Initially we visited Hobos Restaurant and Bar in Rehoboth Beach, DE as part of our “Far Out” travel column on the town, but after our second meal there –and being granted time to meet and chat with the chef/owner Gretchen Hanson, we had devote an entire blog to the experience. After all, not too many award-winning vegan executive chefs stop to talk to us. It was pretty exciting stuff.
The first thing you notice about Hobos when you walk up is the chilled-out, eclectic vibe. It’s cool and chic and boho all at once. The restaurant is in a converted house about three blocks from the beach and one block off the “main drag” of Rehoboth Ave. It’s a pinch quieter back there – and the on-street parking is a pinch easier to find, too. Which was perfect for the outdoor dining area, where we are allowed to bring our dog. (As a sidenote: the staff at Hobos prepared a special “doggie bowl” for our hound and she was simply delighted!)
We also loved all the green touches to the decor as well. The design incorporated a lot re-used and upcycled elements, like the vintage bathtub garden and the lanterns created from old aluminum cans. Very eco-chic.
Though we didn’t take any photos inside, the decor there bears mentioning. It’s a cafe with exotic touches: long flowing curtains, low sofas, and candle light. Very, very cool and nothing like other eateries you will find catering to the beach crowd in Rehoboth. This place feels way more west coast. Even the bathrooms sparkle with personality – with images of old-fashioned bathing beauties all over the walls!
Though we dine out at least once a week, it’s not very often we get to meet the chef behind our meal. I’m talking chef, by the way, not the-gal-who-throws-together-a-sandwich-at-Subway.
Gretchen Hanson is the chef/owner at Hobos. She started the restaurant in 2009 with a strong and defining personal vision. Before she even developed her menu, Gretchen met with local farmers to source as many of her ingredients as possible. Her eco-mission was a big influence. Hobos food is prepared with care using lots of seasonal, local ingredients. The offerings change based on what is available. In fact, the menu even states “Ingredients are provided by local farmers. Sometimes God or they do not deliver. Please be understanding.”
Being vegan herself for the past 11 years, Hanson gets what it means to be able to comfortably dine with your loved ones. She had worked in professional kitchens for 35 years and wanted to create a safe space for everyone to eat together, no matter their dietary preferences or needs. The menu at Hobos has not only vegan and vegetarian specialities, but also seafood, poultry, red meat and gluten free choices. You can truly bring anyone here to eat and every server we encountered was familiar with what vegan food was.
“I had to open this place,” Hanson said with a laugh, “I had no where to eat.”
And her cooking style reflects her fun, light-hearted attitude. Hobos‘ menu is based on street foods from around the world. Hanson calls it “eco-global fusion cuisine” and pulls from traditions in Mexican, French, Middle Eastern and Meditearrean cooking.
How does vegan fit in? Quite nicely, actually.
“I wanted to change the perceived notion of what it means to be vegan, to feed people meals that taste so great, they aren’t missing anything,” said Hanson. “Vegan food doesn’t have to taste like health food. It can be comforting, too.”
Hanson went vegan “to help save the world,” she said. But part of that mission is finding a way to redefine the mass-mind’s idea of what vegan is. We all know that when you say vegan food, most non-vegans think you’re talking about eating twigs and nuts and “weird vegetarian stuff.” Well, Hanson has an answer to this too: She teaches cooking classes and gives away her recipes. Yes, you read that correctly. An award-winning chef who gives away her secrets. They’re online, too, on her blog. Hanson is very serious about breaking the stereotypes of meatless meals. She wants to share her love of excellent vegan food with the world.
And the world was ready when Hanson opened her doors. At her grand opening in 2009, 5000 people came and went through the doors at Hobos. By her fourth day open, every table was full. Maybe the world is ready for her vision. Or at least the folks in Rehoboth.
Hobos was a recommendation of our friends Kim & Bob. They’re local to the area and know we are always on the prowl for good veg food. This is one of the best restaurant recommendations we’ve ever gotten, ever. Hobos was really wonderful. We ate there twice during our week-long stay in Rehoboth Beach.
First we stopped in for dinner. Dh ate the Provence Quesadilla, which was a vegetarian offering with wild mushrooms, truffle cheese and truffle essence. It smelled heavenly. I ate the Hot Lil’ Vegan Quesadilla. It was stuffed with black beans, tomato, tomatillo salsa and Daiya cheddar. Both quesadillas were huge. We took our dessert to go: a vegan apple crisp with a pinch of curry spice. We warmed it up for breakfast and it was sweet and savory – really a dynamic and fun take on apple crisp. The crisp was a daily special.
Our second meal at Hobos – a rather large lunch – started with a daily special, which was a vegan Carribean Black Lentil soup. It had a slow heat that hit you after a second or two, and the lentils were cooked perfectly – not mushy or overdone at all. Each flavor was distinct – the sweet potato, the spinach, the coconut. We also tried the Greek salad, which was honestly big enough to feed a whole family. You could taste the fresh herbs and the pitted black olives were super – not those bland canned ones from the grocery store.
The buffalo seitan sandwich was as big as your head. Seriously. (We had so much food on the table, it was ridiculous.) The sandwich was served with another huge salad and had a fabulous blue cheese dressing. But it was vegan! I have no idea how Hanson got that very distinct blue cheese flavor into the dressing, but she did. The seitan was perfect, too. Thick, moist slices dripping with tangy, spicy buffalo hot sauce. We ate this sandwich weeks ago, but I still think about it sometimes.
Also on our huge lunch table: Sweet Chili Tofu Buddha Bowl. These well-prepared little cubes were slightly crispy on the outside, and warm and soft inside. They arrived with a variety of dipping sauces and thinly sliced zucchini. The dish was simple and elegant.
We also need to mention the cocktail menu from Hobos. Their original cocktails are fun and light-hearted, and many use organic liquors. The drink on the left below is “Mommy’s Licious” and is a blend of blueberry vodka, organic pear juice and Fresca. On the right is the Hobos Bloody Mary, which blends Hobos’ homemade bloody mary mix, fresh grated horseradish, organic vodka, pepper and a secret blend of spices. Dh also tried the Cucumber Cosmo which was created with homemade cucumber-lemongrass-infused organic vodka, melon liquor and white cranberry juice, and another called Quite Simply the Best Mojito Ever that contained home-grown mint, fresh sugar cane, key lime juice and limon rum.
Our marathon lunch was finished off with vegan Pina Colada cake. It was sweet, moist and had big chunks of pineapple. Divine.
We can’t wait to get back to Hobos and try more of Hanson’s ingenious food. No wonder she got awarded “Best Area Restaurant” and “Best Chef” by Delaware Today. With 13 vegan offerings on the regular menu and 14 additional vegetarian items, Hobos is very veg-friendly in addition to sourcing local and seasonal foods. And there are always more specials than what you’ll find on the usual menu.
“My ultimate goal is to help people re-relate to food. To nourish their body, mind and soul,” Hanson said. “Once someone learns a few techniques and understands the complex flavors of vegetables, they see the depth in plant food in a new way.”
We’re with you, Chef Hanson. And we think your artistry in the kitchen deserves more awards and accolades. See ya again as soon as we can get back to the beach!