Delaware Dining: The Old, the New and the Re-Do
When it comes to restaurants in Delaware, you can count on change, and often that’s a good thing. Here’s what's gone, what’s new and what's been updated.
The re-opening of chef Joe Churchman’s Bramble & Brine pleased enthusiastic regulars. / Photo by Luis Javy Diaz
Get out the tissues, vegetarians and soup-a-philes. Fresh Thymes, a hidden gem in Wilmington’s Forty Acres, has closed. Jenn Adams and her mother, Jane, opened the store in 2009, but decided to move on. De La Coeur Café has taken its place.
Sunna Juice Bar & Café in Trolley Square was open less than a year. Owner Alisa Morkides, who also owns the Brew HaHa! coffee shops, quickly realized that the concept ran out of juice in this market. She’s taking the popular menu items to the expanded Brew HaHa! in Greenville.
The fuse fizzled at Latin Fusion in Little Italy, which occupied Pad Tai’s old space on Union Street for a little over two years. North Quarter Creole opened here in fall.
Wilmington restaurateur Dan Butler deep-sixed the seafood-centric Deep Blue Bar & Grill, which pioneered a renaissance of fine dining in the downtown district when it opened in 1998. He’s put Tonic Bar & Grille in its place.
In Newark, Kildare’s Irish Pub in August quietly closed its location on Main Street, leaving many surprised. Down south, Paradigm, which opened in May 2015 as the reincarnation of Gallery Espresso, closed before the year’s end. The large restaurant was in a live-work-play development on U.S. 9 near Nassau Vineyards that is still under development.
What’s new and what’s ahead
Former Buckley's Tavern owner David Weir opened Goat Kitchen and Bar in North Wilmington last year.
Goat Kitchen and Bar opened last year in a spot long occupied by China Royal. The 75-seat space sports lots of reclaimed wood and a menu crafted by owner David Weir, once owner of Buckley’s Tavern. (Thai chicken noodle soup is on the Goat menu.) The fried green tomato BLT, pulled pork sandwich with poblano slaw, and burger with pimento cheese have proven popular. (Plaza III Center, 1845 Marsh Road, 746-7847, www.goatkitchenandbar.com)
Though Sunni Juice Bar & Café closed, Brew HaHa!, both founded by Alisa Morkides, is going gangbusters in the same Trolley Square shopping center. Sunni resided in the coffee shop’s old space, and in 2015, Brew HaHa! moved to the old Gilpin Mortgage office to accommodate a new coffee bean roastery. (The Rockford Shops, 1420 N. DuPont St., Wilmington, 384-6344, www.brew-haha.com)
Brew HaHa! will open in a new space in Greenville by mid-spring. The flagship location of the coffee shop group is growing from 750 square feet to about 3,000 square feet, allowing the restaurant to also offer small plates, coffee cocktails and weekend brunches. (Pond Building at Powder Mill Square, 3842B Kennett Pike, Greenville, www.brew-haha.com)
Tonic Bar & Grille is settling into Deep Blue’s old space in Wilmington’s business district. Out are the soothing, watery pastels, including the well-known mermaid mural. In are sophisticated hues of browns, grays and taupes. Tables have no linens, the wood floors are bare, and chairs have leather-covered upholstery. It’s a strong, tailored look for a menu that will please diners who mix business with pleasure. Think shrimp cocktail, oysters on the half-shell, a 16-ounce bone-in cowboy steak and a 12-ounce barrel-cut rib-eye. (Seafood lovers don’t despair—there are also crab cakes, tuna, scallops and salmon dishes.) TVs make the bar sportier. Owner Dan Butler started with “baby steps” by keeping the menu focused. Expect more as Tonic finds its footing. (111 W. 11th St., Wilmington, 777-2040, www.tonicbargrille.com)
The owners of Chelsea Tavern are working on a microbrewery and restaurant, 3 Doors Brewing Co., three doors down from the existing restaurant. Barbecue will be on the menu, but it’s not the main focus. A May opening is planned. (827 N. Market St., Wilmington)
In the lower Market Street area, Bryan and Andrea Sikora, who own the bistro La Fia, opened Cocina Lolo, a Mexican restaurant, in July. Innovative ingredients—smoked short rib, kimchi, Thai chili—take tacos, quesadillas and burritos up a notch. Tapas selections include deviled eggs with smoked paprika aïoli and chorizo, beet salad kissed with mole sauce and tamarind-glazed chicken drumsticks. (405 King St., Wilmington, 384-6186, www.cocinalolo.com)
The Sikoras planned a January opening for The Merchant Bar, across from La Fia. Expect drinks, sharable plates and light bites—perfect for before or after a show at World Café Live or The Grand Opera House. (426 N. Market St.)
