When Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant opened its first location in 1996, surrounding restaurants included Klondike Kate’s, The Deer Park Tavern and a few restaurants in between, recalls Kevin Davies, co-owner of the successful restaurant chain.
Fourteen years later, Main Street is a destination lined with one delectable dining option after another. “It’s grown over the years, and all for the good,” Davies says. Iron Hill just sweetened the allure with a major makeover of its flagship location that includes a new bar, new furniture and a tweaked layout. “When you walk in the restaurant, you won’t recognize it,” Davies says.
And diners who haven’t been to downtown Newark in some time may not recognize the culinary landscape. Nowhere else in New Castle County offers as many diverse options within strolling distance of each other.
“You have to walk down Main Street to appreciate it,” says Doug Rainey, editor of the Newark Post, who learned that firsthand when the local paper’s offices moved from Elkton Road to Main Street. “There’s Middle Eastern food, Mexican food—you have good food all up and down the street.”
Indeed, the downtown district is a culinary Epcot. Consider Mizu Sushi Bar, owned by Michael Suh, one of the new kids on the block. The eatery, which opened in August 2009, has about 22 seats, but it’s primarily a to-go establishment devoted to sushi and sashimi. Here you will find nigiri and maki, not complicated fusion dishes served entrée-style.
Mizuh has three locations in Philadelphia, but Suh wanted to venture out. He liked what he saw in Newark, says Bryan Kim, manager of the Newark store. “We felt it was a great opportunity. We believe in the value of offering a great product for the money.”
Mizu keeps company with Santa Fe Mexican Grill, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ll find the expected, such as nachos and quesadillas, along with the unexpected. Take yucas con hogao—a potato-like root cooked with spices, then fried and served with Spanish garlic-tomato sauce. For more saucy options, try La Tonalteca on North College Avenue.
Ali Baba Restaurant has gained fame for its Middle Eastern cuisine. Selections include spanikopita (spinach and feta tucked in flaky filo), pita wraps, traditional salads and kabobs.
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Cucina De Napoli, which opened in 2005, boasts penne with vodka sauce, chicken Parmagiana, and good old spaghetti and meatballs among its signature dishes. “Our sauce is 100 percent fresh,” says manager Danielle Buonocore. “No preservatives.” The restaurant takes it family-style approach seriously. The affordable portions are large, so consider ordering for the table and sharing. But don’t be afraid to venture outside Italy. Now under new ownership, the restaurant is dipping into world cuisine via dishes such as avocado-crab ceviche with cumin-dusted shrimp garnished with Asian rice noodles.
The dining scene’s diversity is not confined to ethnic cuisine. There are plenty of pizza and sub spots, including Grotto Pizza, Margherita’s Pizza, Newark Deli & Bagel and Peace A Pizza—and that’s just to name a few. The Kollias family recently opened a Claymont Steak Shop in Newark.
The appetite for quick bites has not escaped the notice of national brands. Starbucks Coffee, Panera Bread, Cosi and Subway have established a presence in downtown Newark.
For more upscale cuisine, head to Caffé Gelato, Home Grown Café and the Stone Balloon Winehouse, which all deliver innovative menus. Caffé Gelato, founded in 2000, continues to expand its space and its menu to meet client needs. What started with gelato has become a full-service restaurant that’s consistently recognized for its food and wine offerings. Home Grown Café, which also opened in 2000, has reinvented itself as well, first by expanding, then by moving to a
larger space to accommodate customers.
The newer Stone Balloon Winehouse appeals to refined palates, both with its wine selection and its menu. The restaurant sits on the site of the old Stone Balloon nightclub, once an iconic nightspot.
Another longtime watering hole, The Deer Park Tavern, has also undergone a transformation. Bob Ashby purchased the dilapidated building in 2001 and totally renovated it, removing beer-soaked boards and plumbing that was questionable on a good day. He also added a two-story veranda, modeled after what was removed in 1950.
Now you’ll find the best of the old and new food and drink trends. Order chicken fingers to start, or choose a cheese plate comprised of Stilton, Manchego, Bucheron and d’Affinois.
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“We’ve definitely taken it up a notch,” Ashby says. “We have a full-blown menu with entrées all prepared in-house.” This is not Ashby’s first foray into Newark. In 1986, he opened Ashby’s Oyster House. “When school closed you could roll a bowling ball up Main Street and not hit anybody,” says Ashby, who closed that restaurant in 1990. “Now it’s thriving.”
Newark also can satisfy your sweet tooth. Rainey is convinced that the icing on the cupcakes at SAS Cupcakes contains an addictive ingredient. You might say the same of the confections at Bing’s Bakery. Head baker Tom Guzzi and his wife, Carla, bought the bakery in 2005.
“Bing’s does things the old-fashioned way,” Carla Guzzi says. “We continue to bake from scratch with recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. Our standard of quality is high.”
Bing’s cakes, which attract buyers from all over the state, are among the most in-demand items, especially since new fillings include French cream and strawberry.
“This is a great town,” Guzzi says. “The Downtown Newark Partnership really helps businesses.”
Davies would echo that sentiment. The restaurant has developed such a loyal following in Newark that longtime customers begged for pieces of the old bar when it was ripped out. “We are not,” he says, “going anywhere.”