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Blacksmith

/ Updated on June 15, 2017
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A popular advice-columnist here at the beach suggests that loss can often be turned into opportunity. It’s healthy, and besides, there’s usually not much choice anyway. So when The Avenue Inn purchased the adjacent lots on Wilmington Avenue upon which Planet X Café and old Square One /Cafe Zeus / Yum-Yum / Shag / Atlantic Jazz Yard / Cypress/Some Nondescript Crab Place structures now stand (or stood, depending on when you read this), it was only a matter of time before those two buildings would become part of Rehoboth Beach history. Tempus certainly does fugit, and the building sandwiched between Planet X Café and Purple Parrot Biergarten needed to be put out of its misery. Ever since La La Land founder Alison Blyth closed Yum Yum to open her successful Go Fish! and Go Brit!, that building has seen a parade of spectacular failures – several of which had nothing to do with the quality of the food. Another article, another time.

Despite all that small-town drama, Planet X Café proprietor Justine Zegna is one of those stalwart few who quietly toils away, day in and day out, year after year, keeping her establishment at the highest quality by working hard and being there all the time. She and those like her are what give our little dining destination a good name. Planet X Café was first conceived in Maryland as a coffee house, replete with all the obligatory coffee house stuff like poetry and music. In 1995, Justine moved it to its (now former) home on Wilmington Avenue. This wasn’t her first beach rodeo, however, and denizens of Dewey Beach still remember her equally eccentric Venus on the Half Shell, where Ivy restaurant and night club now stands.

Though Justine’s landmark Planet X Café has given way to the expansion of The Avenue Inn (lots of parking, renewed sidewalks and fresh landscaping will be some of the happy side effects), the opportunity arose for her to reinvent herself. Yes, we will miss the unusual cocktails, the purple Buddha, the ancient chandeliers, the bobbing Japanese lanterns bathing the front porch in crimson, the mirror-studded mosaics and pretty much anything she did with curry. But herein lies the opportunity: Justine and partner Drew Evans have repackaged parts of the Planet X Café concept and morphed them into the new Blacksmith restaurant in the tiny town of Berlin, Md., just 10 minutes west of Ocean City, Md. Of course, changes had to be made (Berlin is not Wilmington Avenue, though they might have enjoyed the purple Buddha). Blacksmith is a friendly, noisy, upbeat neighborhood bar and eatery with friendly servers, lots of craft beers, low lighting and Justine gliding from table to table. And her talent for putting a twist on pretty much anything shines through not only on the menu but also in the art on the walls.

Take her Eastern Shore Bánh Mì, for example. Traditionally, a Bánh Mì is a Vietnamese hoagie, with roast pork loin, crunchy daikon, cucumbers and carrots, cilantro and peppers on a warm French baguette. Zegna’s Eastern Shore version leans in the BBQ pork direction. Though the mandatory pickled veggies, cilantro and cucumbers are there, the addition of scrapple and crunchy chicharrones validates the Eastern Shore moniker.

One of my repeat favorites is the House Burger. It’s deceptively simple with homemade pickles and melted cheddar, but the whole somehow tastes greater than the sum of its parts. 98.1FM’s Big Al Reno is a native of Berlin and has become my Sherpa there. His delightful wife sums it up best: “That roll is like a pillow!” Regulars to RehobothFoodie.com know how important the roll is to the summative burger experience. It must lovingly cradle the contents with enough firmness to keep everything in place, but not so firm that a bite on one end sends a patty or an errant pickle flying out the other side to possibly put somebody’s eye out. I also believe that the quality of the meat is a big factor at Blacksmith. I encountered absolutely no gristle, and it’s simply one of the best I’ve had. And wait ‘til you taste the sauce. I asked Justine for the recipe, and I got the look. (I do know that mustard and squash ketchup are involved.)

Happy memories of Planet X Café remain on the menu in the form of Justine’s famous Thai style meatballs. I think she used to call them Vietnamese Meatballs on Wilmington Avenue, but the idea is the same: What looks like a typical Italian meatball explodes with red Thai coconut curry, toasted coconut and pickled veggie flavors. These are not to be missed, and the appetizer portion is enough to share – though after you taste them you might not want to. The Local Softshell Crab (in season) also packs a surprise in the form of dressed arugula and a brightly spiced corn salad. The expertly fried crustacean never had it so good.

