Delaware’s own Donny Merrill brings his passion for big flavor to Skipjack in Newark

From banging the drum with Fat Daddy Has Been to crafting fancy dishes at Krazy Kat’s in Montchanin, Merrill fine-tunes his art with every dish.



The mango-rum grilled mahi mahi is served with  mango salsa, key lime mustard and jalapeno-infused sweet potatoes.

Skipjack

401 Louviers Drive, Newark  |  456-1800 | skipjacknewark.com
Prices: Appetizers $6-$12, sandwiches $8-$12, entrées $18-$26
Recommended dishes: crab cakes, pan-seared salmon, crispy “pork and beans” pork belly

The line that separates chef from rock star gets fuzzier all the time.

Even after you bypass the mohawks, tattoos, ear gauges and countless opportunities for hammy self-promotion and z-list reality stardom—chefs and musicians share more than a few strands of DNA. Their bodies and brains grind through a rigorous creative process, after which they promptly offer themselves up for public, often mindless, consumption. Theirs are projects of passion, performance and chops. The steady stream of panicked adrenaline, the kind that only hits in front a live crowd, unites their worlds.

Donny Merrill is one of the few who travels between both[1]. For six years, the head chef steered the ever-eclectic ship at Krazy Kat’s in Montchannin, while somehow finding time to hammer the drum kit behind Delaware’s legendary party band, Fat Daddy Has Been[2]. With a penchant for big, percussive flavors, the drummer’s rock star wiles translate exceptionally well to the chaos of the kitchen.

Espresso-grilled antelope

At Krazy Kat’s, with its perma-kooky feline couture and upscale clientele, Merrill tested the limits of his imaginative, hyperactive songbook. His uptown spin on bay-area cuisine pivoted around local ingredients, even before it was de rigueur. And behind every blood orange “caviar” or key lime gelée stood a fantastic crab cake or a fresh oyster. It wasn’t hard to imagine Merrill, with his inked-up arms, trucker hat and flowing beard of rock—going Dave Grohl on some jalapeno mousse, or buzzing some frothy anchovy emulsion to smithereens. Flavors ran wild and free—even a little unhinged—and the hits followed.

Thankfully Merrill didn’t forget the rock kit when he renovated a Newark storefront to open his own restaurant late this summer. At Skipjack[3], in the sleepy Shoppes at Louviers, the chef still found ways to slide mango pickles or chipotle gouda onto someone’s plate. But Skipjack also revealed a more matured, more soulful side. Hidden beneath Merrill’s love of zany were some bracingly traditional offerings.

As the cold set in for the year, he frizzled blocks of pork belly into crispy-tender perfection, and set them atop scoops of soul-warming, smoky bacon- and caraway-baked beans. As enormous fried pork chops, bone-in and dribbling with tangy apple[4] chutney, delivered waves of nostalgia to the brain, delicious jewels of roasted beets and carrots hastened their breaks.

Stout-braised hunks of beef shortrib, smothered in gravy, radiated with the same wholesome, homestead glow, and the eternally autumnal butternut squash found a reliable home inside oversized homemade ravioli, made better as always with mascarpone, basil, and plenty of butter. Smoked pears, boozy cranberries and a molten stream of brie foreshadowed the flavors of the holidays on top of crispy flatbread, along with salty, jellylike flecks of foie gras.

Skipjack’s crab cakes There were those rare occasions where the chef seemed to trip over himself adding one last, superfluous pile of tomatillo salsa or sambal aioli to a dish that probably didn’t need it. Mango-rum mahi mahi had at least two tropical-Technicolor window dressing too many. Mango salsa, key lime mustard and a jalapeno-infused sweet potatoes ganged up and ambushed an overmatched piece of fish. And while runaway flavors and frills didn’t doom espresso-dusted slices of antelope filet, the meat’s overly chewy texture[5] just about did, with no thanks in kind to the pile of undercooked potato wedges underfoot.

Considering the owner’s amplified flair, the actual inside of Skipjack felt strangely muted and stale. Even when lively crowds packed in, the dining room’s collection of nautical marginalia—fish tanks, model boats, host-stand captain’s wheels, and mounted bass[6] trophies—served as cluttered, slightly dated distractions. A motif handled like a blunt instrument, rather than an idea. Even on a practical level, the tchotchkes overshadowed some of the house’s best features, like its pubby wood stained wainscoting and refurbished bar.

But over-exuberance for our local seafaring lore, all things considered, is never really a bad thing. And when a style of cooking is held in esteem this highly, the results can be fantastic. Take Merrill’s razor-sharp rendition of the archetypal Chesapeake crab cake. Fried gingerly, and built proudly of jumbo lump, the cake came expertly assembled with just the right dash of flavorful binder, and allowed for a button of lobster cream to enhance its richness. Elsewhere, briny oysters on the halfshell were lovely by their naked selves, or embellished with a reverent nod by smoked-tomato cocktail sauce or cava-splashed mignonette.

