It takes a lot of nerve to open a resort restaurant in the off-season. Close attention to quality is essential, as flaws in execution can be amplified as word travels through the relatively small year-round population. Yes, some restaurants pull it off -- take Bramble & Brine and Fins Ale House & Raw Bar in Rehoboth, for example. But I have to be honest; our experiences at Sabor in Bethany Beach were marked by flaws that may or may not be fixable, given the actions (and lack thereof) of management. More about that later.
That being said, Sabor Restaurant certainly has its high points, including the generous and potent margaritas (get the pomegranate version with Avion Silver). On several visits. companions ordered the Golden Margs (Patron Reposada & Grand Marnier), and reported them worth every bit of the $13 tariff. Another semi-high point is the Chips & Salsa appetizer. The presentation of three varieties of salsa is impressive [pictured, left], and certainly worth $4. But it is a rare Mexican joint that doesn't offer chips and salsa on a complimentary basis. Now I'm not asking for anything for free -- far from it -- but why not build it in by raising entrée prices a dime and keep people busy with "free" chips and salsa. Otherwise, guests sit there with nothing to do. And our experiences at Sabor suggest that that can become a problem. Keep reading.
Another feature that seems like a good idea but might end up better on paper is the tableside guacamole cart. As cute as it is to watch your guac being made before your very eyes (using an authentic molcajete, no less), there are obvious problems: (1) the wheels on the cart make a major racket on grout lines of the tiled floor. Servers must roll it very slowly to keep it from sounding like a freight train coming through. And, (2) it uses up a lot of time. In fact, our recent visit started going downhill because of our server's preoccupation with guac delivery to a boisterous table of 6. I suspect that a full-house in the summer might perhaps convince owners Lynn and Jim Rickards to reconsider the fun but impractical cart. By the way, the guac was delicious, but frankly the floor show and the approximately 3/4 cup of product for 2 isn't worth the $10.
Other appetizers contain some hits and misses. The hits include the wonderfully presented mini-quesadillas [pictured, right]. Made with corn tortillas rather than flour (much better!), these little gems envelop chihuahua cheese (a white melting cheese) and are drizzled with crema (a cultured, sour cream cheese made with milk. Think crème fraîche, but with a Mexican accent). These are a must-get! Another hit is the melty and sticky Fundido (sorry, no pic. We had it on an early visit when I was incognito). For a bit more you can get it with chorizo and it is quite good. (When you think about it, there are very few things with melted cheese that aren't good....)
The Sliders [pictured, left], in spite of the impressive list of ingredients (chicken, pickled slaw, tamarind/habanero sauce and onion straws), were just tasteless. And the promised "onion straws" were nowhere to be found. I can't really come up with a nice explanation (I really do try, having owned several restaurants myself), except that perhaps the portioned-out ingredients had spent too much time wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator. (Their patent refusal to "mix and match" the fillings suggests that this might be the case.) Regulars to RehobothFoodie.com know that I love sliders, and these were a disappointment.
Have you ever had Gretchen Hanson's pozole at Hobos in Rehoboth? Sabor's pozole is right up there with hers: Simply and attractively presented, full of flavor and studded with the required hominy. It makes for a great light entree and is available as such for just a few bucks more. The roja sauce (think non-chunky salsa) was the star of the show, with a delightfully acidic bite that worked particularly well with crunchy radishes.
The Espinacas y Champiñones (spinach and mushroom) enchilada is quite good, is fairly priced and offered "per enchilada" with beans and rice optional. So you can choose an entree or a small-plate. Nice idea. A companion ordered one of those and a cheese enchilada with the sides [pictured right]. Both were nicely crunchy on the top (as only corn tortillas can be) with grated cheese, smoky chipotle salsa and cilantro. The spinach/mushroom melange had a pronounced citrusy edge that added to the fresh taste of the platter and paired nicely with the "corny" flavor of the tortilla.
