The James Beard Awards are the culinary equivalent of the Oscars, and coastal Delaware has received numerous honors over the years. This year’s finalists will be announced on March 14; the awards will be held May 7. Here are some of the spots that have been recognized this year or in the past—and what we recommend eating at each.
Chris Bisaha and Joe Baker, who also own the successful Henlopen City Oyster House, opened The Blue Hen in March 2017 to positive reviews. It’s now a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant honors.
What to try: For some eclectic bites, head to happy hour. I recently sampled the lobster toast with pepper jelly, deviled eggs topped with chicken cracklings, fried oysters with trout roe and—my fave—sunchoke skins stuffed with cheese and topped with chives.
Last year was a big one for founder Sam Calagione, who received the Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional award after seven consecutive nominations.
What to try: The pizzas, made in the wood-burning oven, are a big hit. I’m also fond of the chicken wings, which you can get a few ways: coated with a rub and cooked in the wood-fueled oven, charred with barbecue sauce, or fried and coated with the traditional Buffalo sauce.
This restaurant, which is under the Dogfish Head umbrella, was a semifinalist nominee last year for the Best Bar Program award.
What to try: The “It’s Da Bomb” cocktail, which is made with Espolòn Blanco tequila, fresh-squeezed blood oranges and limes, and a house-made vanilla-clove tincture. Or, time your visit for Fish FryDays, when fried seafood with sides is $15 for adults and $10 for kids. On Lobster Party Sundays, dig in to a 1.25-pound lobster for $10.
Chef Hari Cameron was a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2013 and a semifinalist for Best Chefs in America in 2015 and 2016.
What to try: See Cameron’s innovation in action and sample the tasting menu at a(MUSE.) on Baltimore Avenue in Rehoboth Beach. (The happy hours and late-night scene at the bar are a hit with locals.) Or, for more casual fare, order some fresh pasta at grandpa(MAC), which Cameron owns with brother Orion. There are locations in downtown Rehoboth and on Route 1. The quick-casual menu includes a vegan Caesar salad that tastes like the real deal.
There are 10 beach-area restaurants owned by SoDel Concepts, whose late founder, Matt Haley, received the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year award from the James Beard Foundation. And SoDel’s corporate chef, Doug Ruley, has been invited to cook at the James Beard House on four occasions. (With just one more invite, he’d break the record!)
What to try: Witness the chefs’ collaborative talents at one of the off-season wine dinners or lunches. There’s an educational wine luncheon on Saturday, March 10, at Catch 54 in Fenwick Island, and a Bouchaine wine dinner on Saturday, March 17, at Fish On in Lewes.