Well, there's good news and not quite so good news. The good news is that the reincarnation of the Rose & Crown in Lewes' boutique Hotel Rodney is headed up by none other than James Beard nominated Chef Jay Caputo. The not-quite-so-good news for the young restaurant is that the reincarnation of the Rose & Crown in Lewes' boutique Hotel Rodney is headed up by none other than James Beard nominated Chef Jay Caputo. Why not-so-good? Simply because the new Rose & Crown must be held to a higher standard. And the emails I've received since they opened attest to that fact.
And it's true. This is not Caputo's first rodeo. Espuma has been a fine-dining icon in Rehoboth Beach for many years, and, though there are still some rough edges over at Cabo Modern Mexican Tequila Bar, it too has remained busy, and the treehouse deck is certainly the place to be (with a plate of nachos & a marg) at sunset. So the comments I've received are skipping the patient "Oh, well, they just opened" kindnesses, and jumping right into any and all food and/or service gaffes.
Though I was recognized on a couple of our visits, there were others where I was able to sneak in and out undetected. And we never had any service problems. When they first opened, the restaurant was very busy (pickins' are relatively slim in Lewes, especially in the off-season), and I suspect that they were simply not prepared for the onslaught, training- and kitchen-wise. It's a fact of life in this business that it's hardest to put your best foot forward when it's most important to do so. First impressions are important, especially in a gossipy small town.
The menu is rife with comfort food and stuff people like, and Jay stuck to his promise that nothing would be over $18 (a few specials depart from that, but they are worth it. Read on). One of the stars of the appetizer show is the Fried Pickles [pictured, right]. These are made fresh on the premises and come with a spicy mustard-based drizzle and a pretty blah Ranch dip. (I just don't get Ranch. Is it just me?! Don't answer that.) Skip the Ranch and enjoy the zippy drizzle atop the crispy, vinegary spears. The dish is the perfect starter.
Another little surprise is the Beer Battered Calamari [pictured, left]. This unusual preparation has a thicker crust than what you might be used to, but that crust is dry, crunchy and well spiced. I like the pickled jalapeno slices scattered here and there.
We've had the Crab Deviled Eggs twice so far [pictured, right], and though they are pleasant, they could use more personality. On our most recent visit I picked up none of the Old Bay promised on the menu. Also, it was apparent that the eggs had been shelled still hot, and the outside of the white had the battle scars to prove it. Little things like this should matter -- especially with an owner of this calibre. I hope that this dish evolves into something more memorable. At the moment there are better deviled eggs here at the beach.
Want memorable? Get the 5-Onion Soup [pictured, left]. This ain't yo' momma's onion soup: Roasted peppers, olives and a delightfully aggressive gruyere complement this bracing recipe, and it is simply wonderful. The R&C Wings are fairly typical, but I do love wings and these are well up to specifications, complete with the regulation sauce.
Another wonderful secret is the 16 Mile Sliders [pictured, right]. Shortribs are braised in one of 16 Mile's signature brews, gruyere is melted overtop, and they are presented on a surprisingly cute roll. Though I like the soft and yeasty Martin's-style "dinner roll" so popular with local sliderphiles, this one has more of an eggy brioche texture without being overly firm. I want to order two plates and make it dinner.
Not to spoil the surprise, but the bill of fare also tempts with homemade pretzels, Tater Tots, onion rings in 60 Minute-laced batter, and drunken clams redolent of andouille and something hoppy from Dogfish Head.
The Grilled Beetroot Salad [pictured, left] is a beet-lover's dream-come-true. Deep crimson and bright gold beets are sliced and placed in a bed of arugula. But what comes next is a delicious curve ball: Olive tapenade and chevre. Like beets? Get this one. See? I told you. It's a menu with stuff people like.
The main course star of the show award is a dead heat among the Bacon Burger, the R&C Shepherd's Pie and the Pot Roast Platter. All three border on perfect. Let's start with the burger. Note there is no photo. Twice -- yes, twice, I tell you, people who ordered the burger during a review visit attacked it before I could take a picture. Neither of these people are accompanying me on review visits again, though they both agree that the bacon burger is well worth the sacrifice. Why this mutinous behavior, you ask? Well, (1) apple smoked bacon is ground up into the beef. Then, (2) the beef and the bacon are cooked together. Finally, (3) caramelized onions perch themselves atop the juicy, bacony patty, kicked up by a slice of cheddar. Do not miss this. And send me a photo, will ya?
