Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite
The farm-to-table movement is sweeping the state. Why? Supporting local farms builds communities—and fresh food just plain tastes better. Here are some restaurants at the fore of the movement.
Research assistance by Rebecca Kasman
Should you happen to spot Nino Mancari driving a tractor across U.S. 9 in Lewes, or moving a drove of pigs across town, worry not. The chef hasn’t lost his mind—or his job.
Mancari, who runs the kitchen of Salt Air in Rehoboth Beach, is ushering in the next level of farm-to-table dining. Recognized and acclaimed for their straightforward and vivid approach to local cuisine, Mancari and Salt Air owner Jonathan Spivak have taken over the former Good For You Market in Lewes and transformed it into Salt Air Farm and Table. There, and on the adjoining land, Salt Air will grow its own vegetables and raise its own sheep, chicken and pigs. “[Good For You owner] Andy Meddick approached us about taking over the farm,” Mancari says. “And the idea has grown dramatically from there.”
The idea sprouted while the pair planned renovations to Salt Air’s kitchen and dining room. If they could just relocate all of their prep work, storage and baking to another building, they’d have more room for tables and equipment at the restaurant.
Salt Air’s (50 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-2444, saltairkitchen.com) spices, oils, vinegars, crackers, baked goods, dips and more will be available for purchase at the farm store, and it will host a nightly farm table dinner, maybe two.
Mancari, who several Delaware chefs credit as a spark plug for the state’s infatuation with farm dining, is taking his acumen to new heights. Blackbird Heritage Farm in Townsend has outfitted Mancari with breeding stock, so he’s planning an animal husbandry program. He’s recruited an army of interns, who will rotate between the farmland, the market and the restaurant. And he’s reached out to local artisans, including jewelry artist Heidi Lowe, who he’s commissioned to create unique flatware for the restaurant.
“This is what sustainable, local agriculture is all about,” Mancari says. “We’re really trying to create jobs, create produce here.”
The seeds have been planted.
249 N.E. Front St., Milford
During the heart of the growing season, about 90 percent of the ingredients utilized at Abbott’s are grown locally. That’s a lot of product, and a lot of it comes from very close by. “Where we are in this area, there are a lot of opportunities to find farmers,” says chef Ryan Cunningham. He goes to Bob Russell Farms in Milton for tomatoes, Colvine Farms for fresh bison meat. In Bridgeville is grower Kevin Evans, and in Clayton is Small Wonder farm, a hydroponic grower that seeds everything from Bibb lettuce to hybrid squash. Fifer Orchards and Kirby & Holloway are Abbott’s purveyors, as are Dogfish Head, 16 Mile, Tröegs and Evolution breweries.
Page 2: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
425 Hockessin Corner, Hockessin
For two years running, Back Burner chef Kristin McGuigan has teamed with the Delaware Nature Society for a wild plant nature walk and dinner. Guests embarked on a walk of Burrows Run Preserve, then gathered everything from violets to Jerusalem artichokes to morel mushrooms to watercress to fiddlehead ferns and so on, then took them back to the restaurant for McGuigan to cook. Local venison and Paradocx Vineyard wines helped fill out the menu. The Burner’s legendary pumpkin mushroom soup is a locally made delight, and the rest of the menu is filled with goodies such as local lamb chops with a local root vegetable phyllo purse and Formisano Farms fennel slaw. “Local, small farms put as much detail into growing as we chefs put into preparing our dishes,” McGuigan says.
6 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Bethany, 537-1500
18385 Coastal Hwy., Lewes, 644-2500
The custom-built smoker used at Bethany Blues (affectionately known as Lil’ Reggie) receives spicy sausages manufactured at Kirby & Holloway Provisions in Milton. Prime beef comes from Hickman’s Meat Market in Rehoboth. Lewes Dairy milk goes into the macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, batters, desserts and dressings. Lewes Fish House supplies seafood, and Dogfish Head Brewery provides the signature birch beer, Blue Hen Vodka and other beverages. Locally grown and seasonal produce accompanies all that finger-lickin’ barbecue.
