Lewes, Delaware ‘Picnic in the Park’
Summer road trips. Places to go and many things to see, and if you are open, with a bit of luck, there is even the chance to meet some unexpected special people along the way too.
Perhaps my first line should have inquired if you believe in coincidences? Or, are there no coincidences, but rather mysterious, purposeful reasons that in some way bring folks together? Recently, I’d have to lend more towards purpose than coincidence given I keep having these unlikely scenarios occur, the latest of these in the tiny beach town of Lewes, Delaware, just outside Rehoboth Beach. Now it’s even a funny thing, this particular location, how seemingly random associations of friends all seem to be ‘coincidentally’ popping up in this one place, and it is a special place.
Last Sunday we headed out to get together with Val and Walt, parents of one of my youngest, Alex the Athletes’, former field hockey teammates from American University. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, and you know how that goes, I’m pretty sure we all do it, you know, say things like we really should get together, then time flies, as it always does, and next time you meet, same sentiment, same intent. This summer Val and I determined to just set a date, and with a beautiful, sunny, though hot day, a little before noon, we pulled into Lewes Delaware and the parking lot where it all began, at a well-respected local bistro, Striper Bites.
The only thing is, as it turned out, Striper Bites was still closed on Sundays until the end of the month, more closely into the beginning of the tourist season. Just before contacting Val to notify her of the news, a truck, with said restaurant’s logo pulls into the parking lot, with, as it turns out, the owner, Matt DiSabatino. Seemingly, just like the whole town, Matt is one of those super warm and friendly sorts, and he didn’t simply say, ‘Sorry we’re closed.’ Instead, he hops out, shakes hands, introduces himself, and further informs us of the food event ‘Picnic in the Park’ a local Lewes community benefit with Lewes restaurants each serving up their specialties taking place right on the canal beginning at noon. Upon our further converse, we learn that all three of the DiSabatino Lewes restaurants were each participating in the day’s event, the other two being Kindle, and Half Full, whose latter was incidentally moving to a new location this week. I was naturally pretty excited to have come upon a food event and so I shared with Matt that I had a food blog and expressed with glee this turned out to be a lucky turn of events.
With Matt generously ensuring our parking at the back of Striper Bites for the afternoon, once Val and Walt arrived we made the short walk over to purchase our tickets to the event and began the hot day with cold beers. DogFish Head Beers, brewed nearby in Milton Delaware, with another small brewery in Rehoboth Beach, and whose owners live right across the street from the day’s locale. Of course, everyone knows them personally because this is Lewes Delaware, whose logo could easily say, Lewes Delaware ‘the warm and friendly place.’ Everyone loves Joe Biden here too, and refers to him as one of the neighbors, though sadly, in the loss of his son Beau Biden, the funeral held the day before, had many expressing sadness for the family, sharing heartwarming Biden family stories, and throughout Delaware, including along the ride in, official flags, and those lining the homes of the state’s residents, were all being flown at half-mast. A touching tribute.
Before making our way over to the Striper Bites tent, tasting a fresh and clean flavored Ceviche with just the right touch of heat topped with house-made tortilla chips in clear plastic cups, I learned that I do not dislike all IPAs, having savored the best I’ve ever enjoyed from the DogFish Head tent. A clear golden color whose flavor included some sort of subtle citrus, like a grapefruit finish, and a really good aftertaste (which is one of the reasons I tend not to like IPAs.) I could have drank two whole cupfuls, but the blazing sun and high heat provided that three-quarters of a glassful seemed enough or I otherwise might have wanted a little nap underneath one of those protected tent coverings.
Shortly after arriving at the Striper Bites tent, I ran into Matt and after chatting some more, we snapped a shot together. Having spent every summer while growing up at the family shore house in the Lewes Rehoboth area instilled such happy memories in Matt that upon marrying his bride, who he met at the University of Delaware, shared that Lewes was the place he wanted to build a life upon. She agreed. They opened a restaurant. Now, three children and three restaurants later, the rest is happy history. And speaking of history, there is quite a long one among the employees, many of whom have been with the DiSabatino restaurants for over ten years, quite impressive for the restaurant industry.
