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Best of Delaware 2008

Our 25th salute to the places that make Delaware great, plus the Hall of Fame of winningest places ever. (Can you say Grotto Pizza?) As chosen by you, the readers (with a little help from your friends here at DT)



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Hall of Fame

*(Winners have received awards in at least eight of the previous 24 years.)

The Green Room

Nothing in Delaware says “classic” like The Green Room. In 1991 readers voted it the best place for a power lunch. In 1997 we hailed its Sunday brunch. By 1999 we shunned specifics, saying that The Green Room was “the perfect place for any occasion.” Without a doubt the most elegant dining room in Wilmington, it won AAA’s prestigious Four-Diamond Award for 21 straight years. Patrons dine amid carved oak paneling, gold leaf wallpaper, lofty coffered ceilings, lush drapes and chandeliers, using silver utensils and Versace china. French classics such as truffles and foie gras can still be had here, but the kitchen prepares French-inspired, lighter fare, not unlike many French restaurants in America. The Green Room introduced a new menu in May. It isn’t printed in French.
(Hotel du Pont, 11 W. Market St., Wilmington, 594-3154)

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

Delaware Today editors were smitten with Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant from the beginning. When they hit the scene in Newark in 1996, founders Kevin Finn, MarkFrom left: Iron Hill owners Kevin Davies, Kevin Finn and Mark Edelson continue to brew success. Edelson and Kevin Davies built their brewpub around flavorful, punchy, hand-crafted beers and fresh, simple food. Today the Iron Hill Empire spans seven locations and counting. Over the years, we found many ways to enjoy the place, giving it awards for best appetizers, desserts, spring rolls, prime rib, Best Brew Pub and even a Best Overall Restaurant nod in 2001. Such widespread adoration continues today as Iron Hill raises its profile across the region at various festivals and community events. They’re still doing great, fresh food served with great, fresh beer. (147 E. Main St., Newark, 266-9000; 710 S. Madison St., Wilmington, 658-8200)

Grotto Pizza

Grotto Pizza founder Dominick Pulieri wants everyone to have a piece of the pie. Photograph by Tom Nutter. www.tomnutterphotos.comNo place has come close to winning as many Best of Delaware awards as Grotto Pizza. The little shop that became synonymous with pizza at the beach has since come to be the most recognizable chain of pizzerias in Delaware. Credit the unique pies, with a blend of three cheeses made to specification in Wisconsin and sauces made in California. Credit the branding, the recognizable font and chef’s hat. Some degree of success came from simply being in the right place at the right time—Rehoboth Beach in 1960, when there were no other pizza places around. But ask founder Dominick Pulieri what makes Grotto special, and he’ll tell you it’s his company’s presence in the community and respect for customers. Grotto is a Delaware tradition, he says, because the people who enter his restaurants are treated as the most important part of the operation. That stays true during every technology boom and expansion project, like the one he’s working on now in Dover and Kent County. (1200 Pulaski Hwy., Bear, 836-1455; 793 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 537-3278; Logan Street, Bethany Beach, 537-6600; 1603 Highway One, Dewey Beach, 227-3407; 1200 Highway One, Lewes, 645-4900; Long Neck Road, Millsboro, 945-6000; 280 College Square, Newark, 369-2200; 45 E. Main St., Newark, 369-0600; 15 Boardwalk, Rehoboth Beach, 227-4580; 4565 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 645-5880; 36 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3278; 17 Surf Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3601; 699 N. Dual Highway, Seaford, 628-2800; 2311 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 888-2222; 1819 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, 777-3278)

The Back Burner Restaurant

Tucked away at Hockessin Corner, The Back Burner Restaurant was for years an almost-hidden gem, a cozy place with an elegantly countryish ambiance and a classyBack Burner is famous for tasty dishes such as pan-seared jumbo sea scallops served with mango couscous. Photograph by Thom Thompson, www.thomthompson.com  American menu that treated steak and seafood precisely, a place that somehow remained casual despite its upscale potential and its huge expansion in 2000. We, along with everyone else, love the creamy pumpkin mushroom soup. And we rejoiced when the restaurant opened a takeout so we could enjoy that soup whenever we wished. In 1995 we wrote, “The Back Burner is creatively and consistently good”—and that was almost 15 years after it opened. Consistent? You betcha. (425 Hockessin Corner, Hockessin, 239-2314)

