Exploring Our Culinary Coast

Delaware tourism depends on more than just sun and surf.

The Back Porch Café | Owners Keith Fitzgerald (from left), Marilyn Spitz and Chef Timothy McNitt celebrate another season.

In 1974, Rehoboth Beach vacationers had limited dining options. There was the Dinner Bell Inn, the Seahorse Restaurant and the Avenue Restaurant. 

The Rehoboth Beach Foodie, a local blogger and restaurant critic who started visiting Rehoboth as a child, recalls the Country Squire and the Robin Hood, which opened in 1969. (The Country Squire closed in the early 1990s. The Robin Hood is still owned by the Tsoukalas family.) Breakfast spots abounded, he says. To him, the avenue always smelled like sausage and fresh coffee.

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Then teachers Victor Pisapia, fresh from a trip to Europe, Libby Fisher and Fisher’s husband, Ted, opened The Back Porch Café—and everything changed. 

“It started as a juice bar with fresh sandwiches,” says Keith Fitzgerald, who now owns the restaurant with Marilyn Spitz. Located in the old Hotel Marvel, the restaurant also had a backyard, at a time when al fresco dining was a novelty. Fitzgerald came on board as a server to help Pisapia, a college chum and travel companion.

“It was supposed to be for three weeks,” he says. “It’s been 40 years.”

Under the direction of chef Leo Medisch, The Back Porch Café grew into a gourmand’s destination. With its success, as well as a new wave of residential and commercial development that brought more visitors to the area, the 1980s birthed other fine restaurants, legendary places like the French-influenced Chez la Mer and nouvelle pioneers like LaLa Land, which flourished for years.

And though those places may be long gone now, they helped make Rehoboth a mecca for foodies far and wide—and long before the term “foodie” was coined.

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That vibrant dining scene, and a veritable population explosion of year-round and seasonal residents, has since spread to the north, south and west.

Good restaurants with creative fare are now so numerous that Southern Delaware Tourism has trademarked the term “The Culinary Coast” to describe beach town dining. The tourism office claims “Life Tastes Better Here.”

And it does.

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