‘A Bethany Beach tradition’

Turtle Beach Café continues to jive in summer No. 5

Date Published: 
July 1, 2016

Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: The staff at Turtle Beach Café includes, from left: back row, Jason Whaley, Tristan Smyth and Tony Smyth; front row, Joey Ciriello and Zoe Richard.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: The staff at Turtle Beach Café includes, from left: back row, Jason Whaley, Tristan Smyth and Tony Smyth; front row, Joey Ciriello and Zoe Richard.“I’m as all in as you are.”

That’s what Tristan Smyth told his mother, Tamara Smyth, when she approached him during lacrosse season with the idea to launch Turtle Beach Café along the Bethany Beach boardwalk, now some four years ago.

A sophomore at Indian River High School then, and helping pioneer the Indians’ lacrosse program as a defenseman, Smyth already had a lot going on. However, like his father, Tony Smyth, he had faith not only in his mother’s vision, but her culinary gifts, experienced firsthand.

“She was always the ‘go to’ on the holidays. She’s always been a great cook,” Tony Smyth said. “She’s always been the one that could always pull it together, no matter who showed up. Whether it was five or 15 that showed up, Tamara had it down, always had fantastic food.”

Four years later, and currently in their fifth summer of business, Turtle Beach Café has become a Bethany Beach tradition for locals and vacationers alike.

After a complete revamp of the restaurant’s former space — painting the walls in the now-signature Turtle Beach teal and white, setting up a brand new kitchen and offering a few well-placed palms and outdoor seating to go along with their oceanfront boardwalk view — the Smyth’s turned to the menu, and to making some of Tamara Smyth’s former family-exclusive favorites available to everyone.

The theme throughout the menu is undoubtedly fresh, local, homemade and an alternative to the usual boardwalk staples.

“We found our niche,” said Tristan Smyth of the concept. “There’s so many places around here for burgers, fries, milkshakes, fried food — we’re trying to do the healthy aspect.”

Starting in the morning, TBC offers boardwalk-goers a way to wake with a cup of fresh organic coffee from Grounds for Change, ranging into other day-starting beverage options, including cappuccino, lattes, iced mocha, espresso and frappuccinos.

Breakfast food offerings include an array of fresh fruit smoothies, fresh fruit cups with yogurt and granola, New York-style lox and bagels, Belgian waffles and breakfast paninis, sandwiches and croissants among others.

“We get their sandwiches, because they’re wonderful,” said longtime patron Sandy Sengstack while enjoying a cup of coffee with her husband, Jim, at their favorite outdoor table. “It’s our treat. We go to the boardwalk and walk up and down, and then this is our treat after.”

“Usually I’ll have the crabcake for breakfast. They’re fresh — extremely fresh made — very little filler; probably one of the best crabcakes I’ve ever had, definitely the best in town,” said Blair Parler, who frequently makes his way up from Fenwick Island for breakfast. “Great food, great service — it’s just a great place to go first thing in the morning.”

Not only have the crabcakes become so much of a local favorite that customers including Parler sometimes order them for breakfast — and that Tristan Smyth frequently makes early trips back from West Virginia University when they become available for the season — but it’s become the café’s signature dish.

“Crabcakes and shrimp salad are definitely my specialty,” Tamara Smyth said. “The biggest thing is using the local jumbo lump crabmeat — it’s all jumbo lump.”

Other lunch and late afternoon offerings include that shrimp salad, plenty of sandwich and gluten-free wrap options, quesadillas, quick and healthy snacks including homemade salsa and hummus for beachgoers, and signature homemade salads, such as the Chicken Avocado.

“I’ll do a specialty salad every day, and then you just come in and build your own,” Tamara Smyth said. “We do beautiful salads — great big salads. You could always do the shrimp salad on a salad. There’s all sorts of things that we can make work gluten-free.”

While smoothies and Bindi gelato round out the menu, and the afternoon — equally important to the TBC experience is the atmosphere and customer service.

Since opening, Turtle Beach has always offered summer jobs to local kids, who the Smyths said extend the family-friendly atmosphere and are a large part of their success.

“It’s all local. It’s always been local,” Tamara Smyth explained. “When I opened, I actually went to my son — he was getting ready to drive on his own, but I was still driving him — and we took him to school that day, and I said, ‘Kid, this is what’s going on. But I can’t even think about doing it unless you’re on board, because I cannot work 100 hours a week and not see you.’ So I picked him up after lacrosse practice, and he said, ‘Mom, let’s do this.’

“He and his friends have worked with me since Day 1. It’s like a great big happy family.”

“I’m in there just as much as she is. We run it together,” Tristan Smyth said. “It’s a more personal aspect. We’re there dealing with everyone. We’re trying to support the local system, support all the kids and give them a good job. It’s kind of family.

“It’s grown every year. Every year it just keeps getting better and better.”

Of course, while Tamara Smyth will say that she couldn’t do it without her family — and the local kids and customers that have become family — they’ll all tell you the same thing about her, too.

“Tamara is wonderful. She remembers us every time, and she’s just so friendly. She’s just really delightful,” said Sengstack. “We’ve tried all the other places around for breakfast, and we keep coming back here. The other places are fine, but there isn’t that friendly atmosphere, like you’re part of the group.”

“She is the backbone of this place,” Tony Smyth said. “She’s the personality of this place. There wouldn’t be a Turtle Beach without her.”

Turtle Beach Café is located in Blue Surf building on the Bethany Beach boardwalk, at 98 Garfield Pkwy, Suite 102, next to Water Lili and Bethany Beach Ocean Suites. They are open year-round, and seven days a week, opening at 7 a.m. in the summer. For more information check out www.facebook.com/turtlebeachcafe or call (302) 616-1036.