Before a restaurant opens, I try to sneak in and grab a few photos for you and maybe even a few food shots if possible. That’s why my preliminary articles are called “sneak peek.” But the owners of the brand new The Pines restaurant are way too classy for that. They honored me with an invitation to join them and their executive chef at a table in the center of the yet-unopened restaurant to try out some of their signature dishes, have a sip of wine – and perhaps a tour – cocktail in hand. So yes, this is still a sneak peek, but with a lot more information. An actual review with ratings and all that will follow as I visit with my credit card, as a regular customer (3 times) to experience the service, etc.
The Pines officially opened to the public on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. If our memorable private dinner is any indication, The Pines is destined to be a huge hit here in Rehoboth Beach. First and foremost, you will not recognize the building. After an extensive year-and-a-half renovation, any and all vestiges of the old SOB’s and Hobos are long gone, and it’s even a challenge to figure out where they were. The old yoga studio upstairs is now a cozy lounge called The Top of the Pines, with a future event space attached. It even has its own catering kitchen.
Of course, all the remodeling in the world still doesn’t make it a restaurant. There still has to be some action in the kitchen. Owners Tyler Townsend, Bob Suppies and David Gonce searched high and low for the perfect match for their concept, and Baltimore-based (now Rehoboth-based) Chef Dane Wilfong rose to the top. Dane brings with him an impressive resume, including a stint at The Inn at Little Washington and the century-old Overhills Mansion near Baltimore. And he has a shiny new kitchen in which he will ply his trade. I love all that stainless steel!
Our exclusive feast started off with one of The Pines’ signature dishes – well, not really a “dish,” as such, it’s served on a Himalayan salt block. My followers on Cape Gazette have seen several articles about these amazing serving platforms. In this presentation, paper-thin, citrus-cooked (a la ceviche) slices of tuna rest on the block topped with a cool and crunchy asparagus slaw. See the photo in the gallery. It was delicious. The salt blocks are an adventure in themselves, as food can be served on them cold or hot, and they can be completely sanitized under high heat. They impart a very slight salt taste to the food that enhances flavor – and that worked especially well with the tuna. A one-of-a-kind introduction to The Pines.
Citrus cooked tuna slices on a salt block1/6 cheese & fruit board2/6 The Pines: Sneak Peek3/6 The mussels appetizer with salumi4/6 Seared Dayboats with purple risotto5/6 Spaetzle mac & cheese with sopressata6/6
The second course was their Cataplana steamed mussels with salumi (Italian for pretty much any charcuterie-style meat – in this case they use a nicely spiced sopressata imported from … right next door at Frank & Louie’s Italian Specialties! The combination of that and the broth with the cherry tomatoes and asparagus made for delicious sopping with their house-made crostini. We had to ask for extra bread in order to maintain the proper broth/bread ratio! Shortly thereafter we were treated to what will become one of their signature dishes: the seared Dayboat (the big ones) scallops. The scallops are perfectly cooked and presented, but I have to say that the star of that plate is the butterfly pea/beet “purple” risotto (see the photo – it’s indeed purple). Green chili oil and tomato butter round out the taste. I have to say that this is one of the best specialty risottos I’ve ever experienced. The dish will be available with salsify (a root vegetable related to the parsnip) as a vegetarian option also. My veggie heads are gonna love this one!
Chef Dane is proud of his fried chicken. If you follow me at Cape Gazette or on Facebook you know that I am also a fried chicken maniac, dishing up my secret recipe at charity dinners and at local restaurant “throwdowns.” I pride myself on my crispy and spicy crust and moist interior. The bar is high when I try fried chicken, and I’m here to tell you that Wilfong’s is right up there with the best. The crust crackles with spice – get ready for a little kick! – and has a delightfully meaty overtone due to the special brine he uses. I won’t reveal his secret, but I suspect he will be happy to tell you when you go in. It’s served “family style” surrounding an island of compressed watermelon, broccolini and garlic with strawberries and sweet potato “salad” (think fries but covered in all sorts of goodies). A whole bird serves 2, and a table of 4 can order a 2-bird platter with enough side goodies to go around. It’s worth every penny. See it in the gallery.
By the way, another family-style dish served up for 2 or for 4 is the grilled Tomahawk steak. A smaller one (40 oz!) will serve 2 happy carnivores, and the bigger one (upwards of 70oz!) satisfies 4 people. The family-style concept is fun, and they will rotate some of these dishes as they settle into a groove.
I do want to mention one of the sides that is quite good: the Spaetzle Mac & Cheese. The upshot? Crispy bits of sopressata add bright little exclamation marks to every bite. Spaetzle is a soft egg noodle that hails from Germany, Austria and surrounding areas. Of course Chef Dane makes it fresh right there on Baltimore Avenue.
We topped off this feast with a tasty cheese/fruit plate with plump grapes, 3 flavorful cheeses, some spiced nuts and … well, order it yourself. It’s cool and refreshing, and I’m sure the cheeses will vary throughout the year.
The Pines is located at 56 Baltimore Avenue, directly across from Aqua Grill. Keep an eye on this site for updates of the food and the Top of the Pines Lounge that will open soon. Reservations are strongly suggested: 302-567-2726 or you can visit them on the web at ThePinesRB.com. Click here to follow them on Facebook.