First of all, the place isn't really in Bethany Beach, but I don't have a “somewhere between Bethany and Rehoboth near the Indian River Inlet suspension bridge” category. In fact, it's about 30 seconds south of the Indian River Bridge, on the east side at Tower Shores. The late Matt Haley called it “North Bethany,” so we'll just go with that.
I love the big hi-tops near the window on the kitchen side. Look to the left and enjoy the sparking bay and the sunset. Look to the right and enjoy the sparkling kitchen with all its hustle and bustle. Ahhh… two of my favorite things. The menu seems to change a lot at Matt's Fish Camp, though there are some standards. So govern yourself accordingly.
Start with the Lobster Deviled Eggs, studded with spices and bits of lobster in a silky egg puree.We also had the Oven Roasted Parker House Rolls. (Now, them's fightin' words, because The Foodie is famous for his homemade Parker House Rolls. He was further annoyed when he discovered that Matt's were better than his. Is nothing sacred?)
Special mention goes to the Blue Crab Claws. Served with a lemon wedge and a mild mustard cream dip, these were firm and cold with a bright spice mixture including a mercifully not-overpowering hint of Old Bay. If you don't order the Fried Ipswich Clams as part of your main course, get the appetizer version. These are not those frozen, rubbery strips you get pretty much everywhere. These are the real thing, belly and all. It's hard to get these little gems anywhere other than Massachusetts, but Matt Haley has a source. The crunchy coating is firm, yet mild enough to not stand in the way of the taste of these little delicacies.
Matt's Fish Camp has two soups on the menu. The Conch Chowder is served in a chunky tomato and onion base reminiscent of Maryland Crab Soup. Toothsome chunks of conch are everywhere. The New England Bacon Clam Chowder has a creamy consistency with body, but is not at all starchy. There's so much clam and bits of bacon that each spoonful was filled with the goodies. Order it. I am not exaggerating.
I already mentioned the Fried Ipswich Clams. In addition to the appetizer version, you can get them on a platter with a side of mild, crispy slaw, or as a “clam roll” on a toasted (grilled, actually) roll. On one visit, my favorite Foodie-at-Large ordered the Fish & Chips. Chunks of haddock are presented with a light crust that, again, politely stands aside to allow the flaky white fish to shine through. The fries are fresh and good, but I suggest you order the dish with their delightful Kettle Chips (they come with the lobster and clam rolls and the crab dip). These are homemade, and are cut a tiny bit thicker than your average chip. They arrive warm and make a great noise when you munch.
What's dinner without Steamed Peel ‘n' Eat Shrimp? On another visit I had the Fried Chicken with Bacon Corn Gravy. Two butterflied and split breast pieces perched atop a mound of creamy mashers. In between was a layer of thin-as-air slices of yellow squash, zucchini and crispy snow peas. The dish wore a crown of hot cream gravy filled with yellow corn and ham. In spite of the gravy, the breading remained crisp and firm.
Matt's Fish Camp Bethany1/14 Lobster roll and the fried clam roll on the same plate2/14 Fried Pickles (a special)3/14 Shrimp Sliders4/14 Fried Oyster Sandwich5/14 MFC chopped salad6/14 seafood chowder7/14 bacon clam chowder8/14 Take a close look at those Ipswich clams9/14 Matt's signature fried chicken10/14 Fried Ipswich clams. Delicious.11/14 Steamers!12/14 Makin' whoopie — pie.13/14 Matt's Fish Camp Bethany14/14
Another tasty dish was the pan-roasted Pier Fresh Skate. When served properly, it resembles a big scallop shell. It was served over top of the same veggie mix enjoyed by the fried chicken. With an almost swordfish-like texture, it was described as “very flavorful, moist, not fishy, with just enough butter to still be firm when cut.”
There are several clever cocktails available at Matt's Fish Camp, none the least of which the Cucumber Fresca. I hope they still have it when you go: Cucumbers are marinated in Svedka Vodka and the resulting potion is mixed with soda and lime. Be sure to be looking toward the bay and the sunset when you sip this one. Another tasty libation is the F.I.T. Margarita where pineapples and mangoes infuse a citrusy flavor into a vat of tequila. It's hard to have just one.
One particularly tasty dessert is the Whoopie Pie. Two discs of dark chocolate cake sandwich a creamy, marshmallowy icing. The mouth feel of the cake is particularly firm and grainy and works nicely with the marshmallow cream.
Matt's is open seven days. In spite of the upscale nature of some of the menu items, the restaurant is informal, with long wooden tables, benches, simple chairs and cream-colored walls. Seagoing art pieces and maritime tchotchkes abound, and beachy green beadboard frames the bar.
See the current dinner menu here. (L., D., Bar) Price range: Moderate +.
RehobothFoodie.com notes the sad passing of chef, award-winning restaurateur and SoDelConcepts founder Matt Haley, who passed away on August 19th, 2014 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash while on a humanitarian trip in the mountains of India. Matt will be sorely missed by many, many people.