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Rusty Rudder

/ Updated on June 15, 2017

It’s no secret that the Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach is more popular for its outside bar and deck, live entertainment and magnificent view of the Rehoboth Bay than it is for the food. The dark, cramped and walled-off restaurant interior seemed to go just fine with the hit-or-miss grub-food fest that was the buffet. But that has changed. It’s hard to fight old preconceptions, but when Highway One LP’s John Snow and Executive Chef Pete McMahon converted Venus on the Half Shell into Ivy in early 2012, they also tackled a massive revamp of the venerable old Rudder. Floors were replaced and lightened in color, walls removed, interior windows created, paint applied, and pretty much the entire kitchen was upgraded and streamlined. The result was a clean, austere look, with panoramic views to the south and to the west across the water from every seat in the house. Stainless steel tabletops and cleverly designed chairs make the room even more modern, and truth be told, if you didn’t know you were at the newly refurbished Rusty Rudder, somebody would have to tell you.

The buffet has certainly benefited from the new look and new attitude. And though there’s not a buffet on the planet on which everything is a home run, there are a lot more home runs (or at least triples) now than there used to be. If your memories of the Rusty Rudder are of dark rooms, scarred floors and limp food, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Pretty much everything is made in-house. The Fried Chicken is pressure-fried, similar to KFC. And the result is not unlike KFC — when it’s done right. Pressure frying makes for a tender, moist piece of chicken. The tradeoff is that it’s not particularly crispy, but it’s not meant to be. Another surprise is the BBQ ribs, made entirely on the premises. There are so many frozen products out there that are OK, but Chef McMahon actually takes the time to prepare the ribs from scratch. The quality test is if you can pull the bone out of the meat, and every portion passed that test. The sauce is on the sweet side with a rich consistency.

Yes, I know, the Rusty Rudder is all about seafood. And there’s no lack of that. Steamed Littlenecks are piled high on the steam table, shells fully open and just begging you to fill your plate. The clams make a second appearance, along with mussels, in the Seafood Cioppino simmered in a tomato-wine sauce (on a buffet, yet!). It’s surprisingly good.

Steamed and Spiced Shrimp are surrounded by a sea of shucked Middlenecks on the Half Shell nestled comfortably on a huge bed of ice. The steamed shrimp is also served hot, accompanied by Fried Butterflied Shrimp. Simple economies of scale required that this be a frozen product (they serve literally thousands a week), but it’s high-quality and one of the best of its type I’ve had locally. A spicy horseradish cocktail sauce accompanies.

Fish on the buffet includes Baked Stuffed Flounder Imperial (prepared in little rollups), Beer-Battered Cod Filets, Seafood Newburg, Tilapia w/Lobster Sauce and Grilled Rockfish. Both were quite good and obviously prepared in-house. They don’t keep a large portion on the steam table, and the pans are regularly refilled with fresh product. You sort of have to do that with fish, or it will just fall apart in the pan.

Snow Crabs, Broiled Seafood Cakes, Seafood Jambalaya and Crab & Artichoke Dip are also in generous supply. Of course you can never go wrong with Snow Crabs. The Seafood Cakes are OK, but a bit dry and I’d just as soon get a second spoonful of the Flounder Imperial or the Cioppino. Or the Ribs. Any maybe the steamed shrimp. Oh, and the chicken.

The undisputed star of the sides department is a dead heat between the house made Macaroni & Cheese and the Redskin Mashed Potatoes (top them with an OK herbed brown gravy). On all of our visits, both dishes elicited oohs and ahhs from accompanying diners, though I suspect that could have also been the second round of drinks.

Additional sides include a panful of Fresh Vegetable of the Day (it’s OK, but you’d pass up a second helping of mac ‘n’ cheese for that?), Long-Grain Rice Pilaf and Cheddar Herbed Biscuits.

No, we’re not finished yet.

There’s a Carving Station with Pepper-Crusted Roast Beef (avec jus, bien sûr). There’s a Pasta Station with your choice of 16 toppings and 6 sauces with 3 kinds of pasta — cooked right before your eyes. There’s a Salad Station. All I can say is that everything seemed fresh and cool. Again — these things take up valuable room from the ribs, chicken, flounder and snow crabs. But if you simply must get the salad, there’s a big selection of dressings.

And, by the way, The Sundae Station! A Soft Serve machine (SOO much fun to play with!) stands proudly by a table loaded with toppings, including hot fudge, strawberry sauce, chocolate syrup, crushed Oreos, crushed Butterfingers, M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, jimmies, walnuts, whipped cream….

If that doesn’t fill you up, there’s a mountain of cookies and a very good Bread Pudding. Oops! Careful not to get any of that creamy caramel on your bread pudding….

For those who become overwhelmed or experience panic attacks at buffets, there is a regular menu at the Rusty Rudder. Items that don’t appear on the buffet tables include a House Ceviche starter (this is a sleeper — try it), the standard potato skins, quesadillas and spring rolls (this IS Dewey Beach, after all). The standard burgers, crab cake sandwiches, chicken breast sandwiches and turkey clubs are well-represented.

Entrees include a Flat Iron Steak, blackened with grilled mushrooms and onions, Chicken Chesapeake and Thai-Crusted Scallops. There are lots of others that also appear in some form on the buffet. Economies of scale, remember?

