Savor, The Review: Jack of All Trades

But master of none, Smith & Co. in Milford tries to be all things to all people. The effort is appreciated, but the relatively new restaurant needs to find itself.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photgraphy by THom Thompson http://thomthompson.com

Smith & Co.

Restaurant and Bar
249 NE Front St., Milford
422-7750

Recommendations
New York strip, ahi tuna, broccoli rabe, gnocchi with beef tips, apple crisp

But master of none, Smith & Co. in Milford tries to be all things to all people. The effort is appreciated, but the relatively new restaurant needs to find itself.

The distribution of good restaurants in Delaware mirrors the rest of the nation's: The best spots cluster at the edges, in Rehoboth Beach and northern New Castle County. Those are like the East and West coasts, where trends flash in and out of style and culinary standards are high, as are the prices. The rest of the state is like the American heartland: The trends arrive later, if ever, and finding good food is more of a challenge.

Delaware has no large cities in its heartland, just small towns. The old ones are on its rivers. In Milford's case, it's the Mispillion, a modest enough waterway whose heyday passed with the arrival of the railroad. But it's always enjoyed some prosperity, leaving it blessed with a little history, some nice old houses and the usual struggling, small-town commercial district.

Someday the beach real estate monster will gobble up Milford the way it did Milton a little farther south. Those old homes will be bought and upgraded by rehab-happy Washingtonians looking for a quaint getaway within reasonable driving distance of the ocean. But those days aren't here yet, and, in a way, the town is less ready for big-city visitors than it was for years. The new millennium has seen the passing of a pair of restaurants that stacked up with any in the state—a problem in a location that's still too far north to capitalize on the sophisticated clientele drawn to Rehoboth Beach, too far south to profit from the rapid growth of northern Kent and southern New Castle counties.

But Milford is too big a town to go without a Saturday night restaurant, which is the situation that existed until last spring, when Smith & Co. opened.

The history of dining out in Milford isn't a long story. For many years there was Geyer's, a family restaurant that drew loyal legions for its winning way with classic country cookery. In what was once a mainly rural area, knowing how to fry chicken or whip up slippery dumplings better than the local housewives was no mean feat, and it made Geyer's the restaurant for just about any occasion.

The old favorite was joined in the '80s by the Banking House Inn, a smart, high-quality operation in a renovated 18th-century building. Despite its location in the old downtown historic district, it felt like a country inn, an impression heightened by the kitchen's skill with a limited but refined menu. In the years when the dining scene in Rehoboth Beach, just 25 miles away, had begun to draw attention and renown in Washington, the Banking House offered food that could be mentioned in the same conversation—and enjoyed on the same trip.

Then came the Library Square Café, a funkier, far less formal room with a wonderful spirit of joy and creativity in the kitchen. It occupied a decidedly more modest building down by the river and, for a little while, in what now seems Milford's Golden Age of Dining, all three coexisted.

It didn't seem a calamity when the Banking House converted to a bed-and-breakfast format and closed to the public at large. But as time wore on, Geyer's was sold to a slick city operator who declared that Delawareans were going to have to learn to eat classier food than chicken and dumplings, leading to its prompt demise. So when the owners of Library Square threw in the towel, Milford was left with nothing fancier than the fine but plebian Milford Diner.

The situation couldn't last, but the solution was as unlikely as the idea of a town the size of Milford going without a real restaurant. The main problem at Smith & Co. is that it's trying to fill the niches all its predecessors did but hasn't found its own.

At first blush, Smith & Co. seems like a strange choice for a restaurant. It sounds more like an accounting firm or a corporation serving as a CIA front. In truth, the name is simply the owner's, but "and company" doesn't exactly stimulate the appetite.

Neither does the location. In a town with so many historical resources, and plenty of opportunities to restore them, Smith & Co. instead anchors a new strip mall on the scraggly edge of downtown. Having neighbors like a billiards bar and a dollar store a few doors down doesn't do justice to what patrons find inside.