And while crispy lobster rangoons, and crab-and-gouda tater tots strived mightily for nouveau-meets-homespun synergy, it came through best on a blistered hunk of pan-seared organic salmon. Cooked beautify to radiant pink hues, the salmon dripped its sinful tarragon-butter patina onto a sweet-and-salty bed of corn, tomatoes and potatoes wickedly crisped in duck fat.

Surprisingly, this crew kept the duck fat and chili paste[7] away from the desserts (though I’m sure they’re working on it). Somehow that didn’t keep a brandy-moistened slice of drunken-cherry clafoutis from achieving tender greatness, or a flourless chocolate torte from fudgy nirvana. The dizzying combination of toasty English toffee, salted caramel, and mocha ganache took a few tastes to register, but the crunchy house-fried donuts holes they adorned made it time well spent.

Like any good musician, Merrill will continue fine tuning. When tastes run as eclectic as these, finding just the right balance, level and sequencing is vital.



[1] But certainly not the only one. As a teenager I identified with Emeril and Jaimie Oliver because, like me, they drummed. Tom Colicchio can play the guitar, though if his signing is any indication, his bandmates might give him the Sid Vicious treatment. And Bordain, well, his loathsome NYC self-seriousness and drug abuse he’s more analog to Lou Reed than Louis Diat any day of the week.

[2] Which, sadly, announced a hiatus in October.

[3] Named for Chesapeake Bay-dominating oyster vessels that caught some 15 million bushels in 1884.

[5] Especially for $26.  

[6] Luckily (or disappointedly, I’m not sure which), none sang. 

[7] Sambal Oelek, which we can all safely infer is a lot like sriracha, because roosters.

 

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January 2017

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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January 14, 15, 16 – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invention Convention Lights, camera, action! This year’s Invention Convention features hands-on video...

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children between 4 and 14, and free for children under 4 a

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

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Belly Dance Classes with Zahra Beginner & intermediate classes open to teens and adults Sundays in January starting Jan 8th Beginner: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Intermediate: 1 - 2 p.m (must get...

Cost: $15-$42

Where:
Take the Lead Studio
320 Lantana Drive
Hockessin , DE  19711
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Sponsor: Take the Lead
Contact Name: Zahra
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Join Rachel Binkley of Rocker Soaps + Herbals for a fun and information filled class. We will make soap, learn how to make a soap recipe and get tips and techniques to make it easier for you at...

Cost: 40

Where:
Elements of Nutrition
4710 Kirkwood Hwy
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
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Come give curling a try! At this 2-hour intro-to-curling event we'll provide a basic lesson then coach you through a mini-game.  Whether you just want to cross #curling off your bucket list or...

Cost: $35

Where:
The Pond Ice Arena
101 John Campbell Rd
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: Diamond State Curling Club
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society will present its popular What Makes Us Tick? program during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, January 13-15. This analytical film and discussion series...

Cost: $9 - $10

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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BROKEN ARROW: A NEIL YOUNG TRIBUTE Broken Arrow delivers the music of Neil Young; both the rockin' electric guitar driven favorites and the more country flavored classics with pedal steel and...

Cost: $12 ADV- $14 DOS

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
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Learn how climate change affects our world with hands-on activities that can relate to explorers of all ages. Arctic Adventure and Rainforest Explorer visitors can take on the role of an Arctic...

Cost: Adults: $9 Children (3-17): $7 Seniors (60+): $8 Under 3: FREE Members: FREE

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-9111
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When the kids have a day off but the parents don’t, let them spend the day off of school doing something really cool…having fun at DMNH! Enjoy games, crafts, activities, and even a hot dog...

Cost: $20 for Members, $25 for Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Website »

More information

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Science is for everyone! Join us for hands on crafts and activities that highlight science contributions to natural history from scientists all around the world. Learn how YOU can make a difference...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-89111
Website »

More information

January 14, 15, 16 – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invention Convention Lights, camera, action! This year’s Invention Convention features hands-on video...

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children between 4 and 14, and free for children under 4 a

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

More information

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmers Market Nov 8, 2016 - April 11, 2017  11 am- 2 pm 25 vendors Location:  East Coast Garden Center 30366 Cordrey Rd Millsboro, DE 19966 302-945-3489

Cost: frr

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: East Coast Garden Center
Telephone: 302-945-3489
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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmer's Marke 25 vendors

Cost: Free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Telephone: 302-945-3489
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A four-week series of ballroom dancing classes taught by teachers from the BlueBallroom. Tuesdays starting Jan. 10. Classes are $30 a lesson for Non-Members. Non-Member slots are limited. For...

Cost: $30

Where:
University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
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The Cinema & the Arts film series proudly presents a screening of the documentary ART BASTARD on  Tuesday, January 17, 7:00 pm, at Cinema Art Theater, 17701 Dartmouth Drive in Dartmouth Plaza,...

