This is part of WTOP’s coverage of the Delmarva beaches leading into the summer season. Read more.
Every year the start of summer brings a few new restaurants to the beaches in Maryland and Delaware, and this year will be no different.
Odds are, if you’re a fan of Ocean City, Maryland, you’ll be surprised to see some of your favorite places closed.
For decades, BJ’s On the Water, on 75th Street, was an Ocean City favorite. But last year, the longtime owners decided it was time to retire. The restaurant group behind the Ropewalk, a popular spot for families since it has a playground, has bought the property, and are in the process of building the Atlantic Beach House Restaurant.
“They were a great tradition in Ocean City,” the city’s mayor, Rick Meehan said of BJ’s. “But as time passes on over the last decades we’ve seen businesses, some come and some go.”
The new restaurant will sit back farther from the water in order to have more outdoor waterfront dining on Assawoman Bay. Plans call for more than 350 seats outside.
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Also gone this year is Phillips Crab House on 21st Street. The finishing touches are being put on a new restaurant called Union Chesapeake Seafood, which vows to host the state’s largest all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, owned by the same group that owns Fast Eddie’s.
“That’s exciting,” Meehan said. “Hopefully they’ll be able to carry on some traditions, start new traditions, which we see every year in Ocean City.”
Another restaurant in line for a big change is Embers, known as one of a dying breed of buffets in Ocean City. The group behind that restaurant is resetting everything from the ground up.
“We had our run,” said Cole Taustin, the CEO of the Tautin Group, which owns Embers. “The buffet was a phenomenal business.”
But even before COVID-19 hit, it was clear that buffet-style places were waning in popularity.
“The pandemic simply accelerated that transition,” he said. “We thought there was still time left. It certainly wasn’t imminent. But the pandemic simply pushed the timeline.”
BLU Crab House, which is also owned by the Taustin group, is still open. But construction is happening all around it all the way to Coastal Highway, where a new complex of restaurants, including a re-imagined Embers, is being built.
“We’re going to have brick ovens that are going to produce a majority of our food,” Taustin said.
“You’re going to be getting a pasta dish that was cooked in cast iron that’s coming out of an oven that’s cooking at 600 degrees. You’re getting wings that are going to be roasted in the oven as opposed to deep fried.”
A smaller café and a new brewery are also going up on the property, which Taustin hopes will be finished by late July. Bad weather and material shortages delayed construction.
The Taustin group has also opened a new restaurant in West Ocean City. Pier 23 is on the site of where Mad Fish Bar and Grille used to operate until it was destroyed by a fire in 2019.
“We came up with this really neat idea for a restaurant that was built almost entirely out of containers,” said Taustin. “For the most part, we have all the kitchen and the bar that’s built out of a container. Even our giant walk-in refrigerator is a giant 40-foot container.”
There are only a few new restaurants in Rehoboth Beach. But Above The Dunes hopes to knock your flip-flops off as soon as you walk up the stairs.
“We sit right on the ocean — the only truly oceanfront restaurant in town,” said Mike Venanzi, one of Above the Dunes’ owners.
It sits on the second floor on the corner of Wilmington Avenue and the boardwalk, where the Greene Turtle used to operate. Venanzi and his partners decided to let that franchise arrangement expire and start something brand new.
The new place opened in April and has room for 65 seats outside on the balcony, most of which face directly onto the ocean; the rest require just a 90-degree turn of the head. A huge wall of windows on the inside provides the dining room and bar area with views that are almost as good.
“We are set up for anybody that loves seafood,” Venanzi said.
Fans of ahi tuna bowls, crab cakes, steaks and good bourbon will enjoy themselves, he said, and it’s still a casual restaurant that serves up burgers for lunch.
“We totally reinvented the whole place,” he said. “The whole place is a brand new concept.”
A popular food truck in Rehoboth, Taco Reho, is also working out of a brick-and-mortar spot now. You can find them on Coastal Highway just north of Route 24.
Vacationers in Fenwick Island no longer have to travel to Bethany or Lewes to stop at a Matt’s Fishcamp either. Fans of Matt’s in any location might want to check out the new concept, since none of the three restaurants are completely alike.
“The Matt’s brand is chef-driven,” said Scott Kammerer, the CEO of SoDel Concepts, which runs the three restaurants. “I’d say about 70% of the menus are the same, and then the chefs really push what they like and what they do.”
The Matt’s in Lewes featured a slight Asian spin on some of the dishes, while the restaurant in Bethany added southern flavor to some of the dishes. The new Matt’s in Fenwick will have its own style, too.
The chef there is from Philadelphia and Kammerer said he worked at some of the best restaurants there.
“He’s got more of a cosmopolitan flair to it. So it’s interesting to see the different chefs kind of express their thing,” Kammerer said. “And that’s why we got in this business. We didn’t get in this business to cook the same food over and over. We wanted to explore different flavors.”