The Eastern Shore in summer is a cornucopia of wonderful food. On our trips to and from the beach, we load up on local vegetables and fruit sold at roadside stands and, if we are hungry, pick up barbecue chicken dinners cooked by local fraternal groups.
Once at the shore, there are hundreds of restaurants from which to choose. Here are two dining spots we have found to serve delicious food year after year. Fenwick crab House
When what's known hereabouts as "the storm of '62" wiped out most of the beach houses and stores along this manicured, low-key little strip of beachfront between Bethany and Ocean City, Cashar and Mabel Evans decided to make a switch.
Until then they'd been chicken farmers "scratchin'" for a living. Cashar, the cook in the family, had always liked to fix the Eastern Shore specialties his mother had cooked: good fried chicken, hickory-cured ham, crabcakes and sauteed softshells.
So the Evanses took a gamble. They opened their Fenwick Crab House in the shopping center being built as part of the post-storm renewal effort.
"Didn't know a thing about business," Mabel Evans recalls.
Twenty years later, you'll still find the couple behind the counter and in the kitchen, watching over every part of their operation like anxious parents.
You'll also probably find no better or more authentic Eastern shore food anywhere on the Delmarva peninsula.
Two excellent crab soups lead the menu. One is the standard "Maryland-style" crab, which is really a hyped-up vegetable stew laced with crab and spiced with herbs and red pepper. Very good indeed, but even better is the Evanses' cream of crab -- closer to an oyster stew than any cream of crab I've seen elsewhere. The idea is simple: put large lumps of backfin meat in a bowl, drizzle on melted butter, pour on warm milk and top with more butter and chopped parsley. The result is so sweet, succulent and satisfying that it's hard to stop at one bowl ($1.75).
If you don't mind burning lips, you'll like the Evanses' spiced crabs. The crabs, sometimes served cold, are always fresh and heavy on the red pepper, which suits us fine. The traditional remedy for crab-burned lips is beer. Bring your own to the Fenwick Crab House.
A marvelous house specialty is listed simply as "crab lumps sauteed with country ham." Cashar Evans cures a couple of hundred hams each spring. Slivers of fried crisp ham quickly sauteed with hunks of good crab meat in butter make a harmonious combination, at once smoky and sweet. Unforgettable.
Of course there are crabcakes, which vary in quality from one visit to the next: sometimes pure crab and spice, at other times containing too much filler. There are also excellent crisp soft-shell crab sandwiches as fresh and briny as could be.
The Delmarva peninsula is as famous for chicken as it is for crabs. The Evanses serve an excellent fried chicken as well as sauteed chicken livers ("fixed however you want," says Cashar Evans).
Only the French fries are not homemade. Cole slaw is fresh and crunchy and the uneven chunks of potato salad are clearly prepared by hand. To top it all off, there are homemade fruit pies.
The restaurant doesn't take reservations, so plan to wait outside if you get there much past 7 o'clock. It's rarely a long wait, though -- and well worth it. Nicola Pizza
There's no menu at Nicola's. No plates. No silverware. No salad. No desserts. No milk or beer to drink.
So why do as many as a hundred people line up in Rehoboth Beach any night of the week in summer-time and wait patiently an hour or more to get in?
The answer: the Nico-boli, a delectable concoction invented, trademarked and so far solely obtainable at Nicola's.
Nico-bolis, based on the Italian calzone, are steaming hot turnovers of crisp pizza dough (the thin crust variety) enclosing a spicy deep-crimson tomato sauce, lots of sauteed ground beef, chunks of sweet and sour pickled peppers, sliced mushrooms, chopped onion and anchocies (if requested), all enmeshed with plenty of hot oozing mozzarella.
It's sum is greater than the parts: a sweet and spicy, mild and tart, crunchy and smooth, yin and yang combination that has attracted customers from hundreds of miles around for the five years owners Nick and joan Cazziano have been serving it.
Like many another great discovery, Nico-bolis came about partly by chance. Nick Cazziano (a former school teacher) had been puttings the combination together at home for some time. He started doing the same for the staff at the restaurant. They loved it and persuaded Nick to try it on the customers.
The rest is history. Business doubled within six months. Now, on a typical Saturday night, Nicola's sells more than 2,000 Nico-bolis.
They take 20 minutes to prepare and are served to customers in the tinfoil in which they are baked. Regular customers order several dozen half-baked, then freeze them and bring them home for a winter's supply.
Beer goes best with a Nico-boli.You can pick some up in the neighborhood while you're waiting to get in.
Nicola's makes a good pizza too: crisp thin crust, heavy on the mozzarella, with a good tart tomato sauce and the standard variety of toppings.
The Cazzianos say they hope to start selling boxes of several dozen frozen half-baked Nico-bolis at discount. And they are in the midst of working out plans to prepare Nico-bolis in large quantities to sell wholesale to Washington-area supermarkets.
Until then, we'll be among those driving home this summer secure in the knowledge that there's a cooler full of half-baked Nico-bolis in the trunk.
Can there be a nicer way to cheer your family on a blustery cold December night? Atmosphere: Neat and tidy, very informal and friendly. A Family place. Hours: Open seven days a week from 11 a.m. "until people stop coming," often by around 10 p.m. Price range: $2.75 to $9.95. Reservations: Not taken. Credit cards: None. Special facilities: Accessible to handicapped. Parking in lot out front. Plenty of high chairs and boosters.; Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. seven days week from May 1 to Oct. 1. Hours restricted during the off-season. Price range: Nico-bolis start at $2.40. Pizza starts at $3.25, or 55 cents a slice. Reservations: Taken when you get to the restaurant. List your name with the hostess, then wait out front. Your name will be called on the loudspeaker. Credit cards: none. Special facilities: Step would deter handicapped. Tables are crowded together. Parking is on neighborhood streets.