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Quality Seafood at a Lower Price Point


Kindle | Broiled day boat  sea scallops Mitonnee is made with New Jersey scallops and served on a Gruyére crouton, with tomato broth, garbanzo beans and braised Swiss chard.The growth of fine dining restaurants was a boon to the resorts, but the 1990s was a time when fine dining still meant white tablecloths—even if they were dressed with artfully mismatched cutlery—and high prices for precious portions of seared rare tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes. There was a great divide between them and boardwalk-style eateries.

Recognizing the need for lower prices and quality food, brothers Eric and Norman Sugrue opened Big Fish Grill in 1997 on Del. 1, just outside Rehoboth.

“We covered white linens with white paper and put crayons on the table,” Eric Sugrue says. “We decided to stay open all year. People thought we were crazy.” The waiting lines outside on summer nights proved otherwise. The Sugrues’ restaurant group would go on to buy The Summer House, a tavern-style Rehoboth old-timer, and Salt Air, a more  upscale downtown newcomer. They now follow The Big Fish approach, sans the crayons.

Chef Matt Haley, who moved to Rehoboth from Washington, D.C., in 1999, also spotted the niche. He opened Bluecoast Seafood Grill, originally Redfin, in a former produce stand and fish market on the highway in Bethany Beach in 2001. Creative seafood dishes made it an instant hit, and a string of similar restaurants soon followed. “We wanted to offer good food at a favorable price point,” says Haley, the recipient of this year’s Humanitarian of the Year honor from the James Beard Foundation. 

He now has eight places, including a new Papa Grande’s Coastal Taqueria in the old Chez La Mer. The restaurant is the second Papa Grande’s and the first concept that Haley has duplicated. (The original Papa Grande’s is next to Haley’s Catch 54 in Fenwick.)

The Culinary Coast has become populated with a plethora of independently owned restaurants with an entrée price that seldom creeps above $24. Matt DiSabatino, for instance, opened Striper Bites in Lewes in 2001 to feature salads, sandwiches, entrées and pasta. Most entrées are priced under $25. 

DiSabatino and partner Ian Crandall also own Half Full, which specializes in hand-made pizza—and that’s it. In fall, the restaurant will move to larger digs on Second Street next to the partners’ upscale restaurant, Kindle.

The owners of Eden in 2010 opened JAM (Jeff and Mark) Bistro. “JAM is more on the casual side,” McCracken says. “It’s a lower price point. Our wine list has 40 bottles under $40. It’s value-driven.”

Steve Hagen and Kevin Frey’s restaurants, Off the Hook in Bethany Beach and Just Hooked in Fenwick Island, also keep entrées under $25—a boon considering they’re seafood-centric.

In 2011, the Twinings opened Lobster Shanty on Del. 54, giving Nantuckets’ guests a casual option. At both restaurants, New England favorites like lobster cakes and lobster rolls are must-try dishes.

The need for quality, casual fare has prompted the lightning-like growth of Touch of Italy, which evolved from a downtown Rehoboth deli to a chain with four locations, including a full-service trattoria next to Nage. Fins Fish House & Raw Bar in downtown Rehoboth also
ventured onto the highway with a new location on Del. 1.