This story was published in Delaware Beach Life magazine, June 2002. ‘It has always been said that there is not a first-rate place to eat in Rehoboth Beach,’ said Washingtonian magazine in 1970. Today the resort town boasts more fine restaurants in one square mile than anywhere else in the state. How did it change? Here’s a history lesson. By Terry Plowman. In 1974, something happened in Rehoboth Beach that would cheat future students, but would delight fans of fine dining. Wilmington High School teacher Victor Pisapia and Milford High School teacher Libby Fisher shifted their creative energies from the classroom to the dining room to open the Back Porch Cafe — a career change that began a restaurant revolution in Delaware’s prime resort that continues to reverberate today.
The two teachers, along with Fisher’s husband, Ted — none of whom had much restaurant experience — began a dramatic departure from the fare of that era, unknowingly launching Rehoboth Beach on a course that would make it the state’s capital of fine dining. Shunning entrees like the “Captain’s platter” — that ubiquitous deep-fried seafood combination so popular in beach eateries — the Back Porch offered such “radical” choices as Shrimp Fiji, Coquilles St. Jacques and Eggplant Mousaka. Suddenly innovation had arrived at the beach. Soon after the Back Porch broke the mold of a typical beach restaurant, other upscale establishments followed. In 1980, Nancy Wolfe opened Chez La Mer, with a style intended to emulate the cuisine of southern France, a region she had visited. (The fractured French name for the “house by the sea” was the result of a hasty last-minute decision in her lawyer’s office when Wolfe learned that her first choice was already owned by another corporation.) The menu then featured, as it does now, such classic dishes as bouillabaisse, roast duck and paté.
In 1981, John McDonald, a co-owner of the Garden in Ocean City, Md., opened the Garden Gourmet in a 100-year-old farmhouse on Route 1 just outside Rehoboth Beach. Also in 1981, two members of the Back Porch team branched out and opened the Blue Moon — a move that ultimately changed not only the tenor of the restaurant community, but the town itself.