Outside the downtown district but still in the city, De La Coeur Café et Patisserie opened in the fall in the space formerly occupied by Fresh Thymes. (Owners Alex Sianni and Gretchen Brizendine were Fresh Thymes customers.) Brizendine, a UD graduate with a degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management, has a certificate from Le Cordon Blue in baking and pastry arts. Sianni has been in the business for 15 years. The menu includes biscotti, brownies, croissants and other coffee- and tea-worthy delights, as well as crêpes, omelets, sandwiches and soups. (1836 Lovering Ave., Wilmington, 660-7178, www.delacoeurcafe.com)
Tony Matulas' Opa! Opa! adds to the richness of dining options in Trolley Square with freshly made Greek classics. / Photo by Joe del Tufo
In a Trolley Square full of diverse dining options, Opa! Opa! added to the neighborhood’s richness when it opened in June. The bright blue and white tiles conjure images of the Aegean, while the food conjures images of heaven. Gyros of freshly roasted lamb, beef or chicken are a few notches above the usual. The spanakopita and baklava are supremely flaky. The salads are as fresh as can be. There are other Greek specialties as well, all delicious. (11A Trolley Square; Wilmington, 654-4500 )
Brian Ashby's 8th & Union Kitchen bridges East and West / Photo by Luis Javy Diaz
Little Italy saw some action with the April opening of 8th & Union Kitchen in the old Union City Grille spot. Owner-chef Brian Ashby, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu, did a total redo, putting a hip 30-seat bar with reclaimed wood and a copper top in the old dining room. Ashby initially focused on items with Southeast Asian flair. He’s broadened the reach to include creative takes on the many foods that make up modern American cuisine. You might find pad Thai, tuna tartare, crab cakes, grilled flank steak, banh mi or buttermilk fried chicken. Entrées are all under $25. (The restaurant still has half-priced burger nights on Mondays, a Union City Grille tradition.) (801 N. Union St., Wilmington, 654-9780, www.8thandunion.com)
North Quarter Creole / Photo by Jim Coarse
A few blocks down, North Quarter Creole opened in late November. The restaurant is owned by Brady Harris and chef Michael Goodwin, who previously owned Just Like Mom’s outside Elsmere and CPGoodwin’s off Kirkwood Highway. The partners initially opened the Cajun/Creole-inspired restaurant in James Street Tavern but moved it to Union Street when Latin Fusion’s location became available. The space has been remodeled, with a new bar upstairs. Along with gumbo, po’ boys and red beans-and-rice, you’ll find tacos in creative combinations (blackened fish, beef brisket), and dishes to please the mainstream palate. (837 N. Union St., Wilmington, 691-7890, www.northquartercreole.com)
Over on Lincoln Street, Locale BBQ Post took up residence in the old Sugarfoot Fine Foods & Gourmet Catering location in August. The hotspot for a rack, brats and chicken—which created a social media stir when it opened—is owned by chef Dan Sheridan, Mike Gallucio and Justin Mason. They benefit from chef Christopher Baittinger’s creative culinary wizardry. (1014-1016 Lincoln St., Wilmington, 510-4949, www.localebbqpost.com)
London-based Piree’s Piri Piri in June opened its first location in the United States—and it’s in Pike Creek. (Piri piri means “pepper-pepper” in Swahili.) The 70-seat restaurant specializes in grilled chicken, which you’ll find whole, quartered and in sandwiches, wraps and salads. (Limestone Hills Park, 5335A Limestone Road, Wilmington, 442-4900, www.pirees.com)
