Any broiled fish du jour, Dungeness crab legs, crab cakes, oysters Rockefeller
All-you-can-eat crab legs know no boundaries. Upon several visits to Feby’s Fishery, the classic seafood house on Lancaster Pike in Wilmington, I witnessed diners from across the social strata—young and old, black and white, businessmen in suits, painters in coveralls—roll up their sleeves one at a time and dig hungrily into a bucket of Dungeness crab legs. It was a beautiful thing.
Feby’s, which claims to have introduced Dungeness to this blue crab-dominated area, celebrated its 35th anniversary this year, which in itself is another beautiful thing. Beautiful because, without deviating a whole heck of a lot from its simple beginnings as a retail fish market with six stools for diners, Feby’s has outlasted scores of restaurants in and around Wilmington.
Philip and Mary DiFebo began Feby’s in 1974 as a seafood shop in Elsmere. When they later added a takeout counter, the crunch of diners (even then the du Pont and Copeland crowd mingled with the neighborhood Joes) became so overwhelming, they were forced to find larger digs.
Wisely, the DiFebos brought the fresh fish market when they moved the business, now a proper sit-down restaurant. Today the market remains at the heart of Feby’s. Not only does it give customers a peek at the fresh product they’ll soon be eating, it gives Feby’s a humongous advantage over its competition. Good luck getting that kind of access at a place like Joe’s Crab Shack.
Page 2: The Definition of Classic, continues…
If you fancy yourself a true fish lover, you’ll want to direct your attention to Feby’s chalkboard. On it is the daily selection of fresh fish entrées, which can be broiled, grilled, fried, baked, blackened or stuffed with crab imperial. Alongside standards salmon and tilapia are amazing-when-fresh monkfish, sea trout, Chilean sea bass, wahoo and halibut.
Philip and Mary, as well as sons Chad and Philip Jr., helm the kitchen, and they have a really good canvas to work with. They go to great lengths not to muss it up. You won’t find Peruvian-style ceviche or crab cakes made with seafood mousse and meunière sauce at Feby’s.
Instead, über-fresh selections from the blackboard are handled minimally, which provides the eater clear recognition of its true flavor. Having failed miserably in my one and only attempt to tackle monkfish in my kitchen, I was eager to see it done right. “Broiled is really good,” our server said. And she was right. The fish, known in some circles as “veal of the sea” and “poor man’s lobster,” supposedly cooks best with some moisture, but under Feby’s broiler, the filets retained texture and gained a bit of pleasing crispiness on the surface. This was truly a skilled execution of an intimidating fish. My only beef with the fish? It could’ve stood a tad more seasoning.
Other fish house classics were handled equally well. A plate of oysters Rockefeller featured plump, briny oysters, topped with a creamy spinach mixture and a salty crust of Parmesan. Grilled scallops were among the meatiest I’ve ever seen. Three colossal dumplings carried a strong charred flavor of the grill, which played nicely against a creamy sauce of mushrooms and leeks.
Feby’s crab cakes are another solid entry. When fried, the cakes arrived with a thin, perfectly crispy breadcrumb coating and a moist mixture of backfin meat inside. Fried mini crab balls were great for sharing, as well as dunking in a chipotle-infused mayo.
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I truly enjoyed Feby’s snapper soup, which showed why the dish is a Delaware Valley delicacy. It was peppery and thick—almost approaching brown gravy levels—and its consistency allowed veggies (celery, onion and green bell pepper—Creole cuisine’s “trinity”) to retain some bite. I can’t say I enjoyed the lobster-tomato bisque quite as much. Here, the gravy-level thickness was a bit of a turnoff, despite nice earthy flavors of roasted tomatoes and chunks of delicate lobster.
Perhaps the most inventive dish I tasted was a thick filet of pan-seared rockfish topped with a flavorful ragout of diced tomato and crabmeat and decorated with crispy fried leeks. As customers around me picked happily at their crab legs and fried shrimp, I realized the kitchen executed my ever-so-slightly uptown dish just as perfectly as its old standards. It was cooked perfectly, golden brown and delicious on the outside, white and moist on the inside. The ragout balanced acidity and sweetness in a way that enhanced the flavor of the fish without overpowering it. Could Feby’s stand to infuse a few more dishes like this into the everyday menu? The kitchen sure seems to have the gumption for it. A fruity, tart and pleasantly sour glass of Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc complimented the rockfish nicely.