Next up, back to the tent, was Delaware Oysters being shucked to order and then topped onto a long bed of ice surrounded by lemon wedges, hot sauce, and a couple different dipping options, including a mignonette sauce, which I chose alongside the lemon. Quite good. The Delaware oysters are described point-on as being plump with a rather mild flavor, and they are quite meaty, especially compared to Chesapeake Choptank Sweets featured at the Philly Farm and Food Fest, whose smaller size produces a more distinct clean, fresh taste. Still, I liked them a lot.
There was a lot of really good ‘picnic’ style food by the day’s restaurant vendors and I sampled as much as I could despite early on filling up on the Ceviche and Oysters. And besides, Val and Walt kept running into folks they knew and so in between many bites were busy catching up on each other’s lives, while in intermittent constant conversation meeting lots more friendly folks.
Did I mention I was already full? But then how could I help but enjoy this lobster salad from DiSabatino’s other restaurant, Kindle. Nice balance of lobster with not too much mayonnaise, what else can be said, it’s lobster, a premier treat that shouts, ‘Summer is here!’
Both Nectar and Jerry’s Seafood restaurant offered Chicken Salad Sliders though with so much good food to be tasted, combined with all the socializing, I began losing track of the restaurants matched with the food. These too were the perfect picnic food and tied in well with the many classic and creative preparations featured. You simply could not eat it all.
But then I just had to fit in one of these crab sliders, who could resist? Do you see all the crabmeat in that sandwich? This too either came from Jerry’s Seafood or Gilligan’s restaurant. Now I’ve eaten at Gilligan’s restaurant, at our last visit to Lewes Delaware seeing former neighbors and friends, Martha and Frank who now reside in the summer home of her childhood in Rehoboth. Those crab cakes were served lightly fried, the size of softballs. On that occasion, Martha had entered and won first place at the Historic Lewes Farmer’s Market, Great Tomato Recipe Contest, for her Heirloom Tomato and Cheese Pie recipe. The initial plan was to send a text to Martha at the end of our visit and see if we might stop by for a brief Hello, it’s tough being in the same area as someone special to you and not getting together, but on this day, it was not to be, for the plan took on a whole new twist, a very ‘coincidental’ one.
Such as meeting one very, very special, unexpected person along the way that very day. What ‘coincidence’ would provide that Val, one of my best Tailgate pals from the American University Field Hockey Team, who lived in Maryland at that time, and now lives in her shore home in Rehoboth Beach would be friends with Vince, whose mother was the next door neighbor of the home from where I was born, the home above the butcher and grocery store run by my grandmother from Ireland, and was lifetime friends with my father’s sisters, Mary and Kay.
Dot, Vince’s mother, and her husband Serge were huge family friends and socialized with my Aunt Kay and Uncle Vince, likely other family members as well. And Aunt Mary was godmother to both Vince and his brother Gregory. Although I’m certain we have been on some common life occasions together, I cannot recall, nor can he. But I can recall years of Aunt Mary talking about Vince growing up, when he was in the service, seeing him on visits. The funny part is, Vince actually grew up in New Jersey, so I cannot help but wonder, same as he, what it was that inspired him to tell me he was originally from this very small section in Philadelphia? We think maybe Aunt Mary wanted us to say Hi! I’m so happy she did. The day was grand.
And so, exhausted after a long, hot day making merry with friends at Lewes Picnic in the Park, though fearing the brutal summer Sunday traffic along that corridor from DC to Philadelphia it was time to leave. And sadly then I missed Martha.
On the other hand, perhaps Martha will ‘coincidentally’ once again produce a recipe for the Historic Lewes Farmer’s Market Great Tomato Contest, and we’ll go down to visit, see Val and Walt, check out Vince’s old Victorian home, join up at one of the restaurants of Matt DiSabatino, and then, you know those ‘coincidences’, one just never knows.
Summer road trips. Places to go and many things to see, and if you are open, with a bit of luck, there is even the chance to meet some unexpected very special people along the way too.