Bryan Sikora’s La Fia Bakery + Bistro + Market
Bryan Sikora brings casual sophistication to Wilmington in the form of La Fia—a bistro, bakery and gourmet shop rolled into one.
La Fia Bakery + Market + Bistro
421 N. Market St. | Wilmington, 543-5574 | lafiawilmington.com
Prices: First course $11-$18, second course $17-$26, breakfast $6-$8, lunch $7-$12
Recommended dishes: La Fia Toast, braised short rib, roasted grouper, gougère
When Bryan Sikora planted his flag on the corner of Fifth and Market in downtown Wilmington—and not on Rittenhouse Square or Fishtown or West Village or Chelsea—it felt like a major upset victory for little ol’ Delaware.
Sikora, one of the Philly region’s top chefs, helped define upscale casual dining in the area for more than a decade. His talent and pedigree could’ve taken him anywhere he wanted. And he picked us. It was the culinary equivalent of Elena Delle Donne spurning UConn to join UD. The small-market franchise landing the blue-chip free agent.
Score another one for the little guys.
La Fia, Sikora’s breezy hybrid bistro/bakery/gourmet shop that opened in the summer, is a huge get for LOMA and Downtown Wilmington, one that instantly uplifts the city’s oft-derided dining scene.
Sikora’s approach to modern cuisine—rustic, soulful, but imminently approachable—earned rave reviews as he led Philly restaurants like Django and a.kitchen, and Talula’s Table in Kennett Square. His graceful, laid-back cooking style is a perfect match for his new digs. In a storefront leased from the Buccini/Pollin Group, natural light beams onto distressed tin ceilings and reclaimed wooden tables.
Like Talula’s Table, La Fia combines a small sit-down bistro with a French-inspired bakery and gourmet shop, which provide the kitchen with a potent arsenal of freshly baked goods and artisanal charcuterie with which to work.
Most important, the bake shop introduces Wilmo to the gougère, La Fia’s devastatingly addictive, light and cheesy French pastries, made from the same steam-poofed dough that gives us profiteroles. To bite into one is to inhale butter-and-cheese-scented air.
Gougères are perfection on their own. They’re even better stuffed. La Fia Market, which opens at 9 a.m. daily for breakfast, gives the city some of the finest uptown breakfast sandwiches it’s seen, perhaps ever. The Boulanger uses a gougère as a decadent pedestal for poached country eggs, buttery hollandaise and rich, salty country pâté. The Moon Shiner, flanked by a crusty, housemade English muffin, uses smoky, fat-marbled Surryano ham and cheese from Chester County’s Doe Run Farm. You’ll never look at a McMuffin the same way again.
La Fia’s lunch menu provides even more outlets for the bakery, while spinning cheeseburgers and Italian subs into très chic. A flaky-soft brioche bun housed juicy ground chuck and frizzled salumi, while a crusty seeded roll cradled pronounced provolone, salumi and sweet peppers.
The crossover spirit of La Fia gleamed strongest in La Fia Toast, an inspired collection of house-made goodies that highlighted the kitchen’s craftiness. It was impossible to choose a favorite among the trio of rich spreads—shredded duck confit, flaked wild salmon and chicken liver mousse—meant to smear across crusty bread. But I found myself skipping the bread and diving straight into the musky liver over and over again, the subtle pungency of brandy cutting through its fattiness. Crunchy, vinegary pickled summer veggies scattered across the plate, serving dutifully and deliciously as palate-fresheners.
Even without the safety net of amazing bread, lunch shined—particularly an amazingly fresh-tasting gazpacho, whose barely-there chunks of summer tomatoes got a swirl of sweetness from basil, zucchini and olive oil.
During its first few months, La Fia began rolling out dressed-down dinner services packed with the same sort of poppy freshness. Healthy handfuls of herbs added a bright punch to nearly every dish (and cocktail), and subtly turned up the dial on flavors. Take the sneaky sweetness of tarragon that enlivened a fig vinaigrette and an impossibly juicy salad of heirloom tomatoes and fried mozzarella. Or the gentle fennel fronds that joined with artichokes and green olives to spike a gorgeous hunk of oven-roasted grouper.
Sikora’s deft hands showed remarkable control when it came to stronger, more imposing flavors, too. From saffron he coaxed just the right amount of floral sweetness to cloak a meaty halibut filet in a vibrant sauce, and elsewhere gingerly balanced the briny-salty notes of asparagus, white clam sauce and ricotta gnocchi.
But he saved his best for the biggest, baddest, least-summery dish on the block: braised beef short rib. Cooked to the golden temperature where intramuscular fat had just melted into the meat, the beef stood perfectly sturdy and tender. It wasn’t glopped in sauce, and it didn’t glorp apart into mush like so many over-braised versions. Instead, a thoughtful plash of jus allowed the feather-soft beef to speak for itself, clearly and deliciously.
Even La Fia’s selection of petite desserts were executed flawlessly, from the toothsome shortbread tart that supported cool, creamy lemon curd and crème fraiche custard to the sinful, yet beautifully balanced butterscotch pudding, topped with barky toasted hazelnut crunch and espresso-Grand Marnier anglaise.
In some of the darker recesses of the Internet, Sikora is painted as a fallen star—an enigmatic or nomadic talent who couldn’t hack it in the big city.
“Chefs toil for years in cities like Philadelphia and New York with the hopes of one day making croissants in Wilmington,” snipped one Philly food blogger.
But the Sikoras, including Bryan’s wife and business partner, Andrea, and daughter Sofia (after whom La Fia is named), clearly want to be in Wilmington. And little La Fia comes along at just the right time, when other newcomers, including Pochi Chilean Wine Bar, are injecting pockets of the city with the sort of casual sophistication that’s proven so elusive.
Forget about the size of the pond or the fish inside it. All that really matters is the splash.