A Hard-Won and Well-Deserved Success
Matt Haley—white-haired, goateed and bear-shouldered—is preparing stuffed peppers. One is tempted to think a professional chef would have a far more elaborate kitchen at home, but his is surprisingly spare, equipped with nice appliances, but only the basics—including an overworked coffeemaker. The peppers, however, are anything but basic. They rest in a casserole dish on the counter, all bright yellow and orange and red and striking to look at, awaiting a sauce of pumpkin and squash that Haley is taking great pains at this moment to roast perfectly before puréeing. This is the Haley approach to cooking. His food is simple but surprising, familiar yet unique. It is the food you grew up on tweaked to suit your now-more-sophisticated palate—a tuna casserole of seared ahi with homemade noodles and exotic mushrooms, a salad of shaved brussels sprouts with white truffle oil and curls of good Romano. It is food that, in only a few short years, has made his group of restaurants, starting with Bluecoast Seafood Grill in Bethany, the most successful in the state. Haley’s companies, SoDel Concepts and Highwater Management, now employ 700 to 800 people during the summers and generate about $50 million in revenue. Haley and his partner, Scott Kammerer, are currently developing restaurants for ownership groups in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, though they are committed to doing business locally. In a word, business is good. Life is good. But it wasn’t always this way for Haley. Read his amazing story here.
Hooray for Beer
Speaking of Matt Haley, the first beer dinner of the season at his Matt’s Fish Camp in Bethany happens tonight, Nov. 27 with Tröegs Brewery of Harrisburg, Pa. Co-founder John Trogner himself will be on hand to explain how each of the beers—among the most popular in the world of craft brews—is made. Reception: pretzel biscuits with pimento cheese spread served with Tröegs Perpetual IPA. Course three: charred venison tenderloin with blue cheese, Seckel pear and smoked black plum butter paired with Tröegs Mad Elf Holiday Ale (an Insider favorite). In between and at the end, you’ll just have to see for yourself. 539-2267, sodelconcepts.com
Another Party for a Cause
Here’s a different kind of New Year’s Eve celebration: New Year’s for a New Life. At BBC Tavern and Grill in Greenville on Dec. 31, help support the fight against human trafficking. A portion of the $125 ticket will help Keri Kondracki fight human trafficking in all forms around the world. Doors open at 9 p.m. BBC will offer a buffet of heavy hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, deejay dancing, door prizes and a raffle. Don’t forget the champagne toast, of course, or your resolution to help make the world a little better. 655-3785, bbctavernandgrill.com
Subscriptions to Health
Those who appreciate fresh produce and want to be part of community supported agriculture sometimes need look no further than their favorite natural-organic market or restaurant. For several years, Eric Aber, owner of Home Grown Café in Newark, had been buying food from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. When the co-op wanted to expand a couple years ago, Aber volunteered Home Grown as a drop spot. CSA works like this: For a subscription fee, you get a share of whatever the farm’s produce is that week. Lancaster Farm Fresh, a consortium of farms, works that way, too. In addition to Homegrown, it also delivers to Fresh Thymes restaurant in Wilmington and Harvest Market in Hockessin. Sign up now for spring—subscriptions are limited. (lancasterfarmfresh.com) A few other places to check out are Community Organics in Greenwood, Fifer Orchards in Wyoming (pick up in Milford, Dewey Beach and Smyrna), Kranz Hill Farm in Newark, Woodland Harvest Farm in Seaford and H.G. Haskell’s SIW Vegetables in Chadds Ford, Pa. Here’s to your health—and some tasty eating.
