Gate House Restaurant Thinks Big in the Kitchen

This enchanting stop at the shore will delight your taste buds.

I want you to love The Gate House of Lewes as much as I do. It’s adorable, charming and as eager as a cute puppy. But like most romantic crushes, I’ve had to make some concessions in the relationship—and I hope you will, too.

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First, you have to find the restaurant, tucked between Front and Second streets. Don’t head to the front door. The entrance is on the side, just after you step through a welcoming white-picket fence. You’re hopeful. But, then, you have to adjust to the super casual, almost lax service. Hang in there. Once you taste the food, you’ll be swooning.

The place is tiny. Reservations seem like a must here, even though walk-ins are welcomed on the website. The main dining area has a six-seat bar plus a smattering of tables to seat 28. There’s limited, additional seating on an enclosed porch, which, in the cooler months, seemed dim and uninviting. Indoors, the minimalist decor features light-wood tables, calming gray walls, sophisticated black-cloth napkins and framed prints of knives, forks and spoons. The curtain-less windows overlook West Market Street and a splash of adjacent greenery.

Photographs by Steve Legato

Seared tuna with avocado and radish.

Almond-crusted duck breast.

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Shrimp, avocado and tomato salad.

It’s reminiscent of an intimate, modern bistro with a requisite chalkboard and wine rack. You’ll be charmed. Conversation is as easy as the tunes from crooners like Frank Sinatra, Gladys Knight and The Platters that permeate the quiet dining chatter. The menu is down-to-earth yet exciting. With each course, I just wanted to go into the kitchen and hug the chefs. It’s a family affair: Gretchen Gates, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, owns the restaurant with her son, Wilson, a graduate of the prestigious The Culinary Institute of America.

Another son, Taylor, also a CIA grad, helped to develop the menu for the restaurant, which opened a year ago. That’s a lot of talent leading the restaurant’s food direction. It’s not often that you see roasted bone marrow on a menu. And this offering was perfect. The unctuous, soft filling—delivered with a small spoon, caramelized onions and slightly charred bread—was light and creamy.

My dinner companion—aka my husband the teacher—started his meal with the shrimp, avocado and tomato salad. A sculpted timbale of the main ingredients had tantalizing undertones of black-truffle jus dressing and champagne beurre blanc. The entrées also were palate pleasers. The four seared sea scallops were perched atop a shoepeg-corn-and-pancetta mix crowned with a dollop of tangy tomato jam. The New Zealand lamb chops were juicy and medium rare—just the way the chef recommended the meat be cooked.

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Chocolate molten lava cake.

Kenneth Stancil pours a pint.

You can order a half or full rack. We chose the half rack—four petite, rosy chops—that was so good we wished we had ordered the full rack. The accompanying sautéed mini Brussels sprouts will leave you blissful. We heard other diners—the tables are that close—praising the bright-green vegetable in revered tones, too. By then, we realized we hadn’t received the complimentary breadbasket that sat fragrantly on the other tables. When I brought it to our waitress’s attention, she was apologetic and, to make amends, included several slices in our take-home, leftover bag.

This is when the happy relationship began to flag. The inattentive service didn’t quite match the caliber of the meal or the restaurant. Our water glasses remained empty, even though we asked for more. And it’s a good thing we didn’t want more wine. There was no offer of a refill. Even when the desserts arrived, a key component was missing from my excellent apple tart. When we finally flagged down our server, she contritely retrieved the homemade, orange-ginger ice cream from the kitchen.

It was worth the minor delay to savor the delicious frozen custard. A molten-lava cake—you won’t sneer at this ubiquitous standby—proved to be an irresistible version of the decadent chocolate dish. Sometimes, the tried-and-true is better than more fanciful concoctions. An earnest cheesecake and crème brûlée rounded out The Gate House’s short sweets list.

Chef Wilson Gates prepares a dish.

Try at least one cheese from purveyors like Doe Run Farm in Coatesville, Pa., and Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, Conn. These are seriously delicious, artisanal offerings. The Pennsylvania cheesemonger presents delicacies like Dragonfly, a pasteurized French Neufchâtel style, and Bathed in Victory, washed in Victory Brewing Co. beer. From Connecticut, you’ll find choices like Hooligan, a Saveur magazine favorite, and an award-winning Black Ledge Blue.

I always appreciate a place that has options for your palate and wallet. The Gate House burger ($15), a mound of short-rib beef, is piled with bacon, cheddar cheese and house-made Thousand Island dressing in a brioche bun and served with truffle fries. The salad list—including a roasted red and gold beet salad and a garlic lemon kale salad—can be boosted with chicken, shrimp or salmon for a light meal.

Despite the service stumbles, we plan to continue this gustatory love affair. Like a perfect kiss, the French press coffee at the end sealed the deal.

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