Mitch King, former owner of Scraps in that same location, partnered-up with his nephew Zack and reinvented the place as Port. Their good relationship with the owners of Dewey's Starboard was partial impetus for the name. ("Port" / "Starboard...." Get it?). Anything's better than Scraps. What was he thinking?
The restaurant is small with low ceilings, so it can get noisy in there. I've had complaints about the noise, but Mitch is spending a bundle to take care of the problem. He brought in a brilliant acoustic consultant to help quiet down the small room. The small size also works to the customers' advantage: Mitch and Zack buy pretty much everything locally (their seafood supplier is barely a couple of miles away), and they order in small quantities, so nothing spends too much time in the fridge waiting for you to arrive.
First things first: Get the hushpuppies [pictured, right]. They're delivered in a basket along with a moist and slightly sweet cornbread, but the hushpuppies are perfect. They're made from a yeast batter which results in a gently cakey interior encased in a dark, crunchy shell. This textural roller-coaster is punctuated by tiny pieces of jalapenos (relax, wimps: it's just the skins, not the seeds or the ribs). The Foodie has consumed many a hushpuppy, and these are the best of all. Zack, if you change them, I will find you!
Chef Inton Mouynivong's Thai roots appear throughout the menu. The Spring Rolls are not at all greasy, and the softly spiced pork/cabbage filling is accompanied by a surprisingly mild Asian dipping sauce. Just as I was about to ululate over how mild it was, they rushed a bottle of fiery Sriracha to the table. Ahhh!
Another work-in-progress is the ginger soy reduction (available on any fish entree). Ours tended toward the too-sweet direction, and we were told that they had sweetened it in an attempt to offset comments that it was salty. Hello? This is reduced soy sauce, people. It's going to be salty. Lose the sweet, guys, and just warn people that this ginger SOY reduction will be typically salty.
On our most recent visit, we ordered the Crab Bruschetta special. Generous portions of snow white crabmeat topped still-warm and crispy crostini. The Stone Crab Claws were ordered twice and were enjoyed both times. This particular crab is actually a "Jonah Crab," also called "Atlantic Dungeness." The well-muscled claws are more uniformly white and a little less sweet than the actual stone crab. Zack and Mitch buy them right off the boat out of our very own Assawoman Bay. They're steamed and sprinkled with a bit of worchestershire, a pinch of mustard powder and lots of lemon. The New Orleans Fried Oysters are a whimsical take on the ubiquitous Buffalo wing. Blue cheese gently melts overtop the warm molluscs, joined by diced tomatoes with a wedge of lemon standing by.
Another Thai-inspired morsel is the Fried Shrimp Wrap, a crispy (and, again, not oily) fried wonton with an upbeat, gingery zing. (Ditto for the sauce: Ask for the Sriracha if the dip doesn't ring your chimes.) While we're in a Southeast Asian mood, I must tell you about the Pad Thai entree [pictured above left]. I often find Pad Thai a bit slippery and gooey--maybe it's the corn starch...who knows. But Chef Mouynivong reinvents this staple with still-crispy stir-fried noodles, brightly fresh cilantro, crunchy peanuts, colorful veggies, chicken and shrimp. This will probably stir up the Chronic Complainers ("You like everything," they keen. Well, I don't. Read the articles all the way through already!), but it's delicious. On our various visits, I got it twice. Both times I added Sriracha, and that's fine: if they served it as hot as I like it, it would clear the place. Heads up for Thai fans: Thursday night is Thai Night and I have it on good authority that the Beef and Basil entree is not to be missed.
The Ahi Tuna [pictured above right] was ordered three times during our multiple visits. Out of 6 perfectly cooked steaks (you get two per order) only one of them was somewhat fatty and tough. Though that's an 83.4% success rate, if you're picky about your tuna, make it clear that you want it lean and clear of fatty striations.
On the Chicken Chesapeake entree [pictured, above left], a mound of crab imperial balances precariously atop a tender and moist chicken breast (complete with grill marks, but not overcooked). It's easily cut with the side of a fork. Refreshingly, the crab imperial topping has a lot more crab than imperial. The bed of parmesan mashers were a bit garlicky for my taste, but still creamy and moist. I couldn't detect any parmesan, however. The accompanying julienne of carrots and crispy bright green beans served as the veggie du jour.
