The Best of Delaware 2009

From crab cakes and cheesesteaks to prime rib and clam bakes, little Delaware is packed with great places to eat and terrific places to shop. Here’s the cream of the crop.

Actor-real estate agent Lyman Chen lunches on grilled asparagus on a bed of arugula with truffle oil, fried egg and lemon at one of his favorite spots, Terrain at Styer’s café. Photograph by Phil FlynnAll-Time Favorite Italian Place

  Critics, upstate: More than 31 years has cemented Giuseppe and Anna Martuscelli’s La Casa Pasta as a legend of Italian cuisine in Delaware. The husband and wife’s passion for flavorful, homemade coastal Italian cuisine has seduced generations of diners. Who can resist marveling at marble floors and stone statues while eating the hearty sopressata, seafood cannelloni or the famous paccheri alla Giuseppe, which combines extra-wide rigatoni, monkfish, shrimp, cannelloni, Collina tomatoes and marinara sauce? (120 Four Seasons Pkwy., Newark, 738-9935)


Best Appetizers

  Readers, upstate: Six Paupers (7465 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 489-7287)
  Readers, downstate: Big Fish Grill (20298 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 227-9007)
  Critics, upstate: Poppiti enjoys Nonna Ristorante’s stuzzichini menu of small plates that is served all day. “Owner and chef Chris Peters is so creative and talented, and he’s constantly tweaking the menu,” Poppiti says. The menu offers pasta dishes such as gnocchi with Gorgonzola cream, vegetables like grilled asparagus, and seafood dishes that include crab cakes and applewood-smoked bacon shrimp. Poppiti’s favorite: scallops wrapped in bacon with a whiskey-liqueur reduction. (Del. 4 and Harmony Road, Newark, 737-9999)


Best Bagels

  Readers, upstate: Fabulous Bagel Boys (4706 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 892-9303)
  Readers, downstate: Surf Bagel & Deli (17382 Coastal Hwy., Lewes, 644-1822)
  Critics, upstate: Bagelmania turns outright manic in the mornings, when fresh homemade bagels like the popular cheddar-dill flavor, coffee and warm bagel sandwiches fly. “They have a great selection, and it’s always fresh,” Keeler says. “And they are great supporters of the UD football program.” (416 Suburban Drive, Newark, 369-1950)
  Critics, downstate: Inside the surf-themed Surf Bagel & deli (complete with boards), New York-style bagels achieve a perfectly satisfying chewy bite. “They’re hands down the best,” Livingston says. “They can give New York a run for its money. Great spreads and sandwiches, too.” Wax up your surf bagel with gourmet spreads such as lox, sun-dried tomato, and scallion. (17382 Coastal Hwy., Lewes, 644-1822)

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Best Bar

  Readers, upstate: Dome Restaurant and Bar (400 Lantana Drive, Hockessin, 235-2600)
  Readers, downstate: Summer House (228 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3895)
  Critics, upstate: Tuesdays with Jefe, Friday night DJ parties and enough street cred to last through the next century make The Deer Park Tavern the ultimate college hangout. And it’s the first place alumni want to stop when they return to campus. It still works for townies, and it still works for the Harley set, too. “It’s just a great college town atmosphere,” Keeler says. (108 W. Main St., Newark, 369-9414)
  Critics, downstate: After more than 70 years of existence, it’s perhaps more interesting to notice the things The Bottle & Cork doesn’t have. “We don’t have chairs,” Pires says. “No glassware, no silverware, no napkins. If you’re fussy about that stuff, you’re in the wrong place.” The Cork is still a bare bones, old school rock club. There aren’t many like it left anywhere. That’s why the likes of George Clinton, Robert Randolph and Dwight Yoakam continue to perform there. (1807 Highway One, Dewey Beach, 227-7272)


Best Bar Menu

  Critics, downstate: The quahog-scallop “chowdah” at Nantuckets Restaurant is but one savory reason to visit. Lots of great food is available at the bar, including baked Brie Alla made with baby grape tomatoes and fresh basil pesto, crab and artichoke melt, as well as mussels in basil pesto, garlic and white wine sauce. Though chowdah is the biggest seller, bites like fried mahi mahi skewers, ’Nawlins shrimp and sausage, and oysters Rockefeller are nice bar eats, too. Nantuckets’ lounge is casual, and the candlelit tables surrounding it are draped in white linen. Servers are more than attentive. They also know their seafood, most of which is straight from the docks. (601 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 539-2607)


Readers say La Tonalteca is their favorite place for Mexican cuisine upstate. Best Beach Classic

 Critics, downstate: The Fenwick Crab House opened soon after the Storm of 1962 and, like the G-scale model railroad that chugs around its dining room, the landmark business is still going strong. The restaurant is traditionally open from Easter to Columbus Day, but its crab cakes are so popular, they are shipped to customers year-round. Scott Fornwalt, who bought the place 26 years ago, says he sold more than 5,000 crab cakes last Christmas. For almost half a century, the Fenwick Crab House has been known for its steamed crab specials and other crab dishes. Fornwalt added the soft shell crab club sandwich when he took over and the crab dip baked in French bread about 20 years ago. Even a classic has to stay current, so this summer, look for the new 10-ounce prime rib burger served on a pretzel roll. (100 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 539-2500)


Best Bone-In Filet

  Critics, downstate: Executive chef Ryan Cunningham says the success of his bone-in filet at Bonz begins with the meat’s quality. The choice Angus comes from Rastelli Foods in New Jersey. “Their products are awesome,” Cunningham says. “They haven’t done me wrong yet.” He charbroils the filet at 1,500 degrees and finishes it with Malden sea salt, which is cultivated in England. “Having the bone in seeps more flavor into the meat,” Cunningham says. “It just gives off a great flavor.” We agree. (15 W. Rider Road, Harrington, 398-5348)


Best Bread

  Readers, upstate: Serpe’s Bakery (1411 Kirkwood Hwy., Elsmere, 994-1868)
  Readers, downstate: Frankfurt Bakery (429 S. New St., Dover, 741-0180)
  Critics, upstate: Artisanal bread shops are few and far between in Delaware. Fortunately, Barry Ciarrocchi and his Black Lab Breads produces enough crusty Italian loaves, baguettes, rye and pumpernickel to keep us sated. Impulse buys such as biscotti, cannoli and warm slices of tomato pie are irresistible. “My mom loves the bread at Black Lab Bakery,” Butler says. “And I know she’s not alone.” (812 N. Union St., Wilmington, 658-1307)

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Best Breakfast Place

  Readers, upstate: Kozy Korner (906 N. Union St., Wilmington, 658-0812)
  Readers, downstate: The Crystal (620 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-1088)
  Critics, Upstate: Monster breakfasts at Lucky’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant have been jam-packed since the place opened, and favorites such as Belgian waffles, fluffy omelets and everything else are available all day. Another handy use for Lucky’s breakfast: motivation. “We tell the kids we’re going to Lucky’s for breakfast and all are up, dressed and ready to go in an instant,” Karibjanian says. “Quite an accomplishment when you consider they are 20, 18 and 15.” (4003 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-0240)
  Critics, downstate: Ocean View Family Restaurant is famous for hearty omelets stuffed with cheeses, veggies and any breakfast meat you can dream of. And since it’s at the beach, the seafood omelet, made with shrimp, crab meat and Old Bay, is very necessary. “We work late at night, so we don’t get out much for breakfast, but we do during the fall, and we like to go to Ocean View Family Restaurant for a home-cooked meal,” Rankin says. (42 Atlantic Ave., Ocean View, 539-4864)


Best Burgers

  Critics, upstate: Jake’s Hamburgers is a longtime favorite of Chen. “Growing up in Newark, I frequented the joint on (Del.) 273,” he says. “The decor is so simple, but the burgers are to die for. A 10-ounce Big Jake with cheese with fries and a black-and-white shake—’nuff said.” (150 S. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, 322-0200; 1100 Ogletown Road, Newark, 737-1118; 2405 Kirkwood Hwy., Wilmington, 994-6800)
  Critics, downstate: The chefs at W.T. Smithers take a half-pound of certified Angus beef and grill it to order. There are eight variations of burger, including cool ranch, three-cheese (provolone, American and cheddar) and the ever-popular bacon cheeseburger. Brave souls attack the Double Stack: a 1-pound monster that’s been the subject of a few challenges over the years. “It’s a little bit ridiculous,” says co-owner Jason Thomas. “I’ll tell customers if they can eat the burger and all the fries, I’ll pay for their meal.” (140 S. State St., Dover, 674-8875)
  Critics, over the line: The burgers at Brandywine Prime Seafood & Chops start their journey at the same place as the restaurant’s awesome steaks—on a cattle farm in northern Pennsylvania. Prime’s half-pound patties are made from scraps left after steaks are trimmed. That means the burgers contain prime beef such as New York Strip and ribeye. The charbroiled burgers, served on brioches from Le Bus, are topped with caramelized onions, Kennett Square mushrooms (grown about a mile away) and cheddar cheese. “It’s a pretty laborious task,” says owner Dan Butler. But customers appreciate the effort. Witness Friday nights, when the burgers sell for half-price in the bar. So many folks turn out that some have described the affair as a community event. (1617 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa., 610-388-8088)


Best Cakes

  Readers, upstate: Serpe’s Bakery (1411 Kirkwood Hwy., Elsmere, 994-1868)
  Readers, downstate: Pasqualini’s Bakery (101 Atlantic Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-2111)
  Critics, upstate: “There is an enormous selection of delicious desserts,” at Sweets to You By Ginger, says Linda Gray. “And confections are made with real fruits, whipped cream frostings and chocolates, all in a rainbow of colors, textures, shapes and sizes.” Ginger offers great cookies and tarts, but the bakery excels at wedding cakes. Flavors include vanilla, chocolate, marble, lemon, spice, chocolate chip pound, orange pound, lemon pound and sour cream pound. Delicious fillings range from caramel and chocolate mousse to peanut butter or pineapple chunk. (913 Brandywine Blvd., Wilmington, 762-3451)


WHYY’s Nancy Karibjanian loves to grab breakfast at Lucky's Coffee Shop and Restaurant in Wilmington. Photograph by Luigi CiuffetelliBest Candy

  Readers, upstate: Govatos’ Chocolate (800 N. Market St., Wilmington, 652-4082; 4105 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-5324)
  Readers, downstate: Candy Kitchen (1 S. Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-9200; 21 Lighthouse Plaza, Rehoboth Beach, 227-9334)
  Critics, upstate: Govatos’ Chocolate is so synonymous with chocolate in Delaware, Karibjanian wonders, “Is there anywhere but Govatos?” Crunchy to chewy, delicate to devilish, Govatos’ candy is bliss. With famous delights like truffles filled with butter pecan, Irish cream or tiramisu, non pareils, and chocolate-covered pretzels, it’s no wonder they’ve been at it for 115 years. (800 N. Market St., Wilmington, 652-4082; 4105 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-5324)
  Critics, downstate: Along with the great candy we all know about at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Klaus and Roberta Wuttke are known for taking custom orders at their Lewes shop. Chocolate-coated wine bottles (BYOB) are perhaps their most popular item, and chocolate shot glasses are certainly unique. For bridal showers, the Wuttkes fashion chocolate teapots, teacups and saucers that hold mints. The big sellers, of course, are the caramel apples. The caramel is made from scratch with heavy cream from nearby Lewes Dairy. The Wuttkes sell about 100 caramel apples a week during summer. (135 Second St., Lewes, 645-5528; 36484 Seaside Outlet Drive, No. 1510, Rehoboth Beach, 227-0422)


Best Casual Classic

  Critics, upstate: Customers of Del Rose Café know what makes it a classic, and that’s why some eat there four or five days a week. For nearly half a century, the laid-back Trolley Square landmark has been a second home to its regulars, who go for traditional Italian fare such as homemade lasagna. The antipasto is legendary—Del Rose sells 200 to 300 orders a week—in part because the ingredients are combined before they are chopped, fusing their respective flavors. The Del Rose’s second personality comes to life around 10 p.m., when sit-down dining is swapped for drinking and dancing to live bands. The chicken fingers and other late-night menu selections are tough to beat. And for those who tire of the rowdy nightlife at neighboring establishments, Del Rose’s outdoor patio, with its fully loaded bar, is a great place to escape. (1707 Delaware Ave., Wilmington, 656-3015)
  Critics, downstate: While the rest of Ruddertowne continues to transform, The Rusty Rudder has maintained the formula that makes it a classic: solid American seafood and steak (including a reasonably priced seafood buffet) served indoors or on the deck, a great view of Rehoboth Bay and live music. This Dewey landmark no longer remains open year-round, but during summer, it’s still the place to catch some of the area’s most popular cover bands. Dancing to Love Seed Mama Jump on the deck is pure Dewey tradition. (113 Dickinson St., Dewey Beach, 227-3888)

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Best Cheese

  Readers, upstate: Janssen’s Market (3801 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 654-9941)
  Readers, downstate: Nourish (37385 Henlopen Junction, No. 10, Rehoboth Beach, 227-6282)
  Critics, over the line: The lone farmhouse table might get the attention at Talula’s Table, but its day-to-day operations as a gourmet shop has foodies across the region percolating. “Everyone knows about the chef’s table, and that Bryan Sikora is an awesome chef and all. But his wife, Aimee Olexy, gets a vast array of unique varieties of cheeses in their store,” Butler says. “And you don’t have to book your cheese a year in advance”—like you have to book the table. The shop keeps more than 100 varieties of cheeses on hand most of the time. A monthly newsletter goes out to keep caseophiles up to date on staff faves like Meadow Creek Farms’ Grayson cheese, a smooth cow’s milk, or highly-coveted Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin. (102 W. State St., Kennett Square, Pa., 610-444-8255)


Best Cheesesteaks

  Readers, upstate: Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop (430 Eden Square, Bear, 832-8132; 300 Lantana Drive, Hockessin, 234-2322; 708 W. Basin Road, New Castle, 322-6797; 614 Newark Shopping Center, Newark, 454-0200; 2076 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 998-0096; 2122 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 479-9818; 510 Union St., Wilmington, 571-8929)
  Readers, downstate: Casapullas (19331 Lighthouse Plaza Blvd., No. 1, Rehoboth Beach, 227-7827)
  Critics, upstate: When Chen is in the mood for a big cheesesteak—and we mean big—he places an order at Claymont Steak Shop. Staffers stuff a pile of thinly sliced ribeye onto a fresh roll, then finish it off with American and provolone cheese. You can’t go wrong with the classic, but the Buffalo chicken cheesesteak is another hot ticket. (3526 Philadelphia Pike, Claymont, 798-5319)


Best Chef

  Readers, upstate: Brad Dawson (Caffé Gelato, 90 E. Main St., Newark, 738-5811)
  Readers, downstate: Jay Caputo (Espuma, 28 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-4199; Porcini House, 210 Second St., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6494)
  Critics, upstate: Karibjanian and husband Joe find themselves at Ezio Reynauld’s Culiniaria almost weekly. It’s always fabulous, she says, “even if you order the same thing each time, like my husband (iceberg salad and ribeye) or try their specials, like me.” Karibjanian’s new favorite is the Thai curry chicken served with jasmine rice. “If I don’t order a special, the grilled marinated chicken breast is excellent,” she says. As for Reynauld, the chef is inspired by his native Italy, as well as French cuisine. Which would explain why pasta and rustic dishes such as calf’s liver are staples of Culinaria’s menu. (Culinaria, 1812 Marsh Road, No. 19, Wilmington, 475-4860)
  Critics, downstate: As Matt Haley ’s body of work grows—he’s up to five restaurants—his quality remains consistent. Pires calls Haley “in a league of his own. There is no one better for seafood.” Fellow celebrity chef Butler calls Haley “a bud” and says his restaurants are among the best at the beach. His approach is usually minimalist: Let the flavors of his high-quality seafood speak for themselves. A little butter, olive oil and sea salt does more to illuminate fish than fancy accessories. More ambitious dishes are typically updates on comfort classics like crab cakes and lobster Thermador. (Blue Coast Seafood Grill, 1111 Highway One, Bethany Beach, 539-7111; Catch 54, 39831 Madison Ave., Fenwick Island, 436-8600; Fish On! 17300 N. Village Main Blvd., Lewes, 645-9790; Lupo di Mare, 247 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2240; Northeast Seafood Kitchen, 29 Atlantic Ave., Suite F, Ocean View, 537-1785)


