaurant, 35 Wilmington Avenue, (302) 226-1928. Organically-focused restaurant with dramatic, eclectic décor with lots of draped fabrics, candles, stuff. I love it, my husband less so ;-) Two of my favorites – a duck risotto appetizer, and chicken soup – are either no longer on the menu or offered as specials. Don’t miss them if they pop up while you’re there. The red curry seafood is terrific, fish is nicely prepared, pastas are good. Not sure of reservation policy. Expensive.

Just in Thyme, 31 Robinson Drive & Route One (drive out Rehoboth Ave to Route 1 and turn left, it’s a mile or two down on the left hand side) 302-227-3100
This is a local’s favorite; we went on a February Saturday night without a reservation and had to wait nearly two hours for a table. There are a lot of plastic flowers and white lights decorating this place, but at night it seems relaxing and happy. They use fresh crabmeat all over the place – topping the prime rib, in the delicious stuffed mushroom caps, and their smoked fish appetizer is generous. You can eat here without spending a fortune, too, which is nice. Moderate to Expensive

◊ *Porcini House Bistro, 210 2nd Street. Formerly Chez la Mer, this new restaurant re-opened as the Porcini House Bistro in April 08, with the same chef/owner as Espuma. Small and intimate with a warm little cocktail area and low ceilinged dining room (plus a lovely rooftop bar area with a bar and more dinner seating), we love this place and have been there a dozen times now. Most everything is under $20, and they have a fun collection of appetizers including flatbread pizzas (try the Country French with ham, honey mustard, and brie), Italian sausage, small plates of risotto (the shellfish with sausage bits is very good, but overall risottos aren't the high point here), and a bunch of different paninis. This is the rare menu where you’d happily choose 90% of the items. Moderate. (Call for reservations.)

Stoney Lonen, 208 Second Street, 302-227-2664. This place is a constant, low key, winner. Fish is always great, but a nice light meal is a generous spinach salad with an appetizer of steamed mussels or braised short ribs. Rick has enjoyed the steak and the corned beef and cabbage, as well as the fish and chips. GREAT beer list. Half price fish & chips on Friday, half price bottles of wine on Saturday, and half price fish dinners on Sunday. Lots of ambience in this converted bungalow. Moderate.

Fins Raw Bar, 243 Rehoboth Ave, (302) 226-FINS
Lots of seating (on the second floor) and excellent fresh fish, seafood, and salads, at reasonable prices. It’s nicely decorated, with dark wood and interesting nautical knick knacks, but you could take kids here without a worry – it’s not a white tablecloth kind of place. We love the chopped salad with fresh fish of the day on top, and the cheeseburgers and po’ boys are really good, too. Moderate.

Finbar, 316 Rehoboth Avenue, 302-227-2873. We have a love/hate relationship with this place. It’s gorgeous, with an authentic dark-wood pub feel. Huge bar brought in from a turn-of-the-century Irish pub in Philadelphia. Big selection of British and Irish beers. Food-wise, they could do better. Stick with the basics here – fish & chips, shepherd’s pie, Irish stew – because the more adventurous chops and fish and Indian dishes have been pretty disappointing. Moderate.

Pig & Fish, 236 Rehoboth Ave., 302-227-7770. This used to be Sydney’s Jazz & Blues, and while we miss Sydney’s, we love Pig & Fish! They opened in 2007 and are doing a lot right. The wood floors make the sound bounce around, so it can get a little loud, but the gumbo makes up for it. Delicious chowdah, and they offered a Cuban Tenderloin entrée special when we were there that needs to be on the regular menu. I had the pulled pork sandwich, and the vinegar flavor was way too heavy for my taste (and they put blue cheese in their side dish of potato salad – uck), but one of their desserts – Bourbon Bread & Butter Pudding – is the best bread pudding ever. Moderate.

◊ *Purple Parrot, 134 Rehoboth Avenue, 226-1139. Great burgers and fish tacos. Hilarious karaoke on Friday nights with some real local talent. Look for their dinner specials on Sundays at 5:00 – like $12 prime rib. Get there right at 5:00 because they sell out. Inexpensive to moderate.

