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The Tastemakers

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Over this past year, an overflow of restaurant openings has enriched Wilmington’s already vibrant dining scene. Many of the new places have sisters or brothers in neighboring towns. Some are newcomers who offer something deliciously different. And there’s a full range of locations and moods, from waterfront views to center city slickness to neighborhood coziness. Enjoy stone-grilled pizzas, unique sushi rolls, burritos like none you’ve ever tasted, the finest of fine food and much more. It’s an all-new dining scene, and it’s more fun than ever.

 

The renovated Columbus Inn was modernized without losing its Old World charm. Photo by Jared CastaldiColumbus Inn

2216 Pennsylvania Ave., 571-1492

The Columbus Inn served traditional fare to the people of Wilmington for more than 50 years. Three years ago, the owners closed the establishment to make way for a proposed condominium project. When the project failed to launch, new owners took over, renovated the place and revamped the menu. The new Columbus Inn, still housed in its original historic manse, was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in years—and for good reason.

The inn manages a thoroughly modern makeover that still retains all its historic charm. The new menu takes a seasonal approach, with locally sourced ingredients and seasonal items.

“We’re jumping on the bandwagon of seasonal American, which essentially means getting as much of your food as you can locally,” general manager Rich Snyder says.

The classics remains, such as the Caesar salad and the filet mignon. New items include a scallop crudo and a halibut fillet with an onion and rice puree. The new menu appeals to customers young and old.

Tableside service was eliminated, but the U-shaped bar remains. There’s an extensive wine list and an off-the-beaten-path liquor list with choices from small, craft distilleries. Much of the original structure also remains, complete with that “deep, dark, rich wood feel to it,” Snyder says. Seating is available at the bar, in two dining rooms and on the patio.

The Columbus Inn is open every day of the week.

 

Chelsea Tavern will be open for brunch and dinner on Sundays starting in the fall. Photo by Jared CastaldiChelsea Tavern

821 N. Market St., 482-3333

Chelsea Tavern sits at a central location in Wilmington—across the street from the splendid Grand Opera House.

The sleek-yet-warmly designed restaurant offers a seasonal menu with items made from scratch. “Anything that can be done, we do,” says owner-manager Joe Van Horn.

The Tavern’s most popular menu items are its pizzas, which are baked in a wood-burning oven. The menu also features 20 craft brews on tap, pan-steamed mussels and fries, classic fish and chips, and unique desserts including a banana bread pudding split. Happy surprises such as the unique fried-pickle appetizer are unlike other versions you may have tried elsewhere—and all are delicious.

Almost all ingredients are purchased locally. Some ingredients are even purchased here in Wilmington, on Lancaster Avenue.

“We have a real dedication to cooking from scratch,” Van Horn says. For show goers, the Tavern offers specials that get diners out the door before the curtain rises.

New for this fall: the Chelsea Tavern will be open for brunch and dinner on Sundays.

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Public House

902 N. Market St., 661-7920

Housed in the former Delaware Trust building, Public House is part of a small, local chain owned by a group of young men with a simple vision of great food.

“We’re going for great flavors. We want to do great food where people can come in and get the same results every time,” says executive chaf Aaron Bukowski.

Menu items range from a delectable lobster mac-and-cheese appetizer and duck quesadillas to a pulled pork sandwich and filet mignon with roasted shallot semi-glaze.

Bukowski, a native of the city, believes that Public House is a perfect fit for Wilmington visitors and residents searching for “every dining experience possible.”

Diners enjoy themselves under lofty ceilings in a room that retains many of the neo-classical elements of the old bank. There’s an extensive beer list, specialty cocktails and great wines.

The restaurant also has a private dining room, which gives diners the option of hosting cocktail parties or dinner groups.Public House Wilmington is open daily.

Coming soon: a restaurant-specific menu with items unique to Wilmington.

 

Orillas Tapas Bar

413 Market St.

Orillas chef-owner Julio Lazzarini was a true pioneer by introducing authentic Spanish and Mexican tapas to Wilmington. His warm, intimate place is at once rustic and modern, with exposed beams and brick. His food is out of this world.