Feby’s underwent a renovation a while back, and the decor is pretty much what you would expect from such a forthright, no-frills place. A ship’s wooden helm and a shellacked 7-foot sailfish dominated my view one night. No one would blame Feby’s for putting newspaper over its tables, but the glass tops were actually quite nice, and a few neat nautical touches (mini-oars in the place of balusters, for example) are fun.
The service at Feby’s was some of the best I’ve encountered in some time. On one visit, our waitress kept the entire upstairs dining room on lockdown, zooming between tables, refilling beers and buckets of crab legs, and delivering on every special request and substitution we threw at her. The pacing of meals was great, and recommendations were spot on, so long as you don’t mind being called “hon” once or twice.
All these factors, plus the fact that Feby’s will stay in the DiFebo family for the foreseeable future, make it very possible the restaurant will stay open another 35 years, if the family wants it to. I was genuinely surprised at the largeness of the dinner and lunch crowds at Feby’s, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. There’s something to be said about sticking to a simple, working formula, and the DiFebos have yet to steer away from providing this area’s fish-hungry masses with hearty, home-cooked meals. That reliable concept will never get old.
Page 3: Good as Golden
In the heart of Dover, at a tavern called the Golden Fleece, important men gathered. On the docket one day in 1787 was the decision to ratify the United States Constitution. It was voted upon and passed. Pints were consumed.
Two-hundred-some years on, and 179 years after its demolition, the Golden Fleece Tavern is back in Dover, just a few blocks from its original location. Owners are hoping to draw the state’s legislators back in for another round.
Diana Welch, Ryan Webber and Elizabeth Ford purchased the former Dirty Beggar on Loockerman Street and took to re-creating the famed meeting place.
A decoupage of the Bill of Rights hangs on the wall, and a good deal of Colonial memorabilia decorate the Golden Fleece, thanks to a partnership with Blue Hen Auctions.
“We were out not just to rename the bar, but to re-create it,” Welch says. “We want to have fundraisers here, celebrate Ratification Day here. We want to be a very political bar.”
The Golden Fleece Tavern (132 W. Loockerman St., Dover, 674-1776), which is only 17-feet-wide but plenty long, features overflowing glasses of Fordham beer (which is said to have been served in the original Golden Fleece), as well as martinis, live music and an outdoor patio. —Matt Amis
Page 4: Hy Praise | A local dairy celebrates a milestone.
A local dairy celebrates a milestone.
Hy-Point Dairy has spent the past 90 years becoming such a big part of Delaware’s fabric, the name is as recognizable as the company’s trucks.
But as the Wilmington dairy reaches a milestone, it’s business as usual down on the farm, where 41 yellow trucks (plus one painted red, white and blue) load up daily to deliver milk across Delaware and into Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
If you attended a Delaware school any time during the past 50 years, there’s a good chance you’ve drunk Hy-Point milk, which has been offered in school cafeterias (in cardboard cartons, then plastic pouches and now plastic cartons) for decades. Hy-Point is contracted by the state to supply state buildings, plus hospitals, penitentiaries and police departments. Many restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and all of the state’s Happy Harry’s locations carry Hy-Point products, which include cream, juices and its delicious chocolate milk.
Hy-Point has outlasted almost all of the 164 dairies that existed in Delaware when it opened in 1919. Today it’s one of only two independently owned dairies in the state. Operations began on John A. Meany’s farm with about a dozen cows producing two or three cases of milk daily, which were delivered in glass bottles to customers’ doorsteps.
Today there are no cows at the Beaver Valley Road farm, but the facility, run by John’s grandson Jay Meany, brings in raw milk daily to produce anywhere from 30,000 to 33,000 gallons of store-ready milk a day, which goes out to 3,600 customers.
Hy-Point is especially well-known among local Little Leagues, sponsoring four Naamans teams, plus one in Brandywine Little League and one in Midway Little League. Hy-Point is a fixture with local non-profits and charities, and staff regularly scoops out ice cream at community events.
Family and community are big at Hy-Point, says Meany, and that’s been the key to its success and longevity.
“I think our secret is a deeply felt interest in something other than money,” Meany says. “It’s in making the product and making the name last.” —Matt Amis