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Fare Game

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Robert Lhulier

 

The Delaware dining scene is seldom static. Restaurants open, close, redecorate and relocate. Chefs and managers come and go, shaking up both the kitchen and the cuisine.

Change, however, can be a good thing.

Witness the birth of The Exchange on Market in Wilmington, a bistro, bar and lounge in the Residences of Rodney Square, which opened in May. The downtown Wilmington restaurant, which resides in the National’s old space, is a joint project between longtime friends James Mallios and Constantine “Costa” Dimas, also owners of Costa’s Grill.

The team in September unveiled ThoroBreads at Christina Landing, an urban-style eatery touting “soups, salads, sandwiches, sweets and spirits.” Breakfast and dinner customers are primarily area residents. “But at lunch, we have a lot of businesspeople who walk over from ING, Barclays and AAA,” Dimas says. “It’s exciting.”

There could be another ThoroBreads in the future, Dimas says. Meanwhile, Patrick McMahon has replaced David Jones as executive chef of the three restaurants.

Over at Moro in Wilmington, longtime manager Kevin Dunn last summer departed for the West Coast. Joe Olivero, formerly the assistant manager, is now at the helm.

Ryan Pomeroy in February 2007 left 1717 in Trolley Square, and Kristin McGuigan is the new general manager-executive chef. The Johnson & Wales graduate has added short ribs, grilled ostrich, and crab-stuffed filet wrapped in bacon and splashed with a Sambuca cream sauce. “We have all different kind of specials, see what people like and, if they do, we put it on the menu,” McGuigan says.

Robert Lhulier in November joined Domaine Hudson Wine Bar & Eatery in Wilmington, where he shares executive chef duties with Jason Barrowcliff. Lhulier previously owned The Chef’s Table at the David Finney Inn in Old New Castle, which closed in May. Though it was an ideal setting, the restaurant’s target audience was not willing to regularly travel to New Castle, says Lhulier, who briefly worked at Harry’s Savoy Grill in Wilmington before Domaine Hudson.

“Domaine Hudson is doing a lot of the things that Chef’s Table was doing,” Lhulier says, “and, because of its location, they are doing it a lot more successfully than we were.” Customers are asking for Chef’s Table favorites, and Lhulier is happy to oblige.

Domaine Hudson in January began serving lunch Monday through Friday. The kitchen has expanded dinner menu options and small plate choices.

Although Old New Castle lost The Chef’s Table, it gained Prince on Delaware, which opened in October. The cuisine is influenced by chef-owner Prince Johnson’s Southern upbringing. Consider his “world famous fried chicken” and shrimp and grits, served at brunch. Mainstream diners will appreciate the wings, ribs and burgers; while those in the mood for a twist can try the smoky chipotle turkey burger.

In North Wilmington Lucky’s Coffee Bar & Restaurant proves that traditional is trendy. Other than the sign, the exterior still resembles its predecessor, The Ranch House—a fixture since 1972. But inside, co-owners Mickey Donatello and John Schulte, who also own Corner Bistro, have worked their retro magic with a George Nelson marshmallow sofa, bubble lights and cherry red chairs. It’s a cool spot for a hot pastrami sandwich.

In Greenville, Sapori Ristorante Italiano last fall opened in Amalfi’s old space. The restaurant, which has a fresh decor, touts family four-course dinners on Sunday between noon and 8 p.m. Sapori is underneath Lucia’s Cucina, which opened last summer. Both restaurants are owned by the Lubrano family.

Just across the state line in Chadds Ford, Dan Butler opened Brandywine Prime Seafood and Chops in February 2007. Though Butler’s first foray into the Keystone State is known for its steak, the seared day boat scallops—prepared with a shrimp-artichoke risotto and served with fried onions—are a big hit. “It’s almost impossible to keep up with,” says chef Keith Rudolf.

Fans of Asian cuisine perked up with the opening of Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine, also just over the Pennsylvania-Delaware state line, in Chadds Ford. The restaurant is located in a strip center, but it boasts clean lines and contemporary flair. Favorites include lemon grass soup, satay, tamarind-scented duck and curries.

Not far from Sweet Basil and Brandywine Prime, Blue Pear Bistro at Dilworthtown Inn gives area diners the option of going more casual. Situated in the old Dilworthtown General Store, the restaurant’s menu features grilled lamb, short ribs and steak frites.

