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10 Coastal Delaware Eateries Serving Food in Historic Buildings

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Photo by Maria Deforrest

These 10 coastal restaurants found new homes in old buildings, offering a beautiful atmosphere and unique dining experience.

When workers tore down a wall in the old Seafood Shack, they found newspapers from 1932, which had served as insulation. “It was really cool; it was really well preserved,” says Lion Gardner, who owns the Rehoboth Beach building with his wife, Meg.

The structure, however, predates the print. It was built in the late 19th century for attendees of the Methodist Episcopal Church’s summer events. Today, visitors are more interested in espresso martinis and oysters than sermons. A seafood and raw bar called Drift recently opened in the revamped space. The new eatery is one of many that reside in historic buildings, giving guests a unique experience. Here are 10 more to try in coastal Delaware this summer.

Heirloom

In Lewes, three neighboring Victorians now contain restaurants. The first is the award-winning Heirloom, owned by Chadds Ford–area native Meghan Lee.

Dentist J.B. Robinson built the circa-1899 house from a catalog design, but the décor had dimmed over the years. When Lee first saw the home, it had dated wallpaper, a 1970s carpet and a tiny kitchen.

Although she added a commercial kitchen and first floor restrooms, she kept many of the home’s 19th-century features, including the fine woodwork and the corner fireplace in the front room. The menu changes with the seasons—and so does the mantel décor.

212 Savannah Road, Lewes; 313-4065; heirloomdelaware.com

 

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Raas

Next door to Heirloom, Raas mines India for inspiration. The Victorian setting isn’t a stretch. The British Raj ruled India from 1858 to 1947. Moreover, the old house personifies Lewes, says Dr. Vinay R. Hosmane, who grew up in the city. Hosmane is a managing partner of Masala Hospitality Group.

At one point, there was a day spa here with an arresting—and somewhat unsettling—purple exterior. Current owners painted over the plum with a more restful sky blue hue. Inside, the color palette suits the vibrant Indian cuisine. Picture soft coral, Tiffany blue, rich cream and burnt orange.

210 Savannah Road, Lewes; 644-1747; raaslewes.com

While varied in flavor, all of these restaurants have taken up residence in houses with history. Heirloom and Raas are located inside charming Victorians.

Bramble & Brine at The Buttery

The third Victorian is the old Trader Mansion, built in 1894 for a sea pilot. However, most people know it as The Buttery, the restaurant that moved here in 1999. The owners sold it in 2016 and it became the short-lived 2nd Street Tavern in 2019.

The building, now owned by the Big Fish Restaurant Group, is leased to Megan Kee, who opened her new eatery in time for the 2022 season. The antiques buff carefully selected decorative accessories that complement the grande dame’s age without overwhelming her. Seasoned chef Paul Gallo is in the kitchen.

102 Second St., Lewes; 703-2818; facebook.com/BrambleandBrineButtery

 

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Striper Bites

Speaking of Big Fish, the hospitality group also purchased this Lewes restaurant, which is in a building dating back to the 18th century. It was once the residence of the Maulls, one of the oldest Lewes families. For a time, A Taste of Heaven served diners in the space, but Striper Bites, started by Matt and Ali DiSabatino, has had far more staying power. (The DiSabatinos still co-own Half-Full and Kindle.)

107 Savannah Road, Lewes; 645-4657; striperbites.com

Drift

The former camp meeting cottage once contained sleeping quarters and a gathering space. “They weren’t meant to be lived in year-round,” Lion Gardner says of the “tent” houses. “They had communal outdoor kitchens.” Not surprisingly, that changed over the years, and the house has at least four additions.

The Gardners and partners Tyler Townsend, David Gonce and Bob Suppies saw all four eras as they turned the former Seafood Shanty—and Dos Locos before that—into Drift. A familiar face —mixologist Rob Bagley—is the general manager.

42 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach; driftrb.com

Back Porch Café

The Back Porch opened in 1974, which makes it a Rehoboth Beach landmark. The building, however, was already well known when Victor Pisapia, Ted Fisher and Libby Fisher (now York) took the coast by storm with California-inspired fare and a European al fresco approach.

Before becoming the Back Porch Café, the circa-1890s building was the Marvel Hotel. To date, it’s still designed for summer use, which is why the Back Porch closes in the off-season. New owners Dmitry Shubich and Aksana Voranova might change that once they find their post-pandemic footing.

59 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach; 227-3674; backporchcafe.com

Blue Moon

In 1980, Pisapia and Back Porch hostess Joyce Felton opened Blue Moon in a residence built in 1907 from a Sears kit. When Lion and Meg Gardner and their partners purchased the restaurant in 2008, they embarked on a series of updates, including new wiring and plumbing. The Gardners departed Blue Moon to devote time to their family and open Drift across the street.

35 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach; 227-6515; bluemoonrehoboth.com

The Pines

To manage Drift and other upcoming projects, the Gardners formed Second Block Hospitality Management with Townsend, a former Baltimore Orioles baseball player, and Suppies and Gonce, who own The Pines and Aqua Grill.

While not as old as Drift or Blue Moon, The Pines is in an established structure that was once Java Beach, S.O.B’s Deli and Hobos. Renovations took 18 months to complete, and the nostalgic artwork pays tribute to Rehoboth’s resort history.

56 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach; 567-2726; thepinesrb.com

 

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Patsy’s Restaurant

Down in Bethany Beach, Patsy’s is in a 100-year-old former residence. When Patsy Rankin toured it in 2000, the property was in poor shape. Nevertheless, it was the right fit. “I had been coming to Bethany since 1970, and I didn’t want a strip mall location,” Rankin explains.

The romantic porch was the selling point. “That makes the place,” Rankin enthuses. It’s equally popular with diners, as is the cuisine, which is now influenced by Robin Rankin’s travels. Mother and daughter make quite a culinary team. (They also own Pie, the artisan pizza spot.)

121 Campbell Place, Bethany Beach; 537-2433; patsysgourmet.com

 

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The Café on 26

The Ocean View farmhouse that is now The Café on 26 once belonged to Cecile Steele, the queen of the poultry industry in Delmarva, who turned a mistake into a gold mine. After receiving 500 chicks instead of 50, Steele raised them for meat instead of eggs.

Maria Fraser bought the property as an investment and rented it to an interior designer and then a restaurateur. When the eatery failed, she opened her own restaurant in the space. Steele, however, might be reluctant to depart the house. Fraser has seen the shadowy spirits of a man and woman—possibly Steele and her husband Wilmer. The poltergeists have turned on faucets overnight and pulled paper towels from their holders.

If true, it’s a delicious ghost story.

84 Atlantic Ave., Ocean View; 539-2233; thecafeon26.com

 

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