Best Chinese Restaurant

  Readers, upstate: The Crownery (228 Lantana Drive, Hockessin, 239-3825)
  Readers, downstate: China House restaurant (250 Gateway South Blvd., Dover, 697-3333)
  Critics, upstate: Chen is a regular at Yi Palace Authentic chinese food, a restaurant known for inventive cuisine that goes well beyond the standards. Deep down, Chen thinks, “Chinatown in Philly rules.” But he also believes the palace holds its own. “Yi serves great, authentic Chinese food in North Wilmington,” he says. Dishes he calls “generous and healthy” include Thai-style laab, a mixture of spicy pork, chicken and beef served with lettuce wrappers; spicy Moroccan lamb with couscous; and Peking duck with crepes and scallions. The decor is unremarkable. The food is not. (4435 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-6900)
  Critics, downstate: Authentic cuisine and sophisticated decor have earned rapturous praise for Confucius Chinese Cuisine from Pires and Rollins. “The cuisine is so fine,” Rollins says. “I’ve not had better in Hong Kong and around the world. The salt-encrusted whole fish, the Peking duck—it’s international cuisine at its best. There isn’t anything he has that isn’t phenomenal, even the string beans.” (57 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3848)


Best Cocktail Selection

  Readers, upstate: Home Grown Café & Gourmet to Go (126 E. Main St., Newark, 266-6993)
  Readers, downstate: Espuma (28 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-4199)
  Critics, upstate: The solid beer list at Exchange on Market should not be discounted, but the Grays give Exchange high marks for its drink menu, “which offers unique blends of standard and exotic flavors,” says Harold. Best sellers include the Dark & Stormy, a Bermudian concoction of Gosling’s Black Seal rum and ginger beer; the double espresso martini; and the Key Lime margarita, a blend of Margaritaville Calypso Coconut tequila, pineapple and lime. The Seedless Watermelon, a combo of Bacardi watermelon, triple sec, cranberry and lime is worth a sip, as is the good ’ol Harvey Wallbanger. Says Gray, “The cocktails settle nicely on the palate and gently on the morning after.” (902 N. Market St., Wilmington, 576-9861)


Best Coffee

  Readers, upstate: Brew Ha Ha! (Various locations)
  Readers, downstate: Java Beach (17314 N. Village Main Blvd., No. 53, Lewes, 644-0370)
  Critics, upstate: The Gunns get their morning buzz from Pike Creek Coffee Roasterie, a local outfit that roasts beans fresh on site. Single-source coffee comes from around the world (Costa Rica, India, Kenya and more), but the real treats are the exclusive blends, like the Rise and Shine Breakfast Blend, where South American and Indonesian beans mingle to create a great morning fog-lifter. Flavored coffee like French toast and crème brûlée seem too good to be true. (270 Polly Drummond Hill Road (inside Zingo’s), Newark, 731-5187)
  Critics, downstate: Unique, flavorful and even a few proprietary coffee blends are Amy Felker’s specialty at Notting Hill Coffee Roastery, where many a fair trade and organic bean make their home. “She has a nice reputation and some strong coffee,” Leishear says. “We use a French roast blended with a fair trade coffee to make our mocha chocolate cake. That’s her thing. She knows her bean.” Felker’s bean selection reads like a Rand McNally. Javas from Ethiopia, Jamaica, Guatemala and more are all roasted on site. (124 Second St., Lewes, 645-0733)


Best Contemporary Italian

  Critics, upstate: The water feature made of wine bottles at the hostess station is your first clue that Capers and Lemons is different. Next you’ll notice the servers’ black T-shirts, each labeled with a different Italian wine, such as Prosecco. Woodstone pizzas and starters such as fig flat bread place C&L firmly on the fore of dining trends. But other food is classic: zesty cioppino, tender braciole and veal saltimbocca. On your way out, grab some jars of sauce and specialty food in the adjoining to-go shop. Monty is a big fan. (301 Little Falls Drive, Wilmington, 256-0524)


Best Crab Cakes

  Readers, upstate: Valle Cucina Italiana (4752 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 998-9999)
  Readers, downstate: Big Fish Grill (4117 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 227-9007)
  Critics, upstate: “We love the crab cakes from Movable Feast,” Karibjanian says. “There’s jumbo lump, a lot of meat and a great combination of flavors. It’s not like eating crab, but a crab cake as it should be,” says Steve Horgan. “We start with the best crabmeat we can find and let it speak for itself. It’s a light seasoning and a dusting of panko bread crumbs before we bake them.” (2510 W. Fifth St., Wilmington, 656-8892)
  Critics, downstate: The burly all-lump crab cakes at Jake’s Seafood are made according to a well-guarded 70-year-old family recipe that, we have on good authority, involves a hint of tangy mustard. “I’ve known [owner] Bill [Klemkowski] for years, and his handed-down family recipe has plenty of big, flakey crabmeat,” Meoli says. “I get mine broiled.” (29 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6237; 19178 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 644-7711)
  Critics, over the line: Sometimes Borin feels like eating crab cakes. Sometimes she feels like a drive to the country. When she feels like both, she escapes to The Farmhouse, one of three quaint dining facilities at Loch Nairn Golf Club. “The delicious crab cakes are served inside or out on the patio,” she says, “and the fresh, chunky crabmeat is the restaurants’ claim to fame.” (514 McCue Road, Avondale, Pa., 610-268-2235)


Best Crab House

  Readers, upstate: Lestardo’s Crab House (135 Christiana Road, New Castle, 328-5070)
  Readers, downstate: Old Mill Crab House (8829 Waller Road, Delmar, 846-2808)
  Critics, upstate: Grab a hammer and crank up the jukebox. Lestardo’s Crab House is a classic crab house without the view. But who needs scenery when you’re cracking into spicy steamed blue crabs and drinking cold beer? Lestardo’s serves crabs year-round and offers a menu full of seafood, as well as some tasty appetizers. The crabs are always good and the staff is always friendly and attentive. Now dig in. (135 Christiana Road, New Castle, 328-5070)
  Critics, downstate: Poppiti thinks Sambo’s Tavern “should be a Hall of Fame consideration. When you think Delaware crab house, you think Sambo’s.” The crabs, crab cakes and softshell crab sandwiches are all good, but Poppiti loves the view. “What a sight to see the crab boats docking at the back of the restaurant and unloading the day’s catch.” (283 Front St., Leipsic, 674-9724)


Best Culinary Treat

  Critics, downstate: The Nic-o-Boli from Nicola Pizza is “one of the greatest culinary treats we have in Delaware,” says Poppiti. People line up around the block for the sensational stromboli that blends ground beef, Nicola’s fat-free pizza sauce and cheeses inside fat-free dough. It’s so famous, it’s shipped anywhere in the country. The standard Boli is good as is, though some diners add fresh ingredients such as pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage, sweet peppers, onions or anchovies. There’s even a vegetarian version. (Nicola Pizza, 8 N. First St., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2654)


Best Decor

  Critics, upstate: Earth, air, fire water—it’s all at Soffritto Italian Grill. The restaurant scores big points for the stone hearth and fireplace and towering waterfall alone. But all the beef, veal, chicken and seafood classics are offered, as well as fun pastas such as ravioli in pesto. Trust us: You’ll feel like you’re dining a world away from Newark. (1130 Capitol Trail, Newark, 455-1101)
  Beginning with the glowing orange tones in the front lounge, you quickly realize Stingray Sushi Bar + Asian Latino Grill is as much a treat to the eyes as the taste buds. Hanging high above the gargantuan, custom-made sushi bar are hand-blown neon lights shaped like jellyfish, crafted in the French Quarter. They simply pop against the black ceiling. Like its sister restaurant, Mikimotos, Stingray has paintings and prints depicting the Ultraman and Marine Boy characters of the ’60s Japanese TV. Carefully placed spotlights brighten pockets of the rooms. The pièces de résistance are glowing, color-changing LED stingray patterns embedded in the sushi bar’s countertop. Even the Stingray sign out front was cut from steel with a water laser. At night when it’s backlit, it creates a halo-like effect. (59 Lake Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6476)


DT readers say the Old Mill Crab House in Delmar is the best crab house downstate. Photograph by Keith MosherBest Desserts

  Readers, upstate: Caffé Gelato (90 E. Main St., Newark, 738-5811)
  Readers, downstate: Big Fish Grill (4117 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 227-9007)
  Critics, upstate: Rollins has been a fan of Temptations for, let’s just say, quite a while. “I’ve had a lifetime of it,” she says with a laugh. “We’ve been eating the ice cream since the kids were in grammar school. The texture and quality is rich and fabulous.” This Trolley Square fixture, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary in August, is known for its homemade Belgian waffle sundaes, the Mile High apple pie, which is literally a tall order, chocolate fudge cake and carrot cake, which has been served since day one. Temptations’ premium ice cream is made by Bassetts Ice Cream of Philadelphia. The local product is made by Wilmington’s own Hy-Point Dairy. Rollins’ favorite flavor? She doesn’t hesitate: “coffee and chocolate.” (11A Trolley Square, Wilmington, 429-9162)
  Critics, downstate: Skip the funnel cake and head straight to Victoria’s Restaurant on the boardwalk, where you’ll find sweets like crème brûlée, tiramisu, pies and cakes. “I love stopping at Victoria’s in the evening and getting a big piece of cheesecake,” Meoli says. “It’s fabulous, New York-style with strawberries. It’s a very big portion, too—perfect for that last stop of the evening.” (2 Olive Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-0615)


Best Dinner and Dinner to Go

  Critics, upstate: Locals love The Back Burner Restaurant & Bar’s cozy, country ambiance almost as much as its signature pumpkin mushroom soup and appetizers such as goat cheese quesadillas and crispy fried oysters. The popular lamb shank is braised and served with succotash. Another winner, veal Oscar, offers medallions topped with fresh lump crab and Béarnaise sauce. But in a pinch, diners hit The Back Burner To Go, the gourmet takeout shop next door. The soup is there, as is a full case of cheeses, gift baskets and specialties that include D.L. Jardine’s salsa, Crane’s dressings, Seattle’s Best coffee, Divina olives, E. Molinari and Sons dry-cured salami, American Vintage wine biscuits, D’Artagnan pâté and local Woodside Farm ice cream. (425 Hockessin Corner, Hockessin, 239-2314)


Best Elegant Classic

  Critics, upstate: The clout of Harry’s Savoy Grill hasn’t diminished since it opened in1988, and that allows the staff to please regulars with prime rib and lobster while simultaneously attracting a new breed of diners with a taste for more exotic ingredients and a fresh approach to wine. Even after expansions, renovations, recessions and a few experiments with ostrich meat, Harry’s has more swagger than ever. And the prime rib still rocks. (2020 Naamans Road, Wilmington, 475-3000)
  Critics, downstate: Guiseppe Garramone opened a little pizza shop in 1973, and it became a Dover landmark. After all these years, there’s still no place like Roma. It’s a classy, yet comfortable place to go for a business lunch or for any special occasion. Roma’s servers, wearing traditional black-and-white uniforms, are friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. Chef Joe Garramone, Guiseppe’s son, continues to produce awesome traditional Italian fare, plentiful seafood dishes, and popular specials such as seared Alaskan halibut served over lobster macaroni and cheese drizzled with truffle oil. All of the five veal entrées are a hit. The appetizers and soups are delicious and the bread, oh, the bread. And the antipasti and the… (3 President Drive, Dover, 678-1041)


Best Family Place

  Readers, upstate: Johnnie’s Dog House (3401 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-1440)
  Readers, downstate: (tie)  Big Fish Grill (4117 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 227-9007) and XBOS (456 W. Glenwood Ave., Smyrna, 653-1800)
  Critics, upstate: Borin respects the hard-working family that owns Mazzella’s Italian Restaurant. “The family has brought just the right taste of Italy to our community, serving over-the-top portions of pasta, chicken, veal and seafood at wonderful prices that give enough leftovers for the week,” she says. “Owners Domenico and Mafalda often bring their mothers over from Naples to help create the newest dishes.” Borin’s one complaint: “I know the family needs a day of rest, but I wish Mazzella’s was open on Sundays.” (729 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington, 762-8722)
  Critics, downstate: Tiny Villa Sorrento is a regular haunt for the Leishear family. “We take the kids there. It’s old-school Italian,” Mark Leishear says. “They do great, Italian family-style dinner. Kelly will typically get a margarita pizza. The white pizza is good. The pasta is great. There are big salads and great bread. And they’re not afraid to use the garlic, so be prepared.” (1551 Savannah Road, Lewes, 644-7051)


Best Flaming Coffee Drink

  Critics, downstate: There’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee, right? How about a flaming coffee? And by flaming, we mean coffee that is literally set on fire tableside. Paul and Bonnie Cullen will fight for a table at Back Porch Café just to sip its Café Flambé, a coffee tweaked with Kalúa, Galliano, Lewes Dairy whipping cream, sugar, lemon, cinnamon, and, of course, fire. (59 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3674)


Best French Restaurant

  Readers, upstate: The Green Room (11th and Market sts., Wilmington, 594-3154)
  Readers, downstate: Béseme (142 Second St., Lewes, 645-8108)
  Critics, upstate: The Grays enjoy Bon Appetit Gourmet Food Shoppe for its convenient location and relaxed atmosphere. “When you eat its sandwiches and phenomenal desserts, you can almost see the Avenue des Champs-Élysées,” Linda says. Manager Louisette Amblard’s entrées include vegetarian or meat quiche, salmon with dill, rich pâtés, and vegetarian soup made fresh daily. Her homemade chocolate croissants rule. (3629D Talleyville Shopping Center, Wilmington, 478-4344)


Best Gourmet to Go

  Readers, upstate: Toscana to Go (1402 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 655-8600)
  Readers, downstate: Fisher Bay Gourmet Foods (33323 E. Chesapeake St., No. 31, Lewes, 644-4747)
  Critics, upstate: The Grays fall into the same trap most North Wilmingtonians do. They are lured by the smell of fresh baguettes, croissants and six-grain breads baking in the ovens at Bon Appetit Gourmet Food Shoppe. “The breads are baked steadily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” says manager Louisette Amblard. The sandwiches, thanks to the aforementioned breads, are the most popular takeout items. Customers also enjoy artisan jams, pastas, fresh-made soups, breads, salads, cheeses, fresh salmon entrées, quiche and vegetarian soups. (3629D Talleyville Shopping Center, Wilmington, 478-4344)
  Critics, downstate: Deberah Sutter and Lois Pellegrino, two local foodies with organic and natural goodies on their minds, took over the former Beautiful Foods, renamed it Nourish and began producing ready-made gourmet, on top of Beautiful Foods’ usual inventory. “New owners, new attitude,” Livingston says. “Let them stock your pantry and entertain your guests. Having a few friends for cocktails? Get all you need there. Having a cocktail party for 50? Let them cater. You won’t be sorry.” Sutter has kept the best of what Beautiful Foods offered, namely specialty and artisanal cheeses—French Camembert, as well as gorgonzola and mozzarella from Italy. But she’s also focused on small American producers. People can still find French cheese, but there’s also some from Washington, Iowa—even Delaware. With a full kitchen at her disposal, Sutter prepares ready-made salads like French lentil, quinoa and forbidden black rice, as well as dinners, sauces and dressings. (37385 Henlopen Junction, No. 10, Rehoboth Beach, 227-6282)


Most Gracious Host

  Critics, upstate: “This is not a restaurant,” Marco Rizzo says. “This is my home.” Guests at Ristorante Marco certainly feel at home, thanks to the warm, cozy atmosphere and their host’s personality—friendly, full of life and Italian all the way. Rizzo thinks of customers as his friends, he’s always quick with a wine recommendation for veal scaloppine, and he’s even absorbed customers’ family recipes into his menu. “I feel like part of their families,” he says. “I even get invited to weddings.” Rizzo, who is from Italy, still visits his home country every year, then brings back the latest in wine and food trends. He’s built such a loyal following, in June he opened a second restaurant, this time in Greenville. (1847 Pulaski Hwy., Bear, 392-2244; 3801 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, 254-5427)


