When Dogfish Head Brewery president Sam Calagione talks about his new Rehoboth restaurant, Chesapeake & Maine, his voice brims with excitement. He sounds like the kid he once was, enjoying carefree summers on the coast of Maine.
But Calagione, whose brewing operation is located in Milton, also has close ties to the Chesapeake Bay. He decided to combine his love for both areas by opening a seafood-centric restaurant and raw bar this spring, specializing in fishes native to those regions.
He’s so passionate about sustainability that he even developed his own oyster in collaboration with the Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture Co. in Maryland. The result is a Smoke in the Water bivalve infused with culinary wood-smoked salt.
We sampled six of the specially raised oysters, which were fanned out on crushed ice with small cups of slightly sweet golden-beet sauce and a tangy mignonette that was laced with Dogfish Midas Touch beer. The half shells were plump and juicy, with a subtle smoky taste. They were fine but understated.
If you want to go all out, The Chesapeake platter will give you a taste of local oysters, middleneck clams, Jonah crab claws, a chef’s raw-bar selection and half a chilled Maine lobster. All this seafood goodness comes at a price—$65—though the items are also available separately.
You can eye the raw-bar offerings at the seafood counter in the restaurant’s entrance, where a retro white-and-black tile floor and modern tin ceiling set the stage for the shore-tavern decor, complete with porthole windows.
The restaurant, which seats 160, occupies the former Finbar’s Pub and Grill space next door to its sister restaurant, Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats. The space is divided into a front section with a communal table and counters, two dining rooms and a large bar area with tables. One dining room has two stunning oyster-shell chandeliers and whimsical nautical wallpaper with motifs of ships and mythical sea creatures.
The restaurant doesn’t take reservations. Vacationers should consider being early birds, so they don’t have to wait long for a table. It opens at 4 p.m. daily.
Once seated, we had the full attention of our enthusiastic waitress, who was well versed in the seasonal menu and stories behind the dishes. With the reverence of a convert, she shared how the staff had visited Hooper’s, where the restaurant’s signature oysters are raised.
Craft cocktails made with Dogfish Head spirits
The beverage menu includes Dogfish Head brews, a thoughtful selection of wines, craft cocktails made with Dogfish Head spirits and keg-conditioned mixed drinks like a Moscow mule and a Negroni.
Besides oysters, we also started our meal with luscious smoked lobster deviled eggs. These are not your average picnic-fare snack. The elegant eggs were crowned with zesty pickled mustard seeds spilling over the white orb, all feathered with shaved fennel and radishes.
Another starter was just as successful. The house-made “seacuterie” was a great presentation, with a whole Scotch egg anchoring the plate. The classic egg preparation was updated with a crab cake wrapped around a soft-boiled egg, ready to spill its silky yolk once the coating was cut.
The rest of the plate’s ensemble included slices of flavorful lobster sausage and a mason jar packed with a thick smoked bluefish pâté to be spread on toasted bread slices. It was addictively good.
The terrific appetizers were a nice introduction to our entrées, which arrived in a timely manner. The two Maryland-style crab cakes were admirable mounds of backfin and jumbo lump crab.
Smoked lobster deviled eggs
Seared jumbo day-boat scallops
For our sides, we selected a beautiful, slightly vinegary coleslaw with red and green cabbage, and three roly-poly bacon hushpuppies that were pleasantly sweet and spicy.
The seared jumbo day-boat scallops were presented like a gorgeous still life. The sweet white scallops were set against a backdrop of bright-green English pea purée, grilled fiddlehead ferns and garlic shoots, and spring peas. Red quinoa and black garlic sea salt completed the stunning picture.
The land-and-sea burger was also a vision. A fat Angus burger was topped with a huge chunk of butter-poached lobster on a toasted brioche roll.
The land-and-sea burger
Meat lovers are also given the option of a strip steak as an entrée.
The desserts are fun at Chesapeake & Maine with regional favorites like a Smith Island cake, which originated in Maryland and is now its state dessert. This impressive confection was true to form, with nine impossibly thin yellow-cake layers sealed with a rich chocolate icing.
But we really enjoyed the nostalgic remake of a ’50s potluck favorite—strawberry pretzel salad. In this update, the dessert is layered in a mason jar with a pretzel crust, mascarpone cheesecake, strawberry gelée and a fresh ripe strawberry on top.
Chesapeake & Maine isn’t the typical seafood shack usually found at the beach. The airy, welcoming restaurant reflects the efforts of its owner to showcase impeccable seafood sourced directly from watermen he knows. “I wanted to bring an off-center approach to seafood,” Calagione says.
We think his approach is right on target.
316 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-3600 | PRICES: Appetizers, $8-$18; raw bar, market price to $115; entrées, $19-$39; desserts, $8. | RECOMMENDED DISHES: “Seacuterie” appetizer, seared jumbo day-boat scallops, land-and-sea burger and Smith Island cake.