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In Lewes, the Revitalized Buttery Remains a Classic



Put aside any preconceived notions of The Buttery. In the time since Wilson Gates bought it in July, the restaurant has made quite the transformation.

Modest but deliberate changes—such as the charcuterie and tasting menu—have elevated The Buttery to a modern elegance not found in many other beach restaurants. The food, as well as the ambience, is beautifully executed, even as Gates looks to revitalize the restaurant, the menu and the brand.

When it opened in 1994, The Buttery set the standard for fine dining in Lewes. Over the 20 years that original owner Jonathan Donato ran it, The Buttery’s food was consistently well prepared, no matter who the chef at the time. That continues under Gates. 


Owner Wilson Gates (left) and executive chef Joseph Churchman. // photo by joe del tufo

In January, Gates closed the restaurant to renovate the interior. Because the hardwood floors had to be sanded by hand, the work took longer than expected, but Gates used the extra time wisely. The result is beautifully restored parquet—and an updated kitchen.

Executive chef Joseph Churchman is a notable addition to the staff. A graduate of The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Churchman is well known to Rehoboth-area diners, having run kitchens at the former Planet X, the excellent Eden and, until it closed last year, his own Bramble & Brine. 

From left: Beef tartare with a quail egg, Asian pear, chili dressing, mint and sesame seeds;
duck breast with sweet potato, hazelnut, kale and kumquat. // photo by joe del tufo

The Buttery’s dinner menu tends toward classic French—sunchoke velouté, beef tartare, charcuterie, duck breast and steak bordelaise—but with a twist. Our meal started with housemade whole wheat rolls served with a side of butter whipped with blood orange and paprika. The chewy but airy sesame-studded bread and surprisingly tangy butter were a welcome introduction to what would unfold during the evening. 

We continued with the Asian-influenced beef tartare prepared with a dainty yellow quail egg, sesame seeds, chili oil dressing, Asian pear and mint, which shows Churchman’s modernist approach. Though we were initially skeptical about the mint, it was an unexpected addition that gave the freshly ground beef a warm, sweet flavor. 

We passed on the charcuterie to save room for the main course, but we did peek at the impressive board of housemade meats and hand-selected cheeses ordered by another diner. The cheese board offers a range of varieties, from Beemster (Gouda) to hand-stretched mozzarella (made from fresh curds), served by itself or accompanied by charcuterie such as foie gras torchon, beet-cured salmon and swordfish pastrami. 

The Buttery has embraced the use of local ingredients from producers such as Totem Farms and Bennett Orchards. Menu selections will change often based on the availability of produce. 

At first glance, the entrée selection is unassuming, yet that cannot be said for the portion size. My partner’s pan-fried red snapper filet was massive—and fork-tender. The fish was served with a miso tea, poured tableside, that warmed the other ingredients—baby turnips, enoki and peanuts—in an earthy, briny bath of umami goodness.

The duck breast also was one of the largest we have ever seen. Churchman lovingly took this enormous portion, halved it, then scored the fat ever so carefully before searing. The breast was served with medallions of sweet potato, a sprinkling of crunchy hazelnuts and kale, and a lovely, sour kumquat marmalade. The symphony of flavors—sweet, salty, sour and savory—was reminiscent of the classic duck a l’orange. The dish had a light herb dust that included whole black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds and black sesame seeds, which provided a welcome pop to the dish. 

I’ll be back for the osso buco, which wasn’t available on the night we visited. When I later lamented this to Churchman, he politely reminded me that the humble Milanese dish takes more than 48 hours to prepare. Because the previous evening was exceptionally busy, thanks to unseasonably warm weather, the dish had sold out.

The former Buttery’s menu was based on the traditional fine-dining model of three component dishes: a meat, a vegetable and a starch. The “new” Buttery, as Gates describes it, consists of two parts. On one side is Gates’ classical approach. On the other is Churchman’s modernist edge. The balance is evident everywhere except on the tasting menu, which is left in Churchman’s able hands. The only requirement is to pair the five- or seven-course meal with the day’s wines—a progression from Prosecco to Port. The meals are crafted on a whim as they are ordered, so service for each and every patron is personalized. 

The Buttery seats 50. The dining room shares the covered veranda and the bar area with the lounge, which serves a chop-house, pub-style menu. The decor features simple white china on crisp white linen. Small oil-lit candles emit a warm glow on each table, which are spaced to give diners ample room. The service was attentive, polite, but not memorable. When we asked for a wine recommendation, the server pointed to a Pinot Grigio, but did not elaborate on the vintage or flavor profile. Nor was there the offer of a refill when the glass went empty.

Wine is Gates’ true passion. He hopes to expand the list significantly, especially with bottles from small estates. The goal is to create an award-winning list of 200 to 250 wines at various price points. Once the in-house wine cellar is retrofitted, dehumidified and sealed, the new wines will start flowing. 

Chocolate ganache cake with orange meringue, plum gel and hazelnut ice cream. // photo by joe del tufo

Desserts (and breads) are made at the in-house bakery. On our visit, another waiter recommended the chocolate ganache. Beautifully plated, the ganache was topped with white chocolate cremeux (translated as “creamy,” it has the consistency of a mousse) and showered with pulverized orange meringues and crushed hazelnuts. Fresh raspberries, plum gel and a massive scoop of housemade Nutella ice cream rounded out the dish. 

Other dessert options tended toward the fruity—buttermilk panna cotta with caramelized pineapple and coconut “snow,” and citrus cake topped with orangesicle cream cheese frosting.

Gates, with his parents and brother, also owns The Gatehouse of Lewes, but each restaurant will maintain separate and unique identities. Both Gates and Churchman have proven themselves capable of maintaining the reputation of The Buttery, and I look forward to visiting again. 

102 Second St., Lewes, 645-7755, www.butteryrestaurant.com
PRICES: Appetizers: $12–$18; charcuterie and cheese: $6-$55; entrées: $32-$43; tasting menu (five or seven courses): $55–$70; desserts: $11
RECOMMENDED: Beef tartare, charcuterie, duck breast, chocolate ganache