Before I embark on a series of review visits, I like to go to the Whiner’s 15 Minutes-of-Fame sites, aka, TwitAdvisor, Help!, Urban Swoon and the like. Nobody monitors the postings, so you never know what you’ll get. My favorites are the repeat postings that complain about nothing but price. These people have obviously been brought up to believe today’s popular mantra that the world does, in fact, owe them a living. Oh well, it makes for entertaining reading, but not much else. OK, I feel better now. Anyway, the price tag for the buffet at the Rusty Rudder is around $30. And you wouldn’t believe the self-righteous, entitled kvetching this generates on these free-for-all web circuses. Let’s stand back from this for a minute: If you go to pretty much any local restaurant, you can get a fried shrimp entree (and, yes, many of them serve frozen shrimp) for around $22 +/- for about 6-7 shrimp, a starch du jour and some sort of veggie over which you may have no choice. Now pull out your trusty calculator and add about 8-9 bucks. At the Rusty Rudder that will buy you that shrimp PLUS every entree, side and starter I listed above — and you may gobble as much as you want. Fine dining? Of course not. But if you like lots of choices of reasonably good food, then this is the place for you.

Of course there are tradeoffs for a buffet. Some foods are hard to hold, and some don’t respond well to a steam table. Temperatures can vary in both directions, especially if the restaurant isn’t busy. But for the money, I feel that Rusty Rudder is a fair deal for what they prepare and cook in-house: Reasonable, family-friendly food, professionally prepared and served on the banks of the Rehoboth Bay with smiling pasta makers and roast carvers catering to your every wish — and an actual soft-serve machine that will fulfill your deepest Dairy Queen fantasies, for goodness’ sakes.

The Rusty Rudder shares ownership with North Beach, Ivy, the Bottle & Cork and Jimmy’s Grille in Dewey Beach and Jimmy’s Grille in Bridgeville, DE. The prime mover of Highway One LP is the nothing-if-not-colorful Alex Pires, successful attorney and producer of the movie, Mayor Cupcake, shot in and around Bridgeville, Rehoboth and Dewey Beach. Mr. Pires also owns Outlet Liquors in Rehoboth Beach and is part of the ownership of one of the most stable small banks in the state, Community Bank.

The Rusty Rudder is at 113 Dickenson Ave., smack on the Rehoboth Bay, to the right of the Hyatt Place/Ruddertowne Complex in Dewey Beach. Click for a look at the regular dinner menu. If you’re going for the buffet, off-season days vary, so be sure to give them a call (302) 227-3888. Click here for a look at the buffet menu.  (Their website is rather clumsy and might not load properly on your smartphone.)

(L., D., late night) Price Range: Moderate +.

Off-season Specials & Hours

Specials & Moods change quickly. Always call a restaurant first.

pp = per person.
BOGO = buy one, get one.
Bloody = bloody mary.
domestics = American-made beers (e.g., Bud).
imports = foreign beers (e.g., Heineken).
Rails = non call-brand alcohol.
Prix Fixe = one set price.
Mains = entrees.
Margs = margaritas.
Chix = chicken.
AYCE = all you can eat.
Lite = Miller Lite
drafts = draught beer.
Early Birds = arrive before a certain time.
Apps = Appetizers.
bottles = beer in a bottle.
à la carte = order off the menu (no prix fixe).
crafts = micro/artisanal brews (e.g., Old Leghumper Lager)

113 Dickinson Ave.

Dewey Beach

(302) 227-3888

Open 11-1am
Closed until 2018
Closed until 2018
Closed until 2018
Closed until 2018
Open 11-1am
Open 11-1am
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. lynn degenhart says:

    Cannot believe they no longer have their famous Buffet! We went this past Memorial Day weekend and were told by the hostess that it has been eliminated “due to the rising price of seafood”. The last few years have been the best buffets they’ve had in years. So disappointed. We walked out, collected our $10 parking fee back and headed up to Iron Hill. This has been a family tradition for over 20+ years and now it’s gone.

  2. Barbara Wierman says:

    Ok, we bought a home in Rehoboth in 1994. And we never ate at Rusty Rutter’s. Well, my daughter decided we were going there for dinner on Tuesday June 27,2017. What a disappointment. We went at 4:30. The dining room is beautiful but oh the food was not. The clams were cold and stuff oysters were gummy crab balls tasted like they were warmed up from the day before I got a slice of pork you could use for a show sole . I mean the food tasted like it was cooked day before. Maybe we should have gone at a later time . For a 40.00 meal . We won’t go back. We were so disappointed.

  3. Rene says:

    Fantastic Line…Sad, but true!
    “These people have obviously been brought up to believe today’s popular mantra that the world does, in fact, owe them a living.”
    Enjoyed reading your review…We’ll see, how our visit goes.

  4. Jackie says:

    As part of a rehearsal dinner, 15 of us made the huge mistake of choosing the Rusty Rudder for dinner. The service was horrible; over 30 minutes just to get a drink. The food was just abysmal–if any of the seafood was fresh it would be a surprise. The restaurant wasn’t crowded–no wonder! Go to McDonald’s and save your money.

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