The Dining Guide: Perfect 10s

Whether you seek classic steaks, small plates or sea urchin, we know where to go—and it’s not always where you may think.

Page 1: Tapas and Small Plates 
Page 2: Cutting-Edge Cuisine 
Page 3: Adventure Eating 
Page 4: Hidden Places for Great Beef 
Page 5: Comfort Food 
Page 6: Healthy Food 
Page 7: Wines of the Times
Page 8: Sensational Seafood
Page 9: Local Flavor, Localvores
Page 10: Some Like it Hot
Page 11: A Season of Change 

The crispy scallops with wasabi mayo and hoisin (foreground) are a favorite at Béseme, as are serrano-wrapped shrimp served with red onion salsa. Photograph by Thom ThompsonTapas and Small Plates

Tapas dining, the Spanish tradition of sharing several small plates, is attractive for several reasons. For chefs it’s the freedom to stretch creatively. For diners it’s a chance to sample several dishes without breaking the bank. Best of all, “the meal itself becomes more of an event,” says Kelly Sharp of Café Azafrán in Lewes. “The sense of sharing and community that you get is warmer and more inclusive.”

142 Second St., Lewes, 645-8108
Béseme’s long menu (22 dishes this winter) changes several times a year, but the fried crispy scallops with wasabi mayo and hoisin are a mainstay. A crispy avocado half, breaded and deep-fried, is something chef and owner Mike Pelrine calls a life changer. Same goes for the niçoise salad, pheasant and portobello puff pastries, and the playful Tako salad of baby octopus, julienne carrots, snow peas, ginger and, yes, corn chips. 

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Ameritage Bistro
900 N. Orange St., Wilmington, 427-2300
True, appetizers are not the same as small plates or tapas, but when they’re so good, so perfect for sharing, that doesn’t matter. Duck confit with walnuts, green beans and pomegranate vinaigrette, as well as smoked trout with pear sauce, arugula and mint, are perfect bistro fare, as is the selection of gourmet cheeses, olives, hummus and seasonal vegetables. 

Blue Pear Bistro
275 Brintons Bridge Road, West Chester, Pa., (610) 399-9812
Much has been made of Blue Pear’s seasonal small plates, and rightly so. The dishes are inventive and hearty, trendy and fun. Choose from the too-tasty-to-be-pretentious chicken nuggets served with a sweet yet pungent, white truffle-honey mustard sauce, or the chef’s selection of oysters. There’s wild escargot, tuna tartar, artisanal cheeses, pickled items and gourmet miscellany. 

Café Azafrán
109 Market St., Lewes, 644-4446

As Café Azafrán unveils its first winter dinner service this season, authentic Spanish tapas remains the menu’s core. Haricots verts, given backbone by toasted hazelnuts and Gorgonzola cheese, is a top-seller. New this winter is the Mediterranean platter, which general manager Kelly Sharp calls “just a wonderful sampling of the finest goodies,” such as serrano ham, roasted peppers, tapenade romesco, and more items served with hot bread. Tapas and wines by the glass go for $7 during Friday happy hours. 

Del Rose Café
1707 Delaware Ave., Wilmington, 656-3015
It may be best known as a night spot, but Del Rose is Trolley Square’s champion of small bites and lunch munchies. Chief among them is the famous chopped antipasto, which is loaded with Italian cheeses and meats such as peppered ham, salami, capicola, cheeses, lettuce, as well as sweet peppers, tomatoes and black olives. “It’s been the Del Rose antipasto since the place opened in April ’62,” says general manager Matt Jeffrey. “And it’s by far the No. 1 dish here.”

Domaine Hudson Wine Bar and Eatery
1314 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 655-9463
Owner Tom Hudson offers the option to order small plates as big plates—even if an amazing small dish of pan-seared rack of Australian lamb with goat cheese, fingerling potatoes, balsamic syrup, and warm herb-onion vinaigrette is too good to pass up at $15. The medium-rare lamb pairs with almost any red wine in DH’s extensive collection. 

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The Exchange on Market
902 N. Market St., Wilmington, 576-9861

Items such as herb-veggie flatbread and panko-breaded calamari are bar-crowd perfect for a quick bite and for sharing, says general manager Rachel Fatow. If you’re inclined to sit down with a fork and knife, go for the Moroccan grilled lamb and feta sausages.