Dogfish Head

Owner Sam Calagione, second from left, prefers the personal touch at Dogfish Head.Who would’ve guessed that after Dogfish Head’s humble beginnings in 1995, when it was the smallest commercial brewery in America, that the operation would earn a dizzying number of awards and become a nationally recognized beer superpower? In 2007 American Homebrewers Association magazine ranked Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA the No. 1 beer in America. This year its Midas Touch Golden Elixir earned a bronze medal in the Brewers Association’s 2008 World Beer Cup. By the looks of things, the worldwide hops shortage hasn’t slowed owner Sam Calagione as much as it has his competitors. (320 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2739)

Wright & Simon

Wright & Simon has helped men in and around Wilmington look good since 1935. The fine men’s clothier has always carried top brands while providing unparalleled service. Tailoring and alterations are handled on the premises by a team of master tailors, fitters, pressers and alterationWright & Simon has been a Wilmington fixture since 1935. experts. The people at Wright & Simon preach proper fit as the key to appearance, customer comfort and satisfaction. And when it comes to fitting, the team is as experienced and knowledgeable as you’ll find. The head tailor, the office manager and a handful of others have worked for the company for 40 years or longer. Dominick Pullella, who joined Wright & Simon in 1961, still handles tailoring duties, but also fits and sells. Company president Leonard Simon says the secret to Wright & Simon’s success is that it knows the customer, knows its niche and provides quality products and services. He believes good businesses are established over time. “My dad worked for many, many years to get this business off the ground,” says Simon. “I’m fortunate to have walked in and try to carry on the tradition.” (911 N. Market St., Wilmington, 658-7345.

Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities

Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities is a Little Italy landmark.We’ve been bowing to Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities since it opened in 1988. Others have noticed, too. This year Zagat named the Little Italy icon one of America’s top 1,000 Italian restaurants. “Chef Luigi Vitrone could teach your Italian grandmother a lesson or two,” a Zagat rep wrote. Vitrone makes the gravy, cracks eggs to make pasta, reduces stocks from scratch and creates desserts in house—and he does it all with aplomb. That goes for the imaginative atmosphere at Pastabilities, as well. Only a true foodie would think up a semolina and plum color scheme to match semolina and red wine pastas or choose black tabletops to copy black squid ink pasta. Pastabilities’ wine list covers France, Italy, California, Australia and Chile, and Vitrone has sampled each one. Ask his recommendation. Last year Vitrone’s Belgian beer dinner went over so well that he introduced a German beer dinner in May to great success. The man never stops. (415 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington, 656-9822)

Big Fish Grill

In 1997 Eric Sugrue opened Big Fish Grill with his brother Norman. In 11 years, his business amassed an astounding 33 Best ofThe Big Fish Grill has hooked many customers over the past 11 years. Photograph by Kevin Fleming, www.kevinfleming.com Delaware awards. The key to such overwhelming popularity, he says, is the balance of casualness and quality, high-end ingredients and fair prices. Just look at the waiting line outside the place on any summer evening. Big Fish isn’t quite fine dining, he says, but popular dishes like the crusted halibut speak to the restaurant’s commitment to simple, fresh, local dishes. The casual ambiance and great service are high points, too. Kids go nuts for the hundreds of stuffed trophy fish (all caught in local waters) that decorate the dining rooms. Sugrue says his simple approach to dining has changed very little over the years: Customers leave with a full belly and their wallets intact. (4117 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 227-9007)

Toscana Kitchen + Bar

Toscana has created quite a following with dishes like ravioli Melanzane: eggplant-filled pasta, swiss chard, tomatoes and mushrooms. Photograph by Thom Thompson, www.thomthompson.comToscana Kitchen + Bar started as Griglia Toscana in 1991, riding a wave of new interest in upscale Italian fare—think sautéed Swiss chard and wild mushrooms in dreamy homemade ravioli—as well as a new effort to elevate Trolley Square, and it remained a trendsetter for many years—due in no small part to a staff that actually knew about food and wine. But when Toscana appeared to be headed toward special-occasion-only status, owner Dan Butler remade the place, creating a hip night spot, as well as more approachable dining. Soft mauves and minimalist decor gave way to bold color and contemporary design, and part of the dining room was made into what quickly became a wildly popular lounge. Then there’s the food. The capellini with tomato, basil and roasted garlic—a constant presence since Day One—is masterfully simplistic. The braised lamb shank is savory. Butler offers 20 great wines at $20 each on Sundays. Many places come and go well before 17 years, but with a couple smart makeovers, Toscana has remained at the fore of local fine dining. (1420 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 655-8600)

