Wilmington's Taj Mahal Restaurant Is a Culinary Nirvana

The real Taj Mahal was a place of eternal rest. The local eatery is a garden of delectable delights.



Chicken tikka masal//Photo by Joe del Tufo

 

I recall an acquaintance long, long ago lamenting the dearth of Indian restaurants in Delaware. He had acquired a taste for the cuisine while sojourning in London, and, afterward, it was the thing he missed most about the city. The way he raved and pined and rhapsodized and otherwise carried on about lentils—of all things—it seemed that, in his estimation, no other food could compare. Perhaps it was the combination of nostalgia and the hunger of student poverty speaking, but when he was jonesing hard, the man could get downright morose. I had never seen anyone brood so because of food.

Now I get it. Since my introduction to Indian fare at a short-lived restaurant in downtown Dover more than 25 years ago—an epiphany—I have often felt the jones, so I have eaten at every Indian restaurant that has opened in Delaware since (save the new Indigo in Rehoboth). Among the meals I’ve enjoyed are two of the best things I have ever tasted: a sambal-like slurry of puréed chilis during that first meal, and a silky lamb khorma from a now-defunct restaurant in North Wilmington that set the standard for every other Indian meal I would ever eat.

Alas, I enjoyed that meal during the brief period that particular restaurant was good. Never again over the next several years did I have a dish that came close to that, even other meals of lamb khorma. And that has been the way of Indian restaurants here. The quality of food, in most of the restaurants that have survived, can vary wildly over time—I still cannot forgive the Cheez-Its that were passed off as cheese fritters in a chana papri chat 20 years ago—so the search for a consistently good place is a constant exercise.

With any luck, the search has ended at Taj Mahal Fine Indian Restaurant and Party Hall. How it had escaped my notice for more than a year I do not know, but that doesn’t matter now. All that matters is that the food lives up to my memory of the very best Indian meals I’ve enjoyed.

Navrata korma with a mango lassi; mixed tandoori.//Photo by Joe del Tufo

Like other places, Taj Mahal offers the usual meals of chicken, lamb, goat, fish and shrimp, and paneer (a non-melting homemade cheese) in the typical preparations: as spicy vindaloo, in tomato-rich jalfrazie with onions and peppers, creamy korma, the sautéed spinach called saag and others. It also offers favorite meats marinated and roasted in the clay oven called a tandoor, as well as starters such as samosas—fried dumplings stuffed with potatoes and mashed peas.

But Taj Mahal also offers a few surprises, such as an appetizer of mushrooms or cauliflower and mushrooms sautéed in garlic, hot peppers coated in chickpea flour and deep-fried, a hot-and-sour soup, a selection of dishes in the crepe called dosa and desserts such as rasmalai, balls of sweetened cheese  served in cream sprinkled with pistachios. Taj Mahal earns extra points for offering a children’s menu, which features accessible dishes such as chicken tikka, as well as typical kid stuff like chicken nuggets and fried shrimp.

I’m no expert on Indian cuisine. Its history is too sweeping and nuanced, the combinations of ingredients—both the produce and the spices—are too regionally diverse, too complex. But I know what I like, so the first visit to Taj Mahal was less an exploration of the dishes that make it unique, more a test of how well it prepared some personal favorites.

We started with a sampler of appetizers. The samosa was crispy outside, its filling mildly seasoned with garam masala, a blend of ground cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon or cassia, nutmeg and peppercorns. The pakora—a fritter of minced broccoli, cauliflower and other vegetables battered in chickpea flour—was delicious, especially when dipped in a green chutney of fresh chopped coriander and mint in lime. The homemade cheese called paneer is so mild, it needs a little help. Dusted in chickpea flour, fried and topped with onion chutney, it could almost be a meal. More chickpeas: A chilled appetizer of aloo papri chat combines them with diced potato and cubes of crispy paneer pakora in yogurt, finished with a drizzle of sweet tamarind chutney.

From left: Assorted vegetable appetizers as a sampler for two; assorted appetizers for a large party.//Photo by Joe del Tufo

The curries are where the kitchen really shines. Many are based on some combination of the garam masala spices with chilis, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, turmeric mustard seeds and other spices in various proportions—sometimes simmered in yogurt, sometimes in a clarified butter called ghee, but that’s not to say everything tastes the same. The results can be very different. We found the aromatic palak paneer of sautéed spinach to be almost creamy, the bhindi do pyaza of okra simmered with tomatoes, onions and garlic to have the richness of a sturdy ratatouille, and the lamb khorma most hearty, but subtly and sublimely seasoned. Was it as good as that lamb khorma from long ago? Nothing could be, but it was excellent just the same.

