Like many who now live here full-time, I’ve been coming to Rehoboth Beach for a long time. I was a long-haired rock ‘n’ roller playing full-time in Ocean City in the late ’60s, and my bandmates and I subsisted on Grotto Pizza. Indeed, it was founded on Rehoboth Avenue in 1960 during a time when most people had no idea what the heck a pizza was. If the in-season lines are any indication, this is no longer a problem.
Grotto has grown over the years, with well over 25 locations (as of this writing) in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. I am sad to say that as the ownership and management has decentralized, consistency of product has suffered somewhat. I almost feel like a heretic, but I’ve experienced it too often, as have many locals and part-timers alike (post your thoughts below, whether you agree or disagree). I’ve had pizzas come out of the kitchen partially cooked, or even burned — and they brought them to the table anyway! The servers at the front counter are often in such a hurry that they reach in and take the single slices out of the conveyor oven before they’ve had a chance to fully warm up. That “legendary taste” ends up being limp and lukewarm.
I’m here to tell you that the Grotto pie is delicious when it’s prepared properly. And I remember those days. The sauce is placed over top of the cheese for a distinctive flavor and mouth feel. When cooked all the way through, the crust is crispy and buttery with a nice bready “pull” to it. It is one of the few pizzas I have ever had that is as delicious plain as it is with toppings. Properly (note the italics) reheated, the slices are almost as good as the fresh pies. Many a late night in the off-season I would stop at Grotto for a midnight “slice.” The taste still brings back those memories. But today’s inconsistencies are a disappointment.
Grotto Pizza has good hamburgers and pretty good Buffalo Wings. We often get a salad and wings to start, and have shared the table with people who have enjoyed the other Italian dishes including the Chicken Parmesan, the “Grotto-bolis” (basically a pizza folded over onto itself and baked), and the plain old spaghetti and meatballs. They all share the “legendary” taste of that good red sauce. In the ’60s, ’70s and part of the ’80s, every pizza that came out of the ovens on Rehoboth Avenue was virtually perfect. I’d order it crispy and “well-done,” and it would come out right every time. You could predict exactly how it would look and taste (a cardinal rule for any successful establishment).
I still stop for a slice for time to time, because when it’s right, it’s really right. Interestingly enough (I don’t know whether it’s management or whatever), the South Boardwalk location (opened in 1963 and including the busy Papajohn’s Beach Bar), maintains a better consistency rating (at least when I’ve been there). I still take visiting friends into that location, and feel confident that the product (especially the whole pies) and/or service will not disappoint. There’s also a great view of the boardwalk and the ocean.
When it’s made right, it’s great pizza. So Your Foodie says unto you: Be picky and hold them to their self-professed standard! If it’s not right, do them a favor and tell them so. If it IS right, tell them too. I can’t believe that these occasional problems are “on purpose.” Decentralization and expansion often results in poor training and management, and hopefully your comments will get them back to their roots when every pie was a masterpiece. They tout “that legendary taste,” and they should deliver it, every pie, every time.
The main location is at 36 Rehoboth Avenue, south side, on the ocean block. If you’re bringing in a big party (or want to double-check their hours), call (302) 227-3278. The waits in the summer at that location can be quite long, but it’s fun sitting out front on the benches, watching the beachy rabble and browsing the little stores in Penny Lane. My favorite location is South Boardwalk at 17 Surf Avenue (302) 227-3601. Click here for the complete menu at Grotto. (L., D., Bar) Price range: Moderate +.