It’s been more than 20 years since the first breweries and brewpubs opened in Delaware, and we now count at least 20, with one more on the way, so its seems almost no big deal when another opens. But when a brewpub sets up in the commercial heart of downtown Wilmington—the first since the city’s last production brewery closed more than 60 years ago—it is a very big deal, indeed.
Witness the throngs at Stitch House Brewery growing larger by the night as the weekends near. Weeks after opening, the novelty clearly hasn’t worn off. Even on a block with two establishments that offer a never-ending list of microbrews from across the country, Stitch House immediately staked a big claim. The draw: freshly brewed beer that travels mere feet from the tank to the tap.
Another draw: a cavernous space that can handle the crowd, renovated into a vibe that is industrial, rustic and contemporary all at the same time. Exposed brick walls, soaring ceilings, a long zinc bar, rafters and girders and beams, overhead lights housed in safety cages and big, big windows combine in a way that somehow feels exactly like a brewery should.
It is also exactly what downtown needs. In a city that is rebuilding a dining and entertainment scene to attract and keep new residents, there can’t be too much emphasis on Market Street. So part of what makes Stitch House special is the force behind its opening: a developer and landlord that was game for a big reno, speedy permitting from the city, a special program to hire qualified city residents and some help with fabrication of various design elements from The Challenge Program, which provides vocational training to men who need a second chance. Stitch House therefore represents the best of what diverse partners can accomplish when united around mutual interests. Co-owner Dan Sheridan seals the deal with a promise to stay open—bar and kitchen—till last call every day, busy or not, just so everyone knows that, when they need a late-night place, Stitch is there for them.
Which is more important to the drinking public than all the boosterism. And though Stitch House is a brewery, it appeals to drinkers of all stripes through a small, surprisingly cosmopolitan list of mid-priced wines and a handful of signature cocktails mixed with craft spirits.
From left: The nacho skillet is best served with—what else?—a freshly brewed beer.//Photo by Joe del Tufo and Jim Coarse of Moonloop Photography; Crab dip skillet//Photo by Jim Coarse
It appeals to diners, too, with a menu of sandwiches and so-called skillets. They include cold fare such as salads served in miniature versions of the pan, as well as appetizers and hot meals. Sandwich or skillet, prices range $7 to $15. That’s not bad for a workday lunch, terrific for a dinner.
The menu includes some fun surprises. Fried bologna on a brioche gets a boost from a beer cheese sauce and pickles from another of Sheridan’s concerns (with popular Locale BBQ Post in Wilmington’s Little Italy, which means Sheridan employs his smoking expertise on some of the meats served at Stitch). A BLT is made with fried green tomatoes and a peppercorn aioli on sourdough. On a recent visit, we enjoyed a straightforward rare roast beef on sourdough with pickled onions, sharp cheddar and horseradish aioli, as well as the The B.L.A.P. of bacon, lettuce, avocado and peppery cheese spread. And though the handful of chips in the nacho skillet was underwhelming, the skillet of hot crab dip was a fine start. The weekend brunch menu offers even more skillet choices, like an egg enchilada.
Lunch on a workday precluded beer sampling, and the place was so mobbed on a happy-hour attempt a few days later that we couldn’t squeeze in. (Too bad for us, great for Stitch House.) We found a sweet spot shortly after dinner hour on a Wednesday. The bar crowd, still plenty robust, had thinned, and the main dining area was about three-quarters full.
From left: Head brewer Andrew Rutherford comes to the Stitch House via Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia; a flight of house-brewed beers awaits the next customer.//Photos by Joe del Tufo and Jim Coarse of moonloop photography
My drinking buddy and I—craft brew appreciators, though far from yeast-talking, hops-snobbing beer geeks—ordered flights of the same brews and compared notes. There were pleasant surprises: a slight sourness to the Sho’ Nuff Stout, a complex mellowness to the High Note abbey dubbel, the suggestion of grain in the Rye Knot? IPA. Less surprising, and just as pleasing, the lager, with a hint of fruit, was perfectly sessionable, and the IPA—the It style for the past 20 years—rose above the rest. It appears to be the style most brewers want to nail consistently, and it seems Stitch House head brewer Andrew Rutherford, formerly of Yards in Philly, is no exception. (That’s not to imply that he wouldn’t want to nail them all.)
Most of the beers we sampled weighed in at about 7.5 percent ABV—high enough to expedite your trip to buzzville, though not high enough to send you to bed early. (Styles like the Belgian tripel, at 11 percent, are exceptions, of course.) We hit half the taps, and they change regularly. A check-in a few weeks later revealed a saison, an American pale, a maibock and others, so beer explorers will have reasons for frequent visits. Which is a great thing for the city, too. Nothing keeps people out at night like great places to drink.
Stitch House Brewery
829 N. Market St., Wilmington • 250-4280
Prices: Sandwiches, $9–$15; skillets, $7–$13; weekend brunch skillets, $10–$11
Recommended: Crab dip skillet, the B.L.AP. sandwich, Hoperation IPA