Julie is to blame both for the shrimp boil and our trip to Fins Raw Bar and Ale House.
It’s easy (and fun) to blame Julie, if for no other reason than she is not here to defend herself. That said, she takes it and dishes it back, which makes her fun to drink, eat and travel with. In the grand scheme of things, there are worse things to be blamed for (car accidents, poor life choices, or stock market crashes, for instance) than a restaurant choice.
Julie and I share a love of the raw oyster. The perfect oyster is cleanly shucked, slimy, with a sweet finish and a briny kick. There are some who like it extra briny (like Julie) or extra earthy with that heavy seaweed flavor. Me? Give them to me mild and moderate so I can keep knocking them back with out repulsion.
The crew at Fins has been serving raw oysters and other assorted seafood since the 1990s from the flagship Fins Raw Bar and Fish House on Rehoboth Avenue. Earlier this year, they opened a companion restaurant on Coastal Highway near the grocery stores (Safeway, Food Lion and Giant can all be reached from the same intersection) in a small strip center.
With a similar coastal seafood house decor as their Rehoboth Avenue spot, the Ale House was receptive to my call ahead warning that 10 of us would be approaching even though reservations are not accepted. After arriving we were made to wait for the remainder of our party, which had stopped at an ATM for cash, to arrive before being seated per their policy.
The menu is extensive with a long list of entrees, steamed and raw fish. Equally as long was the list of draught and bottled beers, thus leading to the ale house moniker. The specialty of the house is the fish board. Guest select a 10 oz. filets of fish — salmon, grouper, tuna, swordfish, red snapper or rockfish, priced between $24.99 and $31.99 — and choose whether it is broiled, blackened, grilled or stuffed with crab imperial, and which sauce tops it. Hole the thought of grilled rockfish with a Tasso gravy or salmon with extra dill sauce sounded good, I was there for raw fish.
Fins had six different oyster varieties on hand during our visit, spanning the New England coast from Prince Edward Island to Connecticut. Julie and I each went in for a dozen, with her selecting the East Beach Blonde from Rhode Island and me going for the Massachusetts-bred Pleasant Bay. Julie’s choice, while advertised as having a crisp brine and buttery finish, had a very clean flavor. Mine were exactly what I was looking for. Kind of.
The shucking process is not something one picks up overnight, and clearly the team at Fins needs some work. Each one of my 12 little ersters can equipped with the connective tissues that head them to the shell. In a couple of instances, little pieces of shell came along. I didn’t mind so much, but at $21.99 per dozen, I would have liked more precision.
Oysters are served with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, and ramekins of red wine and champagne vinegars in lieu of a mignonette. House label hot sauce was on each table to help season these little guys.
The table went for an array of orders. After oysters, Julie went for a salad. I opted for the seafood chowder over oyster stew, on the recommendation of our server. Huge pieces of fish joined scallops, shrimp, and potatoes in a salty tomato broth. The ocean fish at the base of their fumet packs a salty kick, but it was good to taste a bit of the sea in my bowl.
The Wife and Julie’s husband split an order of steamed middleneck clams, which earned high ratings from that end of the table. The sand-free dozen clams were simply steamed, and served with lemon and butter. The Wife followed her clams with an enormous broiled crab cake on a bakery-fresh rustic roll. The Wife described as far more crab than stuffing, with only a bit of a mustard-based sauce binding the patty. Phil’s fish and chips could have served as dinner for two, with two enormous pieces of battered and fried cod falling off the plate. A pair of fish tacos ordered by our friend Matt came out with two large filets of fish that was grilled and presented on corn tortillas with a cabbage slaw and cilantro.
Seafood entrees range from the fish and chips to a classic cioppino to a Southern-style shrimp and grits. Po’ boys and a half-pound burger highlight the sandwich offerings.
Selections from the children’s menu include a scoop of ice cream. Our server, understanding that The Kid did not order anything from the menu, went out of her way to find out if the ice cream was gluten free so that she could join the other children at the table in dessert. She later told The Wife that her own daughter has Celiac disease and is used to asking those questions at restaurants. Much respect to her for understanding.
My concerns about Fins came from reviews on Yelp, which painted a picture of inconsistent service and food. The usually reliable crowd voice was dead wrong about the Fins location on Coastal Highway, from a strong kitchen product to a waitstaff that went out of its way to find out about the gluten content of its ice cream.
Fins Raw Bar and Ale House is located at 19269 Coastal Highway (Rte. 1) in Rehoboth Beach, Del., between Lewes and the Route 1/1A split. Dinner for seven adults and two kids, plus drinks, was $226 before tip.