Chef Mouynivong used to cook at the long-gone Big Easy in Bethany Beach, and the Seafood Etouffee [pictured, above right] was one of the few outstanding offerings at this cajun-inspired place. And it's still an outstanding dish at Port. It's not too saucy or soupy, and the numerous pieces of shrimp and crawfish stand up well to the spices and the light coating. It all crowns a pillowy mound of jasmine rice. The al dente penne in the Seafood Pasta [pictured above left] accompanies all kinds of fresh seagoing goodies topped with cheese. The Grilled Rockfish was served with the ginger-soy reduction we discussed above (it's one of the four available toppings). The fish was perfectly cooked with a firm, yet flaky consistency. It even had little grill marks of its own. On another visit we had the blackened Rockfish [pictured right]; still moist, white and flaky inside a dark, spicy crust.
Seafood is obviously the thing at Port, but their on-the-hoof goodies also hit the mark. One of our companions had the Brazilian Angus Steakhouse Cut [pictured, above left]. This ribeye was expertly cooked to order with a bit of butter to top it off (a la Ruth's Chris). The resulting mix of that and the jus made a dark little glistening lake in which the firm Steak Fries bathed. What's not to like about that? By the way, several of my trusted Foodies-at-Large have waxed rhapsodic about the hamburger. I insist I'm going to get it every time we go to Port, and I never do. Have you had it yet? Pls post your thoughts below. Wow, it was fun typing the words "waxed rhapsodic."
On one of our visits our table had the pleasure of being bussed by none other than Mitch's brother, Randy King (Zack's dad). Poor guy had made the mistake of dropping in for a beer, and was immediately pressed into service even before he had a sip. It was barely 6:30 on a Friday and the place was already full. Service was clearly stretched to its limit, but all the tables seemed to be getting things on time. Like any new eatery, it takes a while for everybody to hit their stride, service-wise, and small snafus are inevitable. When things did go awry, we were all impressed by their honesty and genuine efforts to make things right as quickly as possible.
I usually don't get carried away by bathrooms (all they really have to be is clean), but the whole family affair at Port even extends into the ladies' room, where Zack's Granma added some cute touches of her own. I couldn't resist getting a picture (a process which caused quite a stir at the bar). See left.
UPDATE! We have been trying to get over to Thai Night for three Thursdays now, and we finally made it tonight. Zack didn't even ask...he brought over 2 bowls of Lemon Grass Shrimp and Lobster Soup. Take my word for it: It is delicious. Huge chunks of lobster claw meat and whole shrimp bask happily in a steaming, spicy coconut-laced broth loaded with julienne veggies and spices. Beware: It is spicy hot! If you are a wimp, let them know so they can dial it back a bit. We followed it up with Thai Beef & Basil [pictured, right] and the Thai Fried Rice [pictured, below left]. I asked them to mix shrimp and chicken and they were happy to do it. Note that this is NOT the fried rice from the corner Hunan in your neighborhood. The vegetables are crispy and fresh, the rice has a satisfyingly firm tooth, and the chunks of chicken and shrimp are freshly stir fried. No grease, no gooey corn starch. As we munched, sipped and smoldered, Paul Cullen noodled away on his magic acoustic guitar. All was well with the world.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program:
Port is open for lunch and has an "anytime breakfast" menu. In the summer they have a delightful and breezy porch. Though he can instantly morph from maître d to server to busser, Zack loves schmoozing behind the bar. He's particularly proud of their bracingly red Blood Orange Crush and the impossibly delicious Grapefruit Crush (worth every penny). Mitch tells me that they are happy to open just about any wine to serve by the glass, except of course for the really expensive ones (on "The Captain's List"). He even staged an impromptu wine-tasting right at our table to show off some vintages of which he was particularly proud. The guy knows his wines. Read Bill McManus' reviews of Port's best wines.
Port is located at 1205 Highway One, on the bay side just before you exit Dewey going south. Parking is a bit of a challenge, but there are lots of spaces on Van Dyke and Collins Sts., immediately north and south of the building. And you can use the walk. Click here to check out a sample menu. Call for reservations if you wish 302-227-0669. (L. (not every day-call), D., Bar) Price range: Moderate.