Chefs Tell

A great chef possesses a perfect combination of food knowledge, technique and attitude. Here are a few foodies who’ve found very distinctive styles.

Photograph by Todd VachonJason Barrowcliff

Domaine Hudson Wine Bar & Eatery, Wilmington
Backstory After two years at Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island, Barrowcliff hit the kitchen for on-the-job training. He’s worked at Harry’s Savoy Grill, Mendenhall Inn and Dilworthtown Inn, where he was executive chef for two years. Before joining Domaine Hudson when it opened in 2005, he was chef de cuisine at Wilmington Country Club.

Must-have ingredient Fresh herbs, especially thyme.

Signature Whenever Barrowcliff removes the brie and arugula salad from the menu, customers complain. Still, he says, he isn’t known for one dish, which is why the changing menu is printed daily.

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Food philosophy “Keep it simple. Stick with fresh, local ingredients like items from Lancaster instead of fish from Hawaii. (Barrowcliff lives next to an Amish farm in Oxford. He recently started a pumpkin patch.) “I try not to get too crazy with foam or cinnamon air, which I’ve seen recently. We are in Wilmington. Basically, the food has to be good and consistent.”


Photograph by Todd Vachon

Phil Pyle Jr.

(right in photograph)
Fair Hill Inn, Fair Hill, Maryland

Backstory Pyle received his diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa only after completing individual degrees in pastry and cuisine. From 2002 to 2006, he owned Tutti Gusti in Ocean City, Maryland. He opened Fair Hill Inn in 2006.

Must-have ingredient Water. Without it there would be no food. You couldn’t blanch, boil or steam. Thanks to water, a baguette is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. “There is a reason why they say it’s the best thing on earth.”

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Signature Fair Hill has never repeated a dish. Frequent components include up to 19 varieties of homemade salami, 12 to 14 styles of cheese, and charcuterie offerings such as terrines, gallotines, pâtés and rillettes.

Food philosophy  With a background in pastry and butchering, Pyle is nothing if not precise. “I approach all aspects of the profession with an eye toward technique, application, taste and overall appeal. Perfect execution is essential.”

Photograph by Todd VachonBrian Shaw 

(left in photograph)
Fair Hill Inn, Fair Hill, Maryland

Backstory Shaw, who came from the school of “fire, knives and hard knocks,” has 20 years of experience in the industry. With Phil Pyle Jr., he owned Tutti Gusti. They’ve owned Fair Hill Inn since 2006.

Must-have ingredient Butter, an integral ingredient in savory and sweet dishes. “It brings depth to a dish in a very subtle manner. A little butter goes a long way without taking away from the star component.”

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Signature He has none, but you can request anything. “Cooking ‘a la minute’ is what drives me. Bringing together a seemingly disparate set of culinary elements to create something beautiful and delicious is what real cooking is all about.”

Food philosophy Shaw espouses “farmstead cuisine.” He and Pyle grow their own vegetables and flowers, which sustain Fair Hill Inn eight months out of the year. There is an apiary for honey, and they grow hops for beer. Two vineyards produce verjus, wine and vincotto. “We take the farm-to-table concept very literally.”


Photograph by Todd VachonEzio Reynaud

Culinaria, North Wilmington

Backstory Reynaud cut his teeth in restaurants and hotels in his native Italy. In 1974, he joined Claridge’s in London. After a stint in Bermuda, he came to the United States in 1980. For 18 years, he was involved with the popular Silk Purse/Sow’s Ear in Trolley Square. He and partner Pam Grabowski opened Culinaria in 1999.

Must-have ingredient Salt. He’s not kidding. As the night winds down, he’s been known to encrust a whole fish with salt for his and Grabowski’s dinner.

Signature Reynaud is inspired by both Italy and France. He’s inspired by other cultures’ techniques and ingredients. His tomato-Parmesan soup, Thai salad and trout dishes are staples, but he’s been known to throw rabbit Bolognese into the mix.

Food philosophy “Don’t mess it up. Let the ingredients do their job.” And don’t put on airs. “We’ve found that offering food that is straightforward and flavorful at a fair price in space that is fun and comfortable has worked quite well.”


Photograph by Todd VachonSean McNeice

Cherry Tree Hospitality Group
(Washington Street Ale House, Presto! and Mikimotos in Wilmington and Stingray Sushi Bar + Asian Latino Grill in Rehoboth Beach)

Backstory After receiving a degree in culinary arts from DelTech, McNeice worked at the legendary Columbus Inn, Hartefeld National Golf Course and the Rose Tattoo in Philadelphia. He’s been with Cherry Tree since 2001.

