When Drift, the eagerly awaited newcomer on the Culinary Coast, opens on Wednesday, Aug. 10, guests will recognize some familiar faces.
To start, the Rehoboth restaurant is operated by Lion and Meg Gardner, formerly of Blue Moon across the street, and Tyler Townsend, Dave Gonce and Bob Suppies, who own The Pines and Aqua Bar & Grill, also on Baltimore Avenue.
Well-known mixologist Rob Bagley was part of the opening team, and Alan Watterson, whose cocktails have wowed Michy’s customers for years, is behind Drift’s bar. In the kitchen, Tom Wiswell is stepping up to the plate. The chef previously worked at Harbour at Canal Square and Station on Kings in Lewes, as well as Vernick Food & Drink in Philadelphia.
Together, the hospitality veterans create an all-star team — an apt description considering Townsend played for the Baltimore Orioles before leaving due to injuries.
The group knocked it out of the park during the soft opening, where guests enjoyed a seafood-centric menu and crudo selections. “The focus is on fresh, local seafood and a raw bar and wines that pair well with seafood,” Townsend explains. “It hits the right note for the beach.”
But it’s not what Lion Gardner originally envisioned. When he and his partners purchased the old Seafood Shack, he pictured the type of place where industry professionals could shoot the breeze over beers. The old camp meeting cottage was the ideal spot. “It was a perfect little dive bar,” he says.
Renovations, however, have transformed the 19th-century building, and Drift’s intimate dining room is a cross between a Parisian bistro and an upscale Portland, Maine, tavern. Leafy plants, old books, china statues and vintage artwork are artfully assembled on wood shelves.
Given Drift’s players, restaurant folks will still belly up to the bar for oysters and a brew. Just don’t expect crab nachos. The opening menu includes oysters with a Champagne mignonette and tomatillo cocktail sauce, Maine lobster salad, Gulf of Maine bluefin tuna tartare and charcoal-grilled New Jersey black bass. Caviar service features potato beignets rolled in brown butter filled with yuzu crème fraiche and fine herbs.
With Gardner’s input, Wiswell flexes his culinary muscles with dishes such as Maine lobster French toast, Maryland crab hushpuppies and swordfish schnitzel. Landlubbers needn’t worry; the menu includes a Roseda Farms ribeye — complete with uni (sea urchin) compound butter.
Featured brunch items are Chesapeake crab rolls, pastrami-salmon benedict and an omelet with pan-fried oysters and house-fermented hot sauce.
Between renovations, COVID-19 delays and supply chain issues, the opening was delayed multiple times. “It was a long process, to be sure, but it was fun,” Gardner says. “The results really are going to speak for themselves.”
Indeed, it is apparent Drift is a labor of love.
Drift Seafood & Raw Bar
42 Baltimore Avenue, Rehoboth Beach; 67-2744
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