When a “school night” invitation to Dogfish Head’s new restaurant venture, Chesapeake & Maine, landed in our inbox I immediately prayed that our 9-5 schedule was clear for the date and that some freak March snowstorm wouldn’t keep us from making that drive south. And thankfully, both of these things worked in our favor (though it did start to snow as we made our way back north).
Combining the summers Dogfish Head founder and president Sam Calagione spent in Maine, and the connection the brewery has to the Chesapeake region, the foundation and inspiration of the newly opened seafood restaurant, Chesapeake & Maine (located on Rehoboth Avenue, next to Dogfish’s existing brewpub) was formed.
We've been keeping an eye on the progress of Chesapeake & Maine during our off-season visits to the beach and through social medial, anxiously awaiting the updates of when and where this restaurant was going to open. The updates peaked our curiosity for far too long, and as we walked through the front doors for the first time, to say we were wowed is a crazy big understatement. It was also pretty cool that almost immediately after walking through the front door we got to visit with Sam and Mariah Calagione.
As you walk through the front door (and a palatial entrance, at that) a grand bar greets you on one side and a raw bar on the other. The bar was part of the structure during the previous ownership and has origins of Ireland, by way of Philly, before making its home in Rehoboth. It's now painted soft colors of the sea and adorned with mother of pearl tiles, tying perfectly to that raw bar area on the opposite side of the entry. The raw bar is airy and bright, accented with white subway tiles, pendant lights and some very cool artwork that Sam found in his travels in Austin, Texas. He added his own mark to the diorama, painting the quote, “Light lager is for the birds. Hearty seafaring folks prefer flavor-ful ales and spirits. Fish. Not fowl.”
Walking through the other rooms of the restaurant we are immediately struck by the gorgeous oyster shell chandelier hanging in the room with whimsical wall art created by California-based cartoonist, illustrator and author, Tony Millionaire. When you visit the restaurant you'll notice both real and fictional points along the Chesapeake and Maine coastlines on the map. It was fun trying to figure out which are real and which are made up.
Travis Louie, a New York-based artist, “brought Sam’s version of a Matriarch and her two sons – 19th century waterman who have the visible DNA of a Maine Lobster and a Chesapeake Blue Crab” to life. Sam’s vision for these characters were to connect them in “the unusual circumstances that shape who they were and how they lived.” Mariah told us that since Travis finished up this artwork for the restaurant he has since been hired by Disney to work on an animated film. My initial thought was, 'how cool would it be to somehow see these characters slipped into the design of the film he's working on?!'
The artwork of Jon Langford was one of my favorite details in the restaurant. You might not pick up on it - the six paintings, designed specifically for Chesapeake & Maine, include the six artists who anchor the restaurant's playlist: Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Elvis Presley, Miles Davis, and Patsy Cline. We love this. Such a cool idea. Even cooler, check out the ChesandMaine Spotify Playlist.
Now that we had time to explore some of the décor, because it was hard to talk about Chesapeake & Maine and not talk about how awesome it looks, it was time to enjoy the cocktail we were welcomed with and check out a sample of a few different menu items including Smoked Oysters (more on them in a sec), Lobster Sausage (LOBSTER SAUSAGE! Yes, it's was as good as it sounds.), Warm Maryland Crab Dip served with Toasted Bagel Chips (the bagel chips were genius!), Sweet & Spicy Hushpuppies (hushpuppies have a special spot in my world), and Lobster Rolls created with fresh Maine lobster, Lemon May, Fines Herb and served on a Buttered Toasted Roll. All lobster rolls in our future takes note, you have a lot to live up to now that I've had this lobster roll. I think we could have easily eaten the equivalent to a whole lobster roll without even thinking about it.
