UPDATE: As of September 2017, Bramble & Brine is closed.
Lobster with pickled lentil, gooseberries and a saffron-and-fennel emulsion.
Prepare to be wowed—especially if you like creative food in a hip, minimalist setting within a charming cottage exterior. In its second iteration, Bramble & Brine in Rehoboth is more impressive than ever.
The restaurant burst onto the scene in 2013 to glowing reviews. It shut its doors early this year after the divorce of owners Joe and Megan Churchman. It bounced back in May under Joe’s tutelage as proprietor and chef. It wasn’t long before crowds were once again filling the 40-some seats to sample his innovative New American cuisine.
It’s the kind of place where you’re soon discussing your dinner with your neighbors, oohing and aahing at each other’s plates. “Is that rabbit?” someone asks. “Yes, it’s wonderful,” they assure. Another diner shares, “My daughter got the tasting menu, and they adapted it because she’s a vegetarian.” And so an evening goes.
Churchman, 29, started his culinary trajectory as a teenager in Rehoboth restaurants before going to The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, majoring in film and photography. But the lure of the kitchen was stronger. He left college shy of graduation. “I was better at cooking,” he admits. “I enjoy it a lot more.”
One of B&B’s clever cocktails.
Rabbit with prosciutto and brioche.
After stints at Le Virtu in Philadelphia, the now-closed Luca in Millsboro and Eden in Rehoboth, among other places, he decided to open his own restaurant. Bramble & Brine is a play on words, borrowing from a beach-town phrase, “Where pine meets brine.” When he reopened the restaurant in the spring, he decided to keep the name. “We’d already created a following,” he says. “People knew what it was.”
But he did change the decor. Gone are the antique sideboards, china cabinets and formal dining chairs. He chose a sleek, modern look with cloth-covered tables to complement the kitchen’s progressive dishes, he says.
On a recent Wednesday night, the restaurant was filled as jeans-clad waiters took orders. The pace is as composed as the gleaming silverware on the table. And it doesn’t take long to become enamored with the menu, which changes often to reflect the growing season.
We began with two impressive appetizers. For one, delicate, orange-hued meat from a well-endowed lobster tail was splayed over a frothy saffron and fennel emulsion. It shared space with yellow gooseberries and plump, pickled lentils that added a delicious piquancy to the dish. The other starter featured succulent bay scallops balanced like synchronized swimmers atop a luxe bay-leaf mousse with flecks of crisped ham and trout roe.
Bramble & Brine’s dining room.
After devouring those dishes, we couldn’t wait to check out our entrées. Churchman is known for his duck preparations, and the dish we tried explains why. He paired a duck breast, sliced to show its rosy hue, with puréed lychee fruit, fava beans, the sweetest roasted Vidalia onion you’ll ever have, and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Nike-like swooshes of aromatic caraway agrodolce sauce added addictive sweet-and-sour flavors to the meal.
The porchetta earned our nod as the most exciting dish of the evening. Even after our server described it as “a pig’s head minus the skull, cooked sous vide,” my husband ordered it without hesitation. When the mound was delivered to the table, we both examined it cautiously. We needn’t have worried. Under a bouquet of pea tendrils peeked the slow-cooked, incredibly tender parts, which bore no resemblance to its former countenance. Yucca, mushrooms, gooseberries and a beet-laced sauce completed the creation.
Pastry chef Dru Tevis is something of a legend at the beach. He divides his time between Bramble & Brine and other local restaurants, including Nage, working his dessert magic. We ended our dinner with his interpretation of a malted milk chocolate kulfi. The kulfi, an Indian frozen confection, was dressed up with a honey glaze, corn-pop cream, dark-chocolate sorbet and chunks of cocoa nibs. We also couldn’t resist the Bramble split, a sweet ending with the power to release all those happy hormones in your brain with its cashew peanut butter, salted caramel and pretzel ice cream.
Lychee duck with fava beans, Vidalia onions and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.
We went back to Bramble & Brine a few weeks later on a Friday night to sit at the white-marble bar and nosh on appetizers. Perched on modular white stools, we shared the “Servilleta sheep milk, an exploration,” which focused on the Spanish cheese served three ways: as ice cream, as a petite round of panna cotta and in slim wedges with house-made crackers. We also couldn’t resist the butcher board, with deckle (the top layer of beef that was then cured), foie gras, chicharrónes (fried pork rinds) and beet salmon with quail eggs. You can pick two or four items. We encourage you to order the whole selection.
Wherever you sit in the restaurant, you can enjoy selections from the drinks menu. A carefully edited wine list offers whites, rosés, sparklings, reds and featured selections (rated 90-plus points), such as Cakebread Chardonnay and Tamber Bey Pinot Noir. Brews include options from local Dogfish Head and Mispillion River Brewing to Birra Menabrea, an Italian lager. Cocktails are as clever as the dinner menu, with choices like “garden” with Crop organic tomato vodka, St-Germain liqueur, lemon juice and celery bitters, and “shine” with Belle Isle Moonshine and white-balsamic peach shrub (named after a Colonial beverage).
There’s also a late-night menu if you have cravings after 10 p.m. “It’s a play on street food,” Churchman says. “I have this obsession of wanting a food truck.” Offerings include a duck mortadella hot dog with green tomato relish, Philly cheese steak pupusas and a gyro slider with deckle.
Churchman is proud his old kitchen staff came back when he reopened. Together, the chefs feed on each other’s food interests. “I write out what I want to do, and everyone has an influence,” he says. “It keeps everyone involved.”
Bramble & Brine promises to be around for a lot longer than its first go-round. Maybe the second time is the charm.