The menu changes often, but items such as croquettes of Serrano ham with guava rum glaze and sautéed shrimp with garlic and piquillo peppers make frequent appearances. Creatively topped flatbreads are delicious. Seafood gets the royal treatment. Big eaters will appreciate the paellas. Adventurous diners will find ceviche. And the wine list—packed with Spanish favorites—is a perfect compliment. Sangria? Orillas offers traditional red, as well as a fun white version.

Orillas is a natural for those headed to shows at The Grand Opera House or the soon-to-open World Café Live at the Queen Theater.

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Big Fish Grill

720 Justison St., 652-3474

Wilmington’s beautiful Christina Riverfront sold Eric Sugrue of the idea of opening a second version of his Rehoboth Beach icon in Wilmington. The new place overlooks the river while offering all the great food that made the original a local favorite.

“We bring a concept that compliments all of the other restaurants in Wilmington,” Sugrue says. That concept is family-oriented fun with only the freshest food ingredients. It dovetails nicely with Riverfront places such as Iron Hill Restaurant and Brewery, Harry’s Seafood Grill and Timothy’s on the Riverfront.

Fishing trophies hang from the walls and ceilings. A vast mural depicts the changing landscape from northern Delaware to the beaches. Patio seating on the river might make diners feel like they’re on vacation.

And they’ll find a variety of fresh fishhes prepared in a variety of ways. The specials change daily. There are also pasta dishes, hand-cut steaks and salads.

Big Fish is open daily.

 

Firestone Roasting House

110 S. West St., 658-6626

Firestone is another venture by Eric Sugrue and the Big Fish Restaurant Group. Its unique stone-grilling techniques, Riverfront location and large outdoor patio draw large, fun-loving crowds, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. That patio, in fact, has become one off the most popular outdoor areas in the city.

Signature stone-grilled pizzas are the focal point of the menu. Varieties include wood-roasted sausage, chicken and mushroom, and artichoke and tomato. There are also great steaks, ribs and chicken, as well as a variety of salads and sandwiches,

“We offer great, fresh, quality food at an affordable price with great service,” general manager Matt Moyer says.

Firestone Roasting House is open daily, with outdoor entertainment on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

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Santa Fe

2006 Pennsylvania Ave., 425-5200

Mexican cuisine with a twist hit Wilmington when Javier Acuña opened his second Sante Fe restaurant.

“For Acuña, it was kind of an opportunity to try something a little more polished. The target diners are definitely here,” general manager Peter McVaugh says.

Sante Fe offers customers many Mexican favorites infused with Latin flavors, such as tacos with spiced pork and pineapple, a taco salad with a cilantro-lime vinaigrette, and quesadillas with smoked chorizo and Manchego cheese. Items such as Molcajete—skirt steak and chicken in spicy guajillo pepper sauce served in a sizzling hot lava rock bowl—up the fun factor.

“We offer familiar cuisine in a creative and polished presentation,” McVaugh said.

An outdoor patio on Cinco de Mayo 2010. Tropical parties put a new spin on the locals nightlife every first and third Friday of the summer.

Sante Fe Wilmington is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.

 

Kooma, located on the riverfront, is known for its sushi, Asian-fusion menu and its extensive martini list. Photo by Jared CastaldiKooma Wilmington

400 Justison St., 543-6732

Kooma is a highlight of riverfront dining, with soaring ceilings and a contemporary design that rivals the sleekest restaurants in any big city of the world.

But it’s sushi that keeps the diners coming.

“Our customers love our sushi,” says manager Eric Choi. “Everyone gives good feedback about it.”

Sushi classics include a California roll, a Manhattan roll, and various forms of nigiri. New twists are plenty and include a salmon and deep-fried cream cheese roll, a mixed cooked fish with spicy mayo roll, and a white tuna roll with sliced jalapeño and cucumber.

There’s more, of course. The Asian-fushion menu includes noodle dishes, stir fries, teriyakis and tempuras, as well as entrees such as almond beef. But don’t miss the stone pot bibimbabs—peppery combinations of seafood or meat served in a sizzling bowl.