Olé Tapas Lounge and Restaurant
1126 Capitol Trail, Newark, 224-9378

When Olé opened to great acclaim last fall, it became the face of a local tapas explosion. Patrons are drawn to traditional Spanish flavors in dishes such as setas con chorizo (wild mushrooms with chorizo) and gambas ajillo (plump shrimp cooked with Spanish olive oil and slivered garlic). Chef Ivan Torres writes a new menu daily. 

Orillas Tapas and Bar
413 N. Market St., Wilmington, 427-9700

The newest kid on the block comes courtesy of Julio Lazzarini, a former standout chef at Deep Blue who hopes to illuminate the flair and value of tapas dining with bold, straightforward ingredients. Classic and modern tapas such as empanada de carrucho (a turnover filled with fresh conch) contribute to a vibrant menu. 

Porcini House
210 Second St., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6494

Chef Jay Caputo builds small plates around his favorite ingredients, so porcini mushrooms, duck confit and spicy sausage from Philly’s Italian Market make frequent appearances on the menu. Don’t skip the sharable flatbreads with roasted peppers or the gourmet meats and cheeses (but keep the creamy risotto all to yourself). 

Page 2: Cutting-Edge Cuisine

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Eclipse keeps its edge with dishes such as shrimp and goat cheese bruschetta. Photograph by Thom ThompsonCutting-Edge Cuisine

Call it the anti-trend trend. Delaware’s most innovative restaurants are skipping the truffle oil and mango-scented lecithin foams. Instead, they’re sticking to high-end cuisine that is simple and local. Cutting-edge restaurants are now measured by their ability to get the best ingredients, a chefs’ knowledge of the season’s best crops, and an ability to reconcile them in delicious ways.

Eclipse Bistro
1020 N. Union St., Wilmington, 658-1588

Eclipse finds inspiration in places like the Mediterranean and Southwest, but never abandons the comforts its customers have grown to love. “We could have the most high-end, esoteric menu available, but if it’s not selling, we can’t do it for very long,” says general manager Nick Georigi. So the menu changes only partially with the seasons to ensure fresh ingredients. This winter look for heavenly braised items such as short ribs and roast chicken. 

The Executive
556 S. Dupont Blvd., Milford, 422-7530

Smart restaurateurs are flexible, especially during tough economic times, so The Executive has unveiled a “bailout menu” of economical items such as meatloaf and liver and onions. “Things are tough down here. They’re tough everywhere,” says co-owner Tina Rambo. “So we listen to our regulars and ask our staff for ideas.” Favorites such as pan-seared pork chops with caramelized Granny Smith apples remain, courtesy of chefs David Michael and Shawn West, but the owners’ creativity and pragmatism is commendable. 

Harry’s Seafood Grill
101 S. Market St., Wilmington, 777-1500

Chef David Leo Banks and crew experiment ceaselessly with foods, whether drying their own miso or pickling vegetables. “We’ll come up with stuff that only we think is cool and balance the sensible with the sensational,” Banks says. Harry’s has introduced Wilmington to some trend foods such as sashimi and the Latin American staple ceviche. 

Krazy Kat’s
514 Montchanin Road, Montchanin, 888-4200

Though it’s easy to fall in love with the wacky decor and picturesque surroundings, Krazy Kat’s best qualities are meticulous preparation and innovative flavor profiles. Executive chef Donny Merrill treats French-inspired ingredients with great care and creativity to develop dishes such as seared scallops with white chocolate-corn pudding. Call him krazy, but it works. 

Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities
415 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington, 656-9822

Luigi Vitrone believes in fresh, simple ingredients presented in bold and uncompromising ways. And that takes elbow grease, especially with rustic regional Italian cuisine that requires pasta, sauces, desserts and everything to be made by hand. But Vitrone is as passionate as anyone. His Hunters’ Cannelloni stuffed with pork, veal and beef and his famous zuppa di pesce teeming with fresh fish from the market are testament to that.  

Moro Restaurant
1307 N. Scott St., Wilmington, 777-1800

Finding the very best ingredients takes serious work, says general manager Kevin Dunn. Lucky for customers, Dunn and chef-owner Michael DiBianca are willing to go the extra mile for true top-of-the-line products, whether they’re gourmet items from Philly’s famous Di Bruno Bros. or heirloom tomatoes shipped overnight from the West Coast. DiBianca uses those ingredients to meld Mediterranean influences with classic French execution.  