Krazy Kat’s

Discerning readers and critics have chosen Krazy Kat’s for many awards over the years—its decadent crème brûléeKrazy Kat’s remains as popular as ever. Photograph by John Lewis being just one. In 2001 it won Best Romantic Restaurant, and in 2005 readers voted it Best Power Breakfast and Best Place To Take Out-of-Town Guests. The accolades go on and on, and industry awards—a Mobil 4-Star Award seven years in a row and an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator—are too numerous to mention. (Del. 100 and Kirk Road, Montchanin, 888-4200)

The Crownery

A Crownery creation: sliced beef sautéed with fresh pineapple, green and red peppers, water chestnuts, and snow peas, all topped with a brown sauce. Photograph by Thom Thompson, www.thomthompson.com Readers and critics have long known that The Crownery is one of Delaware’s best restaurants. Chinese Restaurant News concurred, naming The Crownery one of the top 100 Chinese restaurants in the nation. The distinctiveness comes from the chefs, who trained in Hong Kong and inland China, and present an interesting amalgam of Cantonese, Szechwan and Hunan styles of cooking. Customers dubbed the striking carved crimson and golden arch that separates dining areas the Moon Gate, and the structure is certainly aesthetically pleasing. But what sets The Crownery apart, year after year, is the cuisine. (228 Lantana Drive, Hockessin, 239-3825)

Michael Christopher Salon and Day Spa

When it comes to the cutting edge, Michael Christopher Salon and Day Spa is the granddaddy. Having grown up in his mother’s old salon in Kennett Square, Michael Christopher Hemphill came by his talent honestly, and he put it to use immediately. He and his stylists started winning big in major New York City hair shows as soonMichael Christopher Hemphill keeps his salon and day spa cool and classy. as he opened his first salon on Delaware Avenue in the mid-1970s. Since then, most of the salon owners in and around Wilmington have started at Michael Christopher, and chances are a gaggle of stylists are hovering around him right now, hoping his genius will rub off on them. Hemphill orchestrated a major salon redo for his 30th anniversary in 2006, when he transformed everything from the lobby to the gourmet coffee bar to the 20 work stations. The salon features a shampoo chamber, color theater and stylist area. Its luxurious Christine and Monika Day Spa offers body treatments, skin care and waxing. The spa is revered for its permanent makeup applications and eyelash extensions. You may pay a little more at Michael Christopher, but for good reason: Hemphill has won the industry’s prestigious America’s Cup and the World Supreme competitions. (2006 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, 658-0842)

La Tolteca-La Tonalteca

Whether it’s called La Tolteca or La Tonalteca, you can bet the folks there know how to prepare authentic Mexican fare—and margaritas.Riding a wave of immigration in the early 1990s, La Tolteca became the restaurant that mainstreamed Mexican fare in Delaware. The local chain has flourished even as new Mexican restaurants have opened. We still can’t resist its homestyle burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, tamales or chilaquiles. But all things change. Most of the La Toltecas have been renamed La Tonalteca, though the restaurants are still owned by the Cedillo family. Whatever the name, the food, atmosphere and margaritas continue to please. (La Tolteca: 2209 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 778-4646; 4015 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-9477; La Tonalteca: 60 N. College Ave., Newark, 737-8220; 1724 W. Newport Pike, Stanton, 636-9484; 528 S. Bay Road, Dover, 734-4575; 245 S. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 735-1572; 1000 Midway Drive, Harrington, 398-7644; 4578 Highway One, Rehoboth, 644-3994.