The R&C Shepherd's Pie [pictured, right -- at least I have some will power] is made with expertly spiced duck confit stirred together with still-firm root veggies and topped with parm. The whole thing is relegated to the broiler, imparting a mouthwateringly bronze patina to the cheese. The not-so-humble-any-more Shepherd's Pie never had it this good.
The Pot Roast [pictured, left] was as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate. Charred carrots shared real estate with mashed potatoes (quite good, both atop the Shepherd's Pie and on this plate) and Rose & Crown's particularly perfect homemade potato chips. (When you have the option, ALWAYS get the potato chips there. Trust your Foodie on this one. Chef Caputo has come up with 8 handy varieties. But I'll pass on the truffle oil option, thank you.)
On our most recent visit, one of my Favorite Foodettes ordered the beer-battered Fish & Chips [pictured, right]. There are two schools of thought when it comes to beer batter. The first is that it must be light, dry and crackle when you bite into it. The other is that is should be firm, yet soft. My experience suggests that the great majority prefer the crispy school-of-thought #1. Unfortunately, the Fish & Chips at Rose & Crown do not fall into that category. The coating, though pleasing to the eye, was soft, bordering on soggy. My F.F. did not like it. There is, however, a silver lining to this piscene dark cloud: When she sent it back, the server could not have been more agreeable and gracious. No frown, no guilt, no attitude, no nonsense. A beautiful chopped salad [pictured, left] magically appeared at the table to keep the aforementioned Foodette busy until her alternative (pork chops) arrived. This little scene speaks well for the Rose & Crown. Sure, avoid the Fish & Chips if you like 'em crispy. But if something happens (and it can, does and often will, pretty much anyplace), they spring into action like a SWAT Team, minus the black helicopters and that "Hut! Hut!" noise. We were impressed.
UPDATE: At this point in the original article, I described the rather lacklustre pork chop that was ordered to replace the fish. Well, we have returned four times since this original piece was written, and the pork chop is completely different. It is darkly seared, and covered in a nicely spiced spinach mixture. I regret to tell you that I lost the race to get to the food with my camera before our dining companion got there with his fork. Did my whining about the pork cause Chef Caputo to rethink the recipe? I can only dream -- but no matter, it's very good now. I also finally got a photo of the braised shortrib burger [pictured, right]. It's not the un-ground shortrib that's in the sliders; this is ground up like hamburger. But you can easily taste the difference.
Another new star of the show is the steak & mushrooms (pictured, right]. I find it hard to believe that they can do this for $18, but they do. One of the pickiest eaters I know (truth be told, she borders on annoying) loved this dish. I am so pleased about the porkchop and the steak that I have adjusted the ratings to reflect the improvement (the place retains a "9" overall rating because of the beautiful interior).
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming....
On two of our visits, accompanying diners ordered the Portabella Burger [pictured, left]. Both times they loved it. The mushroom is perfectly cooked and drizzled with balsamic. Spinach, ricotta and onion rings (yup, right on the sandwich!) top it off. This thing will draw vegetarians from far and wide. It's everything you want a burger to be, but without the meat.
I usually don't make a big deal about dessert, but on our most recent visit we ordered the Local Apple Cobbler -- a la mode, of course, in response to a friendly upsell [pictured, right]. In this deconstructed version, the apples were still crisp, with lots of cinnamon and brown sugar. The rest of the plate was a work of art.
The original Rose & Crown opened in '83 at the other end of Second Street near the Buttery. It closed in '05. This new Rose & Crown, relocated in the Hotel Rodney at the corner of Second and Market sts., is a refreshingly friendly and attractive change from the perpetually-in-the-weeds and undeservedly impressed with itself Beseme that used to occupy the otherwise classy lobby. Caputo has extended the lounge area into the lobby.
The next time I go, I'm sitting out there with a polite cocktail to become one with the upscale feel of the room. My mantra will be: "Pass the potato chips, please."
The Rose & Crown is definitely worth visiting. With Caputo at the helm, I suspect the menu will evolve and the few false starts will morph into better things. Taking the above update into consideration, it looks like that's happening already. The anchors are in place, and it's obvious that Lewes is embracing its new pub.
Rose & Crown is open 7 days for lunch and dinner from 11 to 11, with a happy hour from 4-6 Monday through Friday. Always double check: (302) 827-4475. Click here for a look at a preliminary menu. (L., D., Bar) Price range: Moderate.