After netting close to two decades of success in Baltimore, the owners of Ropewalk Tavern have made a comfortable addition, introducing their culinary know-how and warm environment to Fenwick Island with the Ropewalk Oyster House. Taking over the location where Captain Pete’s once stood in early June this year, Ropewalk aims to bring a welcoming aura paired with an adaptive menu, thanks to general manager Molly Thomas and corporate executive chef, Frank Campanella.
“We wanted to bring something to Fenwick Island for children and families,” explained Campanella, who has worked with the Baltimore company for a number of years and helped with several restaurant projects, “but we’re also dedicated to offering great food to our customers. At our Baltimore location, the menu is primarily tavern food — Americana, high-end bar foods. Here, at the Maryland and Delaware beaches, there’s so much seafood, it’d be silly not to take advantage of that.”
So that’s precisely what he did. Whether patrons are looking for oysters breaded, grilled, in a stew or freshly shucked at their raw bar, Ropewalk offers it all. And it’s not just how the mouthwatering mollusks are prepared, but where they come from, too, that gives the menu at Ropewalk an edge.
“Our oysters are some of the best, and they come from all over,” said Campanella. “We definitely look at the local varieties and try to bring in what we can from this area, but we also branch out, getting a rotation onto the menu. In Tom’s Cove in Virginia, there is an oyster bed that’s harvested just for us. They’re our No. 1 sellers.”
Ropewalk’s variety spans the eastern seaboard, bringing in oysters from nearby Gipper Bay on the Chesapeake and Chincoteague in Virginia to points throughout New England, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and even Beausoleil’s from New Brunswick and Malpaques from Prince Edward Island.
But while oysters are a prime pick on the menu, Ropewalk offers much more to diners, whether they’re stopping in for lunch, dinner or an afternoon drink and appetizer. The seafood mac-and-cheese, seared scallops and soft-shell crab BLT target seafaring appetites, while Delia Foley’s smoked chicken wings have become one of the restaurant’s top favorites.
“Our wings are slow-smoked, in-house,” said Campanella. “Not too many places here can say they do that. For an oyster house, our wings have been a surprisingly good seller.”
A full pound of wings are served up, tossed in sauces with names like ’Bama Red BBQ, Jamaican Jerk, Sweet Thai Chili, classic buffalo, Rush Habanero or Baltimore Wing Wars Victory Sauce.
“Our Victory Wings are a favorite, both here and at our Baltimore location,” he added. “We’ve won a number of wing contests with them, so we gave them the name ‘Victory Wings.’ The wings are popular right now — especially with the football season in full swing.”
Over the next two weekends, Campanella will defend his titles as he prepares to compete in wing cook-offs in Rehoboth and Baltimore.
By bringing new ideas to the kitchen, he also keeps his staff and himself sharp, and keeps the customers coming back for more.
“I like to come up with twists on classic items,” he said, “like our crabcake eggrolls. I’m really into exploring the gastro-pub world. I find things that are simple, and after you work with them a little bit, you can get something exciting and different.”
A comfortable, well-lit ambiance helps to bring an inviting feel to the restaurant’s refurbished interior, too, with an added upstairs option for diners, as well. Nautical decor lines the walls, as weathered boards emphasize a comforting, homey feel, Campanella observed. “The walls are constructed from repurposed, distressed barn siding,” he explained.
“We wanted to bring the feel of an old oyster house and still make it comfortable for anyone coming in.”
Customers from around the region, and beyond, have been stopping by.
“Even in our opening season,” said Thomas, a Salisbury native who relocated to Baltimore and devoted several years to the Ropewalk Tavern there before heading the new Fenwick Island hotspot, “we’re seeing patrons coming in four and five times, not just once. They’re coming in from the cities, too, stopping back in whenever they’re in town.”
While vacationers have taken a liking to the new digs, the locals are also making a habit of stopping in.
“As the summer dies off,” Thomas added, “we’re seeing more of the year-round residents, too. It’s nice to see the people here coming back and enjoying their time [at Ropewalk].”
As their summer debut winds down with the temperatures, Campanella plans to adjust the culinary lineup, as well.
“Our menu will change slightly with the seasons,” he noted. “We’re going to be launching our fall menu next week, featuring more seasonal items. We want to bring some heartier meals and offer vegetarian options, too, but we never want to take away items that are selling well — just add to them. I’m always in search of the perfect menu.”
Since coming to the Delaware shore, Campanella — who was born in Washington, D.C., and made his living around Baltimore — has wasted no time connecting with area farmers.
“I like working with the local farmers and growers,” he said, “to see what there is in the region. Having those connections is important.”
The southeastern Delaware locale, where Ropewalk owners — brothers Marc and Bill McFaul and Chris Reda — have vacationed over the years, has served as a good fit for the new restaurant. Despite Ropewalk being one of the youngest restaurants in the Fenwick Island area, Thomas and Campanella said they are pleased with their progress so far, and hope to continue to see success in the future.
“It’s been a great start,” said Campanella with a smile, “and the owners are happy, too. I like to think that we’re making all of their dreams come true.”
Through the fall and early winter season, Ropewalk will stay open, seven days a week, until 1 a.m. In addition to their evolving menu, the restaurant will also host a four-course beer pairing dinner, featuring beers from Baltimore brewery Heavy Seas, on Nov. 18. Tickets and additional information are available by stopping in, calling (302) 581-0153 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details about the menu, hours and private parties, visit the restaurant’s website at www.ropewalktavern.com/fenwick, and follow them on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter. Ropewalk is located at 700 Coastal Highway in Fenwick Island.