4307 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 226-2037

Chef du cuisine Hari Cameron helps write a new menu every day, so he keeps a sharp eye on fresh, seasonal cuisine. “Trends come and go,” Cameron says. “I cook what I would want to go out and eat myself.” A passionate gastronome, Cameron seeks to deliver unique New American flavors. Watch him make good use of Jerusalem artichokes or lobster mushrooms, or go all out with a brilliant cold weather dish of braised lamb shanks with rainbow baby carrots, currants and pine nuts. 

Ponos Hawaiian Fine Dining
1306 Coastal Hwy., Dewey Beach, 227-3119

Sometimes cutting edge means doing that which hasn’t been done before. Owner Regan Derrickson fell in love with Hawaiian cuisine, so he introduced ingredients like kamapachi and opakapaka to a town where fine dining is sparse. Items from the seafood-heavy menu are assembled and presented expertly. Combined with decor that includes a waterfall and fiber-optic starscape, Ponos gives diners more than a great meal. It’s an experience. 

Prince on Delaware
124 Delaware St., New Castle, 326-1130

After a year of service, chef and owner Prince Johnson has adapted to life in Old New Castle, and vice versa. He’s found that his older patrons sometimes need to downsize on the gargantuan portions and bold spices that are hallmarks of his melting pot of a fine dining menu. Guests are discovering that Johnson is creative enough to satisfy any taste. Still, he’s keeping his foot on the gas pedal: He unveiled a new menu last month with more South American influences dotted with chilies and chorizo. 

Sovana Bistro
696 Unionville Road, Kennett Square, Pa., (610) 444-5600

Superstar chef Nick Farrell is big on farm-to-table cuisine, and in farm-rich Kennett Square, it’s been a major hit. His menu drips with local flavors, from New Jersey day boat scallops with local potato and parsnips, to local farm-raised lamb, root vegetables, mushrooms and artisanal cheeses. Good ingredients make all the difference.   

Page 3: Adventure Eating


Sea urchin is on a roll at Ichiban in Dover. Photograph by Thom ThompsonAdventure Eating

You squirm. You giggle. You grimace. Then you wonder: Just what does that taste like? Restaurants across the state tempt curious diners with exotic ingredients. Some are ethnic delicacies. Some are local oddities. All have devoted fans. So go ahead. Order the weirdest thing on the menu. We double-dog dare you. Your bravery may be rewarded.

Ichiban Japanese Restaurant
737 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 677-0067

A delicacy in Japan, uni is a sushi made from the reproductive organs of sea urchins. Expect a strong ocean scent, dusky, fishy flavor and creamy texture. Ichiban owner Byall Lee serves it simply, with a bit of rice. 

Back Porch Café
59 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3674

Sweetbreads are neither sweet nor bread. They are the thymus gland of a calf. Those served at Back Porch Café have such a devoted following, there’s a fan club. Chef Leo Medisch soaks and rinses them in water, par boils them, then sautés the slices in butter. The classic French preparation results in a delicacy that’s crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, with a buttery, nutty flavor. They’re served with warm pancetta and an aromatic veal sauce. 

Bon Appetit
312 High St., Seaford, 629-3700

Owner Karen Pedemonte wears certain ingredients—frog legs, sweetbreads, calf’s liver—as a badge of honor. Among them is that best known of French delicacies: escargot. Though beginners may be sluggish when it comes to snails, regulars love them with garlic. Though a mollusk, escargots don’t taste at all like shellfish. They’re earthy and spongy, so they soak up the butter and brandy they’re sautéed in. 

Frog House Restaurant
116 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 539-4500

You won’t find much in the way of exotic offerings among the burgers, steaks and pasta at Dave McGee’s Frog House, save one appetizer: crispy breaded frog legs. Tender and mild, they do, in fact, taste a bit like chicken.

2800 Lancaster Ave., Wilmington, 777-5117

Mariachi does Mexican in a most authentic and delicious way. Try a taco of meats such as roasted cabeza (from a cow’s head), tripa (from a cow’s stomach) or lengua (beef tongue). All are served simply, with raw onion, cilantro and kicking hot sauce. The tender beef is worth the cold sweat. 

801 S. College Ave., Newark, 737-4800

Dine on Australia’s national animal two ways. The Roo Burger and the kangaroo loin showcase the super lean meat. Both are prepared simply, with the loin getting a dusting of spices before it’s seared, then finished with a red wine demi-glace. 

