Regulars here at RehobothFoodie.com know that I wasn't all that impressed with the original incarnation of JAM Bistro there in the basement of the old Epworth Church on Baltimore Ave. in Rehoboth Beach. It's a known fact that diners tend to shy away from downstairs dining, though there are many notable exceptions, none the least of which, Tio Pepe's in Baltimore. But I vowed to keep an open mind about the new Debacle restaurant that now occupies that spot. The place certainly comes with good credentials: Debra Holmes migrated northward from Steve Hagan and Kevin Frey's Fenwick Island eatery, bringing with her over 20 years' experience in banquet/event management and restaurant operation in general. Before coming to Delaware, she opened places in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Business partner and head chef Mike Rodriguez migrated about a block east from the oldCafe Solé (among other places, of course). Like most career chefs, Rodriguez came to realize that the view never changes if you're not the lead dog, so he jumped at the chance to be the co-owner of his own restaurant. The general layout is not all that different from JAM, and the comfortable chairs survived the remodel. The place is softly lit, with a quiet and friendly bar at one end of the room. I'd love to see more light washed onto the walls and behind the "windows" on the west side of the room. It might help to counteract some of the "underground" feel. On two of our visits, there was some sort of rehearsal going on in the theater directly above the dining room. Lots of dancing. LOTS of it.
Things started out a little bumpy on our first visit when the wine and appetizer we ordered were both out of stock. But our server already had alternatives figured out, and was so polite about it that we quickly made adjustments. This guy is an asset to the restaurant. On another visit with a party of 6, we ordered so many appetizers that the same server suggested we move to a bigger table. Again, this guy was unflappable and contributed to a delightful time.
We started with the Fried Oysters [pictured, right]. This is an effective "tell" for how well a kitchen handles a fryer. Oil too hot, the coating blows off the slippery oyster as the moisture boils away, leaving it peering up at you, sadly shivering and naked. Oil too cool, the whole thing is a grease sponge. These were perfect. I was worried when they came out of the kitchen sauced -- this usually spells goodbye to crispiness. But the ancho sauce was not only tasty, but the oysters remained crunchy. The gorgonzola crumbles made for a cool and pleasant mouth feel.
The Steamed Clams in white wine [pictured, left] were well cooked. The star of the show on that dish, however, are the slices of particularly delicious chorizo. That and the fennel played very nicely together.
Another interesting appetizer is the Black & Tan Hummus [pictured, right]. Slices of grilled pita and brightly pickled carrot and cucumber slices surround two types of hummus. The crispy veggies played a nice counterpoint to the the traditional chickpea recipe. It was a bit firm and dry for my taste, and was quite mild. I like more of a garlic/tahini "kick." I think this is another example of a kitchen's constant fear of scaring people with too much spice. Too bad, as this one-size-fits-all cooking can end up bland and uninteresting. The "black" version was made with black beans, and was in fact well spiced. Black beans take a little getting used to when they are pureed, but once we started, there was no going back. I'd get this one again.
One of my Foodies-in-Waiting ordered the Debacle Caesar with the added Shrimp [pictured, left]. He ordered it because he doesn't like blue cheese. When it arrived, he insisted that the dressing was blue cheese. I gave it a try, and, though it wasn't blue cheese, it wasn't close to a typical Caesar dressing. I guess that's why they call it their "Debacle" Caesar -- with their personal touch. But if they're going to call it a Caesar, the server should be ready to warn the diner that the dressing might not be what they're expecting (or give them a choice).
On one of our visits, a special was a Crabmeat Flatbread Pizza with Old Bay [pictured, left]. Opinions were divided -- not over the extremely generous slathering of crabmeat, but whether there was too much Old Bay. I like the stuff. If you like it, then hope they're offering it when you go. It's quite good. Another special with crabmeat was the crab/avocado bruschetta [pictured, right]. Though I felt that balsamic drizzle was a bit strong, the dish was still quite tasty.
The Manicotti entree [pictured, left] was, as the menu promised, truly "classic" in that it was simple, generously cheesed, and the marinara was quite good. Spinach as a value-added and worked fine with the dish.