Best Grazing

  Critics, upstate: Grazing means sampling casually, and that’s just what Tom Hudson wants customers to do at Domaine Hudson Wine Bar & Eatery. Hudson’s creative small plates and seemingly endless variety of small wine pours allow Domaine diners to cover a lot of ground in one sitting. For example, Hudson’s daily 3-3-3 Happy Hour tasting recently featured three 3-ounce pours of French Pinot Noirs at $3 each: a 2007 Vignoble Guillaume, VDP de Franch-Comté; a 2007 Domaine Daniel Rion from Bourgogne, Burgundy; and a 2005 Domaine Olivier & Anne-Marie Rion “La Pretière” from Côte de Nuits Villages, Burgundy. The wines were paired with handcrafted cheese from New York’s Artisanal and Murray’s cheeses (three cheeses for $15 or five cheeses for $25). Check the chalkboard for the latest grazing opportunities. (1314 Washington St., Wilmington, 655-9463)


Two Seas in Dewey Beach is considered a romantic spot because of its intimate dining room and views of the ocean and bay that diners enjoy from the porch. Photograph by Keith MosherBest Greek Restaurant

  Readers, upstate: Cosmo’s Diner (316 S. Maryland Ave., Wilmington, 994-0920)
  Readers, downstate: Captain Pete’s Mediterranean Cove (700 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 537-5900)
  Critics, upstate: Poppiti calls Cosmo’s Diner Restaurant “a family favorite. We have a family joke that when the shad’s running, it’s going to a big night out for Dad.” Cosmo’s offers “a great Greek menu, great seafood, great diner fare. It does great food, period.” Cosmo’s offers all the great American breakfast standards, too, but its authentic dishes are savory. Spanakopita, layers of flaky filo dough stuffed with spinach and feta is a top seller, as is Greek-style spaghetti topped with browned butter and feta, and its lasagna-like pastichio. (316. S. Maryland Ave., Wilmington, 994-0920)
  Critics, downstate: For a whirlwind tour of Greek cuisine, try the appetizer of Greek favorites for two—dolmades, spanikopita, hummus, meatballs and more—at Captain Pete’s Mediterranean Cove. Save room for delicious specials such as whole grilled branzino seasoned just right with a touch of olive oil, lemon and sea salt. On a nice summer evening, you might think you’re dining on the Aegean instead of the Atlantic. (700 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 537-5900)


Best Happy Hour

  Readers, upstate: McGlynn’s Pub (8 Polly Drummond Shopping Center, Newark, 738-7814; 108 Peoples Plaza, Newark, 834-6661)
  Readers, downstate: Fat Tuna (319 Atlantic Ave., Millville, 541-8200)
  Critics, upstate: Staffers at Deep Blue Bar and Grill have revived the downtown happy hour scene, especially on Wednesdays, when Wilmington After Work draws the thirstiest customers and lovers of live music. But the Grays award Deep Blue for its “central location with mingling space,” says Harold, as well as the “good appetizers, cocktails and bartenders.” On Thursdays, half-priced oysters are popular, and on Wednesdays, $3 tapas go great with $4 glasses of Wente Riesling. There’s a new tapas menu every week and some sort of entertainment. Bar food includes tuna tartare, steamed Mediterranean mussels, crispy beef wonton and fried oysters. In other words, it’s not your standard happy hour grub. (111 W. 11th St., Wilmington, 777-2040)


Best Healthy Fare

  Readers, upstate: Home Grown Café & Gourmet to Go (126 E. Main St., Newark, 266-6993)
  Readers, downstate: Greenman Juice Bar & Bistro (12 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-4909)
  Critics, upstate: Though it’s more focused on fresh, local and, often, organic produce than calorie-counting dishes, Home Grown Café and Gourmet To Go is still the place to get grilled zucchini with your roasted organic tempeh. Vegan chili is great for cold weather, and in the summer, there’s fresh gazpacho, blended with tomatoes and summer veggies. Produce and meats come from local purveyors. Keeler goes for the balsamic glazed chicken. (126 E. Main St., Newark, 266-6993)
  Critics, downstate: “You can never go wrong with the Pearl,” Leishear says. With salmon rolls, seaweed salads, shrimp curry and veggie tempura among menu standouts at
The Cultured Pearl, eating healthy never tasted so good. Even Leishear’s 6-year-old son, Liam, digs the sushi. “He loves it, as long as the nori is on the outside,” he says. (301 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-8493)
  Critics, over the line: Immersed in the garden party atmosphere of Terrain at Styer’s, diners lounge on casual patio furniture amid plants and vines to enjoy nibbles like wild mushroom risotto, frittatas made with organic eggs, and minted barley salad with grapefruit, spinach and chicken. Only lunch and brunch is served in the sun-drenched space. Of course, to get to the café, one must walk through Styer’s, a gardener’s paradise. (914 Baltimore Pike, Glen Mills, Pa., 610-459-2400)


Best Local Brew

  Critics, upstate: You know when you walk into a place and see an honest-to-goodness brewery, you’re going to be tasting some great beers. Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant’s beers are brewed on site by company brewers. Five home brews are always joined by various traditional Belgian ales that change throughout the year. The brews are (as if you don’t have them memorized) the Iron Hill Light Lager, Vienna Red Lager, Ironbound Ale, Raspberry Wheat and our favorite, the slightly bitter, kinda nutty, ever tasty Pig Iron Porter. Look for other seasonal offerings such as Sasquatch, an American barleywine that’s hopped up on hops.
(147 E. Main St., Newark, 266-9000; 710 S. Justison St., Wilmington, 658-8200)


Best Homemade Pasta

  Critics, upstate: You can frequent the priciest gourmet shop and buy the snootiest pasta, but you’ll never duplicate the homemade flavor at Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities. The reasons are simple: fresh eggs, water, flour and hard labor. Vitrone painstakingly rolls each tube of pasta for Hunter’s cannelloni, spends hours molding gnocchi, and we can’t even begin to comprehend shaping those bow ties. The red wine fettuccine, which was once patented, is served with jumbo lump crab, lobster and shrimp in a cognac-tomato cream. Vitrone’s spinach ravioli continues to win hearts, largely because of its creamy ricotta and mascarpone filling. You want homemade? Honor the master. (415 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington, 656-9822)


Best Indian Restaurant

  Readers, upstate: Star of India (1710 Newport Gap Pike, Wilmington, 999-1802)
  Readers, downstate: Flavor of India (348 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 677-0121)
  Critics, upstate: “Among my friends and business colleagues in the Indian-American community, Palace of Asia is held in the highest regard,” says Poppiti. He loves the outstanding buffet, which “provides the neophyte on Indian fare, like myself, a chance to sample and discover the full spectrum of specialties.” The ornate dining rooms are inspired by the royal courts of India. Lunch and dinner combinations offer various appetizers and entrées, all served with naan and paratha, mint and tamarind chutneys, raita, sliced salad, achar (an Indian pickle), papadum and dessert. Lamb kabobs and beef curry are popular, and the menu abounds with vegetarian dishes such as mircha bhagara (jalapeño peppers with coconut and peanut sauce) and paneer Masala. Don’t skimp on the breads, especially the garlic naan and paneer kulcha. (3421 Kirkwood Hwy., Wilmington, 994-9200)


Best Japanese Restaurant

  Readers, upstate: (tie) Hibachi Japanese Steak House (1160 Pulaski Hwy., Bear, 838-0414; 215 Astro Shopping Center, Newark, 456-3308; 5607 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-0194) Mikimotos Asian Grill & Sushi Bar (1212 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 656-8638)
  Readers, downstate: Hibachi Japanese Steak House (691 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 734-5900)
  Critics, upstate: There’s a reason Jasmine Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar tops Borin’s list. “The food is always fresh and consistent,” she says. “I’m not a raw fish fan, but I love the stir-fried dishes and the steamed edamame in pods, which are perfect to enjoy over good conversation.” The menu features eclectic elements of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai food. The sleek interior and incandescent lighting scream high end. (But don’t be afraid to bring your kids. Families are welcome.) “It’s a wonderful addition to eateries in North Wilmington.” (3618 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 479-5618)


Best-Kept Secret

  Critics, upstate: You may discover the Brasserie Grille during your stay at the Christiana Hilton. But if you haven’t checked in lately, you may have missed the restaurant’s fine cuisine, handsome wood decor and cozy bar. Chef James A. Lauser oversees inventive specials, but his kitchen is known for producing nearly perfect steaks broiled at 1,600 degrees, a temperature that seals in juices. Another notable dish is the tropical shrimp Cobb salad, a colorful display of papaya, pineapple and avocado dressed in an orange pecan vinaigrette. The sommelier’s list offers several interesting wines from Italy, France, California and Australia, to name a few. Popular choices include the L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley—which earned a score of 91 by Wine Spectator—as well as Franciscan Oakville Estate Cuvée Sauvage, a crisp white with hints of pineapple and vanilla. Wine Spectator rated Cuvée Sauvage among the top 100 wines of the world. (100 Continental Drive, Newark, 781-7000)


Best Late-Night Menu

  Readers, upstate: James Street Tavern (2 W. Market St., Newport, 998-6903)
  Readers, downstate: Fat Tuna (319 Atantic Ave., Millville, 541-8200)
  Critics, upstate: After an evening at the ballet, Borin visits Pizza By Elizabeths. Popular items on the late-night menu include pizza nachos, “our pizza crust cut into small wedges with lots of melted cheese, jalapeños and fresh pico de gallo,” says owner Betsy LeRoy. Also hot are the Big Bears Buffalo chicken dip (Buffalo chicken wings in hot, creamy dip served with pizza crust wedges) and the herb-crusted goat cheese drizzled with honey. The menu is served until 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and until 10 p.m. other nights. (3801 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 654-4478)


Olé Tapas Lounge & Restaurant in Newark wows diners with dishes like (clockwise from left) the calamari served in its own ink, a trio of gazpacho, and the surf and turf: a petit filet served with a langoustine. The drink at right is calimocho—a Spanish classic made of dry red wine and Coca-Cola. Photograph by Thom ThompsonBest Lunch Spot

  Readers, upstate: Johnnie’s Dog House (3401 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-1440)
  Critics, upstate: Spruance calls Centreville Café “one of the most relaxing and enjoyable lunch spots I can think of. It’s the antidote to the generic chain restaurant—delicious food, fabulous coffee, cozy setting and, to top it off, there’s a wonderful antiques shop upstairs.” Proprietor Susan Teiser has a sense of humor—her signature sandwiches are named after beach towns—but her food is serious. Meats are roasted in-house and layered into sandwiches such as the Fenwick—a pile of turkey, bacon and Jane’s cheese sauce on a thick slice of grilled wheatberry bread—and the Dewey, a combo of roasted chicken with Brie on a homemade croissant. “We make as many of our own products as we can, including soup stocks,” says Teiser. “The things we don’t bake we buy locally.” Hot this summer is the Outer Banks, a quesadilla made with four cheeses and vegetables. Locals may remember November’s election-year sandwiches, named after the Seven Deadly Sins. Folks indulged in sloth, envy, greed and lust. “No gluttony, though,” says Teiser. “Would’ve given the wrong impression.” (5800 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, 777-4911)
  Critics, downstate: Outdoor noshing at Café Solé is even better with a Cuban sandwich in hand or while dipping some warm pita into garlicky homemade hummus. “When it’s open, we go there a lot,” Leishear says. “The outdoor dining is great. It’s close and quiet and quaint. We like the close-knit atmosphere.” Tomato-artichoke bisque is a signature lunch choice. So is the fried oyster BLT with homemade remoulade. (Get it with Brie.) (44 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7107)
  Critics, over the line: “Terrain at Styer’s is a find,” says Lyman Chen, who stumbled upon it while hunting for annuals. “Terrain felt like I was in a Napa café.” He loves the way the cafe’s sunny atmosphere blends plants, vines and flowers with organic food and reasonable prices. “Where else could you find lentil salad with day boat scallops and fresh bay leaves for $14?” Other popular entrées include the falafel burger, linguine with prosciutto, and flourless chocolate espresso cake served with pistachio ice cream. (914 Baltimore Pike, Glen Mills, Pa., 610-459-2400)


Best Mediterranean Restaurant

  Readers, upstate: Ali Baba Middle Eastern Cuisine (175 E. Main St., Newark, 738-1111)
  Readers, downstate: Captain Pete’s Mediterranean Cove (700 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 537-5900)


Best Mexican Restaurant

  Readers, upstate: La Tonalteca (60 N. College Ave., Newark, 737-8220; 1724 W. Newport Pike, Wilmington, 636-9484; 4015 Concord Pike Wilmington, 478-9477)
  Readers, downstate: Dos Locos Fajita and Stonegrill Restaurant (208 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3353)
  Critics, upstate: The Gunn family gets its enchilada on at El Jefe Restaurant and Bar, an unassuming place in the Astro Shopping Center that is festooned with Mexican tapestries and brightly colored walls. The lively decor sets the stage for loaded molcajete, quesadillas and Mexican-style tacos stuffed with meat, onion chunks and cilantro. (110 Astro Shopping Center, Kirkwood Highway, Newark, 894-9000)


Best Mixmaster

  Critics, upstate: He loves the nightlife. He’s got to boogie. The joint jumps when Café Scalessa’s chef-owner Don Scalessa flips on the disco lights and works the wheels of steel. Customers in their mid-30s and up, singles and couples, hit the café for dinner, cocktails and dancing. Scalessa never disappoints. He plays everything from Sinatra to 50 Cent, and he’s not shy behind the mike, often crooning right along with Ol’ Blue Eyes. (504 Greenhill Ave., Wilmington, 656-0955)


Best Natural-Organic

  Readers, upstate: Harvest Market (7417 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 234-6779)
  Readers, downstate: Greenman Juice Bar & Bistro (12 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-4909)
  Critics, upstate: The Grays call Newark Natural Foods “the natural foodies’ playground.” Linda Gray praises its selection of “organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, pesticide-free, green, local and fresh-from-the-farm products.” The couple buys vitamins, nutritional supplements, bulk herbs and spices here, too. Members of the cooperative venture get the best deals. The store carries an array of organically grown grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, pet foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as items that satisfy vegetarian and macrobiotic lifestyles. The staff is friendly. (280 E. Main St., Newark, 368-5894)


Best Neighborhood Italian Place

  Readers, upstate: Café Napoli (4391 Kirkwood Hwy., Wilmington, 999-7553)
  Readers, downstate: Trevi Ristorante (53 E. Glenwood Ave., Smyrna, 653-6800)
  Critics, upstate: “I love this place,” Chen says of Ristorante Attilio. “The pasta is second to none, and I love the lasagna, but you must try Attilio’s smelts.” Ristorante Attilio is the place families celebrate major events and the guys get together for beers. The place isn’t fancy—walls are covered in dark paneling and the tables are the kind your grandma had—but it feels just like home. And nowhere will you find better Italian wedding soup, pepper-and-egg sandwiches, or chicken Parmigiana. And all that pasta is homemade. (1900 Lancaster Ave., Wilmington, 429-7584)
  Critics, downstate: It doesn’t get more down-home Italian than owner Mara DePace serenading diners tableside while they twirl linguini pescatore around their forks at Villa Sorrento. The Leishears love the pizza and pasta at this newcomer, but the pescatore, served with clams, mussels, jumbo shrimp, scallops and fresh sautéed calamari, all topped with jumbo lump crab meat, is a big hit. Just like grandma’s kitchen, the aroma of garlic and red sauce hits as soon as you walk through the door. (1551 Savannah Road, Lewes, 644-7051)