Charcoal Pit

Charcoal Pit defines nostalgia. Little has changed since the original Pit opened on Concord Pike in 1956. The restaurant’s retro architecture and trademark neon sign still cause it to stand out along the heavily traveled corridor. AtRoberta Boyle—better known as Bert—has worked at The Pit since it opened in 1956. Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli, www.luigic.com the Pit, you can crank up the mini jukebox at your booth or hang at the counter and watch workers mix shakes the old-school way. Customers continue to flip for the Pit’s juicy charbroiled, quarter-pound and half-pound burgers and thick milkshakes (especially the black-and-white), which are served in the same frosty metal container in which they were made. And the kids still dig the “famous ice cream creations” named after local high school teams (don’t fret—it’s cool for a Green Knight to order a Highlander), as well as the famous Kitchen Sink. There have been a few tweaks through the years, such as the addition of chicken fingers, haddock and chicken salad to the lineup. And the prices don’t nearly resemble those from the original menu: 35-cent hamburgers, 50-cent shakes and $1.10 cheesesteaks. But you’ll likely recognize cashier Roberta Boyle, who has worked at the Pit for 51 years. Another link to the past, as Boyle will regret to inform you: The Pit does not accept credit cards. (2600 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-2165; 741 Greenbank Road, Wilmington, 998-8853; 5200 Pike Creek Blvd., Wilmington, 999-7483; Fox Run Shopping Center, U.S. 40, Bear, 834-8000)

Washington Street Ale House

Needless to say, beer selection is important at Washington Street Ale HouseWhen Washington Street Ale House opened in 1997, it was the only restaurant open after 5 p.m. in its neighborhood. So owner Darius Mansoory built relationships with nearby hotels, businesses and locals, and the idea soon spread that there was life after 5 in Wilmington. The business—and the menu—has grown. The Ale House recently expanded its draft beer system, making it the largest in Delaware. Burgers and nachos remain, but chef Sean McNeice now creates classy comfort food such as lobster macaroni and cheese and perogies filled with foie gras. Mansoory has a solid relationship with Dogfish Head Brewery, which means he’s privy to special brews other establishments might not get. For the past three years, the Ale House has undergone renovation while keeping its neighborhood feel. It remains a work in progress. “When you sit back and say, ‘Hey, we’re done,’ that’s the day you should get out of the business,” Mansoory says. “Every day we fight to be the best. It sounds cliché, but we still beam with pride when we get a compliment.” (1206 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 658-2537)

Harry’s Savoy Grill

A Hall of Fame induction comes at an appropriate time for Harry’s Savoy Grill. This year marks Harry’s 20th anniversary, and in that time, the restaurant has experiencedJust one of the reasons we love Harry’s Savoy Grill: the buttermilk-battered soft shell crab. Photograph by Thom Thompson, www.thomthompson.com expansions, renovations and facelifts, all while staying true to its original vision. Executive chef David Leo Banks still thinks of Harry’s as the little neighborhood joint. And though the huge ballroom and outdoor dining rooms may belie that a tad, its cozy approach to fine dining and its close ties to the community ring true. Favorites like prime rib and lobster remain big sellers, but the menu now includes raw dishes like sashimi and oysters to stay in step with more adventurous dining trends. Customers expressed an increased interest in wine, so an eye-catching wine room now greets diners as they enter. Its stature allows Harry’s to be creative and bold, all the while giving loyal customers exactly what they want. (2020 Naamans Road, Wilmington, 475-3000)

Arena’s Deli

The little alleyway known as Penny Lane, which houses Arena’s Deli, bridges dozens of spots to eat and drink on Rehoboth and Baltimore avenues, yet Arena’s has remained a favorite for more than 20 years. For starters, it’s one of the few places that feels like a neighborhood place. There are great nachos and wings, sandwiches such as California Club Dude (turkey, avocado, Monterey Jack cheese, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, and mayonnaise on whole wheat bread) and The Hungry Surfer (turkey, roast beef, corned beef and Swiss cheese piled onto a kaiser roll with cole slaw, lettuce, and Thousand Island dressing), live music and a rotating menu of microbrews. (Where else can you throw back a bottle of Smuttynose Brown Dog?) (149 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-1272)

Bayard House

In a 200-year-old house with tons of built-in charm, how much improvement is needed? Plenty. The restaurant, on the south bank of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, has been remade under general manager Natalie Gentry, who has tweaked the menu and the vibe to please casual diners. Longtime customers will still enjoy tournedos Baltimore, the amazing crab cakes and Maryland crab soup. But new blood craves the panko-chicken and seafood imperial. It’s not exactly a swimsuits-and-flip-flops place, but it’s still a place to relax, enjoy a great meal and, as always, enjoy an awesome view. (11 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City, Md., 410-885-5040)

Big Sky Bread Co.