◊ *Adriatico, First and Baltimore Avenue, 227-9255. One of the few fairly inexpensive places in downtown Rehoboth that has nice (casual) ambience, good service and frequently good (not great) food. Very nice linguini with white clam sauce (enough for 2 meals) and sautéed spinach. Rick approves the spaghetti with sausage on the side. Great garlic bread. Kids are welcome. Eat outside on the patio. Very casual. Pasta less than $10. Inexpensive to moderate.

Big Fish Grill, 4117 Highway One, 302-227-FISH. Extremely popular place, which doesn’t take reservations (that I know of, you may want to check). Long, long waits. Big place, quite loud, not fancy. Excellent food, reasonable prices. Outstanding crab cakes. Lots of choices for the non-fish eater. Inexpensive to moderate.

◊ *Go Fish, 24 Rehoboth Ave. One our of three favorite, go-to places in the off-season (along with Summer House and Stingray). English fish & chips place with delicious and inexpensive entrees. Try the calamari, shepherd’s pie, and, of course, fish & chips. During the winter, they have 10 entrees for $10. Limited beer and wine selection. Skip the toffee pudding for dessert. Inexpensive.

◊ *Summer House, 228 Rehoboth Ave, 302-227-3895. Love this place. Redecorated since its days as a twenty- and thirty-somethings’ meeting place, Summer House is now a value-priced (for Rehoboth!), consistently good place. Good steaks with nevis potatoes (think au gratin, yumm), great salad with cranberries and a little packet of filo-wrapped goat cheese underneath (you can get it with grilled fish of the day on top for a great dinner), very large portions that you can bring home for lunch the next day. Excellent service – very attentive and quick. Moderate.

Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats, 320 Rehoboth Avenue, 302-226-2739. This is a fun place, very casual with lots of wood, live music starting at 10 on Fridays and other nights throughout the week. Dogfish Head beer is ubiquitous throughout the region, with creative, seasonally-themed brews. Food quality goes up and down here, so you’re better off sticking with the simple stuff – burgers, pizza (Thursday is create your own pizza night and I put one together with olive oil & garlic, chicken, prosciutto, red onion and parmesan cheese that should SO be on the regular menu!). Rick liked a recent steak, which came with excellent mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. TERRIBLE wine selection, I’m sad to say – one of the reasons I’m always a little reluctant to go there. Inexpensive to Moderate.

Cultured Pearl, 301 Rehoboth Ave., 302-227-8493. Unbelievably, the building that houses this restaurant used to be a hardware store (remember Quillens??). The Cultured Pearl owners moved their small but loved restaurant from its former location closer to the beach out to this larger space. They bought the whole building and renovated it in a tropical/Asian theme, leasing out the bottom area for retail, including a wine store and a new Starbucks. The restaurant is beautiful, and in warm weather the rooftop dining area reportedly has a koi pond embedded in the floor, under a sheet of plexiglass! Must be an incredibly romantic place to eat. Have only had drinks here at this point – let us know if you go and like it!

Dish! 26 Baltimore Ave., 302-226-2112. This tiny, below-street-level place has the best beef stroganoff you have ever had, guaranteed. We have a hard time ordering anything else, so can’t really report on other entrees, but the duck confit and cabbage wontons and calamari are excellent starts. Reservations.

For lunch on the boardwalk, try Victoria’s (excellent burgers, good poached salmon salad – just don’t go for the overpriced, unimpressive dinners) or Obies By the Sea (really good chili dogs and fries).

◊ Dinner with kids, try Nicola Pizza (Baltimore Avenue, left off Rehoboth Ave) – very popular and gets crowded, but good pizza. Though this is the landmark, we actually prefer the pizza from Grotto’s (a local chain, locations everywhere, including on Rehoboth Avenue about a block from the water) and from Casa DiLeo, a small, family-run Italian place in the small strip center on the left just as you get off Route 1 onto Rehoboth Avenue and head toward the ocean. Casa DiLeo also has pretty good lasagna, a great sautéed broccolini with garlic side dish, but the fettucine alfredo is horrendous.

