Living up to the Hype-and Then Some

Amici's brings big-city dining to southern Chester County and becomes one of the best new restaurants in years.



Amici's Fine Dining & Spirits
1213 New London Road Landenberg, Pa.
(610) 255-5777

Prices Entrées $16 to $30;
appetizers and salads $6 to $14;
desserts $4 to $8

Recommended dishes Lobster ravioli with
tomato confit and basil-almond pesto,
sautéed mussels, Spanish crab cakes with
avocado salsa and cilantro-lime créme fraiche, 
prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin with
saffron-walnut risotto, herb-crusted lamb
chops with peppercorn-mint gastrique.

                                          




Herb-crusted lamb chops with roasted fennel
and orange salad, purple fingerling potatoes
and peppercorn-mint gastrique.
Photographs by Thom Thompson

www.thomthompson.com

 

Living Up to the Hype-and Then Some
Amici's brings big-city dining to southern Chester County and becomes one of the best new restaurants in years.

The word of mouth about Amici's can't help but sound over-inflated. "At last, Newark has a first-class restaurant!" seems to be the most common fruit on the grapevine that's been growing since the restaurant opened, very quietly, in May. And though the buzz is accurate, as far as it goes, it fails to convey the sheer improbability of the best new restaurant I've eaten at this year.

And when I say "new restaurant," I mean it in every sense of the word. When 2007 started, Amici's was nothing but a notion. An old roadhouse that, thanks to Pennsylvania's antiquated system of rationing liquor licenses, was worth far more than its modesty would suggest, occupied the site. If you had told people that, by the end of the summer, a classy, top-flight restaurant would spring up on the spot, they would have hooted in derision.

Amici's, which bills its food and ambiance as Mediterranean, is the brainchild of four local entrepreneurs-five counting executive chef Myk Aviles, formerly of the Iron Hill brew pub-who wanted to bring what they call a "Philadelphia-style" restaurant to southern Chester County. What they mean by that is a restaurant that's not afraid of charging the necessary prices to bring the highest-quality dining experience to an area where culinary ambition is in short supply.

The results are impressive. Almost any superlative you can heap on Amici's winds up sounding like faint praise. The best new restaurant in Newark? Not exactly accurate, since it's just over the state line on Route 896 in Landenburg, Pennnsylvania, at least according to the post office. And "best" isn't exactly a high bar to clear in a town where Mexican restaurants, apparently having proven too adventuresome and expensive for the masses, have given way to pizza parlors. The best restaurants in Newark's corporate limits are casual places like Iron Hill Restaurant and Brewery and Caffé Gelato, along with upscale ethnic spots like Saigon Vietnam.


The bar.
Photographs by Thom Thompson
www.thomthompson.com

Amici's is in a higher category, one where non-vegetarian entrées run into the high $20s, a heady experience for an area saturated in college-town frugality. Which makes it all the more amazing that Newark natives are raving about the place.

The high quality at Amici's runs quite literally from the ground up. Foodies expect restaurants to cook everything from scratch, but accept all sorts of compromises when it comes to the physical space they occupy. The only restaurants built from the foundation up are the chain eateries that pop up wherever developers have paved over an acre or two for a center of big-box superstores. New restaurants otherwise tend to open mainly in historic buildings or nondescript strip malls.

Amici's shows what they're missing. The first things you notice upon walking in are the high ceilings, dramatic sightlines and big windows with verdant views-exactly the things that compromise the ambiance of so many shopping-center restaurants. The understated decor mixes various earth tones into a backdrop that seems classy but not stuffy. That makes it a perfect match for the food.

My meal sampled dishes from the summer menu put together by Aviles and chef de cuisine Aaron Bukowski. But unlike many summer menus, theirs contained plenty of hearty dishes that, with a little tinkering, might just as easily satisfy in the dead of winter.


Executive sous chef Aaron Bukowski (left) and
executive chef Myk Aviles.
Photographs by Thom Thompson
www.thomthompson.com

The herb-crusted lamb chops, for instance, came with a sprightly orange and fennel salad, a combination of anise and citrus that might be too light for cold weather. But the mint-peppercorn reduction sauce that brought out the meat's deep flavor would stand up to brawnier side dishes, too.

And I can't think of any season the kitchen shouldn't stand by its roasted pork tenderloin. The meat, wrapped in prosciutto and folded around a mix of sun-dried tomatoes and portobello mushrooms, epitomized the kitchen's grace at blending complementary elements into a satisfying whole that transcends its constituent parts. As if that weren't enough, the meat was served with a subtle but substantial saffron-walnut risotto that played a spectacular supporting role, but could easily have starred on its own.

Skewers of scallops and shrimp proved that the kitchen has an equally adept touch with both the lighter flavors of seafood and potentially overpowering spices. Though the mollusks and crustaceans were billed as having been rubbed with chili, the result tasted more like a soft caress than a rough rubdown. A stronger dose of hot pepper could have overwhelmed both the shellfish and the crushed tomatoes and caramelized onions that supported it. This dish had just enough to tie the elements together.

Other entrées included grilled salmon with a creamy polenta and a linguine carbonara that added chicken, roasted red peppers, grape tomatoes, and fresh basil to the usual dish of peas and pork (in this case pancetta) and a garlicky cream sauce. Beef was represented by filet mignon and New York strip steak, both certified Angus, but neither seemed worth ordering when the kitchen worked such magic with more demanding meats.