Big Sky Bread Co.’s success can always be traced to one simple thing: freshness. Customers go to great lengths for the bread, which is baked from organic ingredients. At lunchtime, customers turn out in great numbers for the eight types of European breads and 10 types of sandwich breads. Owner Pat O’Neil says customers of his bakeshop and sandwich place still appreciate the slow-roasted roast beef—as new clients, especially those in the corporate catering realm, will soon discover. (1812 Marsh Road, Wilmington, 475-9494)

Brew Ha Ha!

The big selling point at Brew Ha Ha! is, naturally, coffee. It’s brewed from estate-grown, specialty-grade beans from small, artisan roasters. But there’s more. The cool, laid-back atmosphere attracts college kids and professionals alike. The baristas, trained extensively, will actually get your order right. And Brew Ha Ha! offers a menu full of tasty sandwiches. The result is the sort of gathering place that founder Alisa Morkides experienced in Tuscany. (3842 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 658-6336; 2610 Capitol Trail, Newark, 366-8074; 45 E. Main St., Newark, 369-2600; 3636 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-7227; 1420 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 778-2656; 5329 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 234-9600; 1812 Marsh Road, Wilmington, 529-1125; 835 Market St., Wilmington, 777-4499; 1007 Market St., Wilmington, 656-1171; 3503 Silverside Road, Suite 102, Wilmington, 472-2001)

Buckley’s Tavern

Over the years, critics and readers have cited Buckley’s Tavern for its beer selection, healthy fare, Sunday brunch, al fresco dining and the Best Place to Meet Rich Men. The historic Greenville building has gone through several incarnations since 1817 (candy store, taproom, etc.), but it’s remained a great place to eat, drink, see and be seen. To this day, chef-owner Dave Weir calls 30 customers each month as a sort of quality control. Customers love the old-school charm. They love to drink and mingle. They love menu staples such as exotic mushroom soup and goat-cheese bruschetta. Whether they dine in the main room, the lounge, on the front porch or the roof-top deck, the same folks who met a spouse at Buckley’s now take their kids for chicken fingers. (5812 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 656-9776)

Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop

Did you know there are Capriotti’s Sandwich Shops in Las Vegas? Arizona? Florida? It may seem strange that such a local household name is spreading across the land, but who can blame them for sharing the love? Capriotti’s, the invention of Little Italy’s Lois Margolet, opened in 1976, roasting whole fresh turkeys overnight for succulent subs. That simple concept separated Capriotti’s from the pack of sub shops, and soon the company was expanding, rolling out the all-time customer favorite, the Bobbie, and adding new classics such as the Capistrami. Demand continues to grow—there are 48 shops nationwide and counting—and Capriotti’s has kept to the same winning formula. Have we mentioned the size? A large sandwich will feed three. (430 Eden Square, Bear, 832-8132; 130 Gateway South Blvd., Dover, 698-3090; 321 Independence Blvd., Dover, 678-2808; 300 Lantana Drive, Hockessin, 234-2322; 1604 Savannah Road, Lewes, 644-8998; 708 Long Neck Road, Millsboro, 945-4040; 708 W. Basin Road, New Castle, 322-6797; 614 Newark Shopping Center, Newark, 454-0200; 456 Glenwood Ave., Smyrna, 659-1388; 2076 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 998-0096; 2122 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 479-9818; 510 Union St., Wilmington, 571-8929)

Casapulla’s

Luigi Casapulla, the Italian immigrant who opened the first Casapulla’s in Elsmere in 1956, would be pleased that his descendents remain disciples of his family-first business philosophy. The steak and sub business has expanded to seven locations, but each shop adheres to the same credo: make the best sandwiches and keep it affordable. The Casapulla style of sandwich making relies on fresh, quality ingredients. But the key to a worthy Italian sub is its construction. Employees quickly learn the order: Start with a fresh roll, add oil, then salami, then lettuce, tomato and onion, then pickles and peppers, then salt, pepper and oregano, then provolone, then capicola and pepper ham, all topped with paper-thin slices of prosciutto. Ingredients don’t come from a one-stop shop service. They are purchased primarily from local companies such as B&M Meat in Wilmington. Joe Casapulla, who owns shops in Newark and Middletown, takes pride in preserving the reputation. “My grandfather worked hard at building the name,” he says. “We want to keep it that way.” (1216 Old Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 234-7827; 106 Sandhill Drive, Middletown, 376-8500; 1216 Capitol Trail Road, Newark, 737-2200; 750 Peoples Plaza, Newark, 834-7400; 19931 Lighthouse Plaza Blvd., No. 1, Rehoboth Beach, 227-7827; 514 Casapulla Ave., Wilmington, 994-5934; 2707 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-0221)

