Scanning the menu at the new Blue Hen in Rehoboth is like going to Funland for foodies. At the amusement park, you’ll want to ride a perennial favorite—The Paratrooper, perhaps—as well as something newer and more daring, such as the Superflip 360. At The Blue Hen you’ll want to try something familiar and always pleasing, such as a classic filet with roasted mushrooms and ramps in buerre blanc, as well as something you don’t see on every menu, such as “rabbitchetta”—stuffed rabbit loin and leg confit served with fava beans and baby carrots in rabbit demi-glace.
At Funland, ride as long as your equilibrium will allow. At The Blue Hen, you’ll have to make some difficult decisions, unless you possess the proverbial hollow leg—which you may wish for when you read the menu. If you are a diner of wide-ranging tastes, not one of its small plates or entrées will fail to tempt. So where do you start?
We chose the beginning—which is also where we ended. Explanation to follow soon.
Owner Chris Bisaha//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
The Blue Hen is brought to you by owners Joe Baker and Chris Bisaha with chef Bill Clifton, the team behind Henlopen City Oyster House. (The Blue Hen. Henlopen City Oyster House. Get it?) The two places, a few doors apart on opposite sides of the street, share a similar, thoroughly contemporary aesthetic, down to the typography of their menus. At The Blue Hen, high walls painted in light neutrals and big storefront windows that admit lots of light counter the dark wood floors. A blue banquette in the dining room adds a dash of color. A large blue hen painted above it presides over all.
When Henlopen City Oyster House opened seven years ago, it was a welcome addition to a beach town that, ironically perhaps, needed another great seafood restaurant. Sliding into the scene just as consumer interest in oysters was re-emerging—and cultivating them had become as fine an art as craft brewing—it quickly won legions of fans by providing fresh food prepared, in general, with a light touch.
The Blue Hen offers a more diverse menu, and it stretches a bit further. There are seafood dishes, but there is far more meat, both beaked and hooved, as well as uncommon, presented as small plates and entrées. The menu leads with a selection of charcuterie and artisanal cheeses, all from domestic producers, and a quartet of raw offerings such as Wagyu beef tartare. Though the yellowfin with fried artichokes had been recommended highly by friends who beat me to The Blue Hen, we opted for a half dozen oysters from New Brunswick and venison carpaccio.
Duck carpaccio//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
The oysters, small and sweet, were served with a tangy mignonette that was distinguished by a hint of (I’m guessing here) tarragon. The venison was served as a fan of 10 or so paper-thin slices of garnet-red tenderloin, slightly charred at the edges, that felt like satin. Bits of pomegranate and a dab of pickled mustard seeds awakened a subtle earthiness in the meat that played well against the sweet nuttiness of parsnips, which were beautifully fried into crispy golden curls. It was the best dish I have ever eaten at the beach.
With so many intriguing small plates and a menu of 10 entrées, The Blue Hen’s menu is designed to appeal to guests of the Avenue Inn, in which it is housed, who may want a light bite and a night cap, as well as walk-in diners. It also appeals to those who want a hearty meal after a day of playing in the surf and to those who might prefer to graze.
From left: Grilled octopus; Halibut pan-seared in duck fat, topped with toasted almonds and caramelized onions alongside fiddlehead ferns and chayote atop parsnip velouteé.//Photos by Leslie Barbaro
I had a hard time passing on the rabbit, a dish I almost always order because of its rarity, but the soft shell crab entrée won out. Two pan-fried crabs, topped with a straw of corn snappy shoots, perched atop a mound of risotto rich with goat cheese and a chunky jam of green tomatoes. On its own, the risotto was too pungent, but with the pleasantly tart jam, it mellowed considerably. Overall, the dish was an interesting study in textures.We continued our own grazing with a dish of grilled octopus served atop a housemade hummus. The pickled chiles and small ribbons of preserved lemon were nice touches, as was the sprinkling of whole garbanzo beans. The hummus, though wonderfully smooth, was so salty, it was overpowering. Kudos to the kitchen just the same for its preparation of the octopus. A flash on the grill imparted some smoke to a flesh that was perfectly tender.
The beautifully plated halibut entrée was a great success. A topping of toasted almonds and caramelized onions contrasted beautifully. Pan-searing the fish in duck fat gave the flesh a thin golden crust that locked in moisture and flavor. A sauté of crisp fiddlehead ferns and strips of mildly sweet chayote popped with the flavor of spring. And all that snap, crackle and pop sat atop a pool of parsnip velouteéthat was pure silk.
Going back to the beginning, we ended with a starter instead of dessert. Two pairs of frog legs get the standard General Tso treatment—fried and coated with a sweet and savory sauce—with the addition of a roll in crushed peanuts, making a fun play on the Chinese takeout staple.
When we visited—on a weeknight, early in the evening, early in the spring—dinner was nicely paced. By the time we left, the bar stools were filled and the number of diners was appropriate for the season, even after only a month in business. That’s an auspicious start for a new place at the beach. A list of wines by small producers, craft brews and house cocktails that are as interesting as the menu, should keep those who find The Blue Hen returning time and again to explore.
33 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 278-7842 • Facebook
PRICE: Appetizers and small plates: $4-$14; entrées: $14-$32, possibly higher for market-priced items
RECOMMENDED: Softshell crab entrée, halibut entrée, octopus, frog legs