The Chef Series Season Finale will take place at World Cafe Live at the Queen in Wilmington on Dec. 5. The event will feature all 10 chefs from the 2012 campaign hosted by Premier Wine & Spirits monthly at its Limestone Road location and 10 tapas-style courses paired with select wines and craft beers, all to benefit the Light Up The Queen Foundation. Participating restaurants will include Pizza By Elizabeths, Two Stones Pub, Stone Balloon Winehouse, Redfire Grill & Steakhouse, Chelsea Tavern, Ole Tapas Lounge & Restaurant, Bella Vista Trattoria, Orillas Tapas and World Café Live. “There will likely be an additional chef or two, with a few surprise guests packed in between courses,” says Mike Whitwell, general manager of Premier Wine & Spirits. “We’ve had such a great experience with this campaign and all of the participating chefs. This is a great venue to celebrate great tasting and creative foods, wines and beers around the holiday season while bringing everyone together for a good cause.” Splashing Pearls will perform live. Be there. 996-9463, premierwinespirits.com or 994-1400, worldcafelive.com
Pie in the Sky
National Pie Day is coming, and Linvilla Orchards in Media, Pa., is here to help. Jan. 23-27 the popular farm and market will sell more than 40 kinds of pie, including several varieties of good ol’ all-American apple pie and a few cream pies as well. In the past they were called pyes and were stuffed with meat, according to our friend Patrick Rizzuto of Breslow Partners. The Pilgrims cooked them to preserve the filling through winter. Now we eat pies with fillings from pecan or pumpkin to blueberry, as we have been doing ravenously since in the 1800s. Linvilla, famous for its offerings, has been baking them for 40 years. For National Pie Day, it will give away a free pumpkin pie with the purchase of any other pie. We say yum. Mark your calendar now. 610-876-7116, linvilla.com
We Love Italian
Italian food is arguably the most universally loved cuisine—at least in the United States. “It’s the history, the passion, the flavors,” says Luigi Vitrone, of Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities. “People love fresh herbs and garlic and olive oil, wonderful wines, exceptional cheeses. Should I go on?” In Italy, the line has blurred between casual and fancy. In Delaware, there’s still a difference. Trattorias, warm and casual family-run operations, are ubiquitous in Wilmington’s Little Italy and beyond. More formal restaurants operate statewide. Many serve a combination of Northern and Southern Italian dishes. We love it all. Why? Because our Italian restaurants are places where families serve families. Owners cook for you like they cook at home. It boils down to warmth, authenticity and flavor—things chain restaurants can’t duplicate. Here are some of our favorites.
1007 Orange St., Wilmington. 658-7050 • A framed photograph of the glorious Sophia Loren greets diners the moment they enter Café Mezzanotte. That’s important. Not only does chef and owner Sergio Pellegrino adore the Italian goddess, his restaurant epitomizes her sophisticated yet approachable style. From the beige wallpaper patterned with fleur de lis to the velvety green upholstered chairs to the iced-glass sconces, the restaurant is casually chic, like Sophia. Café Mezzanotte is a great choice for seafood.
Café Napoli Restaurant & Pizzeria
4391 Kirkwood Hwy., Wilmington, 999-7553 • Locals may come to Café Napoli for pizza and beer, but they usually end up ordering wine and excellent baked ziti, which is loaded with ricotta and mozzarella and baked with spicy marinara. Here’s another spot where eggplant Parmigiana is the real deal, though one top seller is tortellini alla boscaiola (ham and mushroom in a pink cream sauce). Napoli’s real surprise is the scungilli salad: a tangy blend of conch, fresh lemon, garlic and olive oil. Ask for extra garlic.
3612 Miller Road, Wilmington, 762-5818 • Don’t overlook this little trattoria in the Home Depot strip mall on an unremarkable section of Miller Road. Michel Colondria, Brian Aglim and Rose Conte. The spruced-up café now attracts lots of locals. It’ll be difficult to pass up the hot, buttery garlic rolls, but save room for our top pick: Palermo’s zuppa di pesci, which is packed with fresh seafood and can be prepared with marinara sauce or garlic white wine sauce. We prefer the latter, made with Franzia wine, fresh basil and visible chunks of garlic. If there were a customer service trophy, Café Palermo would nab it.
4737 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-8288 • Owner Michael Tumolo calls the family restaurant “a glorified pizzeria.” Sorry, Mr. Tumolo, but Riviera is much more. So let’s get one thing out of the way. Yes, Café Riviera operates inside Concord Mall, but it is not a mall-type food operation, nor is it a chain. Riviera’s house Italian dressing is the best we’ve tasted anywhere. The fettuccini Sofia Loren (scallops, prosciutto and peas in Aurora sauce) is second to none. Italian sausage and broccoli rabe is like Grandmom’s. Pasta and ravioli are homemade. Pizza toppings, like prosciutto and sirloin steak, are inventive. And the restaurant caters throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And the fact that Macy’s is under the same roof doesn’t hurt.
