Rehoboth Beach headlines read, "Martini Tom is Back!" Tom Garvey has indeed returned to his old haunt in Midway Shopping Center. The ghosts of Tutto Bene, Adriatico and Betty's Pure & Simple have given way to Hooked Seafood & Martini Bar which Tom and long-time SoDelConcepts' chef Christian Colgan have taken over. Though Matt Haley remains behind the scenes in a business capacity, the day-to-day ball is squarely in Tom and Christian's court. In their first few months of operation, this has turned out to be both a good and a not-so-good thing.
On the plus side, the food is generally good. Early missteps notwithstanding (we'll get to those later), after 6 visits our findings are pretty much in line with the many emails from site visitors and app owners: The food is consistently OK. The service is friendly and casual -- when it finally happens. And that's the not-so-good part. We don't usually wait 6 visits before publishing a review, but, truth be told, I really wanted the service issues to improve. So we kept going back. (This is not an inexpensive restaurant, but we had to be sure. After all, why else do you visit RehobothFoodie.com?)
Enough chatter. Let's get down to business.
One of the problems we encountered with all but one of our visits was how long it takes anybody to bring anything to the table (other than menus -- the hostess provides them). Even during our most recent visit for which we had such high hopes, we sat unattended-to for 18 minutes. (The place was not busy, and yes, I timed it. It's what I do.) The server finally rushed by and assured us he was on his way -- too little too late. To top it off, we cooled our heels for another 45 minutes between the removal of our appetizer plates and the arrival of the mains. There were only 6 tables occupied at the time.
On another visit, when the talented Viki Dee was performing, one of my trusted Foodettes and a companion visited the restaurant for the purpose of providing me with her opinions. They sat. Nobody noticed. 5 minutes, ten minutes. Finally, after 20 minutes, they got up and left. Too bad. I think they would have liked the food, 'cause it's really good.
So there it is in a nutshell. And after close observation, I think I know why this is happening. We'll get to that after we talk about the food:
You could make a meal out of the appetizers. The first time we ordered the Blue Crab Dip [pictured, above right with the Spring Rolls], it arrived looking great. But it was room temperature. OK, it happens. And to the server's credit, he snapped it off the table like it was alive. I told him to keep it if they were going to microwave it to death. He assured me that they would make a fresh one. They did, and it was what it was supposed to be from the beginning. Lightly charred, delightfully crispy on top, hot, savory with crab, and cheesy all at once. The bread bowl was crispy fresh. Too bad it took two tries.
The Shrimp and Andouille Spring Rolls [pictured, above right, with the crab dip] were attractively presented at the proper temperature. The kicker on that plate is a little cheddar and jalapeño grits cake (at the far right of the photo). WOW! It is perfectly delicious. In fact, as good as the spring rolls are, it overshadows them. See if you can get it as a side with your main. You won't be sorry.
On our most recent visit, the server enthusiastically endorsed the Lobster Orzo appetizer. I asked for it as an entree [pictured, above left]. The creamy orzo with chunks of mushroom, lobster and smoked gouda was perfect -- except for one thing: What is it with truffle oil? Isn't it about time somebody said something? This perfect blend of creamy pasta, cheese and lobster was marred by the cloying, oily weight of truffle oil. Hey, Rehoboth chefs! Truffle oil is NOT truffles. And it doesn't taste like them. Stop putting it in everything!
Whew. I feel better now. Is everyone OK? (And certainly no offense meant to Chef Christian at Hooked!)
On an earlier visit, we ordered the Beach Fries and insisted that they NOT splatter truffle oil on them. Our friendly server mercifully complied, and the herbed parmesan on the hot potatoes was brightly cheesy and delicious.
If you like Oysters Rockefeller [pictured, right], you'll love the four big ones at Hooked Seafood & Martini Bar. Asiago cheese and applewood smoked bacon are the winners on that plate. I also recommend the fried calamari [pictured, left]. Served simply with lemon mayo (on the side, thank you), it was light and crispy.
The Crab & Corn Chowder [pictured, right] is perfectly textured and loaded with goodies. We ordered it in a bread bowl, but it did not arrive in a bread bowl. Surprise, surprise. We chose to find that charming, and proceeded to dig in. Bread bowl or not, it's a must-get.