Must-have ingredient All things pork. “Pig is large,” he says.

Signature McNeice favors a signature technique over signature dishes: slow roasting. His ribs take three days to make. The spring roll’s chicken marinates overnight and smokes for an hour before getting chopped and rolled.

Food philosophy  Make whatever you can from scratch. Mikimotos’ potstickers are the only item purchased pre-made. They’re so popular, it would require a dedicated staff to supply the demand.


Photograph by Todd VachonDana Banks

The Parkway Restaurant, Bethany Beach, and The Royal Zephyr, Ocean View

Backstory At 14, Banks worked at the Bayside Skillet in Ocean City, Maryland. “I learned by watching other people.” She’s worked for Westin Corp., the Four Seasons in Maui, Sedona in Bethany and Fusion in Rehoboth. She opened The Parkway in 1997 and purchased Royal Zephyr in May.

Must-have ingredient Ginger and other Asian flavors, though she isn’t a heavy user. Salt and pepper are must-haves for proper seasoning. “I also like garlic, but not heavy garlic.”

Signature Crab cakes (the secret ingredient is curry), The Parkway house salad of peppered pistachios, crispy Jerusalem artichokes and maple-walnut vinaigrette, and her Caesar salad with toasted pine nuts.

Food philosophy Buy the best you can, keep it fresh and stay
creative. “Recipes aren’t all black and white. You have to tweak them.”


Photograph by Todd VachonJay Caputo

Espuma and The Porcini House, Rehoboth Beach

Backstory A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Caputo has worked at some of the finest restaurants in San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia, including the acclaimed Tangerine. He bought Espuma in 2004 and Chez La Mer in June 2007, which he reopened as The Porcini House in April.

Must-have ingredient Blood orange at Espuma, fine parmesan cheese at The Porcini House.

Signature The Porcini House’s porcini mushroom soup and Kobe beef hot dogs are big hits. At Espuma, the three-day pork is a longstanding favorite. The pork is cured for 24 hours, cooked for eight hours and left in its juices for 24 hours.

Food philosophy  Food should not only be fresh, it should be in its prime. “Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean tomatoes are good,” Caputo says. He twists the traditional. Consider the BLT on flatbread or a deep-fried soft-boiled egg atop a salad. A restaurant should be flexible. “If customers don’t like creamed spinach, they should have what they like in place of it.”


Photograph by Todd VachonPatsy Dill Rankin

(left in photograph)
Patsy’s Restaurant, Bethany Beach

Backstory Inspired by her mother, who cooked each night for eight, Rankin taught kids cooking classes, baked bread for Washington, D.C., gourmet shops, and prepared food for a health food store. After selling a kite business, she graduated with honors from L’Academie de Cuisine Professional Culinary School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and became a private chef. She and daughter Robin opened Patsy’s in 1999.

Must-have ingredient Fresh herbs grown on site and seasonal vegetables, preferably organic. “There is nothing better than a tomato picked right off the vine and eaten with just a sprinkling of salt. Another is the local corn. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Signature Whole Key West snapper dusted with seasoned flour and flash-fried tempura style. It’s served on jasmine rice with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and a soy-ginger-garlic dipping sauce. Jumbo lump crab cakes and lobster bouillabaisse are also popular.

Food philosophy Use the best,  freshest ingredients available, cook to order, and let the flavor of seafood shine. Rankin favors grilling because of the flavor the charcoal or flame imparts. She grills pizza at home.


Photograph by Todd VachonRobin Rankin

(right in photograph)
Patsy’s Restaurant, Bethany Beach

Backstory Like her mother, Patsy Dill Rankin, she is a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine Professional Culinary School in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Must-have ingredient Thai basil and dill. She also plays with sun chokes and celery root.

Signature Whole flash-fried snapper. Cooking the whole fish keeps it more moist and flavorful, she says.

Food philosophy  A frequent traveler who’s visited Vietnam, Rankin loves Asian, Latin and other exotic cuisines. “I’m influenced by any cuisine that has bold, well-balanced flavors. Nothing excites me more than new tastes, textures and flavors.” She loves to smoke, cure and pickle food. She’s fascinated that adding salt and spice to fish can change its taste, texture and appearance within hours.


Photograph by Todd VachonPrince Johnson

Prince on Delaware, New Castle

Backstory A graduate of the Restaurant School of Philadelphia, Johnson studied pastry in Auxerre, France, and has worked in Philadelphia restaurants, including Le Bec-Fin and Victor Café. Before opening Prince on Delaware in October, he was a private chef.