Best New Restaurant

  Readers, upstate: Johnnie’s Dog House (3401 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-1440)
  Readers, downstate: Agave (137 Second St., Lewes, 645-1232)
  Critics, upstate: “Tapas is the latest trend in dining, a tradition in Spain that’s caught on amid our economic recession,” says Ciro Poppiti III. He raises a fork to Olé Tapas Lounge & Restaurant. You can nibble several small plates of food, or you can gorge on one big one. “I cannot fully underscore the effort and attention to detail that went into the restaurant before it opened,” Poppiti says. “And because of that effort, Olé Tapas has quickly evinced itself as one of the best Delaware has to offer.” Olé opened to great acclaim last year, drawing patrons to traditional Spanish flavors in dishes such as wild mushrooms with chorizo and plump shrimp cooked with Spanish olive oil and slivered garlic. The potato-white bean soup is sublime. Chef Ivan Torres writes a new menu daily. (1126 Capitol Trail, Newark, 224-9378)
  Critics, downstate: Fruit-filled drinks and stuffed tiger sharks don’t begin to explain the experience at Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar and Grill. “Love the open-air aspect of it, how the windows fly right open to a nice view of the bay,” Leishear says. Great fish tacos, tempura shrimp and pulled pork tacos are among menu favorites. The laid-back beach party vibe—tiki torches, live music and looping surf videos—is unbeatable. (1306 Coastal Hwy., Dewey Beach, 227-1449)


Best New Steakhouse

  Critics, upstate: One of the hottest tables in Delaware belongs to Firebirds, the boutique Aspen-style chain that brought a Rocky Mountain lodge vibe to Christiana last year. Patrons pack the place nightly for cocktails and Firebirds’ signature steaks, which are thick and tender and charred perfectly. Tender filet mignon is one of the best around. Decorate it with blue cheese and bacon. The signature chile-rubbed Delmonico is intensely juicy and flavorful. Hickory and oak wood give the steaks that little something special. (1225 Churchmans Road, Newark, 366-7577)


Best Outdoor Dining

  Readers, upstate: Caffé Gelato (90 E. Main St., Newark, 738-5811)
  Readers, downstate: Fat Tuna (319 Atlantic Ave., Millville, 541-8200)
  Critics, upstate: It’s tough to beat Buckley’s Tavern for alfresco dining, “because it provides customers with three different options: dining on the front porch, back patio or rooftop,” Poppiti says. There’s not a bad view in—or out of—the house. “If it’s good enough for the vice president of the United States,” he says, “who am I to argue?” (5812 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 656-9776)
  Critics, over the line: Borin believes Sovana Bistro owners Linda and Nick Farrell have created one of the best restaurants in the region. “Sovana offers creative, consistent food, sparkling table settings, changing and fascinating presentations, and well-trained servers,” she says, not to mention “amazing salads and soups, fabulous sandwiches and wonderful entrées.” Of the two patios on the side and in the back of the restaurant, the back porch is larger and more popular. The contemporary space offers a garden setting enhanced by the aroma of fresh herbs that grow on its perimeter. Soft jazz plays during lunch and dinner, and torches are lit at dusk. Staffers extend the season with heaters, so alfresco dining in fall, especially in October and November when foliage is vibrant, is always an option. The bistro recently acquired a liquor license, thought BYOB is still permitted. (696 Unionville Road, Kennett Square, Pa., 610-444-5600)


Best Outdoor Party Place

  Critics, upstate: Though C.W. Harborside recently revamped its indoor bar space, the outdoor bar remains one of the best things going on the Wilmington Riverfront. The chic patio is the perfect setting for happy hours and late nights. Cozy up to the crescent-shaped bar, or lounge under a canopy around the big sycamore, then collect a few drinks from roaming Harborside Girls. (110 S. West St., Wilmington, 658-6626)


Best Pizza

  Readers, upstate and downstate: Grotto Pizza (various locations)
  Critics, upstate: The official pie of the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, Seasons Pizza is also the official Nancy Karibjanian favorite. “I love the proportion of cheese to sauce,” she says. With 10 locations in Delaware, it seems most folks would agree. (various locations)


Best Place to Celebrate Chinese New Year

  Critics, upstate: Potstickers, where Chinese influences meld with Japanese, Cantonese, Thai and Indian cuisine, rang in the Year of the Ox in style with a brilliant five-course celebratory menu. Huge prawns and Angus beef followed Peking duck, pork dumplings, sweet soup and more. The best part: It was just $45 per person. Go in February for more. (Year of the Tiger!) (1247 New Churchmans Road, Newark, 731-0188)


Janice and K.C. Keeler prepare to tackle the Cobb salad at Klondike Kate's in Newark. Photograph by Tom NutterBest Place to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

  Critics, upstate: With its famous leprechaun statue displayed proudly, it’s no surprise St. Patrick’s Day celebrations often spill over at Kelly’s Logan House. During Wilmington’s St. Patrick’s Day loop, Lo-Ho unveils a special Irish menu filled with corned beef and cabbage, potato soup and soda bread, as well as DJs, live music, a few pints of ale (or Miller Lite) and shots of Jameson. It’s been the town’s official St. Paddy’s Day hangout for more than 145 years. (1701 Delaware Ave., Wilmington, 655-6426)


Best Place to Eat Local

  Critics, upstate: “Highland Orchards grows most of the vegetables it sells,” says Harold Gray. Owners use no synthetic chemicals or genetically modified seeds, nor do they employ hormones to speed growth. Find rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries in May, cherries, red raspberries and blueberries in late June, followed by juicy peaches and tomatoes. July brings cucumbers and peppers. And in October—well, you get the idea. Don’t miss the pressed cider and freshly baked pies. (1431 Foulk Road, Wilmington, 478-4042)
  Critics, downstate: In addition to supplying the beach area with organic, naturally grown local produce and plants, Good For You Natural Market maintains its own one-acre market garden farm, free of herbicides and pesticides. Up from the ground come peas, spring greens, Swiss chard, summer squash, tomatoes, potatoes and more—all picked and sold the same day. (28841 Lewes-Georgetown Hwy., Lewes, 684-8330)


Best Pub-Tavern

  Readers, upstate and downstate: McGlynn’s Pub (800 N. State St., Dover, 674-0144; 8 Polly Drummond Shopping Center, Newark, 738-7814; 108 Peoples Plaza, Newark, 834-6661)
  Critics, upstate: Even if Jessop’s Tavern weren’t a few blocks from Williams’ home, she’d still be a fan. “Jessop’s is a charming, little Old New Castle tavern,” she says. “I love to spend cold, wintry evenings by the fireplace, having comfort food and catching up with the locals.” The tavern, rustic and warm, is a throwback to Colonial times, a place to warm the winter with homemade soups—served with Swedish crisp bread—and Dutch pot roast with mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy. Colonial pot pie, one of the tavern’s best offerings, is made with a homemade buttermilk crust and brims with root vegetables. You won’t have room left, so share Martha’s Colonial Cobbler. It’s made in-house. (114 Delaware St., New Castle, 322-6111)
  Critics, downstate: So maybe the kids can’t sample the 60-Minute IPA just yet, but Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats is still a tavern families can enjoy, with good, rustic pub grub like wood-grilled pizzas and fish and chips. “Any time you can get the beer sampler, that’s great,” says Leishear, who uses Dogfish Head spirits in Bella’s desserts. Brews exclusive to the Rehoboth restaurant are always on tap. (320 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2739)


Best Raw Bar

  Readers, upstate: Harry’s Seafood Grill (101 S. Market St., Wilmington, 777-1500)
  Readers, downstate: Fins Fish House and Raw Bar (243 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-3467)
  Critics, upstate: “Walter’s Steakhouse offers the ultimate in surf-and-turf fare,” Poppiti says. The raw bar, which brims with shrimp, clams Casino, mussels, oysters and excellent caviar, is offered Sunday, Monday and Thursday. (802 N. Union St., Wilmington, 652-6780)
  Critics, downstate: Along with fresh clams, mussels, crabs, shrimp and lobster, the raw-steamer bar at Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House features 16 varieties of oysters at any given time. And, like the C-17s at the nearby airbase, those oysters fly in from all over the world. The raw bartender, if you will, is like a sommelier of oysters, educating customers about the varieties. The best time to sample these slurpers are on Buck-a-Shuck Mondays, when they go for $1 apiece from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Manager Adam Gottlieb rotates his oyster roster early and often. “I buy seafood in limited quantities,” he says. “I want to run out of four or five types every night so that we’re always getting different varieties in.” Talk about pearls of wisdom. (1131 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 857-3223)


Best Restaurant Family

  Critics, downstate: The Derrickson boys—Regan, Spencer and Bryan—certainly have put their stamp on beach dining. Between Regan’s Ponos Hawaiian Fine Dining and Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar and Grill, Spencer’s Delfini’s Italian Restaurant and Bar and Vine Wine Bar, and Bryan’s Roadhouse Steak Joint and Hot Diggity Dogs, the brothers have much of the resort area covered. It should come as no surprise in this family, which long ago founded the famous Rehoboth Midway, and today owns the Heritage Inn and the Sandcastle Motel. “For me, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that I’d go into this business,” Regan says. “It started with an idea for Hawaiian cuisine.” A big heads-up to Florida: The brothers recently purchased three bars in the southern part of the state. (Delfini’s Italian Restaurant and Bar, 207 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 260-9106; Hot Diggity Dogs, 36698 Bayside Outlet Drive, No. 240, Rehoboth Beach, 226-1988; Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar and Grill, 1308 Coastal Hwy., Dewey Beach, 227-1449; Ponos Hawaiian Fine Dining, 1306 Coastal Hwy., Dewey Beach, 227-3119; Roadhouse Steak Joint, 18693 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 645-8273; Vine Wine Bar, 211 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-8463)


Best Restaurant Rejuvenation

  Critics, upstate: Matthew Curtis took over Union City Grille without much of the buzz or fanfare that accompanied the half-dozen or so new restaurants in Wilmington. The Grille’s reputation had been fading. It was considered a decent place for steak, but not much else. Curtis, a former chef at Deep Blue and Toscana, figured great ingredients, good value and some new blood could get people jazzed about Union City again. “The idea was trying to establish a new clientele, a bigger database and just market the place properly,” Curtis says. “They always say if you buy good food, people will appreciate it.” So far, his plan has worked. Monthly wine dinners, great happy hours and his terrific, uncomplicated dishes have people talking. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” he says. “More like we’re re-teaching people how to love food.” (805 N. Union St., Wilmington, 654-9780)
  Critics, downstate: Owner Jerry Richard recently converted his Steakhouse 26 to an affordable family dining spot instead of specializing in steaks. Don’t get the wrong message. The New York strip and ribeye are still on the menu. They’re still prepared with the greatest of care. And the filet is still a bargain at $24.95. But Richard has brought a traditional Thai chef on board to diversify the menu. Chef Inton’s pad Thai, spring rolls and potstickers are as authentic as they come. Richard, who formerly owned The Big Easy in Bethany Beach, has also added New Orleans-inspired dishes, such as a daily gumbo. Crawfish are replaced by scallops and shrimp in the seafood étouffée, and the New Orleans Alfredo features smoked pork shoulder, shrimp, scallops and crab meat. (238 Atlantic Ave., Millville, 539-0626)


Best Ribs

  Readers, upstate: Stanley’s Tavern (2038 Foulk Road, Wilmington, 475-1887)
  Readers, downstate: Bethany Blues BBQ Pit (6 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Bethany Beach, 537-1500)
  Critics, upstate: Ever heard of a bowling center that serves good food? Thanks to The Spare Rib Xpress, that’s what the revamped Bowlerama entertainment complex in New Castle has become. The Xpress’ pork baby back ribs are so tender, no knives are needed to separate meat from bone. The ribs are slow-cooked for eight to 10 hours, then slathered with barbecue, chipotle or hickory sauce and served with a side of slaw and curly fries. Of course, there are combos with chicken or a crab cake. On Mondays, get a full slab with slaw and fries for $11.99. Orders can be eaten in (the place seats 50) or carried out. The Xpress also serves other on-site businesses, including the bowling lanes, KidZone and Kegler’s Pub & Sports Bar. We hear the wings are giving the ribs a run for their money. (3031 New Castle Ave., New Castle, 655-7427)
  Critics, downstate: For consistently good St. Louis-style ribs, Meoli prefers the smoky goodness of Bethany Blues BBQ Pit’s hearty ribs, mopped in the slightly spicy house barbecue sauce. “They have great barbecue sauce, and I love the homemade birch beer,” he says. (6 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Bethany Beach, 537-1500)


Domaine Hudson in Wilmington is the perfect spot to sample many great dishes and wines. Photograph by Kevin Black

Most Romantic Atmosphere

  Readers, upstate: Moro (1307 N. Scott St., Wilmington, 777-1800)
  Readers, downstate: Eden (23 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3330)
  Critics, upstate: Couples who laugh together stay together. That’s the Grays’ philosophy, as evidenced by their vote for the whimsical decor of Krazy Kat’s at The Inn at Montchanin Village, which features tiger-print chairs and portraits of military-garbed cats and dogs. But there is a romantic feel about the space. After all, it is Montchanin. “This cozy inn has a satisfying kitchen, good service and offers a place for romantic, moonlit strolls around the landscaped countryside,” says Linda Gray. As for that wacky decor, “It brings a smile to my face.” (Del. 100 and Kirk Road, Montchanin, 888-4200)
  Critics, downstate: Intimacy can be hard to come by in Dewey Beach. Family-run Two Seas, with its small indoor dining room and a few porch seats with views of both the ocean and the bay, is the definition of quiet elegance. “It’s a really romantic spot, very quiet and very romantic,” Pires says. “Even ugly guys get lucky after taking a date there.” (Highway One and Van Dyke Street, Dewey Beach, 227-2610)


Best Salads

  Readers, downstate: Fat Tuna (319 Atlantic Ave., Millville, 541-8200)
  Critics, upstate: Chen gives the salad award to Pizza by Elizabeths. Abundant salads start with organic field greens and fresh herbs. The Land and Sea salad combines beef filet strips with shrimp. The curried chicken and Greek salads are also popular. Your best bet is to design your own. (4019 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 654-4478)


Best Sandwiches

  Readers, upstate: Primo Hoagies (1223 Pulaski Hwy., Bear, 832-1000; 3501 Philadelphia Pike, No. 1, Claymont, 798-1575; 2160 New Castle Ave., New Castle, 777-1300; 223 E. Main St. Newark, 368-7746)
  Readers, downstate: Arena’s Deli (149 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-1272)
  Critics, upstate: The Halfpennys give high marks to the ever-busy Pure Bread Deli. “I enjoy the freshness of made-to-order sandwiches,” says Pat. “The shop is close enough to the office, and service is fast enough so that I can take a quick lunch break.” Pure Bread’s panini are always popular, especially the Black Lab (roast beef with roasted red peppers) and the Great Dane (ham and Brie on herbed focaccia). But the staff can’t put together enough Chihuahuas (grilled chicken, pepper jack, avocado and chipotle mayo on cheddar bread). (4001 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 426-9866; 1309 Churchmans Road, Newark, 455-9866; 4801 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 239-9866)
  Critics, downstate: Meoli munches weekly on hefty turkey club sandwiches from DJ’s Steaks & Hoagies, which is around the corner from his office. “They’re big, thick, and just plain really good,” he says. DJ’s does a mean cheesesteak, too, as well as the full range of hoagies. Italian subs are big business, and they should be, considering the meats come from local greats Kirby & Holloway. (A12 Long Neck Village, No. 4, Millsboro, 947-9277)