We enjoyed all with an unadorned naan, a bread baked by slapping the dough against the wall of the tandoor. It was as hot and light as any I’ve ever had.

Taj Mahal serves favorite beverages such as chai and the yogurt-based drink lassi, both sweetened and salted. There is no bar service, but guests are permitted to bring their own wine or beer.

Like so many great ethnic restaurants, decor does not seem to be a priority. The print of the Taj Mahal over the buffet line makes sense. We were puzzled by other prints, which depicted Mediterranean streetscapes, until the owner explained that they are vestiges of the previous restaurant. We were also puzzled to find that half the restaurant seemed closed. It turns out that side is the party hall, which is booked regularly. Take that as a statement about the quality of the food.

Those who are unfamiliar with Indian cuisine—or those who, like I, can never get enough of the variety—might try the Sunday dinner buffet, which offers more than 25 items. It is one of the best dining bargains going. Whether you are an Indian newbie or vet, it will not disappoint.


Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant and Party Hall
2314 Carpenter Station Road, Wilmington
475-0840 • 
tajmahalde.com
Prices: Appetizers, $2.99–$8.99; entrées, $9.99–$15.99; desserts, $2.99–$4.99
Recommended
Palak paneerbhindi do pyaza

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January 2018

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Cost: Varies

Where:
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137 W Knowlton Rd
Media, PA  19063
View map »

More information

January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

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3922 Kennett Pike
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Cost: free

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Coastal Audiology
32034 Long Neck Road
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Telephone: 302-316-0525
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Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
View map »


Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:     December 19, 2018   FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT: Dave Ruffner Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave., Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095,...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
2nd and 3rd Streets
Wilmington, DE  19801


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200 Water St.
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, DE  19801
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Cost: free

Where:
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Cost: free

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24488 Sussex Highway, Suite 4
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Cost: free

Where:
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32034 Long Neck Road
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View map »


Telephone: 302-316-0525
Website »

More information

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Cost: Varies

Where:
Linvilla Orchards
137 W Knowlton Rd
Media, PA  19063
View map »

More information

Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
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View map »


Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

More information

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Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
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View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

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Where:
Cab Calloway School Theatre
100 N DuPont Rd
Wilmington, DE  19805
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Sponsor: DE Theatre Co & Cab Calloway Fund
Telephone: 302-547-4543
Contact Name: Kelly Furman
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Show glides through life of professional figure skater Randy Gardner with help from Tai Babilonia and Dorothy Hamill. Wilmington, DE—“It ain’t no Ice Capades,” Randy...

Where:
200 Water St.
Wilmington
, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Millard
Telephone: 302-594-1100, ext. 215

More information

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On January 22nd and 24th Coastal Audiology in Millsboro, DE will be providing FREE HEARING SCREENINGS and will have a visiting specialist explaining the LATEST in DIGITAL HEARING TECHNOLOGY! ...

Cost: free

Where:
Coastal Audiology
32034 Long Neck Road
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Telephone: 302-316-0525
Website »

More information

On January 23rd, 25th, and 26th Seaford Audiology in Seaford, DE will be providing FREE HEARING SCREENINGS and will have a visiting specialist explaining the LATEST in DIGITAL HEARING TECHNOLOGY! ...

Cost: free

Where:
Seaford Audiology
24488 Sussex Highway, Suite 4
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »

More information

January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
View map »


Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

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Cost: FREE

Where:
Faith Victory Christian Center
301 Commonwealth Avenue
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Sponsor: Faith Victory Christian Center
Telephone: 302.354.6726
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Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

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Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Telephone: (302) 658-6262
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132 Townsend Hall on UD's South Campus
531 South College Avenue
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Cost: Free

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Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Telephone: 302.368.2984
Contact Name: Richard Field
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The first major retrospective exhibition of John Sloan’s work since 1988, An American Journey explores all facets of the artist’s long career: his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Show glides through life of professional figure skater Randy Gardner with help from Tai Babilonia and Dorothy Hamill. Wilmington, DE—“It ain’t no Ice Capades,” Randy...

Where:
200 Water St.
Wilmington
, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Millard
Telephone: 302-594-1100, ext. 215

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

On January 23rd, 25th, and 26th Seaford Audiology in Seaford, DE will be providing FREE HEARING SCREENINGS and will have a visiting specialist explaining the LATEST in DIGITAL HEARING TECHNOLOGY! ...