Must-have ingredient Chipotle peppers. “They’re more smoky than hot,” he says. Chocolate is another favorite. Consider his mole, made with peppers and chocolate, on the chicken entrée.

Signature Johnson’s style, which he calls “American fusion,” is a blend of his Southern background, his studies with a South American chef and the influence of his Jamaican wife. Customers might be miffed if he removed the Chilean salmon or the crab cakes.

Food philosophy  His menu is small for a reason. “I want to have the best every day,” says Johnson, who thinks nothing of sending inferior product back to the vendor. Johnson wants to enjoy making every single dish, and he wants customers to choose what they truly enjoy.


Photograph by Todd VachonDennis Forbes

Cool Springs Fish Bar & Restaurant, Dover

Backstory At age 13, Forbes started working in his Dover neighbor’s pizza place and diner. “Sometimes, I either want to thank or smack him,” Forbes jokes. At 16, he moved to the Coral Reef Restaurant, a Dover seafood eatery. In 1985 he and a partner opened Plaza 9, which sold in 1997. He opened Cool Springs in 1999.

Must-have ingredients Salt, pepper, lemon juice and Pulgra, a rich European butter. “It tastes good on anything,” he says of the fantastic four.

Signature Pan-seared tuna served rare with a homemade ginger sauce and a wasabi sauce on the side.

Food philosophy Keep it simple and consistent. Forbes also enjoys blending Asian and French influences. Newburg sauce jazzes up stuffed flounder, for instance. The goal, he says, is to make a dish approachable to everyone.


