Buckley’s Tavern Opens in Centreville, Delaware

Chef Tom Hannum brings a taste of the Green Room to Centreville’s legendary gathering spot.



Chef Tom Hannum delivers the scallops.

Buckley’s Tavern
5812 Kennett Pike, Wilmington
656-9776, buckleystavern.com

Prices
Small plates/snacks $5-$12, sandwiches $10.95-$16.95, large plates $18.95-$27.95

Recommended Dishes
Foie gras, Buckley’s Burger, mahi-mahi, Thai noodle soup

 

 

As restaurant cult followings go, the horde of regulars who hang their hats at Buckley’s Tavern in Centreville have to be counted among the most dedicated.

How else to explain the pajama-clad congregation that assembled on a cold Sunday in January for the last in what had become a regularly occurring, almost-religious experience? Buckley’s legendary half-priced brunch (provided you showed up in your jammies, of course) was just one of many lovingly held traditions that went on pause for nearly 11 months while the chateau country landmark experienced a change in operators, as well as a much-needed refurbishing.

And for a while there, things were looking mighty anxious for the bar’s many followers. After a targeted August start date came and passed, Buckley’s devotees were forced to the sidelines to wait out a rain-soaked visit from Superstorm Sandy, which pushed the opening back a few days more.

Thai noodle soupFinally, one day before Halloween, owners Bob Applegate and Bob Bolling rang in the Buckley’s is Back era with new partners Vance Kershner, Coley du Pont, and coaxed-out-of-retirement Tom Hannum, who takes over executive chef duties. The group posed together to hang the original pineapple-emblazoned sign, and passed out black-and-white “BIB” bumper stickers for all the pick-up trucks and Rolls-Royces that famously share the parking lot.

Then, the onslaught. In its opening weeks, Buckley’s welcomed back its fans en masse, with a crush of well-to-do customers piling into the revamped copper-top bar, and waiting 90 minutes in the refurbished entrance for a table.

Luckily, for regulars and neophytes alike, Buckley’s Tavern is better than it’s ever been.

A supposedly unspeakable amount of money went into remodeling the building, which dates back to the early 19th century, including updates in the kitchen, electrical systems and infrastructure. And to perform such an overhaul without impeding on the warmth and the sense of home that Buckley’s has cultivated over the past century is an extraordinary trick.

foie gras

The U-shaped bar anchors the front room, along with stately high-top tables and shimmering wood floors. The family friendly Centreville Room resembles a farmstead patio, replete with brick floors, green wooden slat walls, flannel window treatments, and slowly churning belt-driven ceiling fans. In the central dining room, burgundy walls, black banquette booths and woodsy chandeliers create an aura of an exclusive hinterland retreat. 

But what makes New Buckley’s really sparkle is the food. Chef Hannum spent 16 years running the kitchen at the Hotel du Pont’s Green Room, a place that’s intrinsically defined by its impeccably high standards. Hannum’s experience, matched with his cosmically attuned French technique, lead to succulent, perfectly cooked proteins, hard-fought, protracted flavors, and a propensity for wonderful sauces.

It’s an M.O. perfectly suited to an upscale taphouse like Buckley’s, where Hannum can easily slide ripples of tempered elegance into approachable country dining. Longtime Buckley’s operator Dave Weir always spoke of the restaurant’s diverseness—the barons of chateau country rubbing elbows with the blue-collar crowd on any given night

Buckley’s Burger

It’s a notion not lost on Hannum, who seamlessly weaved high-brow swagger into Buckley’s more traditional pub grub. Consider the minty schmear of gremolata that topped meltingly tender lamb shank. The herb mixture underscored the slow-cooked lamb’s inherent pungency and sliced through the meat’s fat-laced heaviness. Or the pork and veal “white” meatloaf that filled two pieces of toast with tender, pliable bites, and a smoky slather of spice-smacked barbecue sauce.

With high-caliber ingredients to match the swanky new interior, even the workmanlike Buckley’s Burger sparkled like a showpiece. Sturdy English cheddar and crispy applewood-smoked bacon seemed like mere sidekicks to the juicy hunk of ground sirloin that dripped its robust beefy manna onto buttery country bread.

And yes, Thai noodle soup, the longtime Buckley’s fave, is back to warming up chilled winter bones, only in Hannum’s hands, it was recast in a curry-laced broth swarming with spice and tender chunks of white chicken while tender soba noodles sopped it all in.

There were occasions where Hannum and his team cut loose from the pub-grub grid and unleashed works of modern, comfort-dining spectacle, and the results were usually dazzling. Foie gras and waffles might sound like a rejected pajama brunch idea, but the pairing of luscious Hudson Valley foie gras—its outer membrane frizzled to a salty crisp—and a sweet potato waffle segment proved impeccable. The liver’s melty center oozed out from within itself and unfurled like lava, mixing with a brandy-spiked maple syrup and smashed pistachio crumbles to compose a rich, salty addictive elixir that coated every crunchy waffle nook.

The bar area is as popular as ever. Meanwhile toothsome white beans, braised and bubbled in a rich, salty pork belly demiglace, underpinned a hulking mahi mahi filet, delicately seasoned and perfectly cooked. The sauce, deeply developed (and pure French) busted with rosemary and thyme while a crispy slaw of green apple and radicchio provided contrasts in texture and temperature.

The formula didn’t always work. Atop a crispy flatbread appetizer, chunks of duck confit clashed amid the clatter of acerbic mole negro, a cumin-and-pepper-laced sauce. It also arrived sans avocado, cilantro and lime, as the menu advertised, and the dish missed out on the balance those ingredients would have provided.

But any meager misstep was forgiven  by dessert, when pumpkin-flavored whoopie pies, apple tarts and almond-studded layer cakes arrived fluffy, rich and piled high with layers of whipped mousses, creams and ganaches.

Even among the chaotic crush of the reopen, the Buckley’s staff kept its collective cool, and service ran in a timely and efficient manner. It was doubly impressive considering how often a staffer was stopped, mid-stride, by the familiar face of a returning Buckley’s regular. Warm smiles were had. Hugs were shared.

Invariably, the reunions followed a similar pattern: “It looks great in here!” “Even the bathrooms!” “I can still wear my pajamas on Sunday, right?”

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February 2016

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Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
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1200 N DuPont Highway
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More information

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View map »


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Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $0-14

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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View map »


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Cost: Free

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The Station Gallery
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Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Feb. 12–14 and 19–21. The show will feature highly interactive...

Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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