On most Mondays in winter, Lewes is a sleepy town. The bulk of the shops and eateries are closed in the chilly off-season months. On a recent Monday night in January, however, the lights were on at Heirloom, and every seat in the restaurant—including the barstools—was filled.
The guests were attending the first of the restaurant’s annual wine dinner series, which is held from January to June. Those in the know plan in advance. “They sell out each time, and there’s a waitlist, too,” says Meghan Lee, the restaurant’s owner.
On that evening, guests sipped merlot, chardonnay, zinfandel and other selections from Paso Robles, California-based Fableist Wine Company. But these events showcase more than the wines. Diners demand innovative dishes from chefs on the Culinary Coast, and Matthew Kern, Heirloom’s executive chef, did not disappoint.
(From LEft): Soft cheese tart with hen of the woods mushrooms, rosemary salt, juniper dust and maitake mushroom mustarda; The “ham-and-egg-on-toast” featured an olive oil-cured egg yolk with house-cured guanciale on sourdough with black pepper and leek ash.// Photos courtesy of Heirloom.
Consider his cheese tart with hen of the woods mushrooms, rosemary salt, juniper dust and a maitake mushroom mustarda. The menu also included pan-seared fluke with clam escabeche, celery root, trumpet mushrooms, mustard greens, translucent curls of cippolini onions and a beurre rouge. For dessert: a puff pastry cup filled with black grape preserve and served with cream cheese ice cream, lemon zest and walnut powder.
“Matthew Kern is a genius when it comes to putting together the wine dinner menus,” says Minnie Waters Shorter, a Lewes resident and frequent wine dinner attendee. “Each course has a story. Heirloom wine dinners are fun and educational.”
To be sure, guests at wine (and beer) events come to learn as well as dine. SoDel Concepts has offered educational wine lunches for more than a year on Saturdays at the hospitality company’s 10 restaurants. There are luncheons on Jan. 12 at Catch 54 in Fenwick Island, on Jan. 19 at Bluecoast Seafood Grill + Raw Bar in Rehoboth and on Jan. 26 at NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View.
Chef Matthew Hern holds a plate adorned with pan-seared fluke with mustard greens, trumpet mushrooms, cippolini onions, clam.//Photos courtesy of Heirloom
Like Heirloom, many beach restaurants hold wine dinners. There is a multi-course event featuring Spanish wines on Saturday, Jan. 12 at The Clubhouse at Baywood in Millsboro, and Lupo Italian Kitchen this year has been holding a Passport Wine Dinner Series that takes diners on a culinary tour through Italy’s wine regions. Next up: an event showcasing the wines of Abruzzo on Thursday, Jan. 17.
Bin 66 Wine and Spirits, located on the Forgotten Mile, spearheads multiple wine dinners at area restaurants in the off-season. On Friday Jan. 18, Bin 66’s team will host a “Backpacking through Europe” dinner at Eden in downtown Rehoboth. Sign up for club emails that detail the wine store’s next destination.
Also check your favorite beach restaurants for similar events. Winter wine dinners at the beach have become staples, and many fine-dining establishments have found a way to tickle their guests’ palate and stir up business during the chilly off-season.