Fueling Up at the Mall
With the holiday shopping crunch upon us, spending extended periods of time at Christiana Mall this month seems unavoidable. At some point you’ll need to eat. The food court, refurbished a couple years ago, still offers an endless supply of fried nuggets, syrupy moo shu, and standards like Auntie Anne’s, Orange Julius and Cinnabon. But there are newer and fancier digs, including California Pizza Kitchen, Cheesecake Factory and Pacuigo Gelato. In an effort to supplement its destination shopping with destination dining, property bosses General Growth Properties also lured a handful of boutique chain restaurants. Three caught the eye of DT dining critic Matt Amis awhile back: Brio Tuscan Grille, J.B. Dawson’s Restaurant & Bar, and Sixth & Pine in Nordstrom. Shoppers in need of refueling will find Sixth & Pine to be a happy, relaxed respite. The crew prides itself on great picnic food, with sandwich standards built to order, and a rotating menu of heartier fare available. All three places have their merits, and you can read more about them here.
Messin' With the Big Dogs
Kobe beef hot dogs? Really? They may be over the top, but why not? Who doesn’t like to live large now and again? Find them at 4-year-old Johnnies Dog House on Concord Pike in Wilmington. “Our regular hotdogs are like a New York strip,” according to Johnnies. “The Kobe dogs are like a filet mignon.” The animals that provide Kobe beef are fed with special grasses and grains, rested carefully and massaged regularly with sake. That means good things for hot dogs. And there’s more at Johnnies, including a 13-inch jumbo that weighs in at a pound, and new combos of toppings, such as The Monkey Hill, which has grilled bananas, crunchy peanut butter, bacon and honey. If you haven’t been in awhile, it’s worth a visit.
Real Chinese: It Ain’t Takeaway
General Tso didn’t make chicken and he wasn’t commanding officer to Colonel Sanders, orange beef isn’t a specialty of any Chinese chef, and fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco. The proliferation of American Chinese takeout has cast a serious cloud over authentic Chinese cuisine. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little sesame chicken, but the truth is, it’s about as Chinese as stromboli. Wipe-down Chinese takeout was spawned by immigrant laborers—not trained chefs—who cashed in on Western palates during 19th-century expansion, says Joe Chan, owner of The Crownery Restaurant in Hockessin. The resulting cuisine was stripped of fresh vegetables and seafood—hallmarks of Chinese food—using instead frozen meats and cheap cuts of poultry. Dishes often swim in oil and salt. The salty, brown fried rice you get from the shopping mall food court? It’s drenched in soy sauce. That’s hardly the case at authentic Chinese restaurants like The Crownery, where the kitchen teems with chefs and cooks who prep ducks fresh from a New York market. Chinese cuisine uses ample amounts of hearty, leafy vegetables like bok choy, gai-lan and green kale. The same goes for fresh fish and seafood. Starch, like rice and noodles, are equal components to the vegetables and protein—not side dishes. At The Crownery, there’s a three-level steamer churning out handmade dim sum and 10 woks firing in unison—and no general in sight. With the famous dinner scene from “A Christmas Story” in mind, we present a few favorites. For more on great ethnic dining, click here.
1845 Marsh Road, Wilmington, 475-3686 • Tucked away in a meager, easy-to-miss North Wilmington strip mall, China Royal is a well-kept secret to its loyal customers. The menu may be difficult to crack sometimes, with dishes like Chicken Amazing and Neptune’s Blessing appearing without description, but the friendly and helpful wait staff might help you uncover a new favorite. Plus, they’ll carve up roast duck and prepare the accompanying pancakes tableside.
57 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3848 • With its sleek, clean interior and beautiful plating, Confucius is a true upscale dining experience. The diverse menu reflects that same class, paying homage to several styles of regional Chinese cooking. Traditional favorites like Peking duck sit alongside lesser-known items like cold jellyfish, and thinly sliced Woo Shien beef. American favorites General Tso’s chicken and orange beef appear, but they are more like footnotes among original creations like the ginger-marinated salmon in a bed of shredded onions.
The Crownery Chinese Restaurant
Lantana Square Shopping Center, Hockessin, 239-3825 • Customers dubbed it the Moon Gate—the beautiful carved crimson and golden arch that separates dining areas in The Crownery. It might be the main photo-op at the Hockessin classic, but customers return to The Crownery for the authentic Chinese cuisine. Chefs at The Crownery were trained in Hong Kong and inland China, so they do a bit of mixing in their styles, cherry picking dishes from the Cantonese, Szechwan and Hunan styles of cooking. The result is dishes like the popular crispy prawns drizzled with a delicate cream sauce and honey walnuts. It’s no surprise Chinese Restaurant News named The Crownery one of the top 100 Chinese restaurants in the nation.
3615 Kirkwood Hwy., Wilmington, 999-0286 • Szechuan isn’t limited to the regional style of its name. This suburban classic—30 years plus—was one of the first to introduce fiery Szechuan to local taste buds, and it’s still great. The decor now seems non-descript, given the upscale-contempo feel of livelier pan-Asian places, but food on the dinner buffet is of far better quality than that at the big Asian buffets.
The Chef Series Season Finale will take place at World Cafe Live at the Queen in Wilmington on Dec. 5. The event will feature all 10 chefs from the 2012 campaign hosted by Premier Wine & Spirits monthly at its Limestone Road location and 10 tapas-style courses paired with select wines and craft beers, all to benefit the Light Up The Queen Foundation. Participating restaurants will include Pizza By Elizabeths, Two Stones Pub, Stone Balloon Winehouse, Redfire Grill & Steakhouse, Chelsea Tavern, Ole Tapas Lounge & Restaurant, Bella Vista Trattoria, Orillas Tapas and World Cafe Live. “There will likely be an additional chef or two, with a few surprise guests packed in between courses,” says Mike Whitwell, general manager of Premier Wine & Spirits. “We’ve had such a great experience with this campaign and all of the participating chefs. This is a great venue to celebrate great tasting and creative foods, wines and beers around the holiday season while bringing everyone together for a good cause.” Splashing Pearls will perform live. Be there. 996-9463, premierwinespirits.com, or 994-1400, worldcafelive.com