Cost: free

Where:
Seaford Audiology
24488 Sussex Highway, Suite 4
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »

More information

Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
View map »


Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

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Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 x2428

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Cost: $10.00 on Thursday; no cost on Friday, Saturday and Sunday

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610 Yorklyn Road
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Cost: $90 per person

Where:
University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Sponsor: University and Whist Club
Telephone: 302-658-5125

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Cost: 75.00 per person, plus service fee

Where:
Harry's Savoy Ballroom
2020 Naamans Road
Wilmington, DE  19810
View map »


Sponsor: Harry's Hospitality Group
Telephone: 302-475-3000
Contact Name: Riley Quinn
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The first major retrospective exhibition of John Sloan’s work since 1988, An American Journey explores all facets of the artist’s long career: his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Show glides through life of professional figure skater Randy Gardner with help from Tai Babilonia and Dorothy Hamill. Wilmington, DE—“It ain’t no Ice Capades,” Randy...

Where:
200 Water St.
Wilmington
, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Millard
Telephone: 302-594-1100, ext. 215

More information

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Show Less...

On January 23rd, 25th, and 26th Seaford Audiology in Seaford, DE will be providing FREE HEARING SCREENINGS and will have a visiting specialist explaining the LATEST in DIGITAL HEARING TECHNOLOGY! ...

Cost: free

Where:
Seaford Audiology
24488 Sussex Highway, Suite 4
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
View map »


Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

More information

More than 50,000 books for sale!  Thursday, 1/26 is for Friends members only ($10 memberships available at the door).  Friday from 9-9; Saturday from 9-5.  On Sunday (9-3), we supply and you...

Cost: $10.00 on Thursday; no cost on Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
610 Yorklyn Road
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $40 per adult

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Fair Hill NRMA, ED Walls Bldg
300 Tawes Drive
off 273 West of Newark
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Sponsor: Cecil Land Trust
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Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

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Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

More information

Show glides through life of professional figure skater Randy Gardner with help from Tai Babilonia and Dorothy Hamill. Wilmington, DE—“It ain’t no Ice Capades,” Randy...

Where:
200 Water St.
Wilmington
, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Millard
Telephone: 302-594-1100, ext. 215

More information

The first major retrospective exhibition of John Sloan’s work since 1988, An American Journey explores all facets of the artist’s long career: his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 2 – 27 Winter Group Show A rotating group show featuring an eclectic mix of artwork including oil paintings, pastels, ornamental boxes, art glass and jewelry. Custom Framing and Gift...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Come join us in celebrating the mission work of the American Heart Association while raising funds to end cardiovascular disease. There will be a live and silent auction, served dinner with wine,...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
Justinson Street
Wilmington , DE
View map »


Telephone: 302-286-5704
Contact Name: Denise Griffin
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free with admission; Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »

More information

More than 50,000 books for sale!  Thursday, 1/26 is for Friends members only ($10 memberships available at the door).  Friday from 9-9; Saturday from 9-5.  On Sunday (9-3), we supply and you...

Cost: $10.00 on Thursday; no cost on Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
610 Yorklyn Road
Hockessin, DE  19707
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $20 Adults, $10 Students, Groups Call 302-995-2603

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John Dickinson High School
1801 Miltown Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: Dickinson Theatre Organ Society
Telephone: 302-995-2603
Contact Name: Bob Dilworth
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The new year brings us "Disaster!" - the epic disaster movie musical spoof, chock full of everyone’s favorite 70’s pop songs.  Shows are at 8pm on January 26 and 27, and February 2 and 3. ...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
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This January, ’70s soul crooners The O’Jays, will bring their favorite hits to Philadelphia. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famers will entertain fans with their famous “Philly Soul” sound in the...

Cost: $69-$89

Where:
SugarHouse Casino
1001 N. Delaware Ave
Philadelphia, PA  19125
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The first major retrospective exhibition of John Sloan’s work since 1988, An American Journey explores all facets of the artist’s long career: his work as an illustrator in Philadelphia, his...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Show glides through life of professional figure skater Randy Gardner with help from Tai Babilonia and Dorothy Hamill. Wilmington, DE—“It ain’t no Ice Capades,” Randy...

Where:
200 Water St.
Wilmington
, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Carolina Millard
Telephone: 302-594-1100, ext. 215

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