Gilligan’s building has been demolished as of September, 2016, and a new Gilligan’s will arise from the proverbial ashes. I left the old review below for your dancing and listening pleasure, but it will be replaced with a new article after the new Gilligan’s appears in spring 2017.
The Foodie has fond (and foggy) memories of piling 8-10 people into his powerboat and crossing the Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis to the tiny town of St. Michaels on the Miles River. We would dock the 44-ft. hole in the water (into which one pours money) directly in front of The Crab Claw restaurant and spend the rest of the day carefully evaluating the seafood and crabs; paying special attention to the Foodie’s magical strawberry daiquiris (freshly made on-board, thank you). A sunset cruise back around Bloody Point to Annapolis gave us time to digest in preparation for a nightcap at Middleton’s.
Gilligan’s Waterfront Restaurant reminds me of those days long past. The restaurant is directly on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, with nothing but boatslips (and boats) between you and the water. Inside seating is surrounded by glass. The outside bar fills quickly, but any noise that might have been a problem just floats away across the water.
Gilligan’s came very close to closing its doors at the end of last season. But changes were made, and all of a sudden there are plans to totally remodel and rebuild this iconic eatery on the canal. We are pleased about that, because Cheryl Tilton comes up with tasty food.
The dinner menu is simple and straight ahead, providing a pretty good representation of seafood and meats. On our last visit we started with an appetizer special called the Crab Cigar. Crab Imperial is wrapped in puff pastry and rolled into a cylindrical shape. The pastry was dark and crispy and the Crab mixture was creamy but quite mild. The Bruschetta appetizer consists of two generous slices of grilled crostini (still warm and crunchy on the outside, fresh and yeasty–not soggy–on the inside) served on a wooden cutting board and topped with a mountain of white beans, arugula and what appeared to be a lemon vinaigrette. At the risk of generating abusive emails from the Chronic Complainers, it was delicious. On a recent visit in mid-summer 2014 there was a new bruschetta appetizer — basically a chunky salsa in little edible spoon. A wonderful presentation of an otherwise standard dish. Nice work!
The Crab Andouille soup was creamy and not too thick, but was sadly lacking in the promised crab and sausage. The Vegetable Soup, however, was rich, tomatoey (is that a word?) and chunky with vegetables. Both the Caesar Salad and the Romaine Wedge were generous, cool and crispy.
Like so many local restaurants, menus change like the wind. So though Gilligan’s is certainly known for several signature dishes, I can never guarantee if a particular item will be on the menu. So govern yourself accordingly.
I ordered one of those signature dishes, Cheryl’s Crab Cake (Cheryl Tilton and her husband Gary have owned the joint since ’02). Crustaceans and shellfish can provide the perfect palette for the creative use of spice, and the crispy crust that surrounded the chunks of crabmeat spoke of expert frying technique. But there was more taste in that breading than in the crab mixture itself. They justifiably pride themselves on having “no filler,” but the rich Imperial-like filling needs to have a more definitive taste. Crabmeat is too delicate and mild to do all the heavy lifting by itself. The single cake was ensconced on layers of cool mango, avocado and cilantro vinaigrette-drizzled greens. A foundation of tasty mashed potatoes kept it all in place.
Out of ignorance, the do-gooder Food Police have given frying a bad rap, but if it’s done properly (yes, there is a technique!), there is little to no residual oil in the food. Case in point: Gilligan’s Breaded Flounder. The thin filet was perfectly fried (not at all greasy) to a dark, crunchy crackle (a little cornmeal in the dredge works wonders), with the fish still moist and tasty. The Flounder was accompanied by fries and coleslaw. Sadly, the dish was marred by dry and overcooked hushpuppies. Several were actually burned. The Chicken Paillard (paillard = pounded thin and flat and then fried) was also delicious with a crispy crust. It was served over a buttery linguini with arugula.
The Fisherman’s Stew was a tour de force, sporting a jaunty conch shell overlooking a bowlful of clams, fish and shrimp in tomato broth. Corn-on-the-cob provided a nice visual exclamation point. The Chargrilled Salmon was nicely prepared with attractive grill marks, and cucumber-dill yogurt provided a nice foil for the rich salmon.
Executive chef Justine Bettes and her combination husband/sous chef Ryan (formerly of Lewes’ Second Street Grille until ’06) both possess degrees in the culinary arts, and their delicious dressings and clever use of fruit and greens is testament to their education. And they obviously know their way around a fryer. But some of the dishes at Gilligan’s (especially those involving crab) are one-dimensional and need more daring in the taste department.
Gilligan’s is located at 134 Market Street and is open Tues. thru Sun., 11-1. Park in the big municipal parking lot at the intersection of Savannah and Front St. (if you can find a spot!). They are open for lunch, and have an interesting bar menu. They take reservations for parties of 6 or more. Hours will surely change in the off-season, so give them a call at (302) 644-7230 just to make sure. (L., D., Bar) Price range (dinner): Expensive-.