Bistro on the Brandywine
1623 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa.
(610) 388-8090, bistroonthebrandywine.com
The “On the Brandywine” appellation is important to note, since the Dan Butler-owned Bistro takes advantage of some of the valley’s best products. Places like SIW Vegetables, located on H.G. Haskell’s farm in Chadds Ford, are visited weekly for the latest crops, which sous chef Brian Crowley uses to make into daily specials such as portabella mushroom and pekin duck salad with Jamison Farms mushrooms. The Bistro’s bar is stocked with bottles from Chaddsford Winery and beers from Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia.
Page 3: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
Bluecoast Seafood Grill
1111 Highway One, Bethany Beach
Not only Bluecoast, but all of Matt Haley’s SoDel Concepts restaurants—Lupo di Mare, Betty’s Pure and Simple, Fish On, Northeast Seafood Kitchen and Catch 54—take advantage of the area’s bounty. Local purveyors include Good Earth Market, Tomato Sunshine in Rehoboth, Magee Farms in Selbyville, Ocean View Farms, Parson’s Farm and Fifer Orchards. Dean Hickman of Hickman Seafood provides softshell crabs and meat from locally caught crabs, and Andrew Kieper of Sea Eagle in Bethany Beach provides local tuna, tautog and rockfish. Sound like a lot? It is, especially when SoDel menus are filled with locally inspired dishes such as softshell crabs with vine ripe tomato and asparagus, and grilled tuna with local apple salad.
102 Second St., Lewes
Milk, butter and whipped cream from nearby Lewes Dairy add a level of richness to The Buttery’s cuisine. Tim Bell’s Community Organics gives chefs Gretchen Herr and Aaron Miller impeccably clean seasonal produce, and honey from S&S Apiaries in Dover lends a touch of sweetness to dishes such as twin lobster tails with spiced honey-butter glaze. In season, stuffed local flounder gets a kick from local heirloom tomatoes and summer squash from the likes of nearby Freeman Farms and Fifer Orchards.
821 N. Market St., Wilmington
When Sean McNeice isn’t using Randall the Enamel Animal (an “organoleptic hop transducer module” invented by Dogfish Head) to infuse more hoppy flavor into beer, he and the Chelsea crew are busy pulling locals like 16 Mile, Victory, Yuengling, Evolution, Clipper City and, yup, Dogfish Head. Beer may be big at Chelsea, but McNeice also puts cheeses from Amazing Acres Goat Dairy in Elverson, Pennsylvania, to amazing use. For proof check on his duck confit pizza: blistered Belgian ale crust, sweet duck meat and wonderfully bubbly goat cheese.
2216 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington
Chef Chris D’Ambro learned quickly how big a deal Sunday brunch is to Columbus Inn patrons. That’s why he goes all-out with a full roast pig from Green Meadow Farms in Gap, Pennsylvania. The Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op visits twice weekly, delivering Amish-farmed tomatoes, parsnips, beets, celery roots and squash to the inn. The duck in D’Ambro’s handkerchief pasta and duck ragout comes from Pennsylvania farmers Joe Jurgielewicz & Son, known to many as Dr. Joe. “The product harvested nearby is fresher because it’s closer to the time it’s picked,” D’Ambro says. “Plus you’re supporting your neighbor and reducing your carbon footprint.”
Page 4: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
23 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach
Like several of Rehoboth’s fine dining establishments, Eden and its chef, Mark Daggett, call upon Milton’s Bob Russell Farms for superb custom-grown produce. Russell Farms cherry tomatoes go into sautéed shrimp bruschetta, and leafy arugula fills out a roasted baby beet salad. In another top-seller, bone-in chicken breast from Lancaster tops homemade pappardelle, blistered cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, broccolini and beurre blanc. “With this style of cooking you’re getting the best product possible,” Daggett says while gushing over his latest shipment of local spaghetti squash. “You can tell that it’s not sitting in the back of a truck for a week.”