In August, Rice—well known in Dover—opened a second location north of the Kent County border near Stanton. The restaurant offers Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine. (2030 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 999-7423, Facebook)
And for more on the Asian front, there’s Ramen Kumamoto, which opened last year on Main Street in Newark. The restaurant is managed by chef Sam Ho, who owned Zento Japanese Contemporary Cuisine and was a sous chef at Morimoto, both in Philly. Forget college ramen noodles. Here the ramen might highlight Berkshire pork and a lengthy list of other fresh ingredients. Appetizers include potato croquets with panko breadcrumbs and steamed buns with pork or chicken. (165 E. Main St., Newark, 733-0888, Facebook)
Main Street is also the new home of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, which opened last summer in the old Mojo Main location. Owners Jim O’Donoghue and Lee Mikles mix a casual menu (bacon corn dogs, burgers, mac-n-chili, chicken pot pie) with live music in a rustic, hip atmosphere. (270 E. Main St., Newark, www.grainonmain.com)
For something sweet, head to Duck Donut, located in the former home of the Post House and Melt Down Grilled Cheese. The Newark location is a franchise. The original is in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The shop specializes in cake doughnuts made to order with a choice of coatings and toppings. You’ll also find coffee and breakfast items, such as fruit and yogurt. (145 E. Main St., Newark, 266-6000, www.duckdonuts.com)
To the south, Dela-brity chef Patrick D’Amico and the newly formed RM Hospitality Group in December opened Metro Pub & Grille in Middletown, the first of several planned restaurants for D’Amico, who’s worked at Harry’s Savoy Grill in Brandywine Hundred, the Hotel du Pont and Eclipse. D’Amico’s right-hand man is Andrew Feeley, who was the executive chef at Eden in Rehoboth Beach. Metro’s menu is a mix of raw bar items, small and large plates, sandwiches and salads. Not surprising, creativity makes the difference here. Consider venison chili, the seared tuna “minute steak” sandwich, spiced bacon caramel corn and a grilled turkey tenderloin club. (17 Wood St., Middletown, 376-3876, www.metropubandgrill.com)
Howard Johnson and Donna Ignasz have been working hard to get the Inn at Duck Creek open in Smyrna, and it appears their dreams are set to come true. With the help of federal funds, the owners restored the building, a process that followers watched on Facebook. Rooted in historic Smyrna, the inn supports such local vendors as Painted Stave Distilling, Warlock and 16 Mile breweries, Harvest Ridge Winery and The Drunk’N Baker. (2 N. Main St., Smyrna, 535 5275, www.theinnatduckcreek.com)
Kevin Reading, the whiz kid who started Espuma, Nage and the Abbott’s Grill locations, which he still owns, is partnering with Mispillion River Brewery of Milford to open a Smyrna brewpub called Brickworks Brewery & Eats. The restaurant has planned a February or March opening. (Commodore Shopping Center, 203 S. DuPont Blvd., Smyrna, Facebook)
In Dover, La Hacienda opened last summer in Little Richard’s old site. The Mexican restaurant leans to the Southwest for inspiration—Texas, New Mexico and southern California, says owner Carlos Estrada. Fish tacos and chiles relleños have so far been a big hit. Beef, which is shredded, not ground, and chicken come from nearby Haass’ Family Butcher Shop. Most entrées are $10-$17. (1171 S. Bay Road, Dover, 674-1541, Facebook).