In Kent County, the tinkle of the ivories tempts patrons to The Executive in Milford, which opened last June at the site of Geyer’s family restaurant. The new owners have made extensive renovations, adding a grand piano and a horseshoe-shaped bar. Crab cakes and veal Oscar are among the signature dishes.

Longtime favorite Michele’s at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino recently underwent a major remodeling and menu makeover. Contemporary appointments include a steel blue, navy, taupe, chocolate and cream palette; crystal and chrome lighting; and white Villeroy & Boch tableware. The menu takes its cues from Tuscany, the Pacific Rim and Americana. Consider daikon-wrapped tuna, Kansas City meatloaf and short rib ravioli.

At the beach, Mike Pelrine—former executive editor and vice president of operations for Independent Newspapers—has made news himself with Bésamé, which opened in April in the Hotel Rodney in Lewes. Pelrine calls the restaurant an “eclectic bistro,” and the menu items prove his point. Dishes include chunky eggplant sticks, shrimp creole crêpe, pork tenderloin stuffed with onion marmalade and lamb burgers.

Just off Del. 1 in Paynter’s Mill, Kindle is creating a warm glow, with its copper fire pit and dishes like roasted lamb shanks with sage glaze and pan-roasted sea bass over warm sesame noodles, edamame and baby bok choi. Kindle is the creation of Matt DiSabatino, who opened Striper Bites in 2001 and Half Full, a specialty pizza and wine bar, in early 2007.

Michael Gallucio, co-owner of Gallucio’s on Lovering Avenue in Trolley Square, in December brought Italian fare to the Village of Five Points. M. Gallucios, a 50-seat restaurant, also offers takeout and delivery. “I’m trying to put some good pizza down here,” says Gallucio.

Irish Eyes Pub & Restaurant in Lewes, which was devastated by fire in March, rose from the ashes in December. And in Fenwick, Matt Haley opened his fourth restaurant, Catch 54 Fish House, formerly Shark’s Cove Restaurant.

Two beach favorites relocated this year. Cultured Pearl moved to 301 Rehoboth Ave., the old Quillen’s Servistar Hardware. Owner Susan Townley Wood and local artist-carpenter Ralph Manis designed and built the room, and now there’s rooftop dining.

Dos Locos, no stranger to musical locations, in summer relocated to

208 Rehoboth Ave.

This is the restaurant’s third location and, at 5,000 square feet, its largest. Its neighbor across the street, the venerable Tijuana Taxi, has not renewed its lease, and there’s no word yet on whether it will reopen.

Meanwhile, two beach restaurants changed hands. After suddenly closing in September, 1776, at Midway, was revived, thanks to new owners Robert Mitchell and Tom Holmes. The partners have updated the decor and crafted a menu with affordability in mind. Chez la Mer, a veritable bastion of fine dining in Rehoboth Beach, last year was purchased by Jay Caputo, who owns Espuma.

Clearly, revolving doors are not unusual. But when those doors close for good, they can cause faithful diners to gnash their teeth. Café Caribe on Market Street in Wilmington has shut its doors, and the short-lived Pesce in Wilmington’s Little Italy is now Castaways, a tiki bar.

Asian Palace in Independence Mall also departed, and the music died at Maynard’s Piano Bar and Restaurant in Middletown. But perhaps the most lamented demise is that of The Columbus Inn, which closed last spring to make way for condominiums.

Yet you can always count on new concepts. Dover is eagerly anticipating the arrival of three restaurants in the newly expanded Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. The tripleheader includes an Italian restaurant, the Public House—which will feature American cuisine—and Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House, which has a sister location in West Chester, Pennsylvania. All are on track to open in August.

A February opening is planned for Ameritage Bistro, located at Ninth and Orange streets in Wilmington. Owner Henry Dawson will offer a 140-seat restaurant, a takeout market with prepared foods, specialty cocktails, and about 20 wines by the glass and 12 beers on tap.

Scheduled to open next month in Dewey Beach are Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar & Grille and Ponos Hawaiian Fine Dining. The former is casual, the latter more formal, both pure Pacifica. Owner Reagan Derrickson is no stranger to the biz—his brother Spencer is the force behind Rehoboth’s popular Abstractions and Vine.

 

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