It’s a sunny summer weekend in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. You’ve laid out on the beach all day with friends and family, breathing in the ocean mist as the waves rolled in. Freeing your inner child, you play some games along the wide boardwalk. Then you drop into a few shops along Rehoboth Avenue for everything from clothes to soaps to candy to toys — and, of course, Kohr’s Frozen Custard (“The Original”).
As you begin to wind down your day, you will probably want to top it off with a nice meal. While some might choose to barbecue at home, others would rather take their taste buds on a culinary journey to the hottest new restaurants in town. If you’re among those beach-goers seeking an ocean-fresh, innovative experience, Blackwall Hitch and 208 Social are the places to go.
Home to some of the area’s freshest seafood, Blackwall Hitch opened a Rehoboth Beach location on Memorial Day weekend of 2016 in the former Green Turtle space on Rehoboth Avenue. Reinforcing the company’s aesthetic and adventurous connection to the sea, the new location is modeled on an old-time fishing boat, but with a modern twist: dangling bulbs and rustic woods, plus pops of sea-foam-blue from the Mason jars that serve as mugs.
The journey commences upon entry into the restaurant. Diners board the “ship,” where their palates are greeted by flavors of the ocean. The specialties? Oysters and flaming crab dip. The deep-shell, locally-farmed oysters arrive off the boat and onto your ice-covered plate within a 24-hour period, served with Tabasco and a variety of house-made mignonettes. Savory palates will want to share the cheesy crab dip, drizzled with bourbon as ignition fluid.
“I’ve always loved the sea,” says executive chef Chip Miller. “And I like how Blackwall Hitch gives their chefs freedom with the menu.” The curated menu reflects Miller’s passion for fresh, local ingredients, which began in his family’s garden. The chef-to-be picked, canned and preserved produce with his mom. At Blackwall Hitch, Miller only serves what is made in his kitchen, including the sauces.
A dish you’ve got to try: Miller’s five-ounce jumbo lump crab cakes, sans filling, which pair perfectly with sweet roasted corn salsa and rosemary French fries.
For a smaller, mom-and-pop restaurant feel, take a walk around the block to 208 Social on 2nd Street. Owned and operated by chef Nate Leonard, 208 Social serves as a community spot where diners can be food connoisseurs in a laid-back, homey environment.
Stay for a while at 208 and let Andy Fabriziani — some Rehoboth regulars call him “the best bartender ever” — make you feel right at home as he mixes you his signature bourbon sour, made with bourbon, apple bitters, lemon and other ingredients for a light, natural flavor. Leonard’s favorite drinks are the Ambassador, made with Diplomatico Reserva rum, Domaine de Canton, Cynar and Fonseca Bin No. 27 port, and the Last Stop, made with Dalwhinnie 15-year-old scotch, Banane du Brésil and bitters.
At 208, the bar doubles as a test kitchen; Leonard will bring out his potential dishes for the following week — cream of day-old popcorn (pureed), for instance — for guests to taste. He converses with them, considers their feedback, then it’s back to the cutting board.
A few years ago, Leonard was cooking at some of the best restaurants in the world in New York City and Philadelphia. He soon discovered, however, that he enjoys cooking for more than the top one-percent. He did well in Michelin restaurants, but, he says, “I wanted to create what was accessible by everyone.”
Leonard keeps his menu affordable while cooking with his heart and soul. Andy recommends the summer fluke, made with Smith Island crab salad, Baywater Greens squash, roasted eggplant, squash blossom and gazpacho water. Another favorite: scallops, caught daily, whatever sizes the fishermen bring in, served over mushroom risotto and topped with porcini foam. The third menu item that should be in the dictionary under “finger-lickin’ good” are the sticky ribs: pork ribs coated in agrodulce and toasted sesame seeds. The sauce makes the ribs unlike any you’ll ever try, and so light you can eat them all day.