At their best, beach restaurants have a way of transporting us and even transforming us, whisking us to a place that somehow seems more soothing, less ordinary, and almost effortlessly infused with a certain beachy charm.
Most of the time, these elevated atmospherics are created through sleight of hand — using decor to mask a dreary location or dimming the lights to hide less-elegant details. We tend not to mind that it’s all an illusion and have even come to rely on it in and around the beach, especially when we’re seeking to impress our business guests with Delaware’s edgy seashore fare.
So, when you discover a beach restaurant that can’t manage to make itself seem particularly beachy, it tends to stand out like a sunburned forehead. As an example, consider the Pig & Publican, a Lewes offshoot of Rehoboth’s popular Pickled Pig Pub. The owners seem to be reaching here for a Belgian-style brewpub chic, sprinkling the menu with mussels and frites, and keeping the taps flowing with some enticing out-of-the-ordinary brews.
Lift your gaze from the menu, though, and you’ll find yourself right back where you started: in a small strip center with a not particularly rousing view of anything much, immersed in a decor that models its aesthetic more after everyday domestic sports pubs than anyplace exotic. Appetizers seem as strangely out of sync as the boppy pop ditties on the loudspeakers: Decent Belgian-style dishes such as sweet, tender mussels
with baby arugula and chardonnay cream ($12) are offset by creations that strive for edgy Euro-charm, but fall just short: These deep-fried “Bitterballen” meatballs ($10) are too dry and dense to be uplifted by the aioli sauce, and the kitchen’s pierogi with dilled cream cheese and pear jam ($10) are decent, but surely not the stuff of our seashore dreams.
Diners can find themselves in a better place here if they steer toward the American side of the pond: A house-brined pastrami sandwich ($14) is as good as any you’ll find in these parts, and the kitchen’s New England lobster roll ($19) is stuffed to the gills with meat, moistened nicely by a lemon creme fraiche, and served on a toasty brioche roll.
Speaking of toasty wonders, behold the 8-ounce beef burger this Belgian-accented menu delivers: Touched by a pleasant char of the grill and juicy through and through, it’s laden with luscious chimay biere cheese, and sweetened just-so with a braised onion jam ($14.50).
It’s the kind of dish that makes you happy no matter where you are, and no matter where the menu thinks it’s taking you, making us wonder whether the Pig & Publican ought to forget its international aspirations, lay on a bit more of that beach-accented decor, and just accept itself for what it is in its heart: a decently priced and thoughtful all-American bar and grill.
By Eric Ruth