In the 1950s, the Zerby family took over proprietorship of the tiny Shirl Ann Motel, conveniently located at the intersection of Olive Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean. In 1991 they brought out the wrecking ball and the Shirl Ann was reincarnated as the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel–neither tiny nor unassuming. The ornate and unquestionably Victorian establishment has become an icon of the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. Still owned by the Zerbys, the lobby is filled with tropical birds (none of whom are shy about expressing themselves) and dark, cozy, overstuffed nooks and crannies where one can unobtrusively sip a dry martini and attempt to reason with the birds. The hotel even has a doorman…oops…doorperson.
The triple-tiered Victoria's Restaurant offers a great view of the ocean and the boardwalk from just about every seat in the house. Years ago, the Foodie (and his favorite Foodie-in-Waiting) used to happy-hour in Victoria's “Plaza Pub,” soaking in the maple, leather, chintz and the salty aroma of fresh popcorn. We'd sip a cheeky red zinfandel, keep an eye on the ocean, and plot how to leave it all behind and take up residence in Rehoboth Beach. Happily, it all came to pass exactly as planned. Must have been the zin.
The Foodie has seen chefs come and go at Victoria's, and, for better or worse, each one placed his or her unique stamp on the cuisine. With the addition of Tommy Deptula (formerly of the now long-gone Cabo) to the head chef position, we expect the quality to remain high. Tom knows his stuff.
One of the old reliables is the Cream of Crab Soup. It's perfectly textured, and sports 3 or 4 huge islands of crabmeat. I usually don't make a big deal about specials, given their ephemeral nature, but I have to tell you about the most recent Soup du Jour: …..wait for it…. Roast Pork Soup (!), prepared with Granny Smith apples, sliced grapes, carrots and curry. Though we didn't order it, our amazing waiter (one of the mainstays of the place) brought us each a ramekin-full. It was a cascading panoply of flavor, from tart to savory, from sweet to curry. Somebody's enjoying himself back there in the kitchen. The Classic Caesar (well, as classic as it can be and not be tossed tableside) was cool, crispy and crowned with a sharp Parmesan. The Baked Brie was more puff pastry than cheese, but was drizzled with a richly sweet blueberry reduction and topped with golden raisins and blueberries. I do suggest the Oysters Rockefeller, with crab, bacon, spinach, peppers and onions. The licorice edge of Pernod provides the finishing touch.
I had the Cedar Plank Salmon. Though it was fresh, it was disappointingly dry. I suspect it sat too long in the window under the lights, as the promised ginger-butter sauce was pooled impotently around the fish, rather than on top of it. The saving grace was the perfectly cooked Grilled Corn and Leek Risotto. They should make that a main course! Sadly, the Rockfish special suffered the same indignity as the salmon. Though beautifully presented, the fish was pronounced not nearly as moist as it should have been. Did they both languish under the heaters while waiting for whatever to finish? We'll never know.
In contrast, the Cornmeal-Encrusted Sea Scallops are delicious. How nice to encounter a full-size sea scallop instead of those little diver (or “bay”) scallops that seem to be so popular nowadays. The plump and perfectly cooked shellfish were nested in a sea of fresh pico de gallo, cilantro and creme fraiche. An inspired combination of flavors and an inspired presentation. Ocean City's late “Dr. Steve” (of Liquid Assets fame) had the Veal Oscar. Impossibly thin and moist scallopines are sauteed in white wine and served beneath crabmeat and asparagus. A drizzle of hollandaise made for a warm and buttery denouement. The persnickety ophthalmic surgeon loved it.
A holiday view from Victoria's.1/7 Don't miss this place!2/7 Victoria's Restaurant3/7 Victoria's Restaurant4/7 Avocado BLT for lunch5/7 Vic's famous crab melt. You won't need to eat again 'til September.6/7 Vic's Xmas buffet is the stuff of legend.7/7
Speaking of veal, one of the weekly highlights at Victoria's is Veal & Vine Tuesdays. Three different preparations of veal are available (we had the Oscar and Parmesan varieties on our last Tuesday visit). Paired with a salad (House or Caesar), dessert and 1/2 price wine (any bottle under $50), it is a great deal at $19.95. Fridays are Prime Rib night and Sundays (after 5 p.m.) feature a 3-course prix-fixe with a choice of 6 entrees plus all the fixins' for only $24.95.
UPDATE: In all the time I've been here writing about restaurants, I have never had lunch at Victoria's other than the Sunday brunch. Kris Etze, the delightful Abra-ca-Dinner personal chef, invited me there for an afternoon nosh. I expected a pared-down version of the dinner menu, but the lunch menu is very … lunchy … and tasty to boot. Click here for a look at the lunch menu. After saying our hellos to GM Steve Cobb, we perused the bill of fare.
They've got everything from salads all the way to burgers, po'boys and steak sandwiches. At Ms. Etze's suggestion I ordered the Victoria's Crab Melt. Annoyingly, she ordered the same thing (a food reviewer's worst nightmare). But I retained my composure and saved my energy for this extravaganza of a lunch entree. Imagine a Kentucky Hot Brown, but sub a crabmeat-stuffed boule for the rye and turkey. Keep the thick slice of tomato, bacon and melted cheese. Don't plan on eating anything else for a while, and at $16, it's quite a deal for all that crabmeat. I'm going back soon for the Lobster Mac & Cheese and the Seafood Kathryn Salad. Have you had these yet? I hope they are still on the menu.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress:
By virtue of being in a hotel, Victoria's restaurant is open 365 days a year for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Do note that as of winter, 2013, the Sunday buffet is no more. However, they offer a wonderful a la carte menu with plates ranging from $5 to $10 to $15.
Though I usually don't make a big deal about service unless it's horrendous, I must mention Tim: a consummate professional with grace, aplomb and (when provoked), a wicked sense of humor (The Foodie loves to provoke). Tim's been there for years and is truly a value-added.
In the summer, reservations are a must (302) 227-0615. I suggest entering through the lobby (on Olive Ave.), engaging the avian residents in conversation to get yourself in the spirit of things. (DO NOT stick your finger in the cages. Ask me how I know.) Then proceed to the dining room. Though culinary perfection may occasionally elude them, the decor, the view and the friendly staff make Victoria's Restaurant and the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel a package deal that's hard to pass up. Click here to see the dinner menu. (B., L., D., Bar) Price range: Expensive -.