First, we learned to “eat local”—the produce and meats that were grown on nearby farms—and next came drinking locally, with farm wineries and micro-breweries popping up like portobellos in Kennett Square, Pa. Now brace yourself for the next wave: spirits made from distilleries next door.
Of course, when I was growing up in the hills of West Virginia, we also had local “distilleries,” but the men who operated these moonshine stills deep in the woods did not exactly welcome visitors.
“Actually, our next product is a white whiskey that’s 100 percent from corn and is 88 proof,” says Andrew Auwerda, a partner in the 6-year-old Philadelphia Distilling Company, one of two distilleries nearby. Uh, what are you calling that whiskey, Andrew? “We’re thinking of ’Shine,’” he says.
Philadelphia Distilling, whose spirits are widely distributed in Delaware and several other states, started with Bluecoat gin, a handsomely packaged bottle with an excellent taste inside. Then, it backward integrated to vodka, as “gin is actually just another flavored vodka,” as master distiller Robert Cassell points out. They called it Penn 1681, and their third entry was Vieux Carré absinthe, as they tried to cash in on the legalization of the once-forbidden wormwood spirit.
“We may have slightly different demographics for our ’Shine customers,” Auwerda admits.
And it only stood to reason that sooner or later Sam Calagione, the founding genius of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton and recent TV star, would run out of new brews to concoct in downstate Delaware and turn to the spirits world. And so he has.
The Dogfish Head Brown Honey rum, “settled on American oak chips,” is an 80 proof sweet kiss on the lips that is quite tasty and somewhat different than traditional rums. It is one of three rums from Dogfish Head, which also makes vodka and “jin.”
Auwerda plans to move Philadelphia Distilling into Philly center city in a year or so. And he dreams that the legislature will someday consider direct consumer purchases.
That will no doubt cause a spirited debate.
Page 2: Welcome to the Family | The folks of Nino’s Pizza fame open an upscale Italian eatery in the state capital. It’s time to gather around the fountain.
The folks of Nino’s Pizza fame open an upscale Italian eatery in the state capital. It’s time to gather around the fountain.
Change is good. At least, it is for the owners of Piazza Mia Italian Bar & Grill (492 S. Red Haven Lane, Dover, 387-1870, piazzamia.com), Dover’s newest upscale Italian eatery.
Piazza springs from the family that brought us Nino’s Pizza, the delicious yet humble pizzeria chain whose nine locations stretch from West Chester, Pa., to Smyrna.
But Piazza represents something new altogether. The orange-hued walls give way to hip lighting fixtures, and a glowing light mural of the Roman Trevi Fountain illuminates Italian landscape mosaics on tabletops. In the center of the dining room, an ornate fountain feature makes a striking centerpiece.
“The town in Italy our family is from is called Mola di Bari and it’s famous for its piazza,” says owner Gaetano Diomede. “It’s like the town gathering place for couples, friends, family. So for our restaurant we wanted our customers to circle around the fountain. We’re saying be our family; be our friends.”
Piazza Mia diverges from Nino’s in the menu department, too. House favorites include pan-seared scallops with risotto, filet Oscar and broiled mahi mahi. There’s a full service bar replete with flatscreen TVs, a traditional brick pizza oven, and a gelato bar for desserts.
“I think people in Dover are sick and tired of the chain restaurants,” Diomede says. “Customers like that we’re family owned and operated and that food is made fresh to order.”
General manager Nick Pesce says the area seemed ripe for the picking. “Change, something new, something exciting. That’s what we were going for.”
So far, the locals have noticed.
“The comment cards we get make us laugh,” Diomede says. “One said our food was better than what they had in Italy. Another just said it felt like his Nonna was in our kitchen.” —Matt Amis