◊ Institutions – Grotto’s Pizza (everywhere), Thrashers French Fries (everywhere), Dolle’s candy and caramel corn.

For breakfast, here’s what we recommend:

Best Overall: Ask for a table on the screened porch at Royal Treat on Wilmington. Everything’s good (especially the French toast made with Italian bread), and you gotta love a screened porch on a nice day. Get there before 11:30. (They close for lunch, and then reopen in the afternoon as an ice cream parlor - root beer floats, butterscotch sundaes with wet nuts, malteds, you name it.)
Best Food: Crystal Restaurant, on Rehoboth Avenue heading into town from Route 1. Large, clean, casual place with dated 50’s décor and lines out the door because of their home fries (the best in town), huge stuffed omelets (try the shrimp and crabmeat), and everything else you could want.
Most Food: If you are a big brunch person, try Victoria’s very fancy and pricey buffet, on the boardwalk, looking out at the ocean. Celsius, Café Sole, the Front Porch, Purple Parrot, and Cloud 9 also offer Sunday brunch. We haven’t been to any.
To Walk It Off: Try walking down to Dewey Beach (either via the beach or south along Bayard Avenue), then head to the Starboard Restaurant for their Bloody Mary bar, or to Sunrise Restaurant for a basic but good breakfast.
Coffee to go: Starting three blocks from the beach on Rehoboth Avenue, there’s a Bakery in the first block (massive, delightful muffins, donuts, etc), or keep going to the Dunkin Donuts a block down on the right, or go one more block to Café a Go Go (our favorite) for a fancier coffee (try their special Café con Leche or one of their Mexican chili-chocolate coffees) and bacon, egg, cheese bagel.
Paper, Coffee, Sandwich and Sun: Here’s my favorite morning place – Lori’s Oy Vey Café, 39 Baltimore Ave. Grab a table in the courtyard, order an egg bagel and a coffee at the counter, and sit as long as you like.
Just for fun: Try Café Papillon, a great little crepes place in the Penny Lane shopping alley (ocean block off Rehoboth Avenue on the right side). Order a sweet or savory crepes at the window (I had the predictable but delicious and filling ham and swiss) and sit at one of the outdoor tables. A little bit o’ Europe.

If you want a quick and easy breakfast and the other places are full, you can try Sammy’s Kitchen, a friendly place with spotty food, but typically good eggs, omelets, and pancakes or Robin Hood Restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue (two blocks from the ocean) , which has been there forever and recently renovated – it’s a pretty authentic diner feel, tasty, cheap, basic breakfast. Grotto’s Pizza now serves breakfast at their location on Rehoboth Avenue, one block before the boardwalk. I can’t really imagine it, but give it a shot.

Under no circumstances should you go to Gus and Gus on the boardwalk for breakfast. I’ve heard their chicken is pretty good, but breakfast is not their thing – take my word for it.

You may have better luck than we did at these places

Red Square – Rehoboth Avenue. Russian restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue. Beautiful, cozy restaurant with bizarre service, extremely high prices, no tap water (have to buy bottled), mediocre to bad food, and never anyone in the place – it’s a mystery. Cover for some shady business? What do you think? (I mean, they tossed a stale slice of that swirly rye bread you get at grocery stores on our plates, charged $15 for martinis, and then charged us over $30 for beef stroganoff that appeared to have come out of a nuke-in-the-bag package. What is UP with that??)

Celsius – Wilmington Avenue. I wanted to love this place so badly because it’s cute, the staff is nice, and it has a tempting menu, but our one meal there was just bad – I had bouillabaisse and my husband had pork osso buco – both among the worst we’ve had.

Jake’s Seafood – Baltimore Avenue. So many people seem to like this place (or at least it’s always busy), but my one trip there was so unimpressive. Plain décor, no ambience, service was okay but impersonal. I had a basic fish dish and it just had no flavor. Others at my table were equally unimpressed.