Masamoto Sushi and Asian Grill
Suite 6, 1810 Wilmington Pike, Glen Mills, Pa., (610) 358-5538

Impeccably fresh fish and awesome execution quickly made Masamoto a primo destination for sushi. The proof is Johnny Cai’s omakase (chef’s choice) menu, where suddenly trendy monkfish liver and silky, mild scallops make regular appearances, depending on the market. 

Palacio Maya
7288 Lancaster Pike, No. 2B, Hockessin, 239-5590

Try the quesadilla de huitlacoche quesadilla: a corn tortilla filled with cheese, sautéed onions and smoky-flavored huitlacoche. Better known as corn smut, huitlacoche is a mushroom-like fungus that grows on corn kernels. The flavor is oh-so-slightly tart up front, earthy in the finish. Blended with the cheese, it is simply delicious. 

Wagon Wheel Family Restaurant
110 S. Dupont Blvd., Smyrna, 653-1457

On Tuesdays throughout winter, the Wagon Wheel serves local muskrat cooked with stewed tomatoes, potatoes and other fixin’s. “We sell out every time we’ve ever done it,” says manager Richard Jacobs. “And they suck the bones dry when they order it.” Never tried marsh rabbit? The flavor is similar to beef. 

Woodside Farms Creamery 
1310 Little Baltimore Road, Hockessin, 239-9847
Udder Delight
70 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-4606

Woodside Farms produces gallons of cream-of-mushroom ice cream for the annual Kennett Square Mushroom Festival. Like all Woodside products, it’s made with local ingredients. Crave a bit more protein? Udder Delight in Rehoboth offers Woodside-made ice cream in bacon and barbecue flavors. Yes, those are actual frozen bits of bacon. 

Page 4: Hidden Places for Great Beef


The chili-rubbed Delmonico at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill gains its savory flavor from hickory and oak. Photograph by Thom ThompsonHidden Places for Great Beef

When your dining partner starts gassing about marbling and such, you know you’re dining with a beef fanatic, one who slavishly follows the rules of steak cooking: Let the meat come to room temperature, season simply, then sear. But no two grillmasters do steak exactly the same—not that one has to be a specialist to do it well. Outstanding cuts can be found in surprising places, not just steakhouses. Below, a few hidden gems (with a couple obvious choices, too).

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
1225 Churchmans Road, Newark, 366-7577

The secret to great steak at this boutique chain is wafting on the air. That smoke is the result of a real hickory and oak wood fire. Open-flame grilling adds an extra dimension to the flavor of a filet mignon wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon and to the chili-rubbed Delmonico. “When you smell the wood burning, there’s something very primal and nostalgic about it,” says executive chef Steven Sturm. 

1776 Restaurant
4590 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 645-9355

Owner Tom Holmes tasted steaks until he landed on the most mouthwatering. His 1776 now employs both dry and wet techniques when aging steaks to tender perfection. The Certified Angus barrel cut—the house signature—is the eye of the rib eye. It’s seasoned lightly on both sides, then seared in a 1,600-degree oven. The well-marbled Delmonico is a top seller.  

Baywood Clubhouse Restaurant
32267 Clubhouse Way, Long Neck, 947-9225

Baywood’s tender prime rib can only be attained by waking up early in the morning, then slow roasting the beef until chef John Sapienza can carve it with a butter knife. Other popular cuts, like an 8-ounce filet and a 10-ounce New York strip, come from Atlanta’s Buckhead Beef Co., known for its high quality meats. The filet, served with a pat of herb butter on top, is just as good.  

15 W. Rider Road, Harrington, 398-5348

Asked which cut of beef Bonz does best, sous chef Phillip Williams says, “We do them all the best.” Surely, the Bonz crew is confident in its eight steak offerings, from the 22-ounce charbroiled Cowboy steak to the rarely-seen bone-in filet mignon. All come from revered Rastelli Bros., and all get a finishing dash of sea salt cultivated in England. 

Chadds Ford Tavern
1400 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa., (610) 459-8453

Cozy, family-owned Chadds Ford Tavern houses a fireplace, Tiffany lamps and some of the tenderest steak you’ll ever eat. The steak Diane, bathed in a sauce of shallots, brandy, local mushrooms, herbs and mustard, is a favorite. For true indulgence, go for the filet mignon, amazingly tender and adorably topped with a mushroom cap. 