28 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach
There is a video floating around YouTube of Espuma chef-owner Jay Caputo boarding a fishing vessel at the Indian River inlet, then heading 50 miles out to reel in a monster bluefin tuna—which he takes back to Espuma and promptly breaks down into tuna tartare “cannelloni” with thinly sliced pineapple. “Any time you know who handled the stuff, who raised the stuff, you’re more in touch with your food,” Caputo says. During rockfish season, Espuma runs an herb-crusted rockfish with local kabocha squash ravioli with pickled peppers grown by Greenbranch Farm in Salisbury, Maryland.
Fair Hill Inn
3370 Singerly Road, Elkton, Md.
(410) 398-4187, fairhillinn.com
No one will ever accuse Fair Hill Inn of bandwagoning. “We started our farm-to-table movement not in response to what was going on across the country,” says chef Phil Pyle Jr. “To the contrary. We were in the midst of a recession. Growing your own produce, butchering your own animals made good financial sense.” Pyle and chef Brian Shaw cure their own meats in-house and grow their own vegetables in a plot behind the inn. What they don’t grow they procure from Trebs Thompson at Whimsical Farms in Newark and Steve Isaacson at Sassafras River Beef in Maryland. Fair Hill calls it “farmstead cuisine.” “The hard reality is that Brian and I work about 110 hours per week committed to the practice,” Pyle says. “We really do live, eat and breathe our menu.”
Fresh Thymes Café
1836 Lovering Ave., Wilmington
The North Breakfast Burrito, a signature item at Fresh Thymes, is made from Whimsical Farms (Newark) eggs, and the Best Ever Grilled Cheese uses Lancaster smoked cheddar. Just about everything else—from Pike Creek coffee to organic Lancaster sauerkraut—is either local or organic. “The flavor is more extraordinary that way,” says co-owner Jenn Adams. “And it gives the customer that awareness of exactly where their food is coming from.”
Page 5: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
549 Wilmington Pike, Glen Mills, Pa.
(610) 358-1005, harvestseasonalgrill.com
Harvest’s entire existence is based on the notion of healthy, local and sustainable food. Corporate chef Brian Duffy plumbs Pennsylvania cultivators exclusively, gathering butternut squash and apples from Oyler’s Organic Farms near Gettysburg, farm-fresh milk from Lancaster, and cheeses from Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester Springs, all in Pennsylvania. There are many more. Harvest buys from 75 different farms, sometimes as much as $40,000 during a month. “It’s mostly about flavor and quality,” Duffy says. “On a responsibility level, we tap into local resources reducing our carbon footprint and supporting the community around us. This great stuff is out there, so we just have to find it.”
Harry’s Savoy Grill
2020 Naamans Road, Wilmington
The difficulty of sourcing locally is not lost on Harry’s, which requires a high volume of ingredients. “There is a lot of hustle involved, driving around here and rendezvousing there,” says chef David Leo Banks. “It’s sort of a logistical nightmare. But it keeps us excited.” Nonetheless, Harry’s prime rib is always well complemented by New Jersey potatoes, wild foraged mushrooms, local squashes, pumpkins, and wild game. S.I.W. Vegetables (known by many as Haskell’s) provides Harry’s with heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn and Dr. Martin’s heirloom lima beans. Fellow North Wilmingtonians Ruth and Larry Linton of Highland Orchards cultivate hard-to-find and off-season produce in their greenhouse, and SunnyGirl Farm of Unionville, Pennsylvania, supplies veggies like baby fennel, okra, organic lettuces and eggplant.
Harry’s Seafood Grill
101 S. Market St., Wilmington
Even when Harry’s ingredients are far-reaching, they’re always sourced through sustainable boutique producers. Lobsters come from the Greenhead Point Lobster Co-op in Stonington, Maine. “Those Maine boys share the passion that we have locally,” says chef David Leo Banks. “We’ve walked the farms, we visited the lobster pounds. And I will go salmon fishing in Alaska one of these days.” Harry’s also sources Delaware Bay oysters, New Jersey sole, and seasonal rockfish, flounder and more. The names of boats and their captains are listed on Harry’s menu. “It just makes sense,” Banks says.