Best Seafood

  Readers, upstate: Harry’s Seafood Grill (101 S. Market St., Wilmington, 777-1500)
  Readers, downstate: Fins Fish House and Raw Bar (243 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-3467)
  Critics, upstate: When the Grays crave seafood, they head to Feby’s Fishery for “consistently fresh seafood in a warm family atmosphere,” says Linda. “There is great eating in or raw seafood for take-home preparation.” Amazingly fresh fish comes from as close as the Jersey Shore and as far as New Zealand. Fresh tuna is served the day it’s caught. Little neck clams are tender and delicious. From the Captain’s steam table comes Feby’s clam bake, which includes Maine lobster, shrimp, clams, potatoes and veggies. The snow crab clusters are always great. Wish Feby’s a happy 30th birthday next time you go. (3701 Lancaster Pike, Wilmington, 998-9496)
  Critics, downstate: Cool Springs Fish Bar and Restaurant is where Smith takes her out-of-town clients for a special meal. “It’s a great place to introduce someone who’s new to the city,” she says. “I love the atmosphere. It’s artsy, which means you don’t feel like you’re in Dover until you step out the door again.” Customers dining at the multi-colored bar enjoy the privilege of watching chef-owner Dennis Forbes and his staff at work in the kitchen. Smith says everything on Forbes’ menu is of great quality and the customer service is outstanding. Favorite fish dishes at Cool Springs include honey-bourbon salmon, Parmesan-crusted swordfish and stuffed flounder. The shellfish pan roast is the stuff of legend, and the seafood bisque, one of a 16-soup arsenal, sells out every time it’s served. When Smith, a frequent traveler, is in town, Cool Springs is simply her place. “When I do have a moment,” she says, “I want to eat real food.” (2463 S. State St., Dover, 698-1955)


Best Seafood Stew

  Critics, upstate: There’s nothing more comforting on a bone-chilling day than Eclipse Bistro’s seafood stew. The bread pudding that accompanies the blend of clams, shrimp, crabs and spicy tomato broth is a nice touch, but the stew is the hungry man’s best defense against winter. (120 N. Union St., Suite B, Wilmington, 658-1588)


Best Servers

  Critics, upstate: The servers at Corner Bistro attend without being overly attentive, smile without being too smiley, and preach the menu without being too preachy. In other words, servers Patrick, Tim, Dawn, Natalie, Ian, Elizabeth, Deb, Nicole, Laura and Robin have it going on. (3604 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 477-1778)


Best Southern Cookin’

  Critics, upstate: Southern hospitality has made its way north in the form of The Augusta Grille in the Clarion Hotel. With dishes such as spicy peanut soup (puréed roasted peanuts cooked in a creamy chicken broth flavored with lemongrass and sweet chili peppers) and pan-seared crab and crawfish cakes, there’s no denying the menu’s Southern roots. The sweet potato- and pecan-crusted catfish is made with farm-raised fish that is seared, coated in grated sweet potato and pecans, baked and served with an andouille sausage cream. On the third Sunday of the month, Miss Mattie’s Southern Dinner offers a catfish or fried chicken entrée paired with such sides as fried okra, collard greens, stewed tomatoes, mac and cheese, and cabbage, to name a few. That ought to keep y’all happy. (1612 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, 299-1414)


Best Specials

  Critics, upstate: We know, we know. We write about the parking lot at Madeline’s Italian Restaurant every year. (Ever try to park in Little Italy? A parking lot is a big deal.) But we get a little nutty about the specials, especially the eggplant Parmigiana. Why? It’s one of the few that’s made the real way—by baking layers and layers of cheese and thinly sliced eggplant, not slathering tomato sauce over a fried slab with melted cheese. Call ahead. It sells out quickly. And the portions are huge, so don’t fill up at the salad bar. (531 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 656-4505)


Best Spin on Comfort Food

  Critics, upstate: Fine dining is one thing, but it’s just plain creative to elevate chicken and waffles to the masterpiece of a curry Belgian waffle topped with crispy tandoori chicken pieces and a sweet-spicy mango chutney. Washington St. Ale House has it wired. Even burgers get flipped into new realms when topped with Thai chili paste and smoked Gouda. (1206 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 658-2537)


Best Sports Bar

  Readers, upstate: Stanley’s Tavern (2038 Foulk Road, Wilmington, 475-1887)
  Readers, downstate: Grotto’s Grand Slam (20376 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3287)
  Critics, downstate: You haven’t been to a real sports bar until you’ve bellied up to the trading-card covered version at Grotto’s Grand Slam, sipped a frosty Big Beer and played video trivia while keeping one eye on the big game. The Grand Slam’s got it all: a comfortable bar area for adults, fast, friendly bartenders, great drink specials, booths for families, a game room for everyone and big TVs all over the place. Oh yeah, and the pizza ain’t bad either. (20376 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 645-4900 )


Best Steakhouse

  Readers, upstate: Walter’s Steakhouse (802 N. Union St., Wilmington, 652-6780)
  Readers, downstate: 1776 restaurant (18585 Coastal Hwy., No. 6, Rehoboth Beach, 645-9355)
  Critics, upstate: No place received more love from the celebrity critics than Sullivan’s Steakhouse. The boutique chain’s Concord Pike location has done certified Angus beef to perfection for years, and it’s brought a touch of class to the strip mall-saturated area. The Grays, the Gunns, Rollins, Borin and Poppiti all rated Sullivan’s their favorite. “I can’t get a better steak anywhere,” Rollins says. “The cowboy bone-in ribeye, the stone crabs—they just do a great job.” (5525 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 479-7970)
  Critics, downstate: Bob Mitchell and Tom Holmes, owners of 1776 Restaurant, have an almost obsessive passion for beef, which they scout relentlessly to find only the choicest cuts. Those eventually become house signatures, like the 10-ounce barrel cut and the well-marbled Delmonico. Meoli calls the selection spectacular. (18585 Coastal Hwy., No. 6, Rehoboth Beach, 645-9355)


Best Student and Family Place

  Critics, upstate: Coach Keeler calls Klondike Kate’s greens “the best salad in town,” which is easy for him to do, since The K.C. Cobb—piled with jumbo lump crabmeat, shrimp, hard-boiled egg, chopped bacon, tomatoes, avocados and blue cheese—is named for him. Linger after dinner for a drink, relax on the deck or move upstairs for deejays and dancing on weekend nights. For nearly 30 years, Kate’s has been a Main Street classic. (158 E. Main St., Newark, 737-6100)


Best Subs

  Readers, upstate: Primo Hoagies (1223 Quintilio Drive, Bear, 832-1000; 3501 Philadelphia Pike, No. 1, Claymont, 798-1575; 2160 New Castle Ave., New Castle, 777-1300; 223 E. Main St., Newark, 368-7746)
  Readers, downstate: Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop (130 Gateway South Blvd., Dover, 698-3090; 321 Independence Blvd., Dover, 678-2808)
  Critics, upstate and downstate: Family tradition and Casapulla’s go hand in hand. Family-run Casapulla’s South (not affiliated with the upstate stores) gets rave reviews from the Leishear and Meoli families. “We love Casapulla’s nice big subs,” Leishear says. “The service is quick, and everybody always has a smile on their face.” (1216 Old Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 234-7827; 106 Sandhill Drive, Middletown, 376-8500; 750 Peoples Plaza, Newark, 834-7400; 1216 Capitol Trail, Newark, 737-2200; 19331 Lighthouse Blvd., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7827; 514 Casapulla Ave., Wilmington, 994-5934; 2707 Concord Pike Wilmington, 477-0221)


Best Sunday Brunch

  Readers, upstate: The Green Room (11th and Market sts., Wilmington, 594-3154)
  Readers, downstate: Michele’s Steak and Seafood (1131 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 674-4600)
  Critics, upstate: Brunch at Krazy Kat’s will blow you away, Karibjanian says. Standards like fruit salad, quiche and eggs Benedict mingle with crab and lobster cakes. Karibjanian’s favorite? A gnocchi (yes, gnocchi for brunch) in a spinach-tomato broth. Eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon won over Karibjanian’s son, and her daughter flipped for crepes with sweet cream. “It is our new favorite brunch spot,” she says. It’s also one of the best values going, considering you’re dining at one of Delaware’s premier dining spots for about $10 per dish. (Del. 100 and Kirk Road, Greenville, 888-4200)
  Critics, downstate: Hungry, early-rising beachgoers head to The Starboard for superb egg dishes and wonderful Sunday brunch. “We love Summer Sunday breakfasts at the beach because there’s no need to shop or cook,” says Linda Gray. “The Starboard’s crab eggs Benedict combination with the Bloody Mary bar is a real eye opener.” (2009 Highway One, Dewey Beach, 227-4600)


Best Supermarket

  Critics, upstate: Gardner loves the rooftop parking, elevators and cartveyor escalator system at Delaware’s newest ShopRite, a 70,000-square-foot store near the Wilmington Riverfront. “But what’s really fabulous is that you can order your lunch meat at a computer,” he says. (1600 W. Newport Pike, Newport, 999-1227; 19 Chestnut Hill Plaza, Newark, 292-1220; 1300 Rocky Run Pkwy., Wilmington, 477-3270; 501 S. Walnut St., Wilmington, 225-6900)
  Critics, downstate: The Cullens are huge Harris Teeter fans. They love the deals. And they love the all-expense-paid Regent Seven Seas cruise they won there even more. All they had to do to win was shop consistently at Harris Teeter throughout the fall. “HT has 176 stores, and a family from every store was chosen,” Paul says. Here’s the kicker: When HT managers found out that Cullen was a musician, they got him to play poolside gigs on the cruise. “It went so well, they asked me to play two days later,” Paul says. Cullen and “HT company president Fred” are buds now. (26370 Bay Farm Road, No. 1, Millsboro, 945-1705; 31221 Americana Pkwy., Selbyville, 436-2827)


Best Sushi

  Readers, upstate: Mikimotos Asian Grill & Sushi Bar (1212 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 656-8638)
  Readers, downstate: The Cultured Pearl (301 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-8493)
  Critics, downstate: Salmon rolls get top marks from the Leishear family, but you can’t go wrong with any of The Cultured Pearl’s creative sushi offerings. The signature Delaware roll combines crunchy cucumber with avocado, asparagus and strips of a dried gourd called kanpyo. Eating on the Zen-like rooftop deck makes it an extra special treat. (301 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-8493)


Best Tapas

  Readers, upstate: Orillas Tapas Bar & Restaurant (413 N. Market St., Wilmington, 427-9700)
  Readers, downstate: Café Azafran (109 W. Market St., Lewes, 644-4446)


Best Thai Restaurant

  Readers, upstate: Pan Tai (9th and Union sts., Wilmington, 652-6633)
  Readers, downstate: Seaside Thai (19 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-9525)
  Critics, upstate: The original Thai place, Bangkok House has been heralded as one of the most authentic in the state, thanks largely to talented owner Tom Wechkul. Chen casts his vote for four reasons: the “fantastic beef salad, chicken satay, whole fried fish with tamarind sauce and a killer crispy duck Penang curry.” (104 N. Union St., Wilmington, 654-8555)
  Critics, downstate: Locals love Seaside Thai’s cheerful aura and reasonable prices on Thai classics. The ped grob gra prow, crisp, honey-roasted duck topped with basil and a hot garlic sauce, is a house specialty, and the larb gai has such a pleasing kick. Humongous plates of fresh grilled seafood are terrific anytime. (19 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-9525)


Best Traditional Japanese Restaurant

  Critics, upstate: You know your Japanese experience is authentic when you see the sliding shoji screen walls inside nine-year-old Okura Japanese Cuisine Restaurant. The place is still Hockessin’s friendly neighborhood sushi shop, where the local specialty is a fried tuna roll with avocado, spicy mayo and caviar. Yakisoba and udon noodle dishes are superb, and entrées like broiled beef negimaki and the dinner box—filled with tempura, sushi and shumai—are great buys. (703 Ace Memorial Drive, Hockessin, 239-8486)


Best Place to Treat Yourself 

  Critics, upstate: The Green Room “has always been the Mecca of fine dining in Delaware,” says Poppiti. “Sure, it’s known as a see-and-be-seen among the corporate and political climbers, but it’s a great deal more than that. The Green Room is a fine dining experience, from the grandeur of the room itself, to prim-and-proper service, to a menu that’s never complacent.” The 2008 Zagat Restaurant Guide awarded the Green Room the highest category rating in food, service and ambience. Sadly, the harpist no longer enchants, but music is played nightly from the musician’s gallery over the restaurant. Dishes such as the Hawaiian Big Eye tuna, enhanced with avocado marble and tomato jam, means the menu is not all French anymore. The all-natural rack of Colorado lamb in a Zinfandel-lingonberry reduction remains a favorite. (11th and Market sts., Wilmington, 594-3154)
  Critics, downstate: When Poppiti wants to enjoy a nice evening with his wife, Laura, he’ll whisk her off to Michele’s Steak and Seafood at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. “There’s just something about its high-roller ambiance,” he says. “You want great steak? It has it. You want great sushi? It has it. And Michele’s offers wines that are not available at your average restaurant.” (1131 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 674-4600)


Best Upscale Italian Place

  Readers, upstate: Toscana Kitchen + Bar (1402 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 655-8600)
  Readers, downstate: DiFebo’s Restaurant & Deli (789 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 539-4914)
  Critics, upstate: The Grays love Pomodoro Ristorante Italiano in Little Italy for its intimacy, but the Southern Italian cuisine, especially dishes like zuppa di pesce Mediterranea or linguine all’ Astice, add to the world-class experience. Pomodoro specializes in cured Italian meats, including bresaola, smoked prosciutto and salami. Try the homemade tiramisu. (729 N. Union St., Wilmington, 574-9800)
  Critics, downstate: The safari theme—see the zebra stripes on the facade, giraffe and leopard prints inside—is cool without being (too) kitschy, and the bar is loaded, sleek and impressive, but for homemade pasta and people-watching, Zebra Ristorante is the place. “Count on it, every visit,” Livingston says. “Plus, it has the freshest fish and the best veal chop in town.” For proof, see the popular veal saltimbocca. And of course, what would Zebra be without black and white fettucine? Livingston also credits the lively staff and stocked bar with making Zebra a fine-dining destination. Friends call the new bar and holding space The Bucky Bar because it’s overseen by a fine local gentleman named Bucky. “He knows everybody in town and every drink in the book,” Livingston says. “Do yourself a favor: Order a martini.” (32 Lake Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-1160)


Best View

  Critics, upstate: There’s no debate: The view from At the Rail Wine Bar and Grille is simply awesome. The public restaurant with a country club feel offers a panoramic view of White Clay Creek Country Club’s painstakingly maintained golf course. From the restaurant, bar and veranda, you can view the practice green, the tee at No. 9 and, beyond that, the 14th fairway. All that greenery is framed by a backdrop of trees. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a group of whitetail deer or an eagle—either of the bald variety or scored by a golfer. (777 Delaware Park Blvd., Wilmington, 994-6700)


Musician Paul Cullen and his wife Bonnie are hot for the fiery Café Flambé at Back Porch Café in Rehoboth Beach. Photograph by Tom Nutter

Best Way to Start Your Saturday

  Critics, upstate: Williams gets her sugar fix at Bing’s Bakery. “I love everything those folks bake,” she says. The full-line scratch bakery produces pastries, torts, wedding cakes, birthday cakes, yummy butter cookies, petit fours, Danish, cheesecakes, pies and breads. On the more dangerous side are the fine chocolates. Bing’s knows wedding cakes, too. Bakers have been producing them for 60 years. “Not only does Bing’s make goodies that fill me with calories,” Williams says, “but the atmosphere fills me with memories of going with my mother to the local bakery back in my hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.” (253 E. Main St., Newark, 737-5310)


Best Way to Start Your Sunday

  Critics, downstate: Brunch at Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal House & Saloon is easy like Sunday morning. The reasonably priced a la carte menu helps set Kid’s brunch apart from other brunches. You can truly have it your way, whether it’s building your own omelet or tweaking the spices in your Bloody Mary. The eggs Benedict is always a hit, but you could also grab a burger, if you’d like. And new this year is an all-weather patio that allows you to enjoy your meal outside, regardless of the weather. If you can’t make it Sunday, Kid’s serves breakfast on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (14th and Scott streets, Wilmington, 658-4600)