Finbar’s Pub and Grill
316 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-1873

Finbar’s does a nightly prime rib special and a super-flavorful 12-ounce strip steak. But chef Ian Mangin’s masterpiece is the 8-ounce hand-cut filet, which is grilled and smothered in an Irish whiskey sauce. The creamy sauce gets its body from the whiskey, with a hint of sweetness from sautéed shallots. 

Hollywood Grill
1811 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 655-1348

Good luck getting close enough to even smell the steak at Hollywood Grill most nights. The place uses only USDA Choice grade beef for its porterhouse and New York strip, which are char-grilled to order, says owner Phil Hanos. The key to great flavor, he says, is searing the meat correctly to seal in the juices. Every Saturday, Hollywood packs them in for slow-cooked prime rib au jus. 

Palettes Restaurant and Lounge
4727 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-6000

Chef Dante Iocona takes the high road even higher with his extravagant java-crusted filet mignon topped with a rich wild mushroom demi-glace. His second steak offering is Kentucky onion rib eye with sweet potato purée and a bourbon chili sauce. Room service, anyone? 

Stanley’s Tavern
2038 Foulk Road, Wilmington, 475-1887

Stanley’s could easily print a menu of wings, ribs and burgers and still pack the house every night. Yet the tavern serves some of the best USDA Choice Midwestern steaks around, courtesy of George L. Wells Meat Co. in Philly. “The magic is that we buy the best product we can,” says owner Steve Torpey. The 6-ounce center cut sirloin is a hot seller, right ahead of the 10-ounce New York strip and an 8-ounce filet. All are seasoned simply, then charbroiled to bring out the meat’s natural flavors. 

Union City Grille
805 N. Union St., Wilmington, 654-9780

Matt Curtis likes his steak to taste like steak, not like some fancy Cabernet demi-glace. That’s why he preaches the great, natural flavor of quality meat resulting from proper caramelization, proper rest, and maybe a pat of whipped butter at the end of grilling. Curtis’ fave is the juicy grilled hanger steak, which he calls a true steak-eater’s steak. 

Page 5: Comfort Food


Comfort Food

To some, comfort food means steaming bowls of seafood stew. To others, it’s a dish of ravioli and homemade meatballs. And sometimes comfort food means a twist on an old favorite. The following restaurants have creative comfort covered.

Buckley’s Tavern
5812 Kennett Pike, Centreville, 656-9776

Buckley’s is famous for its comfortable pub atmosphere, wholesome food and diverse clientele. Two new dishes are worth trying: the pork and ginger meatloaf, which is flavored with a savory blend of fresh ginger and molasses served with scallion-mashed potatoes, and homemade tomato soup, which is topped with a dollop of goat cheese and a spoonful of red pepper jalapeño jelly. 

23 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3330

Eden brines its pork loin with brown sugar for 48 hours, infuses it with apple cider, warms it with fennel, then serves it with fall root vegetables. Organic, free-range chicken breast is served with homemade lemon-herb fettuccine. Its macaroni and cheese, a menu feature for 12 years, blends goat cheese, Parmesan-Reggiano, grilled chicken, spinach, roasted peppers and bow tie pasta. 

Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant
710 S. Madison St., Wilmington 472-2739
147 E. Main St., Newark, 266-9000

Nothing says comfort like chicken pot pie. And nobody serves the pie like Iron Hill. The potatoes are huge, the carrots are crunchy, the chicken is juicy, and the buttery, flaky pastry is made fresh daily. The country-style fried chicken breast is another top seller. Double-battered poultry is served with green beans and garlic mashed potatoes in leek-and-corn gravy. 

Jessop’s Tavern and Colonial Restaurant
114 Delaware Ave., New Castle, 322-6111

Here’s a classic: Dutch pot roast with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Chef Lee Ward takes two rounds of beef—outer lip of fat and all—then slow roasts the meat for six hours in homemade vegetable stock. The red bliss potatoes are mashed with half-and-half, butter, garlic, white pepper and salt. End the meal with Martha’s Colonial Cobbler. The homemade crust is outstanding. 