Cost: $9

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The Division of Public Health offers its annual free flu vaccination event in the Legislative Hall Library, ground floor, 411 Legislative Ave., Dover, DE, on January 18, 2017, from 11:00 a.m. to...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Legislative Hall Library
411 Legislative Ave.
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: Division of Public Health
Telephone: 800-282-8672
Website »

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Do you want to learn how to make soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Liquid Alchemy. I will teach you how to create your own recipe and the in-and-outs of soap...

Cost: 45

Where:
Liquid Alchemy
28 Brookside Dr.
, DE  19804
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Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
Website »

More information

Do you want to learn how to make soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Liquid Alchemy. I will teach you how to create your own recipe and the in-and-outs of soap...

Cost: 45.00

Where:
Liquid Alchemy
28 Brookside Dr.
Wilmington, DE  19804
View map »


Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

Guest speakers Patty Dailey-Lewis, executive director of the Beau Biden Foundation, and Delaware Family Court commissioner Loretta Young will discuss how participation in social media can too...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilmington University - Doberstein Admissions Ctr.
320 N DuPont Highway
New Castle, DE  19805
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Sponsor: Wilmington University College of Social & Behavioral Sciences
Telephone: 302-295-1164
Contact Name: Dr. Johanna Bishop
Website »

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Thursdays from 4:00PM-5:30PM Fall session: December 1st, 8th and 15th Winter session: Starts January 19th, every other Thursday until March 30th This program is based entirely outdoors and is...

Cost: Cost: $30 for TLC members / $40 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

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The 3rd Place and Bike Lane Cafe along with WestSide Grows and Delaware Permaculture bring you the West 7th Street Bazaar.  Happening EVERY 3rd Thursday of the month from January through May,...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
The 3rd Place
1139 W. 7th Street
Wilmington, DE  19805
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Sponsor: West Side Grows
Telephone: 302-690-9459
Contact Name: Delaware Permaculture
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January 19 – Thursday – 6:30 p.m. Research Seminar: Amyrs Williams (Wesleyan University) – Reimagining the Modern Farm The seminar is open to the public and is based on a paper that is...

Cost: $0

Where:
Copeland Room, Hagley Library
298 Buck Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400
Contact Name: Carol Lockman
Website »

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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

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HIGH & MIGHTY BRASS BAND There’s a reason that musical trailblazers from Galactic to DJ Logic have recently chosen to collaborate with High and Mighty Brass Band! and legends such as Dr. John,...

Cost: $15

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

More information

Show More...
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Formed in 1992, Splintered Sunlight quickly became the most popular Grateful Dead Tribute band in the Philadelphia area, gaining praise from Dead Heads and Non Heads alike. Since that time,...

Cost: $10

Where:
World Cafe Live At The Queen
500 N Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

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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Ah, typecasting—the baritone is always the bad guy! In Devils, Drunks & Dastardly Dudes, we’ll go on an operatic journey of men behaving badly. We’ll add a tenor to the mix, too… but we...

Cost: $29-$59

Where:
OperaDelaware Studio
4 South Poplar St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: OperaDelaware
Telephone: 302-442-7809
Contact Name: Mary Wilcosky
Website »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

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Amateur and professional creators from the Wilmington community and beyond will sketch, paint and sculpt side-by-side with DCAD students, alumni, faculty and staff as nude and costumed male...

Cost: $30 per person

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design
600 N. Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19081
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware College of Art and Design
Telephone: 302-622-8000 x 123
Contact Name: Mark Tajzler
Website »

More information

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

From foxes and beavers to cats and dogs, all mammals benefit from open space! Discover the signs of mammals in winter and learn about human impact on mammal habitat and population survival. Join...

Cost: FREE for TLC members / $10 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and the Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation are proud to present The Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast of Charles Gounod’s ROMÉO ET JULIETTE on Saturday,...

Cost: $15 - $25

Where:
Cape Henlopen High School Theater
1250 Kings Highway
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 130-264-59095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


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

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Coastal Concerts in downtown Lewes will host a presentation by one of the most recognized, honored and versatile musicians in the world, the legendary two-time Grammy Award-winning clarinetist...

Cost: $30. Ages 10-18 and one adult per youth.

Where:
Bethel United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall
Fourth & Market Streets
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Coastal Concerts, Inc.
Telephone: 888-212-6458
Contact Name: Edna Ellett
Website »

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Ovations Dinner Theatre hosts an interactive Mafia Murder Mystery dinner. Ticket includes a 3-course Italian dinner and the performance. Tickets are $45 for Non-Members and Non-Member seating is...

Cost: 45

Where:
Ballroom at University and Whist Club
805 N. Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Bethany Beach – When local businessman Tim Hill was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“ALS”) in 2014, he set on a mission to help other people who were diagnosed with...

Cost: $20 General Admission

Where:
Frankford Fire Hall
7 Main Street
Frankford, DE  19945
View map »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

AM RADIO Have you ever perked up when the radio plays a song that first hit popular stations when you were young? Do you turn the volume up to obnoxious levels and sing along? Music can bring us...

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

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