Now, a little spotlight on the fantastically refreshing Moscow Mule we were handed upon entering Chesapeake & Maine. The recipe for the keg conditioned Moscow Mule, which is served on tap right next to Dogfish Head beers, mixes Dogfish Distilling Co.’s Analog Vodka, Housemade Ginger Beer and Fresh-squeezed Lime Juice. The bite of the ginger and tartness of the lime juice is perfectly balanced with the Analog Vodka, all while making its home in a Dogfish Distilling Co. copper mug. It was also very cool to learn that the cocktails at Chesapeake & Maine were crafted by celebrity bartender, Mia Mastroianni, who just happens to be Sam’s cousin.
After finishing our last sip of the Moscow Mule we knew it was time to find out what was on tap. This is when the true beer geek in me popped out. The very patient server barely got the words “Squall IPA” out when I pretty much did a happy dance because I was so excited to not only have Squall again, but to have it on tap. Thankfully I let him finish the list as he told us about the Chesapeake & Maine exclusive brew, Sequenchale, an experimental brew combining the three traditional German styles of Kolsch, Berliner Weisse & Gose into ‘one unique, thirst quenching beer.’ Or as Sam described it, a beer margarita! Thank goodness Eric was with me so that we could try one of each of the beers.
What was really fun about the night was getting introduced to both the leadership team of the restaurant and the suppliers and farmers of various items, like the very unique, very Dogfish, oysters. One of our favorite stories of the night was how, by no surprise, Sam wanted to find a way to hop-infuse the oysters at Hooper’s Island Oyster Company. Turns out, oysters don’t like hops added to their water, but they do like culinary smoked salts. And with that, the oysters are “smoky but not too smoky – really unique, earthy and oceanic at the same time, keeping with Dogfish’s long history of wood-grilling and wood-aged beers.” Chesapeake & Maine are calling these oysters “Smoke in the Water.’ A raw oyster with a smoky taste about it? Wonderful!
Throughout the rest of the evening we were treated to the Lobster Bisque (uniquely served on top of a white chocolate gellan and fine herbs), Seafood Pho (brimming with lobster, clams, mussels, shaved beef, rice noodle, bean sprouts, lobster dashi, and cured egg yolk), and Seared Jumbo Day Boat Scallop (served on and with Maine Bean-Hole Cassoulet, RAPA Scrapple, Lobster, Lobster Gravy and Fines Herbs). They said they wanted to make the focus the ingredient, in the most natural and beautiful way. Nailed it.
We also were treated to a trio of dessert options: Cookies & Milk (chocolate Chicory Stout whoopie pies with peanut butter filling paired with malted milk), Mini Delmarva Strawberry Pretzel Salad (pretzel crust, mascarpone cheese cake, strawberry gele, fresh strawberries), and Mini White Chocolate Lobster Crème Brulee with Red Velvet Biscotti. Seriously. So. Good. We especially love their twist of the regional delight, pretzel salad. Such a fun thing to have on the menu.
Executive Chef Kevin Downing, who most recently was a chef at Walt Disney World for 8 years, is in his second year with Dogfish Head, having “reinvigorated the Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats menu” before bringing the Chesapeake & Maine menu to life. You can easily taste the passion that Chef Downing has in the dishes we sampled throughout the night.
Here are a few other interior shots:
The seafood, music and art of Chesapeake & Maine are woven together like the waves of the ocean. As you can expect the food and drink are outstanding, leaving us anxious for an excuse to make a return trip. As amazing as the food and drink were, the interior is hard to ignore. It's gorgeous, uniquely different, yet flowing and cohesive. The restaurant was likened to the interior of a lobster trap in its designed, and as Sam joked, much like a lobster pot once you come in, you can't get out. I think we may have to test that theory on our next trip to the beach. Cheers!
Chesapeake & Maine Info:
The restaurant is open from 4pm-7pm, 7 days a week, year round.
They're closed on the following days: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, the Tuesday after Labor Day, their annual Beer & Benevolence Day, and the evening of their annual holiday PARTAY.
Address: 316 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach, DE