Blacksmith kicks the typical Caesar up a notch or three with the BLT treatment: Crisp bacon, red onion and juicy Heirloom tomatoes grace the plate full of romaine hearts. See this one in the photo gallery. The pic says it all. Another BLT in disguise is the fried oyster version. You can even get a veggie version with fried mushrooms instead of the plump and nicely breaded bivalves. Another interesting twist on an old favorite is the Burrata appetizer. It is a Tilt-A-Whirl of texture and temperature as the cool and milky mozzarella shares the plate with little crispy crunchies.

One of the stars of the show at Blacksmith is the Boneless Short Rib entrée. Burley Oak stout (brewed in Berlin) is blended with coffee and is used to braise three generous chunks of rib. These tender and tasty morsels rest comfortably atop a bed of creamy polenta. The whole thing is topped with bracing bites of pickled veggies. There are several short rib masterpieces here in Rehoboth Beach (you regulars know where they are), and this one stands up to any of them.

I also remember from the old menu Justine’s Pappardelle Pasta with Roasted Mushrooms (or maybe it was that Planet X cocktail with the lychee nuts clouding my memory). The Blacksmith Berlin version is accompanied by seasonal butternut squash. Veggieheads will also appreciate the Roasted Cauliflower Steak with quinoa, cous cous and local veggies in balsamic-laced butter. Slices of potatoes Anna add the finishing touch.

One of the problems with some of the local Panzanella Salads is that the chunks of bread are just too darn big. I can’t figure out what possesses some chefs to do that. Even The Foodie can only open his mouth so wide. (OK, Joe H., fight the urge to post a snide comment.) Fortunately, this is not the case at Blacksmith. A delicious herb vinaigrette flavors the properly sized sourdough and tomatoes.

We will be making more trips to Berlin, Md. and will add new updates and photos. The town’s social media proclaims that it is America’s Coolest Small Town, and my friend Big Al is the self-appointed spokesguy for this historic burg. A fun day-trip might include some of the local bakeries, coffee shops, historic buildings and then dinner at the equally cool Blacksmith. Justine needs to know that she is still loved in Dewey and Rehoboth Beach, and a little visit from Foodie Fans will go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Blacksmith is open at 11:30 daily, and is closed on Sundays. Call 410-973-2102 to make sure. Take a closer look at sample menus of the lunch menu and the dinner menu.

Follow Blacksmith on Facebook.

The Rehoboth Foodie

About the Author

"My goal is to promote Rehoboth Beach dining while remaining honest and impartial. I don’t gush unless a place deserves it, and I don’t pull punches, either. With so many good places to eat around here, it just doesn’t make sense to waste the calories — or the money — on anything less." View all articles written by The Rehoboth Foodie

Add Your Comment
  1. T&T T&T says:

    Foodieguy you have done it again. My wife and I made the drive last week based on your sneak peek article. We loved the place. We do not know the owner, but it seemed that she was everywhere at once, keeping the customers happy. I had the burger at your suggestion. My wife had the banh mi sandwich. Thank you, foodie. Not only have you added to our girth, but to our gasoline bill as well!

  2. Always Hungry says:

    Count me in too for the short rib. About the best I’ve had in a long time, and I always order short rib. This is as good as I’ve had anywhere at the beach. And the pork belly is spectacular as well. I understand the menu regularly changes, but I don’t think you’ll be sorry regardless of what they’re offering. The owner/chef is charming and she talked with the customers. It’s always an excellent experience when the owner, also the chef, is present. Well worth the drive from Rehoboth/Lewes or Bethany/Fenwick, and a perfect warm and cozy setting for a winter’s evening. I’m sure summer will be nice too. Only one minor complaint: I wish there was a little more light. I don’t like bright lights in restaurants at all, but it was difficult to even read the menu without a smartphone flashlight. Otherwise, virtually a perfect experience.

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