The Grey Fox Grille celebrated a grand opening in early fall in the old home of W.T. Smithers. The restaurant, which specializes in American cuisine, is owned by Diana Welsh, son Ryan Weber, who own The Golden Fleece Tavern on Loockerman Street, and friends James and Carolyn Davidson, who are military veterans. The Grey Fox, which has 16 beers on tap, serves lunch and dinner. There’s also a pub menu. (140 S. State St., Dover, 734-1234, www.greyfoxgrille.com)
Milton last fall welcomed Bacchus Wine Bar in the old First National Bank of Milton site. The extensive wine list (there are also local brews and cocktails) is complemented by a menu featuring soups, salads, tapas, cheese and charcuterie plates, flatbread pizzas, crêpes and dessert. (106 Union St., Milton, 684-4000, www.bacchuswinebarmilton.com)
Because the beach can never have too many craft brews, Crooked Hammock opened last fall near the corner of Del. 1 and Kings Highway in Lewes. The restaurant is operated by La Vida Hospitality Group, which also runs Nage and Big Chill Surf Cantina. The concept came from co-owner Rich Garrahan, who worked at Nage for seven years. Built from the ground up, the colossal space has room for a dining room, bar, brewery, screened porch and outdoor seating. There’s even a play area for kids. The concept is smartly rooted in the sand. There are beach umbrellas and kayaks hanging from the ceiling and on the walls, and tourists can buy souvenirs on the way out. Beers include the Shoobie, named for the city folks who in the late 1800s ate a shoebox lunch on the train ride to the beach. Food is fun and casual. Try the dinner-plate sized pretzel. (16989 Kings Hwy., Lewes, 644-7837, www.crookedhammock.com)
Patty’s, which has been getting raves in Georgetown, also opened a location in downtown Lewes, where Half-Full was located before moving a few blocks over. The small shop offers prepared salads, gourmet and specialty foods, olives and charcuterie, sandwiches, a breakfast menu and catering. (113 Market St., Lewes, 645-9080, www.pattysdeli.net)
Hospitality veteran Meghan Lee opened Heirloom, a 65-seat restaurant in a circa 1889 home on Savannah Road in Lewes. Lee and chef Jordan Miller, who worked in Baltimore restaurants, will feature a menu with seasonal products and local vendors. A private room will hold a 10-person table. (212 Savannah Road, Lewes, 555-1212, www.heirloomdelaware.com or Facebook)
On Del. 1, Crust & Craft opened in October in the Midway Galleria near the miniature golf course. This space has held several pizza parlors, but Crust & Craft is hitting a sweet spot. Credit owner Brenton Wallace, who cut his teeth in Philly before working at Nage’s to-go shop, Root, which is now The Pantry at Nage, and Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats. The 12-inch gourmet pizzas are divine (try the Ovo with bacon, Brussels sprouts, fontina, egg and thyme), but don’t miss the other dishes, particularly the octopus starter. (18701 Coastal Hwy, Rehoboth Beach, 313-5029)
Dogfish Head’s Chesapeake & Maine, in the old Finbar site next to Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, was on track to open in early 2016. The concept was inspired by Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione’s summers in Dogfish Head, Maine, and the brewery’s link to the Delmarva Peninsula and the Chesapeake Bay region. Along with twists on New England and Chesapeake cuisine, the restaurant will highlight Dogfish Head’s spirits, including Analog Vodka. (316 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, www.dogfish.com/eats/chesapeake-maine.htm)
In downtown Rehoboth, Beachside Bar & Grill, a collaboration between David Dietz, owner of BBC Tavern in Greenville and Jay Caputo, owner of Espuma, also in Rehoboth, opened in July. Located right on Rehoboth Avenue, the outdoor patio was a hit last summer and into the warm fall. The menu features burgers made with short rib, grilled mahi sandwiches, and entrées such as fried chicken and braised bacon meatloaf. (251 Rehoboth Ave., 864-2251, www.beachsiderehoboth.com)