504 Greenhill Ave., Wilmington, 656-0955 • From the rust-colored walls and crisp white tablecloths to the GoodFellas poster, Café Scalessa’s starts at lovers lane then goes clubbing. Scalessa’s, in fact, is one of the few places to pop the question early, then rock out with your future mate later. In the late hours, televisions air Italian-themed movies on mute, sports play at the bar, and music pounds, followed by a light show and dancing. And there’s food, too. The café turns out great pasta, sausage and chicken dishes.
Capers & Lemons
301 Little Falls Drive, Wilmington, 256-0524 • This five-year-old restaurant was a hit the moment it opened. The contemporary décor makes a perfect setting for modern Italian food. That means a wide selection of antipasti—braised fennel, good salumi—great seafood and dishes made with homemade noodles. Did we mention the excellent wine list? The attached market offers imported Italian foods.
789 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 539-4550 • With its sunny yellow walls, hardwood floors, chic sconces and contemporary window treatments, DiFebo’s Restaurant manages classy and homey at the same time. We go to DiFebo’s for the chilled antipasto alone. A family owned place, families are celebrated here. Husband-wife kitchen duo Jeff and Lisa Osias trained at the famed Culinary Institute of America.
La Casa Pasta
130 Four Seasons Shopping Center, Newark, 738-9935 • For the eyes, there is classically neutral Italian decor with marble floors, stone statues and crème linen tablecloths. For the ears, there is Pavarotti singing in the background. But what really gets you is the smell of bread baking and garlic sautéing. Chef and owner Giuseppe Martuscelli hails from Santa Maria Di Castellabate near Salerno, Italy, and specializes in northern and southern dishes. He uses many fresh herbs and ingredients imported from Italy, and the pasta is homemade. The signature dish is paccheri alla Giuseppe, which combines rigatoni, monkfish, shrimp and cannellini beans in marinara.
Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities
415 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington, 656-9822 • Old World collides with eclectically cosmopolitan at Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities. In the front open kitchen, Vitrone is probably cracking 30 eggs for his homemade pasta, but walk two steps to find a color scheme of semolina and plum to match the semolina and red wine pastas. Jet-black tabletops copy black squid pasta. But Vitrone’s food is the real art form. All stocks, pasta, sausages and desserts are homemade. Wines from France, Italy, California, Australia and Chile abound. Vitrone has sampled each one and will happily advise. A revamped menu means all your family favorites are served at family prices.
Madeline’s Italian Restaurant
531 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 656-4505 • When a patron went into labor during dinner, she named her baby Madeline. That’s what we call a family place. The portrait above the fireplace is of Madeline Sparco, the matriarch who founded the eponymous red-gravy restaurant 46 years ago. Other than freshly painted white walls, it’s still the place to go for stuffed shells, veal spezzato, hearty pasta fagioli soup, rich five-layer lasagna, crusty rolls from South Philly and—surprise—an exceedingly creamy lobster bisque. Bring a crowd: Madeline’s is the only spot in Little Italy with a parking lot.
Mancini’s Brick Oven Pizzeria & Restaurant
907 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 537-4224 • Mancini’s is a contradiction in terms. The exposed brick walls, Formica booths and flowery window treatments say trattoria. The food says elegant restaurant. Chef-owner Gabriel Mancini still uses some of his grandparents’ recipes. But he’s polished additional northern, coastal and southern fare with his own tricks. Try Mancini’s unique crabmeat bruschetta to start. Main dishes such as veal scaloppini or capellini con pollo and carciofi (angel hair pasta with chicken breast and artichoke hearts) are good bets, too. Mancini’s family friendly staff patiently tends to toddlers.
Mazzella’s Italian Restaurant
729 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington, 762-8722 • Mazzella’s Italian Restaurant is a neighborhood hangout that screams pizza joint but cooks homemade meals. The taproom-type spot is as welcoming to little chefs celebrating their third birthdays as it is to bowling leagues yucking it up over pizza and beer. Chicken cacciatore, as well as sausage, peppers and onions are first rate. If you crave mouth-watering, garlicky broccoli rabe, this is your place.
Mrs. Robino’s Family Style Italian Food
520 N. Union St., Wilmington, 652-9223 • Mrs. Robino’s defines classic. Other than a little re-sanding, the dark panels built by Frank Robino Sr. in 1940 still hang at Mrs. Robino’s. Not much has changed since Tresilla Robino simmered her traditional red sauce for neighbors, not even the recipe. Chefs make 60 gallons of sauce at a time, five days a week. For homemade pasta, look no further. The same pizza roller great granddad Robino bought for a few bucks in the 1940s creates the unusually textured noodles. Call that a good investment. This old contraption produces the best spaghetti and ravioli in town. Mrs. R’s still uses a variation of placements with classic cocktails printed on them (though we wonder if anyone has ever ordered a pink squirrel).