Best Wine List

  Readers, upstate: The Green Room (The Hotel du Pont, 11th and Market sts., Wilmington, 594-3154 )
  Readers, downstate: Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House (1131 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 857-3223)
  Critics, upstate: The lengthy wine list at The Stone Balloon Wine House stresses accessibility. Its Cruvinet system—sort of a fancy beer tap for wines—allows customers to sample 2- and 5-ounce pours from a variety of vintners. There are Pinot Noirs from California, Syrahs from the Rhone Valley, Tuscan Sangiovese, Spanish Tempranillo, and representatives from nearly every wine-producing region of the globe. Most bottles are affordable, though those $900 bottles of Château Margaux Bordeaux are sure to impress more than a few. (115 E. Main St., Newark, 266-8111)
  Critics, downstate: Wines at The Buttery are selected by staffers who demonstrate a passion for the grape. That’s why the restaurant changes its wine list when it revamps its menu every few months. If the cuisine takes an Asian slant, for instance, you’ll see more Rieslings and fruit-forward California Chardonnays. Prices are reasonable. House pours range from $7 to $12 for premium wines. The selection typically includes three or four whites, three or four reds, and one blush. Bottles range from $24 to $57, but the Captain’s List kicks it up a notch: $91 to $296 for a bottle of Krug Brut Grande Cuvee NV from Reims, France. (102 Second St., Lewes, 645-7755)


Mike Meoli enhances his summer wardrobe with clothing from Quiet Storm Surf Shop. Photograph by Keith MosherBest Antiques Store

  Critics, upstate: You’ll find lots of treasures at Brickhouse Antiques, says Poppiti, who hits the little shop when he needs “one-of-a-kind things at reasonable prices.” His mother is a fan, too. The list of goodies she’s bought over the years includes a chandelier, Eiffel Tower key chain, living room lamps, a water pitcher and an iron crucifix. Brickhouse is a traditional antiques store, offering furniture, china, clothing and jewelry. But the shop from time to time boasts unusual knickknacks, things you wouldn’t find anywhere else. It’s a hit or miss thing, but, according to Poppiti, “You usually hit.” (100 South Road, Wilmington, 762-8900)


Best Art Gallery

  Critics, upstate: With a strong bent toward Brandywine Valley artists, the 28-year-old Somerville Manning Gallery cuts an impressive figure in the shadow of Hagley Museum. Find art from many in the Wyeth family. “I love the Somerville Manning Gallery,” Butler says. “It’s a little hidden, and you won’t stumble upon it. Breck’s Mill is a beautiful historic building directly on the Brandywine, and they feature a ton of terrific artists.” (101 Stone Block Road, Greenville, 652-0271)
  Critics, downstate: Artist Rebecca Raubacher and her husband have operated Raubacher Gallery in Dover for 29 years, including nine at its current location. Along with her own original equestrian paintings and other works, Raubacher Gallery features a retrospective of art by local treasure Jack Lewis. The collection includes Lewis’ earliest work with the Civilian Conservation Corps, illustrations, and Scottish and Italian landscapes. Lewis has lived in Maine for a while, but he’s still one of our all-time favorites. It’s nice to be able to pop into the Raubacher Gallery and reminisce. (123 W. Loockerman St., Dover, 678-0968)


Best Baby Boutique

  Readers, upstate: Hansel and Gretel (3603 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 478-0383)
  Readers, downstate: Seeds (408 Laureltowne, Laurel, 875-2909)
  Critics, upstate: Oranges & Lemons Children’s Boutique has earned praise in national publications, as well as from local luminaries, for its high-end kids’ designs by hip labels like Glug, Jeanine Johnsen, Bella Bliss and Ella Moss. Youngsters (newborns through tweens) rarely find clothes so fashionable. “My wife goes to Oranges and Lemons as if she thinks it’s actually a fruit stand,” Butler says. “Very cute stuff there.” (3828 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, 427-0323)


Best Bargain Shopping

  Critics, upstate: Take one look at Linda Gray and you’d think she shopped in New York and Los Angeles. But no. She buys smart at Designer Consigner. A hip, new consignment shop owned by Michele Scott, Designer Consigner packs a big punch with big names: Gucci, Prada, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and more. Scott also stocks Talbots items for gals with more conservative tastes. Find designer handbags, shoes and everything any respectable fashionista desires. Gray loves the classic clothes, shoes and jewelry. (7209 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 239-4034)


Best Book Store

  Critics, upstate: “A trip to Ninth Street Book Shop is a must before every kid’s birthday and Christmas,” Karibjanian says. “But my favorite trip is before we head to the beach in the summer.” The independent shop doesn’t have all the frills of a big box store, like a café or a huge CD selection, but it’s far more service-oriented. Expect to pay and wait a lot less on special orders. “[Co-owner] Gemma [Buckley] never steers me wrong for my favorite beach read,” Karibjanian says. (104 W. Ninth St., Wilmington, 652-3315)
  Critics, downstate: For those with a healthy appetite for reading, like the Meoli clan, it doesn’t get much better than Browseabout Books, where community-minded owners Steve and Barbara Crane strive to put the right volume in the right hands. “We love to support our locals,” Meoli says. “The staff is very hands-on and knowledgeable.” Bestsellers and award-winners fill the shelves, and local authors frequently appear for signings. Stationery, gifts and toys can be found here, too. Browseabout is famous for its regular—and often spontaneous—events, sidewalk sales and food tie-ins. Hello, Scrapple Day. (133 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2665)


S. Renee Smith (right) flips her lid over the hats and other accessories carried by owner Maxine Lewis (left) at Maxine's New York Fashions in downtown Dover. right Photograph by Tom NutterBest Bridal Boutique

  Readers, upstate: Jennifer’s Bridal (500 Hockessin Corner, Hockessin, 235-1660)
  Readers, downstate: Tiaras Bridal Boutique (17605 Nassau Commons Blvd., Lewes, 645-6990)
  Critics, downstate: The Wedding Boutique carries various brands of gowns, including Alfred Angelo and Aurora D’Paradiso. For the budget-conscious, gowns are available on clearance for $99. The boutique also carries all the accessories a bride-to-be would ever need, from ring pillows to cake knife sets to guest books. It even offers wedding gown preservation services. “The Wedding Boutique can dress the entire wedding party, plus take care of your invites,” Smith says. “That includes tuxedos.” (125A W. Loockerman St., Dover, 674-8343)


Best Bridal Registry

  Readers, upstate: The Enchanted Owl (4001 Kennett Pike, No. 120, Greenville,652-2233)
  Readers, downstate: The Wooden Indian (25 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-8331)


Best Commercial Architect

  Readers, upstate: Becker Morgan Group (309 S. Governors Ave., Dover, 734-7950)
  Readers, downstate: Moonlight Architecture (16529 Coastal Hwy., Lewes, 645-9361)


Best Cosmetics

  Critics, upstate: Custom-blended makeup is a hit at Mix Makeup Studio, where professional applications, lessons and facials fall under the expertise of owner Natalie Ruelle. Ruelle can mix personalized blends into any color cosmetic while you wait. “Where can you go to get a custom lipstick or lip gloss made while you watch?” Tyler says. “It’s like having Rachel Ray playing with your makeup and whipping up something to make you look fab.” (443 Hockessin Corner, Hockessin, 234-3223)


Best Day Spa

  Readers, upstate: Pagavé Salon (1601 Concord Pike, No. 35, Wilmington, 765-0134)
  Readers, downstate: Toppers Spa (1131 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 857-2020)
  Critics, downstate: What says love better than chocolate and roses? How about an exfoliating rubdown with the organic chocolate and rose body treatments at Avenue Apothecary & Spa? “They also carry a lot of organic products and hair care,” Leishear says. “It’s just a neat place.” The Apothecary doles out a full complement of spa services, and it packages them into comprehensive bundles. The Classic includes a facial, a custom therapeutic massage, a manicure and a pedicure. (110A Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-5649)


J Conn Scott in Selbyville is a downstate Mecca for furniture.

Best Event Planners

  Critics, upstate: Planning an event—from a cocktail party to a wedding—can be a lot to handle. So let Samantha Diedrick and Secretariat wedding and event planners manage every detail. “We work with a lot of event planners, and one of the best is Secretariat,” Butler says. “Samantha is totally hands-on, which makes the guests—and the caterer—very comfortable.” The company has been woman-owned since 1968. Diedrick is the fourth woman to take the helm. Customers love her attention to detail and her ability to manage a budget. “In this economy, people are scaling back on their celebrations,” she says. “I like getting to know the planners and finding out what they want.” (P.O. Box 3509, Wilmington, 654-4479)
  Critics, downstate: Seventy percent of Make My Day event planning’s customers are brides- and grooms-to-be, but Leanne Silicato and Casey Kieffer can also pull off any kind of celebration without a hitch. That’s what they did in 2006, when Lewes was recognizing its 375th anniversary. The day-long event took a year to plan and involved inviting overseas dignitaries and several VIP cocktail parties that spanned an entire town. Silicato and Kieffer have also made the day of many a beneficiary by organizing fundraising events. The key? These local gals have longstanding relationships with local vendors. And don’t tell anyone, but they also know the best spots on the beach to tie the knot. (701 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7111)


Best Fitness Club

  Critics, upstate: The Hockessin Athletic Club has it all: a waterpark, lap pool, warm water pool, adult whirlpool, outdoor swimming pool and more. Dads like Chen can use treadmills, recumbent bikes, cross trainers and weights while their kids enjoy various athletic programs. There’s a fitness center for women, weight-loss programs, personal trainers, massages and about 120 classes a week. The veggie burgers at the café are pretty good, too. (The menu lists calorie counts. You can’t cheat.) (100 Fitness Way, Hockessin, 239-6688)
  Critics, downstate: A welcoming, high-energy vibe and expert trainers define The Firm Fitness Center, which has been in business in Rehoboth for 21 years. Livingston loves it “because owner Paul Timmons has unbounded personality, positive attitude, energy and commitment. When he trains a client, the entire gym benefits. You can’t help but want to push yourself. His enthusiasm is contagious. The gym also offers Pilates.” The Firm is the only gym in Delaware that employs Hammer Strength training equipment. In addition to standard exercise machines, it also carries non-traditional equipment like giant tires for flipping, box jumps and rope climbing gear. (803 Rehoboth Ave. Ext., Rehoboth Beach, 227-8363)


Best Florist

  Readers, upstate: Flowers by Yukie (916 N. Union St., Wilmington, 658-8292)
  Readers, downstate: Windsor’s Flowers (41111 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 227-9481)
  Critics, downstate: Though Brandywine Flowers is known for its wedding arrangements, silks, tropical plants, balloon bouquets and gourmet baskets, Chen gives the 48-year-old establishment a plug for customer service. “Brandywine has always come through for me,” he says. “Whether it’s a thank-you arrangement for one of my clients or a Mother’s Day gift for my mom, the folks there do a fantastic job every time.” (1303 Veale Road, Wilmington, 478-6231)
  Critics, downstate: Bayberry Flowers is where Caputo and Schell head for artful flower arrangements for any occasion. Centerpieces, bridal flowers, memorial flowers, decorative flowers—they all get the same attention from Bayberry’s expert designers. Gifts and exotic houseplants can also be found here. (715 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-5725)


Best Furnishings

  Readers, upstate: Somethings Unique (3834 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 426-1950)
  Critics, downstate: A perfect storm of in-house designers and high-end fabric houses make the furniture at J Conn Scott unbeatable. And after three generations, the Scott family knows full well what it’s doing. “We have bought some big pieces there,” Meoli says, “real nice high-end furniture. I know Richard Scott well, and his staff is very accommodating, too.” The Selbyville showroom houses selections from hard-to-find Lee Industries, the Ralph Lauren Home Collection, Lexington, Vanguard and more. (6 E. Church St., Selbyville, 436-8205)


The Light House of Lewes doesn’t take home lighting lightly. Best Garden Center

  Readers, upstate: Richardson’s Garden Center (1918 Kirkwood Hwy., Newark, 738-9463; 2038 Pulaski Hwy., Newark, 836-9898)
  Readers, downstate: Ronny’s Garden World (5580 Dupont Pkwy., Smyrna, 653-6288)
  Critics, upstate: In addition to offering vibrant annuals and perennials, gardening supplies, tools, and flowering trees and shrubs, Always the Garden carries fountains, birdbaths and statuary, as well as a new line of aromatherapy candles. The Grays are regulars. (1215 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington, 798-6030)


Best Gift Shop

  Readers, upstate: Grassroots (1250 Old Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 489-2501; 93 E. Main St. Newark, 453-9751; 1708 Foulk Road, Wilmington, 529-0553)
  Readers, downstate: South Moon Under (120 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3806)
  Critics, upstate: Apropos is great for gifts on the go, or for finding the gift for the person who has everything. Get baby bags, picture frames, and hard-to-find brands like Votivo candles and Murval bags. You can even buy gifts for the family pooch. “I bought my sister’s dog the cutest little tennis balls there,” Karibjanian says. (4001 Kennett Pike, No. 124, Greenville, 656-4880)
  Critics, downstate: A downtown landmark, Forney’s Too has supplied the state capital with unique gifts and collectibles for nearly 25 years. Manager Gary Knox says the shop ranks 15th in the United States in the sale of Troll Beads. Forney’s even keeps a registry of the one-of-a-kind bracelets and accessories so you can track past purchases and post your own wish list. This is also the place to find Webkinz and the Vera Bradley Collection of handbags and wallets. (102 W. Loockerman St., Dover, 734-2425)


Best Home Accessories

  Readers, upstate: Simply Home (3628 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-0999)
  Readers, downstate: Habersham Peddler Interiors (139 Second, St., Lewes, 645-8383)
  Critics, upstate: From clocks to artful knickknacks, the home accessories amassed by Simply Home owner Terri Sisson Truono earn applause from Karibjanian and Butler. “Terri’s tastes match mine so closely that I could live in Simply Home,” Butler says. “If you walk through my house, it might look like a Simply Home catalogue.” Find classy cotton-woven rugs, decorative mirrors, ornate lamps, sconces and more. (3628 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-0999)
  Critics, downstate: Carol DiSabatino and Marylou Jackson are the two friends of Two Friends and, after 15 years in the biz, the pair have gathered some of the state’s most coveted home accessory lines. Find everything Vera Bradley to serving pieces from Mariposa, hand-blown glass water bottles from Blenko, decorative glass pieces from Peggy Karr, and earthen lamps crafted by local artisans. Loyal customers call it the best little shop at the beach. (205 Second St., No. 4, Lewes, 644-0477)


Best Home Flooring

  Readers, upstate: Airbase Carpet Mart (230 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, 328-1597)
  Readers, downstate: Habersham Peddler Interiors (139 Second St., Lewes, 645-8383)


Best Home Lighting

  Critics, downstate: For lights, lamps, fixtures, ceiling fans and more for practically any application, The Light House of Lewes can meet just about any need. There are chandeliers and ceiling fixtures from New Orleans-based Schonbek and contemporary lighting designs from Kovacs and other makers. “They will customize to anything that you need,” Meoli says. “It’s a huge selection, and if they don’t have it, they’ll find it. We got all new outside lights for our house, and they came and installed it, then called a week later just to make sure everything was OK.” (16813 Coastal Hwy., Lewes, 645-1207)


Best Home Remodeler

  Readers, upstate: M. Anthony Petrucelli (6 Martha Washington Ave., Newark, 368-7341)
  Readers, downstate: Yencer Builders (925 Marshyhope Road, Felton, 284-9977)


Critics say the spacious Hockessin Athletic Club is tops upstate.Best Jewelry Maker

  Critics, upstate: The uniquely-textured works of Wilmington jewelry designer Olga Ganoudis have appeared on QVC and inside Bloomingdales, and a line of “Lost” inspired pieces sell at ABC’s website. “I say support your local artist,” Tyler says. “Olga Ganoudis is one of our hometown heroes when it comes to jewelry designs. With this year’s styles going chunky, she’s got the goods, and they are gorgeous.” (1313 N. Scott St., Wilmington, 421-9820)


Best Kids’ Clothing

  Readers, upstate: Hansel and Gretel (3603 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 478-0383)
  Readers, downstate: Kid’s Ketch (132 Second St., Lewes, 645-8448)


Best Kids’ Casual Clothing

  Critics, downstate: Tucked into the Village by the Sea Shoppes is Lilypad Children’s Boutique, where lines like Mulberrybush, Sarah Louise and Banana Cabana have kids looking great. Kelli Meoli loves the boutique-y vibe and the great selection of designer brands, as well as kid’s swimwear. “If you’re looking for something beyond the outlets, there are some really nice brands there,” Meoli says. (149 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-4464)