Because Smith & Co. is situated at the oblique angle, where the center's two wings form a wide-mouthed V, it fans out inside, and what you find there depends on whether you turn left, toward the high-tech bar and lounge, or right, to a more formal dining room.

The dining room is the hot ticket on Saturday night; a late reservation was accepted, but the room was overbooked. Its popularity is understandable. The room's tasteful, understated earth-tones suit its contemporary décor. Half the 100 seats are in banquettes, giving certain seats an air of privacy.

A glance at the menu (you won't see it online, because the restaurant has no website) gives the impression that Smith & Co. might be trying to project the brawny image of one of those lush, big-city steakhouses. Certainly the meat, whether filet mignon, skillet steak or aged beef, holds pride of place on the menu, and deserves it. But rather than let the steaks shine, the kitchen dresses them all in an herb-based dry rub reminiscent of Mrs. Dash.

The menu says the meat is served to temperature, and our order showed skill at pulling the fat from the fire at just the right moment. Our New York strip was served a perfect medium-rare. The meat was very good, almost tasty enough to overcome the over-aggressive herb coating. It isn't bad if you care for that sort of thing, but meat-lovers might be happier having the kitchen hold the herbs. If I were cooking I'd give something with ancho chile powder a try.

Further testament to the range man's skill was a piece of ahi tuna that was cooked exactly the way I wanted it: medium, not the rare or medium-rare most chefs opt for these days. This was perfect—the center red but warm, the fish's moistness on the verge of bursting out as soon as it hit my tongue.

The only exception to this careful cooking was the pork chop. It, too, was coated, in its case by Italian cheese, and though it was thick enough to have retained some juice, it had been cooked a little too long. This wasn't helped by a gummy sauce, supposedly based on bok choy, that added nothing.

In its aim to fill every empty restaurant niche in Milford, Smith & Co. also serves some Italian food, and it is surprisingly good. A side dish of broccoli rabe, in particular, could stand alongside anything in Wilmington, in every aspect, from freshness to garlicky kick. Another happy surprise among the Italian dishes on the lunch menu: a bowl full of impressively light, pillowy gnocchi with beef tips. Its truffle-brandy sauce wouldn't pass muster on the Riviera, but it was better than some of the alternatives.

Salads were good, especially one composed of sausage, portobello mushrooms, strips of red pepper and fresh mozzarella atop romaine lettuce. It would have been excellent if it hadn't been drenched in a balsamic vinegar dressing, which would have been quite good had it been applied with a lighter hand. The same was true of a similarly pleasing Caesar salad.

The crab cake wasn't bad, exactly, but barely reached the local standard. They were large, but not especially fresh, seasoned, but not boldly enough to mask the tired flavor of the crab. Crab bisque exhibited the same problem, this time putting scraps of seafood—and few of them—in a pasty, slightly gritty cream soup. About the best the crustacean came off was in crab-artichoke dip, and that was no better than passable. Neither of the headline ingredients exhibited much flavor.

The final sign that Smith & Co. is trying too hard came on the dessert menu: a deep-fried Snickers bar in pastry. Yes, you heard me right—a candy bar deep-fried in dough, a delicacy I previously had seen only at carnivals. I suppose I was expecting something more overtly disgusting, but this was simply a warm candy bar in what seemed to be phyllo dough, a distinct let-down. By contrast, the apple crisp was terrific, full of fruit that wasn't overly sweetened and topped with a burnished crunch.

Table service was good—after all, most of the waitresses in the area trained in good restaurants—but the hostess needs lessons in booking a dining room on a Saturday night. She took reservations as if it were Saturday night at Geyer's, but the kitchen isn't as fast. Nor does it have to be—unless someone gets the bright idea to add chicken and dumplings to the menu.

D

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820 N. French Street
2nd Floor, Carvel Building
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
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February 3 – 25 Group Show featuring still life paintings in oil by Rosemary Castiglioni; gestural animal paintings by Gay Freeborn; and plein air landscapes from Zion National Park,...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities. Undertake three Mesozoic Missions spanning 150 million years and mimic dinosaur...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Newark, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-9111
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Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities at the Delaware Museum of Natural History's newest special exhibit. Undertake...

