Though I’ve dined there too infrequently in recent years, The Back Porch Café in Rehoboth Beach was always one of my favorite restaurants. It was perfect for the beach—a casual, airy place with food that blew your mind. It was the go-to choice when a particular pair of friends—old, old friends from the beach who are very into food—and I were trying to a pick a place to eat. Needless to say, we had many memorable nights there. I thank chef Leo Medisch, and now I wish him a good night.
Medisch passed Aug. 21 after a long struggle with lung cancer. There are many who knew him far better, but one thing that always struck me about Medisch was his warmth. The last time I saw him was five years ago. A couple of us from the magazine had dropped in on a Friday evening in May, unannounced, to notify him of The Back Porch’s winning a Best of Delaware award. In 35 years of accolades, Leo accepted our modest certificate like it was an Academy Award. He sat us down. He poured us some excellent wine. And it wasn’t long before he and I were knee-deep in conversation about common acquaintances and, of course, food. We had been introduced on many previous visits. Suddenly we were talking like old friends.
Food was what put The Back Porch on the map, and The Back Porch was the place that put Rehoboth on the map for foodies far and wide. It was the first restaurant at the beach to serve something besides burgers or pizza or fries or fried seafood, so it earned a devoted following and showed other would-be restaurateurs what was possible in a beach town that was much different back then, when the Pappy’s family restaurant on the avenue was one of the biggest places in town. Leo and his partners raised The Back Porch to a new level. Through some alchemy, they created a place that showed a respect for the traditions of France mixed with a dash of New York sophistication and a heaping helping of California casual.
I had worked in restaurants off and on for many years before Delaware Today, but dining at The Back Porch was a bigger part of my education in fine food. The Back Porch, through Leo, taught me as much about attitudes toward food as about dining itself. A great meal should be a great time, so fine food doesn’t have to be presented as stuffy fine dining and white-glove service. Food is to be shared. Truly sensual food is worth sharing that much more. Relax. Enjoy it.
Leo worked hard to dazzle every Back Porch diner with something special. He shared his extraordinary talent and creativity with thousands over the years. He shaped our palates and, more important, he shaped our values. In myriad ways, he reminded us all that food is about fellowship, and very little is more important than that.
Peace to you, Leo Medisch.