Best Kid’s Party Place

  Readers, upstate: Pump It Up (103 S. James St., Newport, 998-1144)
  Readers, downstate: Bonkersville (17601 Coastal Hwy., Lewes, 645-8774)
  Critics, upstate: What kid could resist chugging along in an antique red caboose on the Wilmington & Western Railroad? Private parties can rent the 90-minute Mount Cuba Express for just $200. Best of all, the caboose is available for use during the off-season, while the rest of the railroad is closed. Just provide the kids and the cake. “My son’s most memorable birthday was when he was 4, and we went to Wilmington & Western Railroad,” Karibjanian says. “The kids loved riding the train, and they had cake and punch in the caboose. Party over.” (2201 Newport Gap Pike, Wilmington, 998-1930)
  Critics, downstate: Way more than your typical daycare provider, Kids Cottage, with its brightly-colored murals, indoor playground, huge tree fort, toys and games, is the perfect place for a kid’s party. There’s a private wing for events, and kids are free to hit the basketball court or the video games in the media room. Party packages are super affordable when you BYO food, or you can opt for pizza, snacks and balloons for a little more. (35448 Wolfeneck Road, Rehoboth Beach, 644-7690)


Best Lingerie

  Readers, upstate: Bare Essentials (4009 Concord Pike, Suite A, Wilmington, 477-4888)
  Readers, downstate: Something Comfortable (70 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6180)


Best Massage

  Critics, downstate: One Spirit Massage Studio, under owner Mark Thompson, is no-nonsense. “It’s serious about massage,” Livingston says. “There’s no skin care, no hair. This is not a let’s-do-lunch spa. It’s a let’s-get-to-work, let’s-make-you-feel-better retreat.” One Spirit offers a list of treatments that can relieve tension and pain. For Livingston, it’s the deep-tissue massage that hits the right spots. (169 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-3552)


Best Men’s Business Attire

  Readers, upstate: Wright and Simon (911 N. Market St., Wilmington, 658-7345)
  Readers, downstate: Carltons (31 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7990)
  Critics, upstate: Geoff Halfpenny applauds Jos. A. Bank Clothiers for its tailored suits, trousers, shirts, neckwear, belts and shoes. Prices are reasonable because the company eliminates the middleman by working directly with factories and workrooms. Halfpenny most appreciates the staff. “Service is convenient, courteous and consistent,” he says. (4001 Kennett Pike, No. 108, Greenville, 656-6710)


Critics say NV Boutique near Newark is the best place to find women's clothing upstate.

Best Men’s Casual Clothing

  Critics, upstate: For 24 years, local men have turned to Mystique Fashion Boutique for not-too-trendy, not-too-classic casual wear. Mystique shuns the expensive Calvin Klein designs of the world in favor of unique, upscale, affordable brands. In response to the economy, Mystique is cutting back on pricier names such as Jhane Barnes and Robert Graham in favor of up-and-comers like Seven Diamonds and Stone Rose, two brands of sports shirt that are easier on the wallet. And as always, staff at Mystique is eager to help you put your outfit together. That’s one of the advantages that come with a local operation. It’s also one of the reasons Mystique has been around for nearly a quarter century. (1408 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 429-8755)
  Critics, downstate: Few places can match Quiet Storm Surf Shop for outfitting your bod for the beach. Besides great clothing, find sunglasses, sandals and surfboards. “I get my Tommy Bahama shirts, my Reef sandals and some other nice, casual, summertime walking-on-the-boardwalk wear there,” says local businessman Mike Meoli. All the most tubular surf wear, like Billabong, Rusty, Rip Curl, Volcom and O’Neill, can be found at Quiet Storm. (126 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2747; 33322 E. Chesapeake St., Lewes, 644-0809)


Best Party Supplies

  Readers, upstate: Fulton Party & Paper Company (1006 W. 27th St., Wilmington, 594-0400)
  Readers, downstate: Sheila’s Party World (1650 S. Governors Ave., Dover, 734-4173)
  Critics, upstate: “If they don’t have it at Fulton Paper, they don’t have it in Delaware,” Karibjanian says. The massive store is like a warehouse for paper and party goods, and locations in Bear, Hockessin, Middletown and Newark are no slouches either. Practically any theme, event or color under the sun exists in Fulton’s inventory. “I fantasize about throwing theme parties when I walk in there,” Karibjanian says. “When the kids were little, it’s where we went for ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ stuff. Now it’s where we go for Brandywine blue or Tatnall black and yellow.” (1006 W. 27th St., Wilmington, 594-0400)
  Critics, downstate: For sheer quantity, no one comes close to Sheila’s Party World. It should be your first stop for birthday parties, holidays, graduations and anything else you can think of. “Anytime we need party supplies, we always go to Sheila’s,” Leishear says. “You just don’t have that many one-stop places around here. For any themed party, nobody has the amount of stuff that Sheila has.” (1650 S. Governors Ave., Dover, 734-4173)


Best Residential Architect

  Readers, upstate and downstate: Becker Morgan Group (309 S. Governors Ave., Dover, 734-7950)


Best Salon for Color

  Critics, upstate: Linda Gray praises the colorists at Chez Nicole. Staffers attend seminars for coloring tips and to fine-tune the salons’ coloring specialty: multicultural and textured hair. The salon pampers all types of women, men and families. Colorists regularly attend New York hair shows to stay current on trends, “but the trick is simply to listen to clients,” says owner Madelin Maglin. “Colorists complement overall skin tone to help clients look current, natural and beautiful.” When it comes to foils, the salon is “getting away from the big chunky, clunky look.” (1901 W. 11th St., No. 2, Wilmington, 654-8888)


Best Salon for Cut

  Critics, upstate: Chen has appeared in several Hollywood films, so he knows all about great hair. Visions Hair Design gets his vote because of the way its owner, “the wonderful Margie Hartnett,” runs the place. “The minute you walk in, you’re greeted by Darlene, who gives you a great scalp massage,” says Chen. “Annie Hartnett cuts my hair, but she’s just one of the many great stylists at Visions. You feel like an A-lister.” (2807 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-0820)


Best Salon for Men

  Readers, upstate: Pagavé Salon (1601 Concord Pike, No. 35, Wilmington, 765-0134)
  Readers, downstate: JK Tangles Salon (1151 E. Lebanon Road, Dover, 698-1006)


Best Salon for Nails

  Critics, upstate: The experts at Sanctuary Spa & Salon paint, polish and buff to help Karibjanian stay camera-ready. “A viewer once called to say my nails were a mess and I needed to take better care of them. I now count on Marie Doughtery to take care of them. I also take advantage of facials to remove all the TV makeup and get eyebrow styling.” (1847 Marsh Road, Wilmington, 475-1469)
  Critics, downstate: Sherif Zaki Salon and Oasis Spa, a fixture in Greenville, took over ownership of Sherif Zaki Salon and Spa by the Sea this year and taught a whole new set of clients the Zaki way. Manicures, polish changes and nail repairs are performed expertly, but the real treat is the Spa Manicure, in which hands are bathed, exfoliated and moisturized with alpha-hydroxy compounds, vitamin E, aloe vera and more. That makes for some healthy nails. (19266 Coastal Hwy., No. 18, Rehoboth Beach, 227-8640)


Best Salon for Women

  Readers, upstate: Salon by Dominic (130 Lantana Drive, Hockessin, 239-8282)
  Readers, downstate: JK Tangles Salon (1151 E. Lebanon Road, Dover, 698-1006)


Best Shoe Store for Men

  Readers, downstate: Carltons (31 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7990)
  Critics, over the line: Benjamin Lovell Shoes (525 Glen Eagle Square, Glen Mills, Pa., 610-358-0060)


Best Shoe Store for Women

  Readers, upstate: Dale’s Shoetique (4023 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, 655-6003)
  Readers, downstate: Sandals Sandals Sandals (70 Rehoboth Ave., No. 110, Rehoboth Beach, 226-5202)


Best Tailor

  Critics, upstate: Poppiti relies on Ted Brzozka, owner of Ted’s Tailor Shop and Cleaners, with good reason. Brzozka has been a professional tailor since 1958. Since he set up in Delaware in 1972, he has specialized in men’s and women’s suits, wedding and prom gowns, coats and dresses. “Ted can make the measurements work in a certain way so that a stuffy business suit feels like a favorite pair of pajamas,” says Poppiti. “He’s very service oriented and generous to his customers.” To which Brzozka says, “I’m humbled.” (2606 Kirkwood Hwy., Wilmington, 998-0985)


Best Toy Store

  Critics, upstate: Poppiti was a fan of Mitchell’s Trains, Toys & Hobbies, which, sadly, closed last year. “Fortunately, Joe and Emily Mitchell have opened up Yo Yo Joe’s Toys & Fun,” says Poppiti. “It’s quickly become a family favorite.” Joe’s unique offerings appeal to him, like the ballerina hand puppet he bought for his daughter. Yo Yo Joe’s sells many of the toy lines that Mitchell’s carried, plus new toys that are hard to find in Wilmington, including an exclusive Jon Rob signature yo-yo called The Pure. (Jonathan Robinson, aka Jon Rob, is from Wilmington.) Another popular Delaware-made game is “You’ve Been Sentenced,” by McNeil Designs. The store is stocked with puzzles, art supplies, stuffed animals, balls and lots of educational toys. Poppiti’s son, like most young buccaneers, loves the pirate ship that commandeers the store. Joe’s brother, Nate Piper, who helped build the present-day Kalmar Nyckel, built the pirate ship in New England. (3654 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-8386)
  Critics, downstate: For toys and games that value imagination over dexterity, there’s still no place better than Kids Ketch. “I like it because it has unique items, great service and if you’re looking for something special, they’ll find it,” Kelli Meoli says. “They’ll gift wrap, too, so it’s perfect for a last-minute gift.” Find everything from science kits to pipe-cleaner crafts to board games, puzzles, puppets, kites, hobbies and more. There are toys for babies and toddlers, too. (132 Second St., Lewes, 645-8448)


Best Wedding Planner

  Readers, upstate: Secretariat (P.O. Box 3509, Wilmington, 654-4479)
  Readers, downstate: Make My Day (701 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7111)


Best Women’s Accessories

  Critics, upstate: The reason Pat Halfpenny always looks so good is because, in addition to getting her hair done at Michael Christopher Salon and Spa, she also scores fabulous jewelry at its boutique. “It’s a fun atmosphere,” she says, “and Michael Christopher has the best selection of reasonably priced jewelry and purses in the area.” (2006 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, 658-0842)
  Critics, downstate: Smith gushes about Maxine’s New York Fashions for two reasons: the stylish clothes and one-of-a-kind accessories. “If you dare to be different, this is where you go,” says S. Renee Smith, a motivational speaker from Dover. “If you want big, gaudy jewelry because you’re a tall woman, you can go there and get big, gaudy jewelry.” Among other items, Smith touts Maxine’s selection of hats, shawls and handbags. “As an image consultant, I ask people, ‘Who are you? What is your style?’ At Maxine’s, you can go in, ask that and find the answer.” (125A W. Loockerman St., Dover, 678-9958)


Best Women’s Business Clothing

  Readers, upstate: Lady’s Image (3910 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-7921)
  Readers, downstate: Carltons (31 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7990)
  Critics, upstate: Vera Bradley bags, Ugg boots and Lacoste shirts mingle on the shelves with more boutique-y items at Wilmington Country Store. “I get a lot of really nice things for work events or work in general,” Karibjanian says. “The staff really knows how to pick the right things for me and help me branch out of my own styles. I love the combination of boutique items and designer brands.” (4013 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 656-4409)


Best Women’s Casual Clothing

  Readers, upstate: Lady’s Image (3910 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-7921)
  Readers, downstate: South Moon Under (120 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3806)
  Critics, upstate: Relative newcomer NV Boutique has turned a few heads by showcasing chic lines from the likes of Ella Moss, Yana K, BCBG and more. “They’re the new kid on the block with a little younger edge, and they have a lovely store and staff that aim to please,” Tyler says. “Have a dress in mind, but can’t find it? They will order it for you, and you can try it on right in the store.” (211 Louviers Drive, Newark, 368-4403)
  Critics, downstate: Entering its fourth summer, Aquamarine on Market remains a great place for women to find flat-out cool labels. The shop still carries reliable faves such as the Vera Wang Lavender label, Cut Loose casual linens and Dead Sexy twill pants, but you can always find new lines such as Velvet’s soft T-shirts and Italian shoemaker All Black. Also new is the glamorous eveningwear of Badgley Mischka and the vibrant patterns of Trina Turk. (205 Second St., Lewes, 644-4550)


Best Women’s Eveningwear

  Readers, upstate: Lady’s Image (3910 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-7921)
  Readers, downstate: Twila Farrell (122 Second St., Lewes, 645-7007)
  Critics, upstate: Pat Halfpenny praises Lady’s Image for “its good selection of formal wear for all occasions.” The evening department boasts a large selection of gowns, but “There aren’t so many outfits in stock that you meet other people wearing the same thing.” (3910 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-7921)
  Critics, downstate: No matter your age, ladies, The Angel Shack is the place to find that standout dress. Just ask the customers who popped in before the most recent presidential inaugural ball. Owner Penny Grafton keeps a registry of sizes, styles and the events customers wear her dresses to so that no two women show up at the same affair wearing the same thing. Fortunate customers discover the one-of-a-kind evening dresses from Nicole Miller. Grafton orders just two such dresses each year and hangs them on the rack without fanfare. Other brands include Velvet, Splendid and Ed Hardy. Designer jeans lines include Hudson, Genetic and People’s Liberation. (170 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-8630)


Best Women’s Swimwear

  Critics, upstate: The Swim Shop has become a source in the tri-state area for competition swimsuits by makers such as Speedo, TYR and Nike, as well as fashion suits. New this year is the popular Elixire diamondback suit for women. The Swim Shop also stocks aquatic exercise equipment, goggles, kickboards and water shoes. (2115 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 575-1224)
  Critics, downstate: Women’s swimwear brands such as Hurley, Billabong, Freepeople, Volcom, Lucy Love, Element, Split and RVCA all find their way into Quiet Storm Surf Shop. Kelli Meoli goes for swimwear from Roxy. The customer service is top-notch, too. (126 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2747)


Linda and Harold Gray rock their yoga at Matson Run Creek in Wilmington. Photograph by Phil Flynn

Best Addition to its Repertoire

  Critics, upstate: The Delaware Symphony Orchestra and maestro David Amado are never anything short of marvelous. But the musicians’ performances during two particular concerts this year—“The Music of Led Zeppelin” and “Bugs Bunny on Broadway”—demonstrated that they can let their hair down (and put their ears up) with the best. “Bugs” conductor George Daugherty, who has taken his show to dozens of cities around the world during the past 20 years, was highly complimentary of DSO’s professionalism. But Daugherty let the audience at The Grand know that he was especially taken by the symphony members’ friendliness. Now that’s a whole lotta love. (Delaware Symphony Orchestra, 818 N. Market St., Wilmington, 656-7442)


Best Afternoon Drive Deejay

  Readers, upstate: Catey Hill of WJBR 99.5 FM, Wilmington
  Readers, downstate: (tie) Joe Allen of WAFL 97.7 FM, Milford; Bill Baker of WOCQ 103.9 FM, Georgetown


Best Nature Experience

  Critics, downstate: “The best nature experience in Delaware—other than the Delaware Museum of Natural History, of course—is Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge,” says Spruance. He favors its 16,000 acres, “all less than 10 feet above sea level.” Spring and fall “are great times to see the mind-boggling migration of birds, and the Bear Swamp Trail is a fun and easy family hike.” (2591 Whitehall Neck Road, Smyrna, 653-6872)


Best Band

  Critics, upstate: When a musician goes to hear other musicians, they’re usually pretty good. Former Bad Company member Paul Cullen plays his highest notes for Lower Case Blues, a bluesy rock trio from Newark. Guitarist Jake Banaszak, vocalist-bassist B.J. Muntz and drummer Rick Webster “are great players dedicated to their craft, and they play a lot of originals,” says Cullen. The band, whose influences include Buddy Guy, Big Joe Turner, Muddy Waters, Bootrtsy Collins, The Allman Brothers and Jimi Hendrix, play JD Shuckers in Lewes July 25. (The full show schedule is available at


Best Bang for Your Entertainment Buck

  Critics, upstate: “In this tough economy, going to a Wilmington Blue Rocks game ranks at the top of my list,” says Spruance. “There’s nothing quite like a Friday evening in summer at Frawley Stadium. Tickets are very affordable, and your only worry is looking out for foul balls.” Our minor league baseball team offers special discounted seats all the time, and themed events render bobbleheads, T-shirts and toys for the kids. Even if you miss the specials, tickets are only $8. (801 S. Madison St., Wilmington, 888-2015)


Best Dog Park

  Critics, upstate: When Gardner isn’t booking Broadway shows, his English yellow Labrador retriever, Max, provides all the entertainment he needs. “The best place to take Max is happy hour in Rockford Park” in Wilmington’s Highlands area, he says. Nicknamed the Bark Park, Rockford offers designated off-leash areas where dogs are free to run, explore and do what dogs do. Humans tend to behave at Rockford, too, picking up after their dogs and respecting others. In other words, there’s a lot to do, but not a lot of doggie-do.


