They may not be saving the skies in the 1986 action-thriller “Top Gun,” but Darin Dryden and Adam Lehman might as well be Goose and Maverick when it comes to saving Bethany Beach from what they see as the usual options of boardwalk dining — and their mission to serve up the town’s “Top Bun.”
With Dryden’s experience in business and Lehman’s in the culinary arts, the two long-time friends teamed up last summer with the aim of offering the area something new, opening the doors to Top Dog Grill in June of 2016.
“We’re trying to offer a good, affordable option in Bethany, and trying to do it a little differently than everybody else,” said Lehman.
“It’s something that we’ve wanted to do for a while,” added Dryden. “Both of us are here every day. He’s got the culinary background. I’ve got the business background. My wife’s an accountant, she does the books. It’s a good team.”
Located just off Garfield Parkway, next to Atlantic Shoals Surf Shop, in the heart of downtown Bethany — just as their name suggests, Top Dog Grill features a wide-selection of specialty hotdogs, corndogs and beer-battered brats.
Whether it’s the Delmarva Dog with homemade crab dip and Old Bay; the Cowboy dog with barbecued pork, homemade slaw, onion and bacon; or the Seattle-style dog, with cream cheese and fried onions, the Top Dog duo prides themselves on using fresh quality products just as much as they do the uniqueness of their concept.
The buns are delivered fresh daily from Liscio’s Italian Bakery in South Jersey, while the sides, sauces and dressings are all made in-house using local ingredients whenever possible, and even the footlongs are 100 percent all-beef.
“It’s grilled to perfection, the bread is nice and fresh — everything is just fantastic,” said Bethany resident Audrey McCarthy, who was introducing her parents to their first Top Dog experience during a recent visit from New Jersey. “This is my second time here. I came in for Memorial Day weekend and had a hotdog that was fabulous.”
“We’ve got the Chicago-style, the New Yorker, Seattle… the Sonora is a New Mexico-style… the Delmarva,” Lehman went on, explaining that the menu includes a “build-your-own” option as well. “We tried to do some regional things, and then we tried to do some just creative things, too.”
But dogs done differently isn’t the only thing being differently done at Top Dog Grill.
Interestingly enough, both Dryden and Lehman said that despite the handle, since the beginning, Top Dog’s tacos have been just as popular with customers as the dogs.
The menu features 10 styles of taco available on either flour or corn tortilla, all with homemade works, including pico de gallo, pickled onion and Top Dog’s signature ranchero sauce.
The pick of the list so far includes both the shrimp and Mahi-Mahi fish tacos — each additionally garnished with signature house slaw and crema, and available blackened, fried or grilled.
The Hawaiian pork taco, with house slaw, sweet-and-sour cabbage and pineapple salsa has also gotten its fair share of the limelight since getting added to the menu, which also features the more usual taco-type suspects, including shredded chicken or beef, pulled pork and chorizo-and-potato, also all available either on their own or as part of a combo, and topped accordingly.
There’s plenty of choices for veggie fans too, as Top Dog offers up both veggie and tofu tacos, as well as a variety of homemade pitas and falafel, and creations such as the grilled Mexican street corn, to name a few.
“We have a lot of vegetarian options — the falafel is homemade here,” said Lehman. “The street corn was actually inspired by what I saw down in Mexico — I’ve taken a few trips there and got to try it out a few times. We dressed it up a little bit and did it our own way.”
“We’ve had really good reviews on everything since we opened,” added Dryden of the response to the menu so far, and of Top Dog’s five-star rating from more than 30 reviews on Yelp.
While their mission to do something new has certainly taken flight for the wingmen at Top Dog, they’re still coming through with some hometown favorites for their hometown residents, too.
Whether dining inside or out — or ordering out during a grab-and-go break from the beach — boardwalk classics, including handcut french fries, fried clam strips, kid’s menu items and fresh-squeezed lemonade, all make an appearance on the menu.
For the regulars, Dryden and Lehman aim to continue their mission of continuing to spice things up with ever-changing specials based on what’s coming in fresh and what direction the creative compass in the kitchen is pointing next.
“I think we needed something like this here. It’s different — it’s a nice change,” McCarthy said. “The first thing I told my parents when they said they were coming to visit was, ‘We’ve got to go to Top Dog to get a hotdog for lunch — you are going to love this place.’”
Top Dog Grill is located at 115 Garfield Parkway, Unit 2, between Shore Foods and Atlantic Shoals Surf Shop, on the main strip in downtown Bethany Beach. The shop is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
For more information, or a full menu, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/topdoggrill.1 (their menu is their cover photo) and keep up with specials on Instagram by following Top Dog @topdoggrill. To place an order for pick-up, call the restaurant at (302) 829-8571.