One thing I love about dining at the beach is that most places generally stick to one type of cuisine. There aren’t thirty pages of menu to go through that include everything from Asian-style Lettuce Wraps to Shrimp Scampi to Papas Bravas. Unless a kitchen is run by an Asian married to an Italian who grew up in Spain, all of these things shouldn’t be on one menu. Luckily, the restaurants around this area tend to realize that people are looking for quality and simplicity when going out after a humid day of lying on the sand.
Like most places this time of year, Just Hooked was packed when we stopped in; however, we were only a table of two, so my Mom and I were seated immediately while the hordes of families had to wait a bit longer for their parties of seven, five, or fifteen. The atmosphere was a bit lacking, although you generally have to search a bit to find any sort of noteworthy ambiance around the beach. There wasn’t anything particularly memorable about the setup of the place, but when it comes down to it, the food tends to be more important to me than the design. I can get over white walls; I can’t get over gross food and drink.
Speaking of drink, my new pro-Chardonnay-ish attitude towards life led me to decide that there would be no better place to try a new one than a seafood-focused restaurant. Over the course of the night I tried two different whites, including a Trefethen Family Vineyards Chardonnay and a Louis Latour Chardonnay d’Ardeche. I opted for the Trefethen first because I’m a big fan of their Merlot, and it was decidedly better than the Latour that I tried later on in the night. The Latour was much lighter than the Trefethen, and I tend to like the bolder, more acidic white wines that slap you in the face a bit when you drink them. Neither were quite on par with that, but if it came down to it, the Trefethen is the one I’d order again. My mom, who’s usually the Chardonnay girl in the family, ordered a Sazerac. She swears it was delicious, but the one sip I had was enough to deter me from ordering another until I’m cast on Mad Men. Since most of the people I know around the beach are more beer drinkers than anything else, I was pretty pleased with the number of solid drink options we had that evening.
While we ruminated on the menu and whittled our appetizer choices down, we snacked on some of the complimentary Bread. The few bites I had of this one weren’t too heavy and had a lot of nice herbs included to spice it up a bit. This rustic bread was moist and rich from the extra virgin olive oil splashed on top and flowing below. Even though the flavors were complex, the bread did come out cold and could have been even better if each slice was warmed up a bit before being served. Overall though, it wasn’t a bad way to kick off the night, and I had high hopes for the rest of the dinner.
To prime our bellies for the rest of the meal, my mom and I ordered two appetizers. I was immediately drawn to the Truffled Raw Asparagus Salad. There was a very distinct truffle flavor with each bite and the aioli certainly kept it moist without drenching it too much. I’m not one of those people that loves raining dressing all over my salad, so this was perfect for me. As it was cut pretty comparably to a chopped salad, each bite had a little red onion, crispy bacon, hardboiled egg, and Romano cheese to it. The best thing about the salad was the balance of it all because each element was just texturally different enough to add both creaminess and crunch to this flavorful summery starter.
The other appetizer we ordered was the Hooked Up Crab Dip. You can’t have a menu in this area without offering crab dip: people love it, they expect it, and there might be chaos if it’s not offered. This one had a lot of crabmeat in it, but it wasn’t large chunks of lump meat. Instead there was a lot of fine, thin bits of meat that littered each bite. It was also incredibly cheesy, which was appreciated by both of us.
It’s often difficult for restaurants to find the right balance between a crab dip that is meaty and one that’s creamy, but this one was definitely a winner. However, I would say that the pepper bacon that topped this selection was unnecessary. Contrary to popular belief, bacon doesn’t make everything better, and at this point, I’m borderline sick of it. Maybe if people weren’t selling bacon air fresheners, bacon t-shirts, and gummy bacon bits, I wouldn’t be saying this, but as it is, I’m done with all the bacon.
After we downed our two appetizers, we picked out entrees, with my mom choosing to try a Caesar Salad with Filet. The filet was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and really complimented the classic Caesar. My favorite part of the salad was the anchovies decorating the top of the green heap. I think all Caesars should have anchovies on them because they are so fresh and salty and just remind me of the sea. For me, they make every Caesar better and really should become the standard again. I didn’t try much of the salad expect for these anchovies that my unappreciative mother pawned off on me. This occurred particularly because Caesars are made up of the dreaded romaine; nevertheless, her major complaint about it was that it could have used a bit more dressing. While it’s always great to have each dish come out perfectly, under-dressing is such an easily resolved issue that I’d say this dish as a whole was pretty good.
My choice for the evening was the Pan Roasted Chicken that was a pretty shocking decision for me. I think that chicken is just such a boring option when you’re dining out. With liver and bluefish and duck scrapple, why in the world would I want to order a chicken? Although I am anti-chicken, this one drew me in with blue crab fricasse, artichokes, garlic confit, and prosciutto crème. It might not sound like it, but this entree was pretty light. The crème had some meaty flavor and the artichokes added some tang, but none of it was too rich or overpowering. I loved all the elements that originally enticed me to this dish, but the chicken didn’t do too much for me. I appreciated the crispy skin, but I thought it was a little bit too dry and really needed those other elements to make it satisfying. I tend to believe that a protein should stand on its own before it’s enhanced by other ingredients, and this one didn’t. It was the biggest misstep for me of the night, but it was also quickly forgotten when I ordered dessert.
The signature Chocolate Terrine was the dessert I ordered when I first came here at eighteen, and I have been unable to order any other dessert from this restaurant group. Since my first bite of this rich treat I have been, for better or for worse, hooked. It was cool and refreshing from the coffee ice cream, crunchy from the hazelnuts, decadent from the dark chocolate, and just a bit intensified by the coarse sea salt enhancing it all. It was everything I want in a dessert and I have yet to find one just as satisfying anywhere else. If you go for nothing else, go for this whenever you’re in the area.
Just Hooked was obviously not the only restaurant we went to this season, but it was the best one to go to during the summer season due to its size. Each Hooked establishment has a slightly different menu, but they all offer layered, flavorful meals the support local suppliers. Freshness is key to all of the Hooked restaurants, and as long as they keep this up…and have that chocolate terrine on the menu…it will always be one of my favorite choices when I’m hanging around Delaware.