Best Marina

  Critics, upstate: Summit North Marina, on the C&D Canal, is the Grays’ pick for best marina, largely because it sits on a quiet inlet on the canal between the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River. The marina is near Lums Pond State Park and several golf courses, including Back Creek and Frog Hollow in Middletown. “We are currently the only marina on the canal in Delaware that sells fuel,” says manager Chris Lloyd. In addition, Summit operates Aqua Sol, a Cuban- and South Beach-inspired restaurant that overlooks the marina. Aqua Sol’s patio pumps with live music, and great martinis are poured, all in a Miami-style atmosphere. (3000 Summit Harbour Place, Bear, 836-1800)


Best Morning Drive Deejay

  Readers, upstate: Michael Waite and Jill Quale of WJBR 99.5FM, Wilmington
  Readers, downstate: Dan Gaffney of WGMD 92.7FM, Rehoboth Beach


Best Oprah Moment

   Four Christiana High School student-athletes received the surprise of their lives in April when they appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and were given full college scholarships from entertainer The seniors—Jaiquann Beckham, Elijah Williams, and twins Barien and Darien White—were rewarded for their hard work. Each young man attended classes, participated on Christiana’s track and field team, and worked part-time to help their single moms. Great job, fellas, and good luck in college.


Coolest Place to Be a Soccer Mom

  Critics, upstate: Want to know how popular soccer is? “Just visit Kirkwood Soccer Club on a Saturday,” says Wilson. “My favorite thing to do is hang out with my kids, and for my daughter, that means being a soccer mom. She’s 15 and has been playing soccer at the KSC since she was 4.” (1220 River Road, New Castle, 328-9228)


Best Place to Do Yoga

  Critics, upstate: The Grays practice at Matson Run Creek in Brandywine Hills. “It has a few large, flat, granite rocks nestled close to the stream,” Harold says, as well as small waterfalls. Great blue herons glide over the creek, “much like dragons of Chinese lore that pass through places with good feng shui.” Add dragonflies, wildflowers, songbirds and majestic trees. “This setting produces a harmonizing experience with nature.”


With its ocean beach, nature trails and much more, critics consider Cape Henlopen State Park the best in Delaware. Best Place to Find Urban Beauty

  Critics, upstate: Monty unwinds in Brandywine Park, “a few minutes from downtown, where spring is gloriously saluted by tall flowering trees with a breathtaking abundance of pink and white blossoms” from dogwood and cherry trees. In summer, Monty enjoys the rose garden “that attracts with bright colors and sweet aromas.” Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame, Brandywine is a treasure of landscape architecture.


Best Place to Get Away

  Critics, upstate: There’s a lot of stress running a small business with so many challenges,” says Lucinda Williams, executive director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. “Winterthur Museum & Country Estate is the one place I can go to walk, empty my mind, and just take in all the beauty around me.” Says Lee Kimball of OperaDelaware, “I enjoy Winterthur’s gardens in the spring.” (5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, 888-4600)


Best Place to Hang Out

  Critics, upstate: When you’re an “Action News” reporter like Wilson, you know there’s real danger of bringing the bad news home with you. Wilson unwinds at picturesque Battery Park on the Delaware River in New Castle, where a playground, a small sandy beach, picnic areas and a paved trail make for fun and relaxation. “It’s a great, quiet place to sit and clear your head,” she says. “You can walk off your stress on a scenic path by the water.” There are even weekly open-air concerts in summer.


Best Place to See Art

  Critics, downstate: Sponsored by The Lewes Historical Society, the annual Lewes Art Show at the historical society building on Shipcarpenter Street in February, tops Williams’ list. “Put on your walking shoes, spend the day in beautiful Lewes, and look at magnificent paintings from artists all over the country and Delaware,” she says. “And take your checkbook.”


Best Private Golf Course

  Readers, upstate: DuPont Country Club (1001 Rockland Road, Wilmington, 421-1722)
  Readers, downstate: Peninsula Golf & Country Club (26967 Trinity Road, Millsboro, 945-4768)
  Critics, upstate: Chen enjoys DuPont Country Club, “especially since its redesign a few years back,” he says. “I scored an 80 last year on the course, but I think I made a deal with the devil that round.” There are three 18-hole golf courses of varying difficulty: the DuPont Championship Course, the Nemours Course and the Montchanin Course for beginners. (1001 Rockland Road, Wilmington, 421-1722)
  Critics, downstate: The centerpiece of a lush neighborhood, Kings Creek Country Club blends seamlessly with its pastoral surroundings. “The course has more character than any other course in the area,” says Meoli, a member since 1991. “The way it’s laid out, you have to manage your shots well. I love how it snakes through the neighborhoods, and you can even get a glimpse of the bay.” (1 Kings Creek Circle, Rehoboth Beach, 227-8953)


Best Public Golf Course

  Readers, upstate: Rock Manor Golf Course (1319 Carruthers Lane, Wilmington, 295-1400)
  Readers, downstate: Baywood Greens (32267 Clubhouse Way, Long Neck, 947-9800)
  Critics, upstate: Though Middletown is generally flat, the course at Frog Hollow Golf Club offers “good hills and turns,” says Chen. “Frog Hollow is also reasonably priced, with a nice clubhouse. For the money, you can’t beat it.” (1 Wittington Way, Middletown, 376-6500)
  Critics, downstate: Covered with man-made ponds, woodsy areas, bright white sand traps, thousands of flowers and perfectly manicured grounds, Baywood Greens’ verdant championship course has won over many a linksman, including Meoli and Leishear. “How could you not love this place?” Leishear says. “When it’s in bloom, you feel like you’re at Augusta. Since they’ve expanded, it’s bigger and better than ever.” (32267 Clubhouse Way, Long Neck, 947-9800)


Best Radio News Anchor

  Readers, upstate: Allan Loudell of WDEL 1150AM, Wilmington
  Readers, downstate: Bill Colley of WGMD 92.7FM, Rehoboth Beach


Best Radio Station for Music

  Readers, upstate: WSTW 93.7FM, Wilmington
  Readers, downstate: WOCM 98.1FM, Ocean City, Md.


Best Radio Station for News

  Readers, upstate: WDEL 1150AM, Wilmington
  Readers, downstate: WGMD 92.7FM, Rehoboth Beach


Best Radio Station for Sports

  Readers, upstate: WDEL 1150AM, Wilmington
  Readers, downstate: WICO 92.5FM and 1320AM, Salisbury, Md.


Best Radio Talk Show Host

  Readers, upstate: Carlos de Los Ramos of WDEL 1150AM, Wilmington
  Readers, downstate: Dan Gaffney of WGMD 92.7FM, Rehoboth Beach


Most Romantic Place

  Critics, downstate: Beach Plum Island is the perfect setting for a little bit of love, Schell says. “Pack a lunch and some wine and kayak over to Beach Plum Island just west of Lewes for a nice private picnic,” he says. “I took my wife here when we were dating—a day I’m sure she’ll never forget.”


Most Scenic Drive

  Critics, downstate: Ferranto knows a thing or two about scenic river views, but she enjoys traveling by land, too. “I drive through the rolling landscape along (Del.) 52 and 100,” she says, “especially during the change of seasons.” The drive takes her through Revolutionary War-era woods, majestic estates and hand-set stone walls. Some of Delaware’s most iconic destinations line the path, including Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Buckley’s Tavern and Centreville Café. The area is also known for its antiques and consignment shops.
  Critics, downstate: Castle likes the section of Del. 9 that runs from New Castle to Dover Air Force Base. “Del. 9 Coastal Heritage Scenic Byway winds past wildlife refuges and historic sites, and the route is a pleasure to drive,” Castle says. “It reminds me of Delaware’s rich history and culture.” The two-lane road stretches south to the John Dickinson Plantation near Dover, and runs along the Delaware River and Bay, passing farms, fresh and saltwater marshes, and navigational light towers. Spur roads lead to Port Mahon and Woodland Beach, as well as Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.


Lee Kimball (left) and Lucinda Williams find their muses at Winterthur Museum & Country Estate near Greenville. Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli

Best State Park

  Critics, downstate: Between the trails, festivals and wildlife, there’s plenty to occupy a family at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes. It’s also the place many locals choose for a beach day. There are beaches on the ocean and Delaware Bay, a fishing pier, shellfish beds, camping areas and lots of neat stuff left from the days of Fort Miles. “We spend a lot of time there with the kids and with other families,” Meoli says. “The kids do skimboarding camp, and we like that it’s a little more secluded.”


Best TV News Anchor

  Readers, upstate: Jim Gardner of “Action News,” WPVI-TV, Philadelphia
  Readers, downstate: Steve Hammond of “WBOC News,” WBOC-TV 16, Salisbury, Md.


Best Undiscovered Secret

  Critics, downstate: Chris and Lori Schell love boating on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. “It is absolutely beautiful in the summer, and you’d never know you were in Delaware because, in many places, you can’t see any signs of civilization,” Chris says. “It is extremely peaceful back there and is a unique experience like no other. You can go crabbing or just simply go exploring. My wife and I take our kids boating in the bays and canals every weekend, and we love it.”


Best View

  Critics, upstate: It’s not just Brandywine Creek that Castle admires. “It’s the river after a rainstorm or snowmelt,” he says, when the creek swells with runoff and moves fast. Cammarato enjoys the views while hiking at Brandywine Creek State Park.
  Critics, downstate: “There’s something about the view up the Delaware coastline going north on Indian River Inlet or bridge,” says Castle. “I have always felt that Delaware’s coastline is one of the state’s most beautiful assets. On a clear day, from the bridge, the view of the coastline and water is absolutely breathtaking.”


Best Warm Weather Fun

  Critics, downstate: If it’s spring or summer, the Cullens are probably cycling at Cape Henlopen State Park. There are four biking trails: the 3.3-mile bike trail; the 1.5-mile Walking Dunes Trail; the 5.2-mile Junction & Breakwater Trail; and the 0.7-mile Gordons Pond Trail.



Our guest critics enjoy a community profile that gets them out and about. They know food, they know shopping, and they know the social scene.

Marsha Borin of Greenville is one of the most fashionable women in Delaware. An attorney, she is also a former ballerina and president of the innovative dance company Rasta Thomas LLC.

Dan Butler has made an indelible mark on dining in and around northern New Castle County, starting with Toscana Kitchen + Bar, then Toscana To-Go, Deep Blue, Brandywine Prime and Bistro on the Brandywine. Between the restaurants—and raising a 4-year-old and a 1-year old—he still manages to get out.

Anne Marie Cammarato is artistic director of the Delaware Theatre Company, so she knows a great show when she sees one.

Culinary Institute of America grad Jay Caputo is a bona fide celebrity chef. A 2009 James Beard Award Mid-Atlantic semifinalist, Caputo is the owner and creative force behind Mediterranean-influenced Espuma and The Porcini House, both in Rehoboth Beach.

U.S. Congressman Mike Castle is serving his ninth term as Delaware’s only member of the House of Representatives. If anyone knows the best sightseeing spots, he’s the one.

Lyman Chen of North Wilmington is a Realtor and a professional film actor, who has appeared in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening” and “The Departed.” Yes, he knows De Niro.

Paul and Bonnie Cullen make the most of life in Rehoboth Beach and local restaurants. Bonnie is a hair stylist. Paul, a gourmet cook, is a full-time musician who plays all over the state. Bonnie cuts Paul’s hair, but she hasn’t cooked in eight years.


Page 53: The Best of Delaware 2009, continues…


Executive director of the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, Marcia Ferranto knows as much about land as she does about sea.

John P. Gardner is general manager of the DuPont Theatre. He can talk authoritatively about both Broadway and  yellow labs.

Derrick Gunn, known by Eagles fans far and wide as “Gunner,” is an anchor for Comcast SportsNet, where he’s endeared himself to the Iggles faithful by providing enlightening interviews and commentary during football season. Derrick and wife, Trish, live in Bear.

Linda and Harold Gray are one of Delaware’s most stylish couples. Harold is a vice president of United Way of Delaware. Linda, a retired magistrate, designs a line of jewelry called Bootsie Baubles & Beads.

Both Pat and Geoff Halfpenny are curators. Pat is director of Museum Collections at Winterthur Museum & Country Estate. Geoff is executive director of Hagley Museum and Library.

Nancy Karibjanian is a WHYY host who has seen all of Delaware and then some in her 20-plus years of reporting on the state.

K.C. Keeler is best known as the championship-winning football coach for UD’s Fightin’ Blue Hens, but along with wife, Janice, daughter Kate and son Jackson, the Keelers are very involved in the Newark community.


Page 54: The Best of Delaware 2009, continues…


Leland P. Kimball III is general manager and artistic director of OperaDelaware. He is a fine judge of all things cultural.

Mark and Kelly Leishear of Milton have been making us feel less guilty about eating sweets since 2005. With children Bella and Liam, the family comprises Bella’s Cookies, a line of irresistible natural and organic treats.

Philip Livingston, owner of Elegant Slumming and Philip Morton Gallery in Rehoboth Beach, is a certifiable man about town. He’s also a regular contributor to InStore Magazine.

Mike Meoli owns six McDonald’s restaurants downstate, and has been a member of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce for nearly 15 years. His wife, Kelli Meoli, works closely with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.

Lise Monty of Wilmington is an author and chair of the Delaware State Arts Council. She’s also a former editor of Delaware Today, which automatically qualifies her as a Best of Delaware expert.

If anyone knows about beach classics, it’s Alex Pires, a partner with Highway One, which owns several of the resort area’s most popular spots, including the Rusty Rudder and the Bottle & Cork.

Ciro Poppiti III of Wilmington is an attorney in private practice and director of wines and spirits for NKS Distributors. He is a fine dining expert.

Robin and Patsy Rankin stir up Key West-inspired goodness from Bethany Beach at their Patsy’s Restaurant. The mother and daughter are both graduates of L’Academie de Cuisine Professional Culinary School in Maryland. When they dine out,  they opt for something different, like a few rolls of sushi.


Page 55: The Best of Delaware 2009, continues…


Michele Rollins of Greenville, chairwoman of Rollins Jamaica, may be a world traveler, but she appreciates the finer shops and restaurants here at home.

Chris Schell is half of Schell Brothers and a lifelong Delawarean whose construction company has altered the very fabric of our state. Chris and wife Lori Schell love boating on the inland bays and canals.

S. Renee Smith is an image consultant, motivational speaker, columnist and author from Dover. The stylish Smith travels the country and enjoys shopping and fine dining wherever she goes.

Executive director of the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Halsey Spruance is often spotted enjoying sumptuous dinners at Moro Restaurant Wilmington, which is run by his brother Corby.

Glam gal JoJami Tyler is DT’s style guru and author of’s Glam Girl blog. She is the expert on First State fashion, cosmetics, salons and more. Read about her adventures at

Lucinda Williams is executive director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, an avid gardener and a shopaholic.

Award-winning reporter Lauren Wilson is Delaware’s “Action News” correspondent, so you can trust her judgment.


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