When I ordered the Fish 'n' Chips [pictured, right], our affable server promised that the fish would be crunchy. It was not. The coating was quite thin, and there wasn't very much crunch at all. But I do have to say that the fish was delicious. In spite of the missing crunch, it was perfectly cooked, gently spiced and almost unbelievably moist. Another little surprise on that same plate was the red bliss potato "chips." Small Red bliss potatoes are fried to a crispy finish, then sort of "smashed." Another restaurant very nearby does a similar treatment to fingerlings and it's delicious. Debacle's red bliss smashers were no different. If the fish had been crispier on the outside, the dish would have been a home run.
Another simple Italian presentation is the Chicken Milanese [pictured, left]. It was obvious that this one was made from scratch, and everything, from the bright red cherry tomatoes to the cushion of basil to the mozzarella finish worked perfectly together. On another visit we ordered the Margarita Flatbread Pizza (more cherry tomatoes), Calamari and the Crab and Avocado Salad [pictured together, right]. The center of the pizza was a bit soggy from the generous portion of tomatoes, but the bread base was tasty and even a little crispy. Though I have had lighter and crispier calamari, this was certainly within spec. Mild pepper rings decorated the top, and the ranch-style dip was OK. I know about the fear of spices (seems to be prevalent around here, and I'm not sure why). Hey, chef -- why not offer a side of that dip kicked up with Sriracha? Again, just a thought. A few bright red, garlicky squirts could make all the difference, and the spice wimps could pass it by.
The Lump Crab/Avocado Salad was delicious. Even for $14, the serving of crab was quite generous. The cute fried tortilla "dish" was comfortably nestled in a sea of crunchy greens sprinkled with a citrus vinaigrette that was wonderful. This is one of the stars of the appetizer show, for sure. As an app, there's enough for two to share, so if you're on a budget, you can still enjoy this outstanding dish.
Another hit on the entree menu is certainly the Adobo-Rubbed Skirt Steak. (Chef -- would you correct the spelling of "adobo" on your menu? "Adobe" is a mud house. Not appetizing. Sorry -- it's what I do...). Rice and beans accompany, and the tomato-onion salad blends so very nicely with the whisper of tumeric and garlic from the adobo.
I'm planning on a Saturday/Sunday brunch visit, but it's already taken me too long to get this review out to you, so expect that in an update. If you beat me to it, feel free to post your thoughts below. (I do know that bloodies and mimosas are $3 at brunch. Reason enough to go!) I'm particularly intrigued by the Italian Benedict: Prosciutto, hollandaise, pesto? It sounds good.
A nice little perk is that kids can not only order from the rather straight-ahead kids' menu, but they can also order off the regular menu and get smaller portions. A convenient feature, and extra helpful for a summer resort teeming with children. At the time of this writing (early fall '12), take 20% off your food bill on Wednesdays, and on Thursdays appetizers are half-price. Check the off-season specials list for the most current deals.
Debacle is at 20 Baltimore Ave., in the Old Epworth Church on the ocean block of Baltimore Avenue, now quite perkily named "Celebration Mall." At the time of this writing, Morgan & Gower Cheesemongers is fitting up an adjacent space there in the complex for their emporium of fresh-cut cheeses. This should even bring more traffic to that area, though it's already pretty busy with MIXX, Eden, JAM Bistro, Cafe Azafran and Adriatico all quite literally next door to one another. Debacle has no web presence other than Facebook, and as far as I can tell, no online menu you can peruse. We were able to get a pretty good photo of the appetizer/entree sections [pictured, left]. Check out the Facebook page here.
Debacle is open 7-days in-season from 3 - 10:30, plus 11 a.m. 'til 2 p.m. for Saturday and Sunday brunch. Happy hour runs from 3 'til 7. NEVER hesitate to call for hours in the off-season (302) 212-2050. (Brunch (Sat./Sun.), D, Bar) Price range: Moderate +.
By the way, we have a new little feature at RehobothFoodie.com. Depending on the browser you are using (this feature works best with IE in Windows) you can hover your mouse pointer over any photo and see a description of the photo. Enjoy. We live to serve.
(Photo of the three dishes together and of the menu courtesy of our favorite green-eyed Foodie.)