When opening a French brasserie, where does one go for inspiration?
France, of course.
Tyler Akin, a Philadelphia-based chef at Stock and Res Ipsa Cafe, has returned to his hometown to breathe new life into the Hotel Du Pont’s Green Room. The restaurant is getting a new menu, a design facelift and an updated name: Le Cavalier at the Green Room.
At press time, the restaurant was still on track for its late spring or early summer opening and teasing menu items on its social media.
The focus of Le Cavalier (meaning “the horseman”) is contemporary French brasserie dishes with inspiration from the current dining scenes in France and North Africa, as well as New Orleans.
Akin visited both France and New Orleans during the process of opening the restaurant and prior to the COVID-19 travel restrictions. The chef wanted to explore France—especially Paris and the evolving dining scene in southern port city of Marseille—before Le Cavalier’s doors opened.
“The pendulum has swung back a bit and people have decoupled French food from stuffy fine dining,” says Akin while sitting in the Hotel Du Pont’s lobby.
Akin went to culinary school in Washington, D.C., where he received a classical education on cooking and hospitality. But his food training began much earlier as he learned from his mother—and especially his grandmother.
“She was kind of the quintessential Southern comfort food cook and took a lot of care with everything she did, always gave in abundance to the family and extended family even though her resources were modest,” he remembers.
He started his culinary career in D.C. and then returned closer to home, working and opening restaurants in Philadelphia. While Stock and Res Ipsa are different concepts and cuisines—Vietnamese and Italian, respectively—Akin is up for this new challenge. His father’s side of the family introduced him to French cuisine, and he honed his skills in culinary school.
“That was really my foundation—classic French cooking,” he explains.
Le Cavalier’s menu will feature staple French dishes like onion soup and steak frites—but with a hint of North Africa. Akin describes it as “making brasserie food that feels a little lighter and brighter” by playing with spices, and preparing dishes with less butter and more olive oil and lemon juice.
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The cocktail menu will be riffs on French and American classics, along with a natural wine program—a first for Wilmington.
While focusing on French food has proved challenging for some Wilmington eateries, Akin says he feels the Green Room’s new iteration is ripe for success with its contemporary take on French dishes, top-notch service and pleasant ambiance.
“I think we’re in this era now where people are willing to go back to French food,” he says.
His hope is that Le Cavalier becomes a gathering space for people to visit regularly instead of just on special occasions, a niche the Green Room occupied. The restaurant will serve three meals a day and a brunch program on the weekends. Along with experiencing the updated but still historic dining room, guests will also have the opportunity to eat outdoors on the renovated Rodney Square.
“Our goal with this, really, is reconnecting the restaurant with the community,” he says.
Le Cavalier at the Green Room, 42 W. 11th St., Wilmington, lecavalierde.com
Published as “French Connection” in the June 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.