Deep Blue Bar and Grill

Deep Blue Bar and Grill is more exciting than ever. “When we opened 10 years ago, we were contemporary,” says owner Dan Butler. “We’re current now, but it’s a different vibe.” Deep Blue caters to business travelers and locals who are accustomed to big city restaurants—which is exactly what Deep Blue has become. Chef de cuisine Julio Lazzarini has brought Latin sensibilities to the fare, though entrées are predominately seafood, and a tapas menu reflects changing tastes. Butler helped create Wilmington After Work, a happy hour program on Wednesdays, after seeing the synergy between restaurant owners during Wilmington’s annual restaurant week. The bar is hot at happy hour, and it’s one of the few places downtown where you can enjoy live music in the evenings. (111 W. 11th St., Wilmington, 777-2040)

DiFebo’s

From its beginnings as a sub shop in a tiny beach cottage, DiFebo’s evolved until, in 1998, readers named it the best restaurant in all of Sussex County. By then, DiFebo’s had gone big, building the beautiful room full of vibrant Mediterranean colors. In 2004 critics praised the antipasto, an artful blend of Diluso salami, imported Italian ham, prosciutto, cheese, house-roasted peppers, veggies and excellent vinaigrette dressing. The walls display local art, and there are always fresh flowers on every table. At heart, DiFebo’s has always been a family place. Husband-wife kitchen duo Jeff and Lisa Osias trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and their skills are especially apparent in such entrées as sautéed garlic shrimp with Parmesan grits and the pumpkin ravioli with rosemary-roasted chicken. (789 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 539-4914)

Dilworthtown Inn

In 1996, we chose the Dilworthtown Inn as “the perfect place for your special occasion” mostly because we were obsessed with its salmon, escargot Florentine and lobster entrées. We’ve always heralded the inn for its food, in fact. Perhaps our happy bellies—or random samplings of its 800 wine choices—so overwhelmed us that we neglected to mention the roaring fireplaces, the candlelit atmosphere or that the building, circa 1780, is steeped in history. Of course, the menu is wonderful, but the inn pays big attention to the smallest details. And for that, we applaud proprietors Jim Barnes and Bob Rafetto. (1390 Old Wilmington Pike, West Chester, Pa., 610-399-1390)

Feby’s Fishery

In 1991 readers gave the grilled salmon at Feby’s Fishery top honors. In 1995 critics hailed the seafood icon for its “wide variety of finfish.” We simply can’t limit our choices now, since Feby’s prepares all seafood well. The original Elsmere restaurant founded in 1974 moved to its current location in 1984, then underwent a full-scale renovation in 2002. But the family-style service that founders Philip and Mary DiFebo insisted on at the start has never changed. All Feby’s seafood used to come from the Jersey shore. Today it’s shipped from as far as New Zealand, guaranteeing customers wider selections more often. The crab cakes and little neck clams are still superb. (3701 Lancaster Pike, Wilmington, 998-9496)

Govatos Chocolate

Govatos Chocolates was established in 1894 by Greek immigrant John Govatos, who had scrimped and saved to bring his brothers to America. Good family karma, and some awesome chocolate recipes, elevated Govatos into rarified air. Today Nicholas Govatos manages the retail candy operations while Richard Govatos Jr. heads chocolate factory production. Their dedication to quality make Govatos a classic. We wrote in 1990, “Make sure to check out the gourmet truffles in flavors from champagne to raspberry.” Oh yeah, do be sure to check those out. (4105 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-5324; 800 Market St., Wilmington, 652-5252)

Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal House and Saloon

In 1985, just two years after Kid Shelleen’s was established, Delaware Today declared its potato skins “as stylish as the yuppie clientele.” In 1992 readers were hip to Kid’s, identifying it as “the place to be seen,” which it still is. Business folk mingle with artists, retirees with 20-somethings, and pols with average Joes, yet Kid’s is still a neighborhood place. The kitchen is open till 1 a.m., live bands play Wednesdays and Fridays, and deejays pump the crowds Thursdays and Saturdays. Kid’s is the undisputed singles capital on Thursday nights. And few places do Sunday brunch or lettuce wraps better. Thanks to its location on a largely residential street, dining on the deck is a fairly mellow affair—except when the train rolls by. (14th and Scott streets, Wilmington, 658-4600)