Moving into the taco dept., there are 7 from which to choose, and over our several visits we tried 5 of them. I had a combination of the Chicken (Pollo), Pork (Carnitas) and Steak (Carne Asada) Tacos [pictured, right, shown left to right]. The pickled red onion made for a bright, fresh taste, and again their use of soft corn tostadas really added to the flavor, especially in the steak version. But the chicken apparently came from the same place as it did for the sliders. It was devoid of flavor. All I could taste was the corn tortilla.
The Shrimp (Camarones) Taco [pictured left, shrimp on the right] was quite good, but on two occasions the presence of only 2 small shrimp was noted. I know these are small-plates, but adding another shrimp or two would have made for a more memorable experience. Again, I'm not saying anything should be free. But costs can be made up in such a way that certain items can appear more generous.
Another star of the show is the Chilaquiles. Crunchy tortillas are stacked with white cheeses, onions, lettuce, cilantro and a nice spicy sauce. They are offered as an appetizer and are delicious.
So why all that thinly veiled negativity at the beginning of this article? The service was a minor problem on our first and third visits (disappearing servers, mostly wrestling with the guacmobile), but was a disaster on our second visit. After our otherwise smiling and helpful waitress delivered our drink and app orders, she became engaged with a 5-top and their guac needs. (The restaurant was empty except for a 6-top, a 5-top, a deuce and our party of 4). Fine. After all, we're not her only table. We finished our appetizers and drinks. Then we sat, abandoned, as she spent about 20 minutes at that one table. After about 35 minutes (from the time we finished our apps) we flagged down a waiter who kindly and politely took our dinner orders. He disappeared. She and the guacmobile finally disappeared. We waited for 65 minutes (yes, I timed it. It's what I do, for goodness' sake) until our simple taco/enchilada dishes finally appeared.
Now, people accuse me of being "too nice." And I will admit that if the server had visited us and apologized, or their totally ineffective "manager" (whose only skill was avoiding eye-contact) had bought us another round of drinks while the kitchen dug itself out of the weeds -- or even offered to sell us another round -- I would have forgiven it all. Things happen! But there was no acknowledgement whatsoever. Even our original server brushed it off with an off-handed "sorry about that" only after I brought it up to her. The final nail in the coffin was the purported manager's pointedly snide "have a nice evening" -- spoken not in our direction and to nobody in particular -- as we left the restaurant. All four of us picked up on her bad attitude. Apparently we had shattered her calm by ordering, waiting for over an hour, then commenting about it to our server. (We spent 2-and-a-half hours in there.)
For what it's worth, I will forgive just about anything other than bad attitude. But, in my humble opinion, if the proprietors (they also own Perucci's about a mile west in Millville) are serious about making this place a year-round eatery, something needs to be done with (1) the kitchen's (in)ability to handle a front-of-house that's only 20% occupied, (2) a server who literally disappears and, worse yet, (3) a manager who makes sure that people never come back if they shatter her delusional calm by commenting on poor service. To expand what I wrote in the first paragraph, food and kitchen issues can be fixed. Bad attitude is forever.
Sabor Restaurant is located at 776 Garfield Parkway, directly across from DiFebo's. They feature Tequila Flights for $20 (3X1oz.) that include 9 combinations of their top-shelf tequilas. (If you like tequila, you will love this.) Lunchtime offers a combinations of Tortas (Mexican sandwiches, usually grilled), including a Mexican burger with ground chuck, short rib and brisket. Happy hour is from 11 a.m. 'til 6 where you can get wings, mini-tacos & tostadas and some of the appetizers offered at dinner. Off-season food & drink specials are available every day except Saturday -- interestingly, you cannot qualify for the specials discount unless you buy a drink.
Their hours will certainly change for the summer, so call 302-616-1957 for make sure. Take a look at the menu here. You can visit their Facebook page by clicking here. (L., D., Bar) (Price range: Moderate).