The Oyster Stew [pictured, left] is light, creamy, but with substance. There are two wonderful little kickers here: (1) Expertly restrained use of sherry, and (2) the surprising appearance of a large fried oyster. Even more interestingly, fried oysters appear nowhere else on the menu. They make it just for the stew. I got so excited that I took a special photo of that lonely but tasty little nugget [left].
The Crab Cakes [pictured, right] have lots of chunky crabmeat with a tasty filler with a spicy kick that enhances the taste of the delicate meat. The cakes are well-sized for the $22 tariff. Beware! Truffle oil lurks on the fries! Unless you like that burned, flowery aftertaste, ask them to spare you the truffle oil. They'll happily do it.
On my first visit I ordered the Fish 'n' Chips [pictured, left]. Clumsy service marred its arrival as the dish collided with the edge of the table and all but one piece of what appeared to be expertly fried rockfish tumbled fins over gills onto the floor. The server was mortified and quickly returned with double the portion, undoubtedly made fresh. We probably wouldn't have been even a little miffed had we not already waited so long for the food. Again, beware the fries! They will happily spare you the faux fru-fru truffle oil if you wish. Just ask.
The Broiled Seafood Combo [pictured, right] is a big deal at Hooked Seafood & Martini Bar. A 7 oz. tail is joined by 1 pan-seared scallop, 3 shrimp and 3 nice-sized clams. And you choose two sides. I'm not sure why they spread it out on the plate like that; on one visit, it was ordered by 3 members of our party, and when it arrived everybody commented that it looked chintzy. When they finished, each one of them retracted that statement. Maybe they should plate the sides on the platter. Either way, in the side dept., order the Green Beans [pictured, right, with the broccoli]. The beans are brightly firm and plump. Bits of tomato, onions and a little garlic mix it up with those beans.
The Pan-Roasted Sea Scallop Linguini [pictured, left] is generously portioned for only $15, and the vodka-rose sauce is a pleasant surprise. Aparagus, capers and red peppers join in that merry-go-round of tastes. We ordered it three times over all our visits, and it was just as good every time.
Two 7 oz. lobster tails are joined by those green beans and a baker on the Twin Tails entree [pictured, right]. The second time we ordered them, the tails were ever so slightly overcooked and a tad rubbery. Still edible, mind you, but the $27 ticket demands that one be picky. The baked potato was hot and did not suffer from a few dips in the drawn (clarified) butter. I'd order it again in a minute.
There's got to be one carnivore in the aquarium, and one of my trusted Foodies decided to try the Filet Mignon [pictured, left]. Choose grilled or pan roasted, but it really doesn't matter: The dijon/shitake glaze is darkly savory. Be sure to allow the accompanying mushroom mashers (or a baker, if you choose) get some of that glaze on them. I could order that reduction in a wine glass with a big ol' straw and be perfectly happy.
So how can the food be so good and the service be so spotty? Some of this issue is the kitchen. Servers can't bring food until it's ready. But 15-20 minutes until anybody visits the table after you're seated is inexcusable. These missteps are too numerous to be coincidence, and I believe this is the reason: Tom Garvey is wearing two hats: (1) de facto front-of-house manager, and (2) his mixologist persona as "Martini Tom." He can't do both. Nobody can do both. His drinks are complicated and he's busy behind the bar. A good thing for the bar, but he's not engaged with what's happening in his restaurant. That's the root of the problem. Sure, he's a great bartender, and he obviously wants to play his well-earned Martini Tom role, but now he's responsible for a lot more than just the bar. If Martini Tom is drawing-in the customers, then he has to hire an experienced front-of-house manager; somebody with whom the kitchen, servers and customers can interact without having to congregate at the end of the bar waiting for Garvey to finish making complicated drinks. I sat and watched it play out over and over and over again through 6 visits.
It's an easy fix, and it's got to happen if they're to survive the long haul -- especially in the off-season. And I, for one, sincerely hope that they do.
Hooked Seafood & Martini Bar is located at 18585 Coastal Highway in the old Betty's spot at the south end of the Midway Shopping Center. They open at 3:30, feature a happy hour from 4-6, and have a fun late-night menu until 1am (the martinis are indeed good. If Tom has the watermelon-tini, get it). They do take reservations (302) 827-4944.
Finally! Their website actually works! Thanks to site visitor Frank for letting us know in his comment below. Click here for a look at the dinner menu. (D., Bar, Late night). Price range: Moderate +.