The (relatively) “Quiet Resort” of Bethany Beach (about 12 miles south of Rehoboth Beach) boasts several noteworthy eateries. One of the home-grown mainstays is the Cottage Cafe, right smack on Rt. 1, across from the Sea Colony high rises. Haute Cuisine? No. Consistent comfort food served in bright, clean rooms by somewhat detached but hard-working servers? Yes.
At lunchtime, pretty much every electrician, plumber, contractor, builder and carpenter working in southern Sussex County shows up at one time or another, mixing seamlessly with vacationing families from the beachfront metropolis that is Sea Colony. Let's start with the daunting “Dune Fries.” (I expected to see these on Travel Channel's “Man vs. Food” show.) A plateful of fries is topped with melted cheeses, bacon and scallions. Beware: This is a commitment and should be ordered “for the table.” I also like the Cafe Chicken Fingers (or the Fiery Fingers, slathered in a buttery hot sauce). Fresh chicken breast tenderloins are expertly fried to a crispy exterior (meaning they are not greasy or soggy). I can't leave the appetizers until I tell you about the Coconut Shrimp (happily kicked-up with a spicy Thai chili sauce) and their Cheesy Crab Dip. The latter, like the Dune Fries, is also a commitment. See what I mean by “comfort food?” This is one of those rare moments when The Foodie suggests sharing.
The Cobb Salad features white meat chicken, eggs, bacon, bleu cheese and cool veggies. I've also had the Popeye's Fish Salad (spinach with grilled tuna and bacon dressing) and the Fire and Ice Salad (a not-so-typical Iceberg “wedge” crowned with those chicken fingers, bacon, bleu cheese, hot sauce and ranch dressing). The lunch menu includes lots of big sandwiches, including their famous half-pound “Poffen” Burger, the Cottage Pot Roast Sandwich (my preferred dining companion's favorite) and the Cuban Press (my favorite, along with the fried oyster sandwich slathered with a spicy cocktail sauce). By the way, check out the “Melt Aways”: crabmeat, seafood or artichoke “melts” with various melted cheeses, piled high on an English Muffin.
The dinner menu contains most of the lunch sandwiches along with a wide array of platters. Some of the stars of the show include their #1 seller, the Cottage Pot Roast (if you like pot roast, I promise you will love this). I've also witnessed the Crab Cakes, Shrimp and Grits, the Meatloaf and the Liver and Onions being happily devoured. Cottage Cafe has a large selection of pastas and unusual combinations, including the “Crab Cake Abella” (a broiled portabella mushroom stuffed with spinach and a crab cake, all topped with a creamy Imperial sauce). The Crab Roll duo is a cool and fresh take on a Boston favorite. Instead of lobster, two rolls are stuffed with Maryland Blue crabmeat and Louis sauce and served with a salad and slaw (Louis sauce is a creamy but spicy combination of mayo, chili sauce, Worcestershire, white or green onions, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and sometimes a dash of Tabasco).
I must draw your attention to the off-season star of the show, at least on Tuesday nights! Fried Chicken night. This is very good fried chicken, made fresh to order. And it's only available on Tuesdays up until mid-May. So there. (Nice fried chicken photo in the gallery courtesy Tim Buckmaster.) By the way, be sure to visit the Boathouse, Brent & Partner's brand new venture directly across the street from Cottage Cafe. It's a fun spot with music, outdoor dining over the pond, movies, a sand pit for the kids and a parking lot's walk to the CVS in case you need anything. Closed in the off-season.
It's a big menu, and I've gone on too long. Some of the desserts are homemade and are worth trying. Cottage Cafe has entertainment on some nights, and also offers a breakfast buffet on certain days. Check out their specials and entertainment nights by calling (302) 539-8710. Click here for the dinner menu at Cottage Cafe. (B. (buffet, call for schedule), L., D., Bar) Price range: Moderate.