Iconic Restaurants Lay Solid Foodie Foundation

The Back Porch, Eden, Espuma and Nage set the stage.

The Buttery | Seared sea scallops are made with roasted poblano risotto, crispy pork belly, smoked corn and black bean succotash, tequila lime crème fraiche and micro cilantro.Medisch started at The buttery

 as a grill chef, then rose through the ranks to become executive chef and co-owner. Along the way, he became a culinary guru on the growing dining scene. Before he passed away in August 2013, he mentored chef Timothy McNitt, who took over the kitchen when Medisch became too ill to cook. “Most customers could never tell there was a change,” Fitzgerald says. It helps that McNitt has been at the restaurant for 14 years.

That legacy is one reason The Back Porch has remained solid for four decades. While McNitt regularly makes menu changes and Fitzgerald switches up the wine list every other week, there’s still a theme running through the menu and decor. Call it a comfortable sophistication.

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Fitzgerald credits the gay population with supporting the fledgling restaurant scene in the 1970s and 1980s. Noting the trend, Pisapia and Back Porch employee Joyce Felton left in 1981 to open the Blue Moon, a restaurant with a big city ambiance, creative cuisine and a South Beach-style bar that quickly became popular among gays and straights. The Blue Moon is now owned by Lion and Meghan Gardner and their partners, but everything else about it has stayed the same.

“We make sure that we maintain the Blue Moon that people keep coming back to,” Lion Gardner says. The building has undergone updates and renovation, and so has the menu. The sense of tradition, however, remains. “People have a relationship with the Blue Moon,” Gardner says. “They got engaged here. It’s fun to be a part of their stories.”

In 1997, Eden entered a marketplace that included iconic Chez la Mer and LaLa Land. But owner Rob Stitt quickly took Eden from a sandwich shop on Rehoboth Avenue to a full-service restaurant with some of the most creative fare in town. It later moved to Baltimore Avenue. Friends Jeff McCracken and Mark Hunker, who’d been visiting Rehoboth since 1985, bought Eden in 2006. “Not many people are lucky enough to buy their favorite restaurant,” Hunker says. Chef Andrew Feeley delivers new menu items each season, yet longtime customers can rest assured that the kitchen still serves “bold American food”—classics with a creative twist, McCracken says.

Eden’s debut was followed swiftly by Espuma, opened by chef Kevin Reading in 1999. Reading had succeeded previously in Wilmington with the Fox Point Grill, which had become popular due to its innovative menu. His Espuma pushed the envelope even further with its take on Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, and it quickly found fans with a similar palate. When Dover native Jay Caputo purchased the restaurant in 2004, continuing its tradition of serving novel, delicious food, Reading made the daring move of opening an upscale restaurant outside town, on Del. 1. Right out of the box, his Nage became an area favorite.

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