Henlopen City Oyster House
50 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach
Co-owner Joe Baker credits Henlopen chef Bill Clifton—the son of a Milford farmer—for driving the Oyster House’s local leanings. In the summertime, Clifton spends every Saturday morning at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market and every Tuesday at the Rehoboth Beach Farmers Market, searching for the latest and greatest produce from Community Organics in Greenwood and Calliope Farm and Greenbranch Farms in Salisbury, Maryland. Many of Henlopen’s famed oysters are local, too, hailing from Maryland and Virginia waterways such as Tangier Sound.
Page 6: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
Hobos Restaurant + Bar
56 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach
Penning a new menu daily allows Hobos chef-owner Gretchen Hanson the flexibility to use the latest and freshest ingredients available. Hydroponic grower Brenda Dunning of Small Wonder farm cultivates herbs, lettuce, cucumbers and more year-round, and Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms keeps Hanson’s fungi-friendly menu stocked. Hanson also scours the Rehoboth Farmers Market each week hoping to spread the wealth among the area’s many small, family-owned farms. “Five acres or less is my focus,” she says. “I try and support those farmers as much as possible.”
Home Grown Café
126 E. Main St., Newark
Chef Eric Aber composes daily specials based on deliveries from the Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op’s community-supported agriculture program. So that wild mushroom-pumpkin soup and grilled romaine salad taste extra-fresh because they are. A cadre of local dairy farmers, including Pennsylvania faves Misty Creek Dairy in Leola and Maplehofe Dairy in Quarryville, provide organic pasteurized cheeses. Magnolia Bread Co. provides bread and Woodside Farm Creamery provides ice cream. Home Grown’s terrific bar serves brews from Dogfish Head, Victory, Evolution and Yuengling. Bottles from Bouchaine Vineyards, owned by Delawareans Tatiana and Gerret Copeland, fill out the wine list.
213 Anglers Road, Lewes, 645-6888
52 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth, 227-5758
105 Union St., Milton, 684-8889
Sourcing everything from corner produce stands to Kirby & Holloway Provisions, all three Irish Eyes locations are big-time localvores. Lewes Dairy provides the milk. Georgetown’s 16 Mile Brewery provides the beer. Mushrooms, blue crab and fish come from Wilmington, Cambridge, Maryland, and Annapolis, respectively. Buying local, says head chef Marcus Donovan, is “like keeping it in the family.”
14th and Scott streets, Wilmington, 658-4600
When a group of big guns from Harry’s Hospitality Group (the people behind Harry’s Savoy, Harry’s Seafood and Harry’s Market)—namely, Xavier Teixido, David Leo Banks and Kelly O’Hanlon—purchased Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal House and Saloon in September, observers wondered what sort of changes might occur at the well-established and popular neighborhood spot. One big change is a renewed attention to fresh ingredients. The Jenny Farm Steakburger, a new signature item, is made from choice cuts of grass-fed beef (hence the “steak” in the name) from Green Valley Farms in Unionville, Pennsylvania. “We’ve been to the farm, been to the slaughterhouse,” Banks says. “We call it a steak burger because we’re able to choose the cuts of beef.” And like the Harry’s restaurants, Kid’s relies on local seasonal produce, meat and fish.
Page 7: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
514 Montchanin Road, Wilmington
Local produce gets the Krazy Kat’s treatment from chef Donny Merrill. Local oysters get paired with blood orange “caviar” and pomegranate mignonette, while locally caught rockfish is teamed with smoked tomatoes and Meyer lemon gelée. Locally grown veggies harvested by H.G. Haskell’s in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, fill the gaps between saffron pasta and smoked mozzarella in a vegetable lasagna. Foraged local mushrooms are used in an au gratin of braised Kobe beef cheek, Halloumi cheese and crispy shallots.