45 E. Main St., Newark, 224-9330

Dig into a bowl of Kildare’s Old World style Guinness Stew. Chefs coat cubes of locally raised Hereford beef with white flour, braise them with a mirepoix of celery and Spanish onions, then add Guinness stout and other ingredients to finish. Add a side of Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and a nice lager. 

Kindle Restaurant & Lounge
16388 Samuel Paynter Blvd., Paynter’s Mill, Milton, 645-7887

Roast chicken and lamb shank are two dishes that epitomize comfort food. Kindle adds a twist to both. The signature roasted chicken is made with an herbed honey and bourbon glaze and smoked Spanish paprika, then served with a side of Gruyère macaroni and cheese. Its Wisconsin-bred lamb shanks are braised overnight and infused with fresh sage leaves. Vegetable risotto makes a savory side dish. 

Lamberti’s Cucina
514 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington, 762-9094
1300 Centerville Road, Wilmington 995-6955

Lamberti’s wrapped salmon is a nice departure from the standard sauté or broil. Chefs wrap fresh salmon, pesto-flavored ricotta cheese, baby shrimp and fresh spinach in puff pastry, then bake it in a blush cream sauce flavored with tomatoes, potatoes and red onion. Not in the mood? Try Lamberti’s hearty eggplant Parmigiana. Fresh julienne vegetables accompany the meal. 

Lucky’s Coffee Bar & Restaurant
4003 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-024
Lucky’s, known for round-the-clock breakfast, serves two types of macaroni and cheese. The grown-up version boasts fresh thyme, garlic, shallot, basil, plum tomatoes, olive oil and lump crabmeat. The tyke-pleaser combines elbow macaroni with whole milk, heavy cream, and provolone, American and cream cheeses. 

Pizza by Elizabeths
3801 Kennett Pike, Suite E220, Greenville, 654-4478

Grilled cheese pizza and creamy tomato soup may just be the ultimate comfort food combo. Find it at Pizza by Elizabeths. Elizabeths moved less than a mile south from its former digs to Greenville Center, which boasts a takeout area that offers multi-cultural foods like Asian spring rolls and noodles. 

The Wayside Inn
103 N. Dupont Hwy., Smyrna, 653-8047

Customers have named open-face turkey sandwiches and homemade turkey dinners as their favorite comfort foods at the Wayside. The stuffing, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy are made from scratch. The inn’s stuffed shrimp with seasoned crab imperial is another contender. 

Page 6: Healthy Food


Healthy Food

Local restaurants are collaborating with local farmers to offer fresh, nutritious cuisine. The following restaurants prepare healthful meals by incorporating organic produce, light oils, fresh herbs and myriad spices.

Captain Pete’s Mediterranean Cove
700 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 537-5900

Captain Pete’s moussaka is not fried. The signature moussaka is made with small amounts of seasoned, fresh beef and large amounts of fresh eggplant, zucchini and potatoes. The Captain’s broiled Mykonos dish features sautéed jumbo shrimp blanketed in a homemade tomato sauce. Owner Helen Charuhas’ salad dressings are made with extra virgin olive oil from husband Pete’s olive trees in Sparta, Greece. Want to go nearly fat free? There’s nothing better than grilled whole bronzino or snapper with a spritz of lemon. 

28 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-4199

The Vegetarian Extravaganza is a perrenial Espuma favorite, and it changes as different varieties of local, organic produce become available. Espuma’s appetizers are also healthful, but its Maine lobster and butternut squash tart, as well as the marinated blue crab salad with green apple carpaccio and persimmon chutney, top our list for taste. 

Feby’s Fishery
3701 Lancaster Pike, Wilmington, 998-9501

Get your Omega-3s at Feby’s. Its crabmeat comes from Maryland. Its flounder, sea trout and monkfish are from the Atlantic Coast. Feby’s Alaskan king crab legs are shipped from Alaska, but in terms of meaty, full flavor, they’re hard to beat. The tuna, like most of Feby’s daily specials, is served the day it arrives. 

Francine’s Community Marketplace
6949 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 239-3737

Francine’s offers breakfast, lunch and takeout meals all made or served with organic produce. All baked goods are prepared with organic flours and sugars. Organic omelets, Francine’s buckwheat pancakes and pumpkin soup are top sellers. 

