I’ve been trying to eat less meat lately, which means I’m eating a ton of fish because in my mind they are two wholly different things. This new attempt at cutting back on meat (that hasn’t gone well before) works well this time of year as summer brings about a whole slew of amazing ocean-friendly options. For me, Finding Nemo got it wrong; fish are friends AND food, and if I had to choose one or the other, I think I’d have a nice handful of new enemies. This especially holds true while I’m at the beach, and since my family has a place down there, I often spend a nice chunk of my summer tentatively going into the ocean and dining out at some of the best seafood restaurants around.
I recently blogged about my experience at Catch 54, which was pretty much perfect and completely satisfying. Although Catch 54 was the first Matt Haley restaurant I blogged about on this site, it’s by no means the only one in Delaware. I’ve tried a good majority of his locations before, but on my most recent trip to the beach my mom and I decided to check out one we’ve often wondered about, Matt’s Fish Camp.
This restaurant lies right across from the bay and brings up memories of the little crab shacks that people flock to in Maryland. When I first stepped in, the wooden chairs, stripped down bar, and casual vibe all cemented that thought for me. It’s not pretentious, which is something I wish more seafood places outside of the area would aim for.
Since it was only two of us, we were seated right away, which was a first for me this time of year. After taking in my surroundings and noticing something called Crabanero on each table, I peeked down at the menu to decide on a drink. My boozy self can’t recall the name of the drink, but it was a mix of my standard go-to ingredients: gin, lime, mint, and club soda. It was light and refreshing, not too sweet, and probably went down a bit faster than the bartender was intending. The wait for my second drink took a little while though since our friendly waitress wasn’t always attentive, so that gave me some time to get some food in my belly before moving on to round two.
To kick things off and soak up some of our cocktails, we ordered a number of appetizers, including the Oven-Roasted Parker Rolls. Now, bread never really does anything for me. As far as starters go, people could just not bring bread to my table and I’d be completely cool with that because I’d rather order tasty things along the lines of tart deviled eggs or crisp, juicy watermelon salads. However, the rest of my family is definitely in the pro-bread camp, so even though it was just two of us, my mom ordered these rolls for us to share. They came out with a nice dose of sea salt on them, and since there were six, I decided to take the plunge and try one.
After slathering some butter on it, I bit into the warm roll that was airy, a bit sweet, and just had the slightest yeast taste to it. As I reached over to break off my second roll, I heard “Woah, you’re gonna eat two?” My mom had to ask because she couldn’t quite believe that this was happening. I couldn’t really believe it was happening either, but I decided I would just go with the flow and ignore the part of me screaming about how bread is pointless unless it’s part of a cheese plate, foie gras, or some other delicious non-bread-focused food.
Besides the rolls, we ordered two bar snacks to nibble on as we sipped on our cocktails. Both the Spicy Roasted Peanuts and the Homemade Semi Spicy Pickles were a bit of an intense change from the rolls, but they were also very good. There were enough peanuts served that my mom and I would have had to sit there for several hours in order to finish them off, especially since it felt like the more you ate, the spicier they became. They weren’t spicy to a fault, but it was definitely a spice that hit the back of my throat and stuck with me for a second after swallowing. On the other side of things, I downed the pickles we were served in seconds. There weren’t just cucumbers in the bowl, but zucchini and squash, too, which was something I hadn’t really come across before. I loved the mix though and quickly finished off the tart, vinegary appetizer. Just thinking about them as I write this has my mouth watering again, which is a good indicator that I’ll want them the next time we stop in.
The rolls and little snacks were all satisfying, but none of it was particularly filling, so we ordered one more appetizer to share. As a Maryland-girl, I demanded we try Matt’s Crab Balls to compare them to the other crab cakes around town. After living outside of Baltimore for a few years, I’ve realized talking about how your state is known for crabs, crab cakes, and crab balls sometimes garners odd looks from people, but I’ve grown up on these delicious treats and no amount of innuendo could keep me from them. These crab balls came out fried to a crispy golden brown, but no matter how great the outside looked, the big test for it was the meat in it. Thankfully, they were just as good on the inside and low on filler. The mark of a truly phenomenal crab cake is a lot of crabmeat with not a lot of filler, and of course, it should be able to stay together when it’s placed in front of you. This was a truly phenomenal crab cake.
For my dinner, I opted for the Oyster Roll since oysters are one of my favorite things to eat no matter whether they’re raw, fried, or grilled. This entree was made up of fried oysters on a grilled roll served with a mustard cream. By now I’m confident that all of the Haley locations know how to fry a great piece of seafood; these oysters were plump on the inside and crispy and buttery on the outside. I also adored the mustard cream, which was lighter than a remoulade and perfect to use for both the oysters and as a dipping sauce for the homemade chips. It was simple and it was perfect, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.
My mom was conscious of all the appetizers we’d blown through, so she decided to go with a somewhat lighter option than I did. Her choice for the evening was her favorite standard Iceberg Wedge, and in order to jazz it up a bit, she added-on the Grilled Shrimp. The look of her dish best categorized this kind of food: it was never going to be the prettiest plate out there, but it was bound to be delicious. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and balanced out the creaminess of the rich salad laden with both egg and blue cheese. It was exactly what she wanted, and she didn’t have a hard time finishing it off.
Since no meal is complete without something sweet, we decided to stretch our stomachs just a bit more and order the Peanut Butter Pie. This pie was definitely for those of you out there that are obsessed with peanut butter. It was incredibly rich and decadent, and two bites of it were enough to put me in a food coma. I loved the silkiness of the pie, but since the crust was brownies based there wasn’t much texture to it. The flavors were there, but I kept waiting for some sort of crunch as I dug into our slice. Ten-year-old Jaleh would have adored everything about this pie, but twenty-two-year-old Jaleh was hoping for just an extra nudge to make this a truly perfect dessert. Despite that, it was still something I would order again if I was craving a powerful dessert to satisfy my sweet tooth.
Matt’s Fish Camp is certainly another success for the SoDel Concepts group, and it’s one that I’m positive we’ll be visiting again. The place is undeniably more beachy and casual than the other Haley locations we’ve visited, which makes it perfect for a laid back night. With the white wines chilling in a Coke fridge, approachable staff, and the mandatory Old Bay decorating the table, this spot screams ‘beach.’ Whether you’re with kids or just a twosome, this place is worth a visit for any casual night out in Bethany.
This food looks amaaaaaazing. Good ordering! It’s been a while since I’ve been to Bethany, but if I ever move back to Virginia, I will make it there some summer. I LOVE it when restaurants have good bread. I feel like: life is too short to serve people crappy bread!
That’s why I’m usually so anti-bread, because I feel like so many restaurants don’t put effort behind it! Bethany has boomed recently with amazing restaurants with tons of seafood. I have such a hard time ordering seafood in Philly because I always feel like it won’t live up to the beach.
AFF, Matt’s is a great seafood joint, you just don’t go away disappointed.
And thank you for the Crabanero acknowledgement.
I love all of Matt’s locations- the loss was such a sad one for the community.
I’ll make sure to try some of that Crabanero next time I stop in, which will probably be in the next month or so. Cheers.