King’s Homemade Ice Cream

King’s Homemade Ice Cream will never change, which is precisely the reason we love it. In 1985 we wrote that King’s was the place “where the regal ice cream has been made by Earl King and his son Tom since 1972.” Earl passed in 2000, but Tom and his wife, Chris, still scoop the same 16 flavors they did in the 1970s, and it’s still made at the original King’s in Milton. Now comes the third generation. Chris and Tom’s daughters, Rudy and Chelsea, are managers and will eventually take over the business. Chris says Earl would be proud of the business because it’s still old school, which is the way they—and we—like it. (201 Second St., Lewes, 645-9425; 302 Union St., Milton, 684-8900)

Pan Tai Restaurant, Bar & Lounge

Approaching its 25th year, Pan Tai remains the granddaddy of Asian cuisine in Wilmington. James Olivere opened the stylish restaurant just a block from Cantina, his trailblazing Mexican place, in 1984. Pan Tai is famous for its emphasis on fresh ingredients and for its heat scale that allows diners to regulate the spiciness of their meal. Pad Thai has been a perennial hit, along with seafood specials and, of course, Jimmy’s Fried Rice. Another feature that customers expect: a visit from their host. The personable Olivere has traveled the world—especially covering Asia—so he loves to compare notes with others and share his passion for Southeastern Asian cuisine. Considering that most of Pan Tai’s clientele are sophisticated, well-traveled corporate types, Olivere enjoys working the room. “It’s impressive when the host has been to your hometown,” Olivere says. “It’s all about people.” (837 N. Union St., Wilmington, 652-6633)

Pizza by Elizabeths

The Elizabeths—owners Betsy LeRoy and Betty Snyder—were ahead of their time when they opened their gourmet Pizza by Elizabeths shop among Greenville’s upper crust in 1993. They’ve grown by creatively expanding the menu while keeping the spotlight on the gourmet pies. Along the way, Elizabeths added to its list of eight pre-set pizzas. It now offers 15, plus a create-your-own opportunity. Breadsticks and dips, once the lone appetizer, are joined by such favorites as artichoke and crab dip. Elizabeths features more than a dozen different salads and a choice of 60 toppings that make the create-your-own combinations endless. Elizabeths remains health conscious, offering salads with organic field greens, a low-fat honey wheat crust and a gluten-free crust. Five years ago, the restaurant added liquor to its wine and beer selection. If you’ll recall, the Elizabeths were the first to suggest pairing vintage wines with specific pizzas. Homemade desserts have been the rule since Day One. Regulars almost staged a mutiny when the trademark toffee—LeRoy’s mom’s recipe—wasn’t available for a short time. Later this year, Elizabeths will undergo perhaps its biggest change: a move to a larger space nearby. Look for more pleasant surprises, especially in the decor. And the wait for a table shouldn’t be as long—not that the wait hasn’t always been worth it. (4019 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 654-4487)

Ronny’s Garden World

Forgive the botanical pun, but Ronny’s Garden World is a perennial Best of Delaware winner for good reason. After 38 years in the same location, Ronny’s dedication to customer service and steady prices has kept it a favorite among green thumbs around the state. Co-owner Donna Staley (Ronny’s daughter) grew up around the vast garden center and says little has changed in the approach. Fresh products year round, great prices and special attention you can’t get from the big-box home improvement stores are what make Ronny’s great. The store offers free landscape design to homeowners, free gardening seminars all day, delivery services and a yearly expo that sees gardeners turn out en masse. The store buys fresh plants in large volume to keep prices down and that keeps customers coming back for more. (5580 Dupont Pkwy., Smyrna, 653-6288)

The Rusty Rudder

Since time began in Dewey Beach, there was The Bottle & Cork. As a bar, it served only drinks. Then there was The Starboard, which, at one time, was as popular a restaurant as it was a place to drink. Then, in the mid-1970s, came Jay Prettyman and The Rusty Rudder, and Dewey Beach suddenly had a seven-day-a-week place to eat well and drink well. It was an instant hit, and a real shot to developers. The expansive, sunset-facing deck on Rehoboth Bay drew locals and visitors for frozen drinks, decent food and once-legendary mile-high chocolate pie. The ownership may have changed a few years ago, but all else has remained much the same over the past 30 years. Everywhere you turn at The Rudder, there’s a bar. The drafts are cold. The martinis are good. And the stage pounds with live music on Thursday and Saturday nights from bands like Love Seed Mama Jump, Kristen & The Noise, and Burnt Sienna. The food, from the salad bar to the seafood buffet to the prime rib, is good, too. New Year’s Eve celebrations here remain one of the biggest parties in the state. (113 Dickinson St., Dewey Beach, 227-3888)