Changing it Up

The latest openings, moves and other events in the dining scene.  by Pam George

Few things generate as much buzz as the opening of a new restaurant—unless you count changes at existing restaurants. Here’s a scoop of kitchen confidential.
Newark is the scene for two new restaurants: The Establishment (200 University Plaza, 368-3200) and Firebirds Wood Fired Grill (Center Pointe Plaza, 1225 Churchman’s Road, 366-7577).
Establishment owners Rick Whittick and Erik Hozbauer drew inspiration from Manhattan for their restaurant-nightclub. That means high-end seafood and steaks such as the 21-ounce porterhouse, as well as karaoke and “flashback” nights.
The Firebirds concept comes from Colorado. In a lodge-like atmosphere with a fireplace and exposed beams, diners can dig into specialties such as wood-fired Aspen sirloin, steak, buffalo meatloaf, wood-grilled salmon and herb-roasted prime rib.
Speaking of steaks, Conley Ward’s Steakhouse is now C.W. Harborside (110 S. West St., Wilmington, 658-6626), which, along with steaks, touts chops, seafood and a raw bar. The switch keeps up with the demand for casual, moderately priced restaurants. “We’re trying, like everyone else in this market, to widen our base,” says general manager Joe Van Horn. “We want to be less pigeonholed.”
Downtown Wilmington has witnessed the loss of Costa’s Grill and 821. Yet the closings do not signify the demise of downtown dining, says Henry Dawson, general manager of Ameritage Bistro (Ninth and Orange streets, Wilmington, 427-2300), which opened in March. “That was a function of business, not a function of location,” he says.
Ameritage features traditional bistro fare: French onion soup, steak frites and cassoulet. Yet the kitchen also plays with fun combinations such as gnocchi with lobster, brie and roasted garlic. “Our vision is to blend different kinds of provincial cuisines,” Dawson says. Dishes are simple and tasty, not fancy or fussy.
Ameritage is just steps away from Lapp’s Kitchen (901 King St., Wilmington, 654-8688), which has taken over the space once occupied by Corner Market. The restaurant moved from the Riverfront Market, where it was a staple for seven years. But don’t worry. You can still nab a cheesesteak, a half chicken or the $9 filet mignon sandwich.
Restaurateur Dan Butler of Wilmington’s Toscana and Deep Blue fame continued his move into Pennsylvania with the opening of Bistro on the Brandywine (1623 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa., 610-388-8090). The to-go section opens early and offers breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Lunch and dinner are available in the dining room.
Most entrées top out at $20. Along with bistro favorites—steak frites, coq au vin and crepes—you’ll find stone hearth-baked pizzas and items made for sharing, such as white bean hummus. Across the parking lot, Butler has added a 40-seat deck to his Brandywine Prime Seafood & Chops (167 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa., 610-388-8088).
Elsmere recently welcomed King Tex Mex Restaurant (600 Kirkwood Hwy., Elsmere, 996-4945), whose extensive menu not only includes the familiar burritos and quesadillas but also Salvadoran specialties.
There’s been no shortage of new Asian restaurants. Newcomers include Yi Palace (Concord Square Shopping Center, Wilmington, 477-6900), which bills itself as a Eurasian bar and grill; Soybean Asian Grille (4702 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 636-0800), a Thai restaurant; and Masamato (1810 Wilmington Pike, Glen Mills, Pa., 610-358-5538).
The owners of Kildare’s Irish Pub and Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House in West Chester are opening another Magrogan’s at Dover Downs. Clam chowder, oyster stew, lobster, fish and chips, and, of course, raw oysters give the restaurant the appeal of a Boston fish house.
Two popular beach places have played musical chairs. Lazy Susan’s Seafood Deli (18289 Coastal Highway, Lewes, 654-5115) has moved across the highway from its old digs, which now house onetime Rehoboth Beach fixture Tijuana Taxi (33401 Tenley Court,  Lewes, 644-8294). The locations are new, but the offerings have remained the same.
In Tijuana Taxi’s old spot, you’ll find Vine Wine Bar (211 Rehoboth Ave. Rehoboth Beach, 226-8463). Vine met a warm reception. “The first week we opened, we ran out of wine,” says owner Spencer Derrickson. Half the offerings, typically 70 bottles, is available by the glass. Small plates make up the menu.
Derrickson’s brother, Regan, has opened Delfinis (207 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach), for families. Order a la carte or select entrées served family style. Portions are unlimited.
Regan Derrickson also opened not one but two Hawaii-themed restaurants: Ponos Hawaiian Fine Dining (1306 Coastal Highway, Dewey Beach, 227-3119) and Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar & Grille (1308 Coastal Highway, Dewey Beach, 227-1449). Linked by a boardwalk, the restaurants have distinct looks. Surfboards, totem poles and a tiger shark adorn the causal Nalu, whose entrée prices run from $6 to $20. Ponos is decorated with 1,600 fiber optic stars, a waterfall and a 12-by-32-foot mural of Hawaii at night. Entrées run $19 to $34.
In Rehoboth, Taste was replaced by Blue (122 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-1000) in May. Lunch includes sandwiches, panini and wraps. Dinner focuses on seafood, with rack of lamb, filet, chicken and pasta dishes for landlubbers. Entrées run $17 to $23. If you want some fresh air, sit on the private patio out back or in the al fresco area out front.
Darius Mansoory, owner of Mikimotos, Presto! and the Washington Street Ale House, has jumped counties with the opening of Stingray Sushi Bar + Asian Latino Grill (59 Lake Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-MISO). Stingray is a little bit wasabi, a little bit chimchurri and, at times, the best of both cultures all on one plate. “There’s a whole world of spicy flavors we’re working with: Vietnamese, Thailand, Japanese, China, Argentina, Chile,” Mansoory says.
Lupo Di Mare (247C Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2240) in the Hotel Rehoboth is heavy on seafood such as seared cod with clams, lemon broth and truffled arugula, and there’s pasta, including spaghetti and clams—all under $23.
Jay Caputo of Espuma has transformed the former Chez La Mer into Porcini House (210 Second St., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6494), a bistro with flavors from Italy, Spain and France. The frugal will like the prices. The most expensive entrée, the filet, is $25. Most are between $12 and $20. The wine list follows the same philosophy.
Justine Carpenter of Planet X has put her design talent to good use with Shag (37 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6869), crafting a space that pays tribute to the 1970s with a black-and-silver “ultra pleather” bar  and the Blue Palm courtyard. One room is outfitted entirely in peace signs. Chef Roy Fowler’s menu features seasonal goodies and lots of small plates that salute ’70s comfort food, such as sliders with smoked Gouda, fish tacos and pot roast.
In May Dana Banks, owner of The Parkway in Bethany Beach, purchased The Royal Zephyr (27 Atlantic Ave., Ocean View, 541-9555), which she’s turned into a diner for families. That means meatloaf, spaghetti, chicken thighs and an extensive selection of sandwiches, all served in an old railroad dining car.
For years, locals have flocked to Arena’s Deli & Bar. In April, Arena’s opened Arena’s Café (4113 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 226-CAFE) next to Big Fish Grill. The café offers free delivery and free parking.
Free parking is also a benefit at Que Pasa (113 Dickinson St., Dewey Beach, 227-6444)  in Ruddertown. “It’s traditional Mexican fare priced family friendly,” says owner Jim Bauerle. “And we have the most free parking at the beach.”
The fare includes quesadillas, seafood and ceviche. Another plus: seating on a deck or on the sand.


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