19730 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach
If it wasn’t clear from the front-porch dinners held at Fifer Orchards in Wyoming, Nage has serious love for its local growers. Executive chef Hari Cameron, as well as Nage bartenders, uses fruits and veggies from Fifer Orchard regularly. Free-range hogs from Swallow Acres Farm in Georgetown make for great pancetta-wrapped pork loin. Green Branch Farm in Salisbury, Maryland, Hattie’s Garden in Lewes, Reid’s Family Farm, Bob Russell Farms, Community Organics and Freeman Farm all sell fresh produce to Nage.
Off The Hook
769 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach
“If it doesn’t swim here, then we don’t use it,” says Steve Hagan, chef-owner of Off the Hook. His restaurant has signs that preach “Fresh, Honest, Local” and a mission statement that’s dedicated to local fishermen. That’s bad news for the fishies of the Atlantic seaboard, good news for you. Try the broiled bluefish with fennel mayo, or fluke stuffed with crab meat and sided with roasted asparagus. Hagan takes advantage of produce from Johnson’s Country Market in Roxana and East View Farm in Frankford. Visit this season, when he tops applewood bacon-infused collard greens with pan-roasted, skin-on striped bass.
121 Campbell Place, Bethany Beach
Local berries that stuff Patsy’s famous homemade cobbler come from Blueberry Lane Berry Farm, and Bennett Orchards in Frankford provides peaches for chefs-owners Patsy and Robin Rankin. The mother-daughter team also maintains a seasonal garden for fresh herbs and veggies. The area’s rich selection of roadside stands provides plenty more, as does Good Earth Market in Clarksville and Greenbranch Farm in Salisbury.
Page 8: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
1412 N. Dupont St., Wilmington
Buying from nearby farms and producers is “less of an altruistic endeavor for me,” says owner Dan Butler. “It’s a matter of using the freshest, best ingredients we can find.” The fact that it comes from a farm is secondary to the fact that it’s fresher and better. Executive chef Robbie Jester over the fall season made use of local squash to make buttercup and butternut squash soup with goat cheese ravioli. The bar pulls both Twin Lakes and 16 Mile beers.
236 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach
“Supporting our local farms is a selfish passion,” says chef Michael Stiglitz. “If we cannot have the best tasting food in our hands, then we cannot deliver it to the table.” That’s why Stiglitz, a CIA-grad and lover of regional cuisine, buys local corn, asparagus, berries, lettuces, chicken, organic beef and more. Blue crabs and bay oysters are caught in local waters. Tomatoes and scallops come from New Jersey, and berries, asparagus, radishes and green onions come from Fifer Orchards.
210 Second St., Rehoboth Beach
As the fall and winter months roll on, owner Jay Caputo relies on Hattie Allen of Hattie’s Garden in Lewes, who runs a sort of co-op delivery service for the last of the local farms’ output. “We’ve been working a lot of winter squashes, local greens, arugula and fresh herbs, so that’s been great,” he says. “Buying local keeps the money in the community, helps the environment and forges a connection to the community.” Caputo and chef Cory Scordo source pork belly from Pennsylvania, then parlay it into house-smoked bacon to top their butternut squash flatbread with black Mission figs and Gruyère cheese.
Page 9: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
Simon Pearce on the Brandywine
1333 Lenape Road, West Chester, Pa.
(610) 793-0949, simonpearce.com
Forgetting for a moment that Simon Pearce sources all of its glassware locally (as in downstairs, in its own workshop), chef Karen Nicolas gathers the best in local ingredients from Beechwood Orchards, Tom Culton Organics, Shellbark Hollow Farms, Amazing Acres, Jamison Farm and more. “Our chickens are only two days old. Our fish are only 18 hours old,” Nicolas says. “You can taste the difference when the flavor is fresh.” Weekly give and take with farmers allows Nicolas to change menus often, but if you get the chance, try Lancaster pork belly with Savoy cabbage, parsnips and chanterelle mushrooms.