The Green Room
11th and Market streets, Wilmington, 888-594-3108

“The days of heavy cream reductions, roux and butter sauces have gone away,” says food and beverage director Daniel Bradway. “Our preparations now include finishing dishes with vinaigrettes, light emulsions and natural food compotes.” The seared black cod with roasted rainbow cauliflower, leeks, shiitake mushrooms and Meyer lemon emulsion is a top pick. Cedar River Farm sirloin, a hormone-free beef sirloin from Arizona, is a close second. 

Home Grown Café
126 E. Main St., Newark, 266-6993

Nearly every dish is created with fresh produce from Amish farms in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The most popular salad is balsamic chicken with fresh peppers, alfalfa sprouts and glazed pecans. All preservative-free and binder-free dressings are made in-house. “We’re more about getting nutrients from food as opposed to counting calories,” says owner Eric Aber. 

Soybean Asian Grill
4702 Limestone Road, Pike Creek Shopping Center, Wilmington, 636-0800

It’s all in the name. Dishes are prepared with soybean oil. Stuffed basil leaves, the healthiest items on the menu, are sautéed with bell pepper, onions and homemade Thai-based chili sauce. Green curry, done with coconut milk, eggplant and vegetables, is low in fat. “Overall, we cook with less oil, less sugar and less salt than most,” says manager Miki Chen. 

Planet X
33 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-1928

Whether it’s tofu saté, organically fed beef or grilled ahi tuna steak, Planet X delivers fresh. Dishes are made with organic produce from local farms, and organic tofu is key in its vegetarian dishes such as red Thai curry. For a starter, try the tasty stacked eggplant with herbed cheese. 

45 Greentree Drive, Dover, 678-1328

Most selections contain little or no oil. Most are served with produce delivered three times a week from farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. There’s not a canned vegetable to be found in the place. The best deals come at lunchtime, when three sushi rolls can be had for $10. The hot lover roll—spicy tuna and shrimp tempura wrapped in soybean paper—is the most popular seller. 

Page 7: Wines of the Times


The Buttery’s spectrum of wines includes rare finds. Photograph by Thom ThompsonWines of the Times

Anything could make a wine list a great one: a collection of rare and collectible bottles, an emphasis on a particular region, a collection of bottles from boutique producers, or a well-rounded assembly of great-tasting bargains. The following have their lists dialed.

The Buttery
102 Second St., Lewes, 645-7755

The first restaurant to offer wine dinners in Sussex County, The Buttery is known for offering small production, estate-bottled wines—some nearly impossible to find elsewhere in Sussex, such as Educated Guess California Cabernet Sauvignon, Van Ruiten Old Vine Zinfandel and Marietta Old Vine Red Lot 44. Recommended whites are Grgich Hills Chardonnay and the Rombauer whites (when available), both from California. 

Brandywine Prime
1617 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, (610) 388-8088

Looking for excellent local wines? Try Brandywine Prime. Estate-bottled wines from small Pennsylvania vineyards are star players on Prime’s list. Top picks include Viognier from Paradocx of Landenberg, Merican from Chaddsford, La Prima Donna by Va La in Avondale and The Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Penns Woods of Chester (though its vineyard is on Smith Bridge Road in Wilmington). 

Caffé Gelato
90 E. Main St., Newark, 738-5811

Want a glass of red wine served at the perfect 60 degrees? Caffé Gelato’s Ryan German built a climate-controlled 1,500-bottle wine cellar to make that happen. And though he offers good wines at good prices all the time, bottles are available at half price on Tuesdays. To pair with German’s pork tenderloin, try Martin Codax Rioja from Spain. The  J. Lohr Arroya Seco, a complex California Chardonnay, works well with Gelato’s seared tuna.  

Café Mezzanotte
1007 Orange St., Wilmington, 658-7050

If you love Italian wine, try Café Mezzanotte. Owner Sergio Pellegrino insists on two things: that the majority of his 30 wines be produced in Italy, and that a photo of Sophia Loren hang on the wall.  “Sophia is the most beautiful Italian, and the wines from Italy are the best,” he says. Pellegrino’s top picks: Amarone Della Valpolicella Fabiano 1997 reserve, which is excellent with seafood; and Brunello di Montalcino dei Barbi 2000, a rich, dark wine that complements grilled meats. 

Dilworthtown Inn
1390 Old Wilmington Pike, West Chester, Pa., (610) 399-1390

When the wine absolutely must complement the occasion, head for Dilworthtown Inn. Hundreds of rare and collectible wines, as well as contemporary bargain bottles, coexist in its giant cellar. Owner Jim Barnes scouts out the premium bottles, such as legendary Château Lafite Rothschild and Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Wine steward Steven McKinney handles the rest, including popular Sauvignon blancs from New Zealand, Australian Chardonnays and Merlots from South Africa. 

