Salero is housed on the top floor of the Henlopen Hotel, a lofty perch that affords diners the best ocean view in Delaware. Saturated with the bold colors of the Mediterranean— yellow, orange, cobalt blue— the restaurant’s décor sets the mood for its festive cuisine. All of the food— from the breads to the pasta to the desserts— is made on the premises.
For starters, try the gratin of shrimp, lobster and blue crab with creamed spinach and blistered Manchego cheese. A richer, more comforting appetizer you’d be hard-pressed to find.
Entrees show off chefs David Horton and Eric McGrath’s talents for creating imaginative seafood dishes. Fresh yellowfin tuna is lightly blackened then oven-roasted in parchment paper with roasted peppers, fresh herbs and a livornaise sauce made from anchovies, olives, capers and rosemary, and served over buttered orzo. Meat lovers will zero in on the lamb loin with potato and leek pie accompanied by a plump ratatouille-stuffed beefsteak tomato. Best bets for dessert include frozen honey cheesecake with almond praline crust or a summery fresh fruit tart with lemon curd and apricot glaze. Or simply push back from the table and enjoy that incredible view— it’s calorie-free. —KB 8th Floor, Henlopen Hotel, 511 N. Boardwalk, Rehoboth Beach, 302-227-8630, rehoboth.com/salero.
Espuma’s talented chef-owner Kevin Reading and his staff seek inspiration from all over the globe for their eclectic bill of fare. You’ll find French, Asian, Mediterranean and Spanish accents on the menu, which changes regularly to suit the season. Sadly, service can be indifferent, but all is forgiven when the glorious food goes on parade. Start off with the baked oysters stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and Asiago cheese or the rosemary-studded shrimp in a mango demi-glace. Follow it up with a thick slab of Chilean sea bass lightly encrusted with potatoes in a spinach and white truffle sauce. There is a vegetarian entree-of-the-day as well as a chef’s choice prix fixe dinner ($45). Desserts by pastry chef Andrew Hooven, a former New York City police officer, are nothing short of spectacular, especially a killer white and dark chocolate cheesecake with a Grand Marnier truffle on top.
The restaurant is decidedly upscale for the beach; dinner for two hovers around $100. Espuma has a separate showcase for pastry chef Hooven’s talents, a new bakery called Sweet Dreams (in the Shore Plaza at 4307 Highway 1, Rehoboth Beach, 302-226-2037). —MLB 28 Wilmington Ave & 1st Street, Rehoboth Beach, 302-227-4199, restaurantespuma.com.
Blue Plate Diner
Ever since Money magazine named Lewes among the nation’s top 10 places to vacation, business at the Blue Plate Diner has been hopping. Started in June 2001 by owner Jim Paslawski in a former bait and tackle shop, the Blue Plate Diner’s ambience is wonderfully funky, with white rafters, works by local artists on the walls, and art deco glass accents over the bar. The diner is a popular place for breakfast at reasonable prices— a stack of buttermilk pancakes runs $4.25; eggs Benedict featuring perfectly poached eggs and thick slices of Canadian bacon will set you back $6.95. The restaurant also serves fine sandwiches, and at dinner, the menu expands beyond diner favorites to include entrees like teriyaki salmon over soba noodles. —MLB 329 Savannah Road, Lewes, 302-644-8400.
Rams Head Tavern of Rehoboth Beach
Anyone in Annapolis can tell you that Bill Muehlhauser, owner of the Rams Head Tavern, is a trendsetter with his combination brewery/restaurant/concert hall. Now that Rams Head has come to Rehoboth, beachgoers can enjoy the fruits of Muehlhauser’s trailblazing efforts.
Rams Head is a hail-fellow-well-met kind of place, where the beer selection is legendary. The menu at the Annapolis and Rehoboth establishments are identical, which means the emphasis is on freshness and variety: from half-pound burgers and hand-cut steaks to memorable Sicilian-style mussels served with a toasted baguette. On the lighter side, the salads are inventive (especially the Kent Island chicken salad featuring Southern fried chicken and served on spinach with a spicy jalapeno dressing), and the crab cake entrée comes with Fordham Stout (the in-house brewery’s brand name) corn relish.