If entrées showcased the kitchen's ability to compose a complex yet balanced plate of meat, vegetable and starch, starters gave it a chance to show off a bit.


A server with Spanish crab cakes.
Photographs by Thom Thompson
www.thomthompson.com

The most eye-catching appetizer was a hand-made lobster ravioli. That's right: a single ravioli, albeit the size of a saucer, stuffed with succulent lobster meat and dressed with a confit of Roma tomatoes and a pesto made with basil and almonds.

Another interesting selection was citrus-flavored grilled chicken, which was shredded and served with a stack of Boston lettuce leaves, julienned carrots, toasted walnuts and blue cheese. Diners can assemble the ingredients into wraps, or consume them like a salad with a Port-pear vinaigrette.

The more traditional appetizers were just as good. Crab cakes were billed as 'spanish,' mainly because the meat was studded with bits of bell pepper. The pepper made a tasty counterpoint to the crab cake's accompaniments: an avocado-heavy salsa and créme fraiche flavored with cilantro and lime. The serving was generous enough to serve as a light dinner.

So was a salad of seared duck breast over mesclun greens and Belgian endive dressed with sherry vinaigrette. A contrast in texture was supplied by toasted pine nuts, fried garlic chips and small, crispy rounds of pancetta.

Other salads included a classic Italian platter of fresh mozzarella, and sliced tomatoes and basil, which was raised above the usual by the sweet-sour bite of reduced balsamic vinegar.

The simplest, yet perhaps the best, appetizer we tried was a bowl of mussels sautéed in herbs, white wine and citrus zest. It's not a complicated dish; you can find it in virtually any Italian eatery and most seafood restaurants. But you'll rarely find it prepared so well. The mussels were clean, the poaching liquid balanced beautifully.

After that feast, desserts were almost out of the questions. Almost. Next time I'll go lighter on the meal so I can find out if the other desserts-mostly cakes and ice cream-match the delicious coconut-pecan torte with duce de leche Bavarian cream. (Think caramel and you'll be close.)

Unlike so many other ambitious Pennsylvania restaurants these days, Amici's actually has a liquor license, and it uses it to good effect with both a stylish, convivial bar and a thoughtfully assembled wine list (the latter always a challenge in the Keystone State, where the state's monopoly on wine and liquor puts restaurateurs at a distinct disadvantage. Amici's manages to keep the prices reasonable, despite the high wholesale prices Pennsylvania charges.

The list consists of several dozen bottles, enough to provide some variety in both price and style without overwhelming. One nice feature for those who feel uncertain about ordering wine to match their meals: Each entrée includes not just one but two suggested wines, one between $25 and $35, another in the price-is-no-object range. Among the former, I found listed an inexpensive Chilean Carmenere by Casilla del Diablo, the Latin American branch of Spanish mega-producer Concho y Tora. The rough-hewn, muscular red, one of my everyday reds for the past several months, was listed at $21, not a bad price in a Pennsylvania restaurant for a wine that retails for just under $10 in Delaware.

The one area where Amici's is not yet top-drawer is service. Not that it's bad by any means. Our waiter was friendly, easy to find and obviously familiar with the menu. He was not as well versed on the wines, however, and though that might not register as a significant flaw for those who recognize the wineries on the list, it's a drawback for anyone considering the pricier offerings.

Still, that amounts to one B+ in a report card full of As. Like the students who fill nearby Newark, most of its restaurants would be thrilled to earn grades like that.

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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:...

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Hagley Museum
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Take the Lead Studio
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Elements of Nutrition
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Wilmington, DE  19808
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Cost: $9 - $10

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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
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4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-9111
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Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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

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Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 130-265-89111
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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
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Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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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
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Cost: $2

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Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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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

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East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Cost: $9

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Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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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

Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: A2Z Promotions
Telephone: 302-983-2636
Contact Name: Bob Harper
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Cost: FREE

Where:
Legislative Hall Library
411 Legislative Ave.
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: Division of Public Health
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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
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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: 45.00

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


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

More information

Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: A2Z Promotions
Telephone: 302-983-2636
Contact Name: Bob Harper
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Cost: Cost: $30 for TLC members / $40 for non-members

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Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
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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
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Contact Name: Dr. Johanna Bishop
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Cost: Free Admission

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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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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
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Cost: $15 - $30

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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
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Cost: $15

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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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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

Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
View map »


Sponsor: A2Z Promotions
Telephone: 302-983-2636
Contact Name: Bob Harper
Website »

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Tutto Fresco
514 Philadelphia Pike
Wilmington, DE  19809
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World Cafe Live At The Queen
500 N Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Cost: $15 - $30

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


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
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Cost: $29-$59

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OperaDelaware Studio
4 South Poplar St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: OperaDelaware
Telephone: 302-442-7809
Contact Name: Mary Wilcosky
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Cost: 0.00

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Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Cost: $30 per person

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design
600 N. Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19081
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Sponsor: Delaware College of Art and Design
Telephone: 302-622-8000 x 123
Contact Name: Mark Tajzler
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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

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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

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Cost: $2

Where:
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400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
View map »


Sponsor: A2Z Promotions
Telephone: 302-983-2636
Contact Name: Bob Harper
Website »

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Executive Banquet & Conference Center
205 Executive Drive
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Cost: $15 - $25

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1250 Kings Highway
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 130-264-59095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Cost: $18-$20

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

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