Soffritto Italian Grill
1130 Kirkwood Hwy., Newark
That wonderfully creamy sun-dried tomato blush sauce coating the rigatoni at Soffritto is made from Hy-Point Dairy Farms cream. Soffritto buys milk and butter from Hy-Point, too. The cheese comes from M. Fierro & Sons in Wilmington, and the seafood—a huge chunk of Soffritto’s menu—comes from Sansone’s Seafood Market in Wilmington. The sautéed wild mushrooms that top decadent 8-ounce filetto al vino rosso—are foraged in Avondale, Pennsylvania.
696 Unionville Road, Kennett Square, Pa.
(610) 444-5600, sovanabistro.com
Fourteen years ago Nick Farrell opened Sovana Bistro with the ambition of it becoming a modest little Italian restaurant. Today Farrell is recognized as one of the forebears in the region of farm-to-table cuisine. “As I became familiar with the area, I realized there’s all this amazing product out here,” he says. “It was a slower evolution as, one by one, I started making relationships with farmers out here. I really think that seasonal eating makes the most sense. It’s just practical.” Swallow Hill Farm in Finleyville, Pennsylvania, is Sovana’s main source for fresh produce, including asparagus, rhubarb, spinach, beets, pumpkins, squash and more. The Amish and Mennonite-driven Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op and Pete’s Produce Farm in Westtown, Pennsylvania, are two other major contributors. For the best example of Farrell’s nature-boy aptitude, order the simple, yet harmonious Taste of Local Vegetables from Sovana’s 100-Mile Menu.
Page 10: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
2038 Foulk Road, Wilmington
Local sports pubs aren’t typically as local as Stanley’s. Seasonal veggies like baby lettuce, baby spinach, basil and other herbs come from Highland Orchards in Wilmington. Jos. Silvestri & Sons, an outfit out of Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, provides button mushrooms and portobellas. Another family-run business, Little Italy’s M. Fierro & Sons, supplies Stanley’s with freshly made mozzarella. Naturally, Stanley’s does a great beer-battered fried mozz.
59 Lake Ave., Rehoboth Beach
Working a kitchen in such a food-rich town as Rehoboth has its advantages. Stingray chef John Bimber hits the Rehoboth Beach Farmers Market every Tuesday in season to procure local corn for sweet corn risotto and fresh herbs for entrées and desserts. Fresh fruits from nearby Fifer Orchards find their way into Japanese mojitos. And locally caught rockfish, tuna and grouper, sourced from Lewes Fish House, all become fresh and delicious menu items like tuna loin sashimi. Half of the taps pulled at Stingray’s bar contain Dogfish Head beers, which are brewed in Milton.
115 E. Main St., Newark
It doesn’t get much more local than the Stone Balloon’s rooftop garden, which is tended by the staff and residents at adjoining Washington House Condominiums. Down from the roof come tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, squash, peppers and more. The Balloon, and especially chef Jason Dietterick, has close relationships with Blackbird Heritage Farm in Townsend and Whimsical Farms in Newark. “I’m at Blackbird Heritage two to three days a week during the season,” Dietterick says. “I will be there to pick stuff with them. I was there when the pig we roast went to slaughter. I’m as curious as anybody.” The Balloon hosted two farm dinners at Blackbird Heritage last year, and more are in the works this year.
Page 11: Restaurant Guide: Localvores Unite, continues...
Styer’s Garden Café
914 Baltimore Pike, Glen Mills, Pa.
(610) 459-2400, cafe.shopterrain.com
238 Atlantic Ave., Millville
It’s the Naked Farmer, a mostly organic purveyor in Georgetown, that gives Twenty-Six chef Larry Sprowles corn, squash, yellow zucchini, cherry and grape tomatoes, and many other veggies that he turns into fresh-tasting coastal pub cuisine. Owner Jerry Richard has a longstanding relationship with Johnson’s Country Market in Roxana. Lindy’s Seafood of Tangier Island, Maryland, provides fresh local crabmeat in season. This summer try it in Sprowles’ simply prepared crab cakes with just-off-the-cob corn succotash. “Chef Sprowles loves to work with the best stuff,” Richard says. This season stop in for local sweet potato hash and roast pork tenderloin.