In downtown Rehoboth, DiFebo’s opened a sister restaurant to the original Bethany Beach site in Adriatico’s old location. (12 N. First St., Rehoboth Beach, 226-4550, www.difebos.com) Nate Leonard, a former sous chef at Striped Bass in Philadelphia, opened 208 Social in Stoney Lonen’s location. (208 Second St., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6700, www.208Social.com), and Hari Cameron of a(MUSE.) and his brother, Orion, this past year opened grandpa(MAC), which offers pasta and carryout. (33 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 727-5509, www.grandpamac.com)
In October, the Forgotten Mile Ale House opened in the former Captain’s Table in the area between Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach. The old restaurant was iconic, and the owners—Steve and Mike Lucey, who also own Ulysses Gastropub in North Wilmington and Six Paupers Tavern & Restaurant in Hockessin—refurbished the building’s old wood paneling for use on the bar. There are 14 taps, plenty of bottled beers and a menu featuring casual food and heartier “supper plates,” including wiener schnitzel and “chicken and waffle-ish,” spice-rubbed chicken with a sweet waffle batter that’s flash fried and served with gravy and mashed potatoes. (20859 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 212-2151, www.fmahde.com)
99 Sea Level Restaurant & Raw Bar opened in July in the new Marriott Bethany Beach Ocean Suites, but the group running the show, DCDE Hospitality, are local veterans who also run The Starboard and Bethany Blues locations. With windows facing the boardwalk, the restaurant’s seafood-centric menu and Caribbean teal decor are no brainers. It’s a cut above its sister restaurants in look and pricing. Consider crab cakes for $30.99, braised lamb shanks for $35.99 and a tomahawk rib-eye for $41.99. A farm-to-table nod to local purveyors is on the menu. (99 Hollywood Road, Bethany Beach, 539-0299, www.99sealevel.com)
On the lighter side, The Jetty Deli & Coffee Shop also opened in Bethany last summer. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Items include espresso, omelets, breakfast sandwiches, salads, soups, burgers, deli-style sandwiches and subs, and soups. You might spot tacos on the blackboard specials. (97 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 616-2169, Facebook)
Speaking of coffee, Drifting Grounds opened in July on Del. 26. The shop features Homestead Coffee Roaster’s coffee beans, which are roasted in a 19th-century barn near the Delaware River in Upper Black Eddy, Pa., just north of New Hope. (786A Garfield Blvd., Bethany Beach, 829-1551, www.driftinggrounds.com)
In Millville, Steve Hagan and his partner, Kevin Frey, opened Hooked Up Ale House & Raw Bar in the former site of Sirlae’s Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse. The fourth restaurant in the partners’ Hooked group, the ale house concept takes the emphasis off seafood and ventures into nachos, chili, cheesesteak and rib-eye territory. (38069 Town Center Drive, Nos. 19-20, Millville, 539-4111, www.hookeduprawbar.com)
After purchasing Bon Appetit, a French-themed café in Talleyville, Mickey Donatello bistro-fied the ambiance and added to the menu. He plans to launch a dinner service this year, with menu items such as salmon and flank steak. If all goes well, he may add wine and other libations. (3629 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 478-4344, www.bonappetitdelaware.com)
Donatello is also the operator of Corner Bistro, across Silverside Road. Never one to rest on any laurels, Donatello gave the dining room a makeover and produced a menu heavy on locally sourced items, including chicken and beef from Rumbleway Farm in Conowingo, Md., and produce from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. (3604 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 477-1778, www.mybistro.com)
In Dover, Roma Italian Restaurant, a staple on the state capital’s dining scene, in December opened Sul Tempo Cocktail Lounge, which features small plates, infused spirits and a cocktail menu. The lounge, carved out from preexisting space, has its own entrance and it will have its own website. (3 President Drive, Dover, 678-1041, www.romadover.com)
And at the beach Joe Churchman reopened Bramble & Brine in Rehoboth. Gone are the antiques and ephemera. The space is sleeker. Happily, the menu remains fun and innovative. (315 Rehoboth Ave., 227-7702, www.brambleandbrine.com)