Pub music is part of the scene here as well, with an ever-changing repertoire of good bands and solo performers. Since its opening in 2002, Rams Head Rehoboth has been mobbed— evidence that Muehlhauser has hit yet another home run. —MLB 15 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 302-227-0807, ramsheadtavern.com.
Redfin Seafood Grill & Fish Market
“A bold-flavored East Coast seafood menu with a twist,” is how Redfin Seafood Grill & Fish Market chef Mark Rutt characterizes his creations. Indeed, Redfin, which lies on a lonely stretch of Route 1 in North Bethany, does produce some creative cuisine. That “twist” shows itself in chef Rutt’s crab cakes, stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat and bits of flavorful chopped-up shrimp ($23). It’s also in his pan-seared sea bass topped with an unusual pineapple-tomato chutney ($22). The atmosphere at Redfin is upscale casual, with black leather booths, lazy ceiling fans and containers of Old Bay on every table. Desserts, all made in-house, run the gamut from bread pudding to coconut cream pie. The desserts are good, but you’ll also appreciate the red Swedish gummy fish given out with the bill— the perfect twist to an imaginative meal. —JS Route 1, N. Bethany Beach, 302-537-0100, http://www.redfinseafoodgrill.com.
Stoney Lonen owners Nelia Dolan and John Rishkow call their restaurant “an Irish family fish house.” Seafood is indeed a specialty here, with excellent non-greasy ale-battered fish (grouper) and shoestring chips, and nightly specials of grilled swordfish, rockfish or mahi-mahi (served with homemade salsas). An appealing light meal at Stoney Lonen combines one of the cook’s homemade soups (don’t miss the celestial asparagus soup) with an appetizer of broiled sea scallops in a lemony butter sauce circling a mound of mesclun salad. Ask for the wonderful hot breadsticks ($1 a basket) to go with it.
Desserts are not a strong point of the kitchen, judging from a dry rum raisin pudding and a too-sweet chocolate pecan pie. The children’s menu comes with complimentary vanilla ice cream, and the booths on the deck are spacious enough to accommodate the biggest brood. This is not to suggest that Stoney Lonen is overrun with wee ones. Far from it. In fact, the hostess takes care to seat diners appropriately in each of the restaurant’s three areas. All in all, service is a strong point at Stony Lonen— an endearing addition to family dining at the shore. —MLB 208 2nd St., Rehoboth Beach., 302-227-2664.
Baja Beach Grill
Owner Rick Hundley and his partner Miguel Lopez expect their new venture to fill a void in places to eat at the beach with kids— eat quickly that is. The ordering drill is simple: patrons place their orders, take a number and wait for their food to arrive at the counter. Seating is available inside or outside on the trellised patio.
Mexican entrées include fish, chicken and steak tacos and burritos that can all be doctored up at the salsa bar. (Entrée prices range from $6 to $9.) In addition to lunch and dinner, Baja Beach Grill is also open for breakfast, serving Spanish omelets, egg sandwiches and typical American fare. —MLB 109 Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach, 302-537-9993.
This cute French café is the place to go for a quick lunch or takeout for the beach. Open since last December— and already a favorite with locals— Café Azaf‡n serves up deliciously fresh sandwiches like poached, chilled chicken breast with a green herb sauce, tomato and field greens and fresh mozzarella on ciabatta bread, or Spanish Serrano ham, olive tapenade, mozzarella and basil on Italian bread. The pastries, sweet bars and cookies are baked fresh daily, and hey, the coffee’s pretty good, too. —JS 109 Market St., Lewes, 302-644-4446.
Striper Bites calls itself a bistro, but there’s nothing French about it. If anything, it’s a mix between a New England seafood house and Key West café, or so says its owner, 27-year-old Matt DiSabatino. The kid’s right. There is something Cape Cod-like about its high-ceilinged interior and exposed wooden beams. And on a hot summer night, with its front porch hopping, you’d half expect Ernest Hemingway himself to buy you a beer. Essentially Striper Bites is a fun, come-as-you-are kind of place, great for lunch, happy hour or a casual dinner. Veteran Shore chef Mark Hussong serves up a mean crab cake with ginger aioli and a blackened rockfish club with applewood bacon and Caesar dressing. As far as the name? “I’ve been fishing all my life,” says DiSabatino, who grew up in Lewes. “Stripers are my favorite fish to catch.” —JS 107 Savannah Rd., Lewes, 302-645-4657.