1412 N. DuPont St., Wilmington, 654-8001 • Toscana Kitchen and Bar may be 23 years old, but because it’s a hip bar as well as a fine eatery, it remains one of the most contemporary restaurants in Trolley Square. “The bar scene during the late nights is unique because it appeals to a sophisticated crowd that is entirely congruous to regular dining patrons,” says chef-owner Dan Butler. Hand-rolled pastas and desserts are excellent and the wines are well chosen. We’re sure the capellini with tomato and roasted garlic has never left the menu, despite its many iterations.
1900 Lancaster Ave., Wilmington, 428-0909 • A cross between your parents’ first rec room and the parish dining hall, Ristorante Attilio is the ultimate neighborhood hangout. It’s a place where kids celebrate their First Holy Communions and locals bemoan the Eagles. The dark-paneled trattoria offers the best Italian wedding soup in Little Italy. Ditto for the pepper and egg sandwiches. The slightly tart, thick and garlicky red gravy is best when it smothers lightly breaded, juicy chicken for Parmigiana. All pasta is made on the premises. If you’re called “hon,” you’re family.
Ristorante Mona Lisa
607 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington, 888-2201 • Ristorante Mona Lisa is one of Little Italy’s upscale offerings. A portrait of the painted lady hovers over a dining area graced with Roman columns, Pellegrino water bottles, white tablecloths and a black marble bar. Italian background music and exceptional service are pluses—as is valet parking. Owner and chef Nancy Campitielo hails from Salerno, and specializes in veal, risotto and polenta. (Try the ricotta and mozzarella version.) Northern and Southern cuisine is prepared well, but the lemony pollo picante and spicy shrimp marinara top our list. Share the profiterole, a cream puff with sweet filling and chocolate. The coffee is the best we’ve had in Little Italy.
3 President Drive, Dover, 678-1045 • Whether the meal is served at Roma or a relative’s table on Sunday afternoon, the experience is the same: a celebration of family, friends and food in a rustic setting. Chef Joseph Garramone Jr. learned to cook from his pop, owner and founder Giuseppe Garramone. Locals go there, essentially, for the tomato sauce. Joey won’t spill the recipe, but he slow-roasts the veggies, then simmers the gravy for a minimum of 15 hours. Roma is the place for saltimboca alla Roma: veal topped with prosciutto, sautéed spinach and tons of melted mozzarella. Much to our delight, the popular pan-seared ahi tuna is finally a menu item.
696 Unionville Road, Kennett Square, Pa., (610) 444-5600 • We love the fresh fare at Sovana, where the flavors of artichoke, black olive and arugula are allowed to assert themselves against the homemade mozarella and a ragoût of duck with butternut squash and dried cherries harmonizes perfectly over fettucini. A fave: the roasted pork chop with cannellini and Swiss chard braised with salty pancetta. Don’t worry: There are plenty of pasta dishes, and the pizzas rock. And don’t forget to take your own wine; like many Pennsylvania places, Sovana is a BYOB.
121 E. Main St., Newark, 444-4334 • Taverna is a warm, welcoming place that charms with rustic brick walls, paneling of reclaimed barn siding and an open kitchen that beautifully displays a coal-burning pizza oven. Platinum Dining Group has scored another winner, using many of the elements that made its Capers & Lemons an instant classic: good Italian food that includes pasta dishes, meats such as braised pork shank and chicken cacciatore, seafood and, those pizzas, of course.
Vallé Cucina Italiano
Pike Creek Shopping Center, 4725 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 998-9999 • Much has changed since this pizzeria went uptown. Every booth has its own heartleaf philodendron peering over it, making the 3,600-square-foot bistro a cozy haven for locals who enjoy large portions of Northern and Southern Italian dishes and meaty crab cakes. Grandma Doris Reno still makes the baked eggplant Parmigiana, pastas and superb crabmeat ravioli with Angelina sauce. Steak man and executive chef Eric Orsetti is partial to the 14-ounce ribeye. We love the 10-ounce filet mignon with bianca sauce.
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