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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Between 1917 and 1944, the Society of Independent Artists (SIA) hosted annual exhibitions for its members. Famous painters and Sunday painters were able to exhibit their work in enormous open shows...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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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
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery will host bariatric support groups on Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Medical Staff...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-536-5395
Contact Name: Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery
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Tutto Fresco has live entertainment every Friday night from 6:30–9:30 p.m. Call for details. http://tuttofrescode.com/

Where:
Tutto Fresco
514 Philadelphia Pike
Wilmington, DE  19809
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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
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JOHNNY WINTER ALL STAR BAND The Johnny Winter Band has been wowing audiences everywhere with incredible music played by Johnny's band and guest artists. Join Paul Nelson and The JW Band in a...

Cost: $20 ADV + $22 DOS + FEES

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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Now in its 8th year, the PAWS for People Conference/Annual Meeting is designed for those who love their pets, are pet enthusiasts or who want to learn more about the world of Pet Therapy. This...

Cost: $45 through 2/14; $50 after that date; $5 discount for PAWS members.

Where:
Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
1600 Rockland Road
Wilmington, DE  19803
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Sponsor: PAWS for People
Telephone: 302-351-5622
Contact Name: Clarice Ritchie
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February 3 – 25 Group Show featuring still life paintings in oil by Rosemary Castiglioni; gestural animal paintings by Gay Freeborn; and plein air landscapes from Zion National Park,...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities at the Delaware Museum of Natural History's newest special exhibit. Undertake...

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
View map »


Website »

More information

Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities. Undertake three Mesozoic Missions spanning 150 million years and mimic dinosaur...

Cost: Free with Admission

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


Telephone: 302-658-9111
Website »

More information

The Wilmington & Western Railroad's Hockessin Art Festival is a fundraising effort to benefit the railroad. Over 25 artists will be displaying and selling limited-edition...

Cost: $3 for art show admission; $5 for train fare (children under 2 are free)

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
606 Yorklyn Road
Hockessin, DE  19707
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Sponsor: Wilmington & Western Railroad
Telephone: 302-998-1930
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Are you interested in learning more about what volunteer opportunities the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation has to offer? Consider attending our Volunteer Open House at our shipyard in Wilmington, DE from...

Cost:

Where:
Kalmar Nyckel Foundation
1124 E 7th St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Between 1917 and 1944, the Society of Independent Artists (SIA) hosted annual exhibitions for its members. Famous painters and Sunday painters were able to exhibit their work in enormous open shows...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

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DCM Guests will experience, engage in, and take home different STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathmatics) activities run by Science Ambassadors from the Charter School of Wilmington...

Cost: $8.75

Where:
Delaware Children's Museum
550 Justison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-425-4890
Contact Name: Joe Valenti
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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
View map »


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

More information

Build a hydraulic-powered machine while learning about pressure, water, and power. Families work together to solve science mysteries and engineering challenges. Activities are included in regular...

Cost: Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under and Hagley Members: FREE

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery will host bariatric support groups on Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Medical Staff...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-536-5395
Contact Name: Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery
Website »

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An evening of entertainment and hope at the 2017 Wilmington Heart Ball. Each year, community members, medical professionals and corporate leaders come together to celebrate the lifesaving work of...

Cost:

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
815 Justison St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Join us for an unforgettable evening of entertainment and hope at the 2017 Wilmington Heart Ball.  Each year, community members, medical professionals and corporate leaders come together to...

Cost: $175

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
815 Justison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: American Heart Association
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We are a mixture of some of the best and hardest working musicians in the Philadelphia area specializing in a mashup concept, fusing the music of The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead....

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live- Wilmington
500 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE
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Mo Lowda & The Humble is a three piece Indie-rock group from Philadelphia, PA. The band has created a unique musical style combining various genre's ranging from garage rock to jazz fusion;...

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live- Wilmington
500 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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