An Inside Look at The Underground Kitchen's Inaugural Dinner in Wilmington

The upscale traveling food series recently made its Delaware debut at Great Oaks Charter School.


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The Underground Kitchen's inaugural Wilmington dinner was at Great Oaks Charter School./Photography by Meg Ryan

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Walking into the Underground Kitchen’s inaugural dinner in Wilmington felt like entering a 1920s speakeasy.

The location was hidden from guests until 48 hours prior to the event. (Great Oaks Charter School if you were curious). The menu, still a secret until we were seated. I told the man watching the front door I was here for the event and he gave me the directions through the building.

An elevator ride and a few right turns later, I was inside a gorgeous open air space with floor to ceiling windows and hardwood flooring. The school, which was previously a Bank of America building, currently used this space as a gymnasium for the Lower School. But tonight, it made for the perfect dining venue, especially with the wall-to-wall view of the city as the sun set. 

The Underground Kitchen Wilmington Wine Pairings

Each course is served with a wine pairing.

The Underground Kitchen is an experiential dinner series that travels to cities throughout the Mid-Atlantic. The one-night-only event—which took place in Wilmington on Aug. 10—features up-and-coming chefs and creative, multi-course dinners with wine pairings.

Wilmington was one of 32 stops on “The New Americana” tour. The tour challenges chefs “to represent themselves and their stories in the plates that they present. A journey through the America of individual experiences and expression, creating the New Americana,” according to the website.

The evening begins with a cocktail half hour where CEO and Founder Micheal Sparks welcomed guests with a libation that was bright and fruity with a touch of moonshine. What a way to start an evening that was set to include five courses with wine pairings.

the underground kitchen wilmington Great Oaks Charter School

The event's first appearance in Delaware took place Aug. 10.

The guests began to mingle as some came as pairs or groups and others attended solo. It was a mixed group of men and women, each with their own role in the Wilmington area.

As guests were seated at the long dining room table artfully decorated in beautiful flower arrangements, everyone got to know each other a little more with formal introductions.

The dinner moved like a naturally flowing conversation with dishes coming out at a perfect pace, each complemented with their own wine pairing from Bordeaux, France. Chef Danielle Harris of Washington, D.C. created a five course menu that reflected her joining in the food industry.

Amuse bouche

First course, North End Dumplings

The amuse bouche was a light puff pastry crostini with an ancho aioli, smoked chicken, buffalo mozzarella, dehydrated tomato, pickled red onion and dressed with fried basil. After the first bite, I was immediately reminded of the chicken fontina panini at Panera Bread which inspired the dish.

The ancho aioli added the right amount of kick and it set the bar for the next five courses.

The courses continued, each plated in their own way showcasing Harris’ journey with food.

Second course, Flipside Linguine 

Third course, Little Goat Tempura

The dishes kept coming, including the duck breast dish which expertly showcases Harris’ growth as a chef with a mixing of sweet and savory, perfectly cooked duck and a fried rice patty to soak up all the flavors. Next, we were served North End Dumplings. The crispy dumpling outside contrasted the soft potato inside. Topped with caramelized onion, kobe beef crumble, Fuji apple dashi and horseradish sour cream, the dish made a simple meat and potato dumpling complex with flavor.

We finished with the bread pudding which I have yet to get out of my head. The dessert was sweet but not too sweet. Dense but not too dense. Rich but not too rich. It encapsulated everything I’d want in a bread pudding paired with blackberry jam and lemon ricotta. If I had been a bit bolder and hadn’t been so full, I would have asked for one to take home. 

Fourth course, UGK Fusion Duck

Fifth course, DMH & Co. Bread Pudding

Either way, Sparks must have known what I was thinking because he sent guests home with mini cinnamon rolls and coffee beans to grind the next morning.

But, Underground Kitchen is about more than the food. The event brings people together who wouldn’t normally break bread together and are able to have meaningful conversation without creating walls.

At the end of the meal, we saw we’re more alike than different. Agreeing on how great the food and wine was was just a bonus.


Attend the next Underground Kitchen in Wilmington:

UGK: Cast Iron & Comfort, Oct. 26 in Wilmington. Tickets and more information available here.

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