There aren't many better views of the Delaware Bay than from the Lewes Teminal of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. It always seemed sort of wasted, because there wasn't much to do out on the dock other than to get yourself onto the ferry or order something yukky that was sure to be heated-up in a microwave. The Ferry Powers-That-Be have changed all that with the addition of On The Rocks, a fun little bar and entertainment venue right smack on the dock, facing the Cape and the expanse of the bay.
Let's get one thing straight: This is not fine dining. It's straight-ahead bar food (with a few notable high points). Everything is cooked fresh when you order it (even if it's frozen) so nothing's sitting under those nasty lights or being electronically irradiated-to-order.
But they do serve alcohol, and the place is open until the last boat leaves Lewes (around 9 p.m. on weeknights and around 10 p.m. on weekends, in-season.
I've received several emails touting the Chicken De La Warr sandwich (mercifully, it's spelled Chicken Delaware on the actual menu); basically a bacon cheeseburger with crabmeat [pictured, right], but they sub grilled chicken breast for the beef. At $7.75 it's a good deal. The chicken breast is of the frozen variety, but it's grilled right there before your eyes on an actual open grill [pictured, left]. Kind of picnicky, I have to say. I'm sure that the crabmeat also came from the same freezer, but it was mild and not fishy tasting at all. (I quizzed the super-friendly server, and apparently this stuff is delivered often and in small portions. A good thing. Freezer burn is not pretty.) I added mustard and relish and just ate it like a burger.
The regular 1/2 pound Angus burger [pictured, right] is also grilled and is indeed fresh, never frozen. That fact is evident with the very first bite. Top it with bacon, and/or American, cheddar, swiss or provolone for a tiny upcharge. Another winner out there at On The Rocks is the 1/4 pound all-beef hot dog [pictured, below left]. It is a high-quality brand and served on a soft bun. Add cheese or chili for a few cents. (Actually, 50 of them.) The Fried Flounder Sandwich [pictured lower left, at top of tray next to the fries] is obviously frozen (there are no triangular fish out there), but, again, I have to say that it's crunchy, not at all greasy, and only $6.50. Trust me, there are sit-down restaurants around Rehoboth that sell platters for $6 and $9 that are patently inedible. Regulars here ar RF know exactly what I am referring to.
On The Rocks prepares their prepared food correctly -- the outdoor grill is a nice touch -- and makes it the best that it can be.
Most of the appetizers are frozen, but, again, they are of high quality (in fact, frozen appetizers cost more than preparing them fresh, and in some cases the frozen variety are more consistent in taste and appearance). The star of the appetizer show is a dead heat between the onion rings (order them extra crispy!) [pictured, below left] and the fried pickles [pictured even lower, right]. The pickles are in spear form and come with a super-mild horseradish sauce. I wish they'd offer a choice of sauces, with at least one of them having a true personality -- perhaps Sriracha mayo or a hot sauce-spiked Russian dressing.
On one of my visits I was accompanied by my favorite gnawer of tree bark and licker of leaves, the noted vegetarian, columnist and seller of houses, Deb Griffin. She was nothing short of verklemft as she searched for anything on the menu that hadn't been on-the-hoof or swimming out there in the Bay, but the very friendly counter staff offered her a grilled cheese (her feelings about this are reflected in the name of her column on this site). She continued to pout ever so slightly until the sandwich arrived [pictured, right]. It was on crispy crunchy toast, almost done like a panini, and filled with a sticky, creamy cheese. She smiled and again became pleasant company.
The steamed shrimp are also fresh, mildly spiced, pleasant to the tooth and not rubbery. The general consensus among the regulars (kind of funny thinking of a Ferry terminal with regulars, but they do serve booze, after all) is that the Soft Shell Crab Sandwich is the thing to get. Yes, the breaded crab is frozen, but you can tell immediately that this is not a cheap product. The breading is flavorful and the crabs are slightly crunchy. At $7.50, you can't beat it, especially if it's accompanied by something icy cold from 16 Mile Brewery.
Speaking of 16 Mile, they have an interesting lineup of draft beers at On The Rocks. Pretty much everything from 16 Mile, of course (the Amber Sun is my hands-down favorite), plus Blue Moon (a close second with a bit of orange on the glass), Sam Adams, and one offering from Dogfish Head, the Lawnmower Light.
Bottles include DH 60 Minute IPA, Landshark, Heinie, the Coronas, Michelob Ultra and of course, Bud. They've got those cute frozen drink machines churning away for all to see, and they can squirt you out a strawberry daiquiri, Pina Colada, Marg and various and sundry other flavors depending on what mix the machine manufacturer sends over. By the way, both the Pina Colada and the Strawberry Daiquiri are quite tasty. The others might be too, but those are the only ones we had. Additional prepared drinks include a bloody mary, Bay Breeze and something they call Lighthouse Lemonade with a splash of Tequila.
Don't enter through the main Ferry Terminal entrance where they sell tickets. The booth dwellers will act annoyed. (Though there is no sign directing you to the "foot passengers'" entrance, where there is, in fact, a sign. Oh, and bring that up, and they will act even more annoyed. Don't let it ruin your day. Imagine slowly marinating in that little booth for hours at a time. You'd be annoyed too.)
On the Rocks is a fun and very friendly place. The view and the activity with the boats is endlessly captivating. There are food specials every day from 4 p.m. 'til closing, and there is live entertainment Mon., Tues. and Thurs. in-season.
NOTE that the inside restaurant is NOT affiliated with On The Rocks. The inside restaurant is very terminal-like and surely employs a bank of microwave ovens. Go outside and get your stuff grilled, at least. Take a look at the menu here. (L., D., Bar) Price range: Inexpensive.