I have to say the Back Porch Cafe has been my favorite restaurant since it started in the early 1970’s. It’s never open on my birthday or my anniversary, but I manage to splurge there a few times in summer. There are always old friends around, and the brewing of the house’s flamboyant coffee is a real sight to behold.
It used to be The Avenue Restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue, owned by Helen and Alvin Simpler. When I was a teenager, our family went there every Friday, and sometimes, if I was lucky, on Saturday evenings too. It served wonderful classic American dishes like imperial crab and braised beef, and the key lime pie was to die for! Then I walked by The Art Age, an art supply store, and visited Mr. Howard Schroeder, who was for me the first example of a “real artist”, as I wished one day the be.
I was at a recent class reunion and my classmates had gotten nostalgic for the Seahorse and the Dinner Bell, also old favorites. Since we moved back here at the end of 2016, I’ve been lucky enough to go out for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights like my parents did. When we spent our summers on Rodney Street in Dewey Beach, they used to go out for date nights at the Bottle & Cork or the Henlopen Hotel.
Jeff made lists of cheap and expensive restaurants. Now we’ve started looking around West Sussex for restaurants that are our southern home, or let’s face it, affordable. We still venture into Rehoboth and Lewes settlements some of the time to splurge. Feeling a bit like food critics, we like to discuss our experiences afterwards.
There were humorous events. We once visited a local restaurant a few times for, shall we say, a really budget dinner. One evening I ordered a Bloody Mary from a waitress who seemed beleaguered, pissed off and naive when there was no crowd to besiege her. The cocktail had always been well prepared before, served by a waiter with flair, and containing celery, olives and even carrot shavings, but this waitress brought me a glass of tomato juice juice, with maybe be a teaspoon of vodka and an ice cube. She then said she couldn’t make Greek salad. Finally, a more experienced waitress, looking puzzled but exasperated, brought me a competent version of my order. The first irresponsible waitress appeared with our main entrees and happily asked, “Who’s hungry?”
Later, the waitresses were herded into a nearby group. A woman who appeared to be their boss was telling them about their duties at the breakfast buffet the next morning and the behavior of the servers in general. Finally, amused, I asked, “Are you the head waitress?” “No, I’m the dishwasher,” she replied, to my amazement! Eventually our bill arrived, and it was for two corned beef hash breakfasts – nothing like what we ordered. If any of this sounds like Mel’s Diner from the old It was the TV show “Alice” or the movie “Alice doesn’t live here anymore.” Where’s good old waitress Flo when you need her?
Then there’s a local Italian restaurant whose owner is like a well-known character in an episode of Seinfeld, and all the customers feed on the hope that they’ll endear him, because he’s finicky – or he they just might keep coming back because his food is good and reasonably priced too. My husband’s sister went there and ordered a bottle of Italian sparkling water – on ice. He told her it was cold enough and he didn’t need any ice cream!
My search turned up some real gems west of Route 1. One is on Route 13 near Seaford, a restaurant called Stargate. It’s a 40 minute drive through rural pumpkin patch in the fall and definitely worth the drive. The pristine salad bar is phenomenal, well stocked with crispy choices chilled over ice. The usual offerings are lettuce, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, bean salad, heaps of sliced onions and pickled mushrooms. But they also have the most fabulous potato salad, coleslaw and even a mountain of boiled eggs!
Their 2 for $25 special is a pretty good deal. You get soup or salad bar, starter and pudding or ice cream dessert. Our favorite starter is the grilled plaice. I also recommend the Maryland Crab Soup, loaded with veggies and even sprinkled with Brussels sprouts, a first for me.
Another favorite restaurant west of Route 1 “down Ellendale way” is the Southern Grille, where there are plenty of Southern offerings, as the name suggests. Lima bean soup with dumplings, homemade yeast buns, and even chittlins (aka chitterlings) and muskrat for the real down-homers. And of course, there’s a pretzel salad, a square of shimmering strawberry jelly with a scrumptious base of cream cheese and pretzels. The cakes lined up in the refrigerated display case are worthy of a painting. The people who own and work in the Southern Grille are also great. We had dinner and breakfast paid for by kind customers who said they pay next. Our first Thanksgiving here in Sussex, a waitress invited us to her Zion AME Church down the street from the restaurant for her free dinner. I’ve always believed that the best Thanksgiving dinners, like the very first one, are shared by new friends, and this one was no exception.
Finally, to complete my visit, we came across Bella Capri, a real find of an Italian restaurant in Georgetown across from the Walmart store. The owner is originally from Naples, Italy, and he offers great Italian classics and evening meals that can be 4-star quality! A memorable starter for me was a beautiful shiny oval dish topped with pumpkin ravioli in a succulent sauce and sprinkled with mussels and shiny black-boiled prawns. Even the salads that come with dinner are generous. The bread is warm and crispy. Thursday is half price wine night and the servers are friendly and efficient.
So ends my tour of East and West Sussex county restaurants, old and new. I’ll never taste The Avenue’s lunch special or the homemade key lime pie again, but I’ll always remember that warm feeling all the way home down Cave Neck Road after one of those weekend dinners.