The restaurant features weekly drink specials and an extensive martini list. Kooma Wilmington is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, and for dinner on Sunday.

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El Diablo

13 Trolley Square, 691-5532

Trolley Square offers everything from casual Italian to upscale Italian to Irish fare and good pub grub. Now it offers something else: California-style burritos. The new El Diablo offers quick lunches and casual dinners daily. But these are no ordinary taco-stand meals.

El Diablo was created and is owned by partners Dean Vilone, Roger Andrews, and Shannon Stevens.

“We have the best burritos. That’s really evidenced by the enthusiasm of our products, the freshness, the quality and the flavor,” says Vilone. “It’s just top-notch.”

Customers choose a flavor of tortilla, then the fillings and dressings they want.The most popular stuffer is chicken, but you’ll also find unique fillings such as pulled pork, various steaks and braised short rib. Salsas include pineapple. Other fillers include pickled peppers, pickled onions, marinated mushrooms, goat cheese and more.

The place may be small—it seats only 22 customers—but it’s big on flavor.

 

Fresh Thymes features a seasonal menu of fresh, local ingredients. Photo by Jared CastaldiFresh Thymes

1836 Lovering Ave., 656-2026

A mother-daughter enterprise, this cafe has one goal: to serve people with all forms of dietary needs.

“We really try and focus on our primary concept of emphasizing the importance of eating whole foods,” says owner Jennifer Adams. “We use local and organic products, and try to get as much products as possible from within a 100-mile radius.”

Adams and her mother, Jane Adams, are transplants from Illinois. They run the café on their own, serving as owners, managers, chefs and waitresses. They prepare almost everything from scratch.

The menu changes seasonally. It features items such as the popular Ryan’s breakfast burrito and Katie’s spinach salad. Every Saturday, delicious buckwheat pancakes are offered with a different topping, such as the peach-blackberry. The most popular items stay on the menu year-round.

Breakfast and lunch is served Monday through Saturday. The place is small and the seating cozy, which only adds to the color and cheerfulness of the place.

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Lime Tequila Bar and Grill

1717 Delaware Ave., 655-5080

Once the popular 1717, Lime Tequila Bar and Grill opened in April 2010. The owners simply decided it was time for a change. The new concept? A tequila bar.

“We were trying to come up with new ideas, and we just felt that this was something the neighborhood needed,” says manager Nicole DiMarzio.

Lime, on the end of a row that is home to classic Del Rose Café and popular Scratch Magoo’s, boasts more than 20 brands of tequila, as well as an eclectic menu that features jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and sweet sausage—a customer favorite—as well as blackened mahi-mahi tacos, enchiladas with mole and fresh queso, and a rib-eye steak with chimmichurri. Other small plates include corn meal-dusted shrimp with cilantro-garlic aïoli and nachos with your choice of toppings.

Lime is more casual than the former 1717, but regulars will still recognize the renovated townhouse. The restaurant and bar is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

 

Juliana’s Kitchen

1828 W. 11th St., 888-1828

Juliana’s Kitchen, owned by Juliana and Edwin Jimenez, is pure Peru. Juliana is a Peruvian native, and her parents own a restaurant in Lomas, a beach resort community.

The best part about Peruvian cuisine?

“There is history behind every plate,” Juliana says while describing tacu-tacu, a dish of rice and beans once dismissed as slave food, but today is a national staple.

Juliana’s Kitchen, decorated in Peruvian wares, from table runners to paintings of Machu Picchu, takes over the spot previously occupied by The Dumpling House. Traditional dishes like cold-cooked, lemon-spiked ceviche are popular sellers.

Edwin distills the Peruvian menu thusly: “If you like seafood, and if you like spice—whew—you can’t go wrong here.”

The restaurant serves dinner from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday (3 p.m.-11 p.m. on Friday), with lunch service available on Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.

Expect lots of chocolo corn, spicy ají peppers, and Peruvian surprises like chichi morada, a refreshing drink made from purple corn, or chaufa, Peru’s answer to Chinese fried rice.

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