Claws – About a block down Rehoboth Avenue on the left. Tried this place once and was excited at first to see the wood-y, nautical décor and extensive menu. But then they were out of the lobster roll. Then the shrimp salad. Then the crab soup was just tasteless and thick – how can you mess up crab soup? Add to that the poorly designed benches that had my feet swinging off the floor (and I’m not short)… Just unexcited about this place, I’m afraid. (Though my sister had a wonderful happy hour experience this summer, so who knows?)

Things to do
Some of our favorite things to do:

◊ Start the morning with a latte at Café A Go Go and walk to the boardwalk to greet the ocean. Turn left and follow the boardwalk to the end, then continue along Surf Avenue into Henlopen Acres. Beautiful homes, large, shady trees, lovely walk. Finish the morning with breakfast on the screened porch at Royal Treat (4 Wilmington Avenue) – but get there before 11:30. They convert to an old fashioned, sit-down ice cream parlor at 1:00.

◊ Walk to dinner on the patio at Zebra, followed by ice cream at Royal Treat on Wilmington.

◊ Pick up shells on the beach south of the boardwalk, then continue on the beach down to Dewey. Have grilled chicken and beer at Eds on Rt. 1, then walk back up Rt. 1 into Rehoboth.

◊ Get to Dogfish Head Brewery (on Rehoboth Avenue) around 8:30 or 9:00 pm for a meatball pizza, house-brewed beer and live music starting at 10:00 on Fridays.

◊ The Midway Movie Theater on Route 1 has tons of theaters and they are the best – stadium style seating, comfortable high-baked rocker seats, everything clean and modern. And now there’s a Coldstone across the street – how perfect is that!

◊ For an up-close look at the huge beach mansions, go right on the boardwalk to the end, turn right and walk up Prospect to your first left, then just wander.

◊ Tuesdays between 12 and 4 – check out the Farmer’s Market in Grove Park (walk left on Rehoboth Ave to the canal – you’ll see the white tents on the right). Great selection of stuff like mushrooms, nuts, cheese, bakery, sandwiches, farm eggs – great stuff.

◊ Rent bikes and ride back into The Pines, Henlopen Acres, or down the other way past Dewey Beach to the bay-side parks and the WWII observation towers. (Oh, and great sunsets on the bayside beaches.) A new bike path is now open between Rehoboth and Lewes - just 6 miles of pretty. Called the Junction and Breakwater Trail.

◊ Work out at the YMCA - $12 per person for drop-in visits. (From Rehoboth Ave, turn at Shore Haus furniture place, then first right.)

◊ We haven’t done this yet, but you can rent kayaks, small boats, or pontoon boats on the bayside in Dewey Beach and spend the day out on Rehoboth Bay.

Where Can You Find…

Newspapers: Browseabout Books or the Variety Store on Rehoboth Ave.

Coffee: Café A Go Go (about a block from the ocean on Rehoboth Ave). Or, Starbucks, three blocks away from the ocean on Rehoboth Avenue. Go if you must.

Magazines: Browseabout Books or Atlantic Books on Rehoboth Avenue a block before the ocean has a great selection

Suntan lotion, laundry detergent, toilet paper, etc.: Rehoboth Variety, Rehoboth Avenue (toward the ocean) on the left side of the street.

Milk, fruit, water, etc: There’s a health food store (I forget the name) on Rehoboth Avenue next to the Bakery, on the right. There’s also Lingo’s Market, a small food store, at 1st and Baltimore, and if you go LEFT on Rehoboth Avenue (away from the ocean) you’ll find a 7-Eleven and a Royal Farm Store. (At press time, a new grocery called Grub looked to be opening across the street – check it out.)

Books: Browseabout Books is a great place to wander. It’s on Rehoboth Avenue about two blocks down (toward the ocean) on the left hand side.

Playgrounds: Big playground on your left as you crossed the canal driving into Rehoboth. There is also playground equipment and a nice little walking path over by Lake Gerar (walk down Rehoboth Avenue and turn left onto 1st Street and it’s 4 blocks ahead).

Whatever you end up doing, seeing, or eating, have a great one!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great summary -- I like your comment about Red Square -- the biggest mystery in RB is how that place stays in business -- never a customer.