Stanley’s Tavern
Stanley’s Tavern has been around since 1935, when North Wilmington had yet to become the bustling suburb it is now. Back then Stanley’s was a friendly neighborhood taproom. As the place has grown, the menu has evolved. Though still at its best with burgers, wings and beer, it also includes delicious items such as sesame Ahi tuna and calamari pescatore. At the heart of Stanley’s success is how amazingly it excels as the go-to neighborhood spot. It’s still an awesome place to watch a game with buddies (like former Philadelphia Eagle Bill Bergey) or to take the kids for burgers and shakes. In 1996 we wrote, “With 120 different kinds of bottled beer and 13 kinds of drafts, Stanley’s Tavern is the ultimate neighborhood pub. Wings specials, a great menu and TVs galore make it the place to be.” We’re still there. (2038 Foulk Road, Wilmington 475-1887)

Utage Japanese Restaurant
Utage introduced sushi—a near seismic event—to Delaware when it opened in 1986, so we’ve praised the restaurant for that and other authentic Japanese cuisine ever since. The sushi rolls are first-class presentations. The Aurora roll is an eye-catching combo of salmon, shrimp, steamed asparagus, seaweed, dry tuna flakes, and marinated daikon. Utage gets points for its family friendly service—many a youngster was introduced to Japanese food here—and we’re betting the little monkeys went ape over Utage’s banana tempura. Utage, which means, “banquet of celebration,” is perfectly named. The Oka family has always insisted upon great service. There are flashier imitators, certainly, but Utage is the model. (1601 Concord Pike, Suite 57-61, Wilmington, 652-1230)

Victoria’s Restaurant
Victoria’s Restaurant became a classic the moment it opened in the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel in the summer of 1991. Since then it has offered people an elegantly Victorian (of course), quiet dining room that overlooks the beach and boardwalk. The traditional afternoon tea is superb, a welcome respite from the hot sun and cheese fries. Dining on the boardwalk patio in warmer months is always lively. Victoria’s menu changes seasonally, but if the pan-seared rockfish and shrimp is on the menu, you’re in luck. In fact, the entire bill of fare has been revamped to be more local and—dare we say it?—a little more daring. The lasagna of grilled asparagus, wild mushrooms, goat cheese ricotta and Parmesan is layered with delicious homemade noodles. And it’s not exactly an Eastern Shore specialty, but the lobster roll says “seaside” just the same. (2 Olive Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-0615)

Walt’s Flavor Crisp Chicken/Walt’s Chicken Express
Long before Walt’s Express, there was Walt’s Flavor Crisp. There was even a Miz Walt’s at one time. Despite the many avatars, the fried chicken has remained the same. As we’ve said nearly every year in recent memory, that plump, juicy chicken is the best in Delaware. Every year we attempt to score the recipe, and every year, owner Larry Fletcher, who was given the green light to fry up the mysterious recipe originally devised by Walt’s founder Harry Sheppard, politely declines. But there’s more to it than great chicken. There are delicious greens and green beans, desserts such as rice pudding and apple crisp, and simple, delicious macaroni and cheese. (103 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington, 429-2587)

Walter’s Steakhouse
Walter’s Steakhouse is one of the only places honored as the best restaurant for beef 10 years in a row. And no wonder. Owner John Walter Constantinou was born to it, having cut his teeth in the family’s legendary Constantinou’s House of Beef, an icon on Delaware Avenue from the 1940s through the early ’90s, before opening a classic of his own. The family’s premise remains intact: Serve the finest steaks and seafood dishes, then wow diners with top-shelf spirits. Walter’s is known for delectable certified Angus beef and prime rib—which is unfortunate for the crab cakes, which are outstanding. On Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays sample delicious shrimp, clams Casino, mussels, crab claws, oysters and caviar from the complimentary raw bar. One little secret: The crabcakes are among the best we’ve ever tasted. (802 N. Union St, Wilmington, 652-6780)

 

 

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