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Serrano braised beef short ribs are wrapped in a tortilla with goat cheese, red pepper-walnut sauce, lettuce, and rice and beans, and served with pico de gallo and pickled peppers. Photograph by Thom ThompsonDiabolical

Dean Vilone and Roger Andrews saw the trend making its way east from the burrito-friendly West Coast. When national chains like Chipotle and Qdoba, peddling aluminum-wrapped Mission-style burritos, began cropping up nearby, “We thought we could do it better and do it fresher, take it one step farther and have a place with the potential to be really cool,” Andrews says. “I think we hit it.” It’s hard to argue with the opening El Diablo Burritos had, when lines for lunch at the Trolley Square shop snaked out the door. Credit the fresh, plump, build-your-own burritos bursting with ingredients like braised beef short rib and citrus-marinated pork. Or credit the simple-yet-striking interior bathed in bold reds and blacks (plus a devilish pitchfork-wielding mascot), designed by partner Shannon Stevens. “Customers love the fact that it’s fresh and consistent every day,” Andrews says. “You can’t get that kind of fresh feel for lunch at most places.” Look for even more burrito combinations this fall at El Diablo (Delaware Avenue, 13A Trolley Square Shopping Center, Wilmington, 691-5532) and perhaps some menu additions. —Matt Amis

Page 2: East of Eden | That’s where you’ll find the deliciously hip Jam Bistro in Rehoboth Beach

 
 

Jam is a casual bistro in Celebration Mall in Rehoboth Beach. Photograph by Kam ProductionsEast of Eden

That’s where you’ll find the deliciously hip Jam Bistro in Rehoboth Beach.

A beach-dining classic, Eden (23 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3330) is famous for its romantic atmosphere and artful presentations. It may be the picture of refinement, but it isn’t always the least expensive dining option. That’s one reason owners Jeff McCracken and Mark Hunker opened Jam Bistro (20 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-5266), a more casual, less expensive, but no less hip or delicious alternative. Jam (Jeff and Mark—get it?) is a casual bistro in Celebration Mall that’s decorated with local artwork. It features a 985-bottle wine rack, an outdoor patio and TV-filled bar. Former Eden sous chef Gary Johnson leads the kitchen, which produces approachable yet delicious fare like mussels steamed with Belgian ale and smoked bacon with mustard cream. The bar cranks out housemade cocktails like the Beach Grass, flavored with lemongrass and homemade sour mix. For more, visit www.jambistro.com. —Matt Amis
 

Page 3: All Aboard | Ever wonder how that portobello manicotti with sherry-mascarpone sauce ended up on your Amtrak trip? We didn’t think so. Meet the masterminds.

 

Chefs Christian Hannah (left) and Daniel Malzhan keep Amtrak’s food and beverage division chugging from a test kitchen on the Wilmington riverfront. Photograph by Jared CastaldiAll Aboard

Ever wonder how that portobello manicotti with sherry-mascarpone sauce ended up on your Amtrak trip? We didn’t think so. Meet the masterminds.

There’s no fryer onboard the galley car of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train. Yet a porter will gladly present you a plate of crispy hot chicken and fluffy rice pilaf with a glass of Pinot Grigio on your next trip from Wilmington to the Crescent City.

Thank executive chefs Christian Hannah and Daniel Malzhan, who ply one of the more unique culinary trades from the Amtrak Training Station near Frawley Stadium in Wilmington.

Their jobs, along with the rest of Amtrak’s small but dedicated food and beverage division, involve soup-to-nuts oversight of the dining experience onboard Amtrak trains. Hannah handles Acela Express service as well as state-supported trains in the Northeast Corridor. Malzhan handles food and drinks onboard long-distance and cross-country routes.

But before a meal winds up on a train, it must be conceived, something Amtrak chefs do at a grand powwow several times a year with a handful of carefully selected celebrity chefs. The most recent Amtrak Culinary Advisory team included renowned chef Michel Richard, owner of Washington, D.C.’s Citronella, and Wilmington native Tom Douglas, who owns six highly touted restaurants around Seattle.

The team creates more than 100 dishes during the meeting—everything from portobello manicotti with sherry-mascarpone sauce to steamed mahi mahi wrapped in banana leaves—then tries to re-create them in a diminutive onboard kitchen during a bumpy train ride. “We wind up with terrific, creative ideas,” Malzhan says, “but we have to ask: Can it work in our world?”

The guys hit the test kitchen in Wilmington to find out, working on equipment that’s installed in various galley cars. From there, the job moves to the administrative realm, seeking out food vendors and producers to supply the ingredients.

The chefs then release their inner-Food Network chef, creating service guides and videos for regional chefs and onboard chefs scattered across the country. They monitor and mentor regional chefs along the way. “It’s a great mix of everything,” says Hannah, whose previous local stops include the Bourbon Street Café and Christiana Care Health Services.

Says Malzhan, who previously worked in kitchens around San Francisco, “That’s one of the things that appeals to me about what we do here. It’s still about love of food and ingredients and making things taste good. That can’t be forgotten about what we do.”

Certainly, when a passenger can sit snugly and dig into brioche French toast with apple compote or a New York strip steak smothered in smoked paprika butter, he likely won’t forget. Nor do Wilmington socialites, when they attend the Evening With the Masters fundraiser dinner, and see the Amtrak chefs situated next to some of the best chefs in the region.

“It’s great to have people realize that, yeah, there are culinary things happening at Amtrak,” Malzhan says. “We are the original meals on wheels.” —Matt Amis

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