Domaine Hudson Wine Bar and Eatery
1314 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 655-9463

Wine is a lifestyle here. Domaine Hudson offers about 40 wines by the glass and 400 by the bottle, each served in the stemware that best accents its properties. Owner Tom Hudson changes the list monthly, so the list is constantly full of surprises, though standards such as Scott Family Estate Dijon Clone Chardonnay (California) and Le Cadeau Cote Est Pinot Noir (Oregon) are usually available. The 3-3-3 Tastings—3-ounce pours of three featured wines for $3 each—are all the rage. 

Half Full    
113 W. Market St., Lewes, 645-8877

Want an upscale wine list but crave pizza? Try Half Full. General manger Meghan Lee likes big wine with lots of structure. Her assistant prefers sweet, light wines, so the two play off of each other to offer diverse selections from around the world. Lee recommends pairing Layer Cake Primitivo, a Zinfandel from Italy, with lamb and feta pizza. Benziger Cabernet from California complements braised beef-caramelized onion pizza. Wines hail from California, Australia, South Africa, France, Italy and other countries, and they change weekly. Surprise. 

Harry’s Savoy Grill
2020 Naamans Road, Wilmington, 475-3000
Harry’s Seafood Grill
101 S. Market St., Wilmington, 777-1500

Guests can choose wine in terms of body, intensity and power at both Harry’s. But what sets the two apart is the diversity of selections. The list at Harry’s Savoy Grill, with its 200-plus wines, groups by varietal, and offers 50 wines by the glass. Harry’s Seafood, with half the number of wines, lists by style: Great Whites that Don’t Bite, Fish Lovin’ Reds and Pretending to be Expensive. Fun. 

Kid Shelleen’s
14th and Scott streets, Wilmington, 658-4600

For a great wine list in an unpretentious setting, try Shelleen’s on No Whining Wednesdays, when all 35 bottles are sold at half price. The wine list is made mostly of domestic bottles, but you’ll also find some Australian imports. Popular whites such as Folonari Pinot Grigio and Oregon’s Sokol Blossor Evolution #9 pair well with Kid’s salads. With lobster ravioli or beef, try Aquinas Cabernet Sauvignon, Clos du Bois Merlot or La Crema Pinot Noir, all from California. 

Porcini House
210 Second St., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6494

Unlike restaurants that mark their bottles up as much as 100 percent, Porcini keeps the markup modest, meaning high-end wines from South America, Europe and the United States are often less expensive here than they are at the package store—and far better. There are 68 wines on Porcini’s standard list, with others rotating in and out. New this year are carafes, which measure half a bottle plus a glass. The deal? You still pay for only half a bottle. 

Page 8: Sensational Seafood


The grilled octopus at Pomodoro is served with thinly sliced leeks and fennel, herbs, olive oil and tomato relish. Photograph by Thom ThompsonSensational Seafood

Local restaurateurs feel pressure to do seafood well. There’s no other way when your state is situated between the Delaware and Chesapeake bays and borders the Atlantic. Here’s to letting the raw bar rule.

Pomodoro Ristorante Italiano
729 N. Union St., Wilmington, 574-9800

Owner Giuseppe Furio, a self-described octopus freak, has steered the menu farther toward the sea. Hence the grilled octopus appetizer. Whole fresh fish such as bronzino, pompano and grouper are on display, allowing customers to choose their meal and manner of preparation. Fish can be grilled, sautéed or baked. Regulars, don’t fret—the lobster still swims with fettuccine in a spicy diavolo sauce. 

Big Fish Grill and Seafood Market
4117 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 227-FISH

Big Fish employs a purchaser devoted to buying the freshest seafood. The effort pays off in dishes such as crab cakes served with homemade imperial sauce, grilled salmon and the pecan-crusted halibut. Fried offerings include calamari, scallops, oysters, shrimp and catfish. Popular entrées include shrimp penne; linguini with shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels in homemade lobster sauce; and a traditional jambalaya. 

Blue Coast Seafood Grill & Fish Market
Highway One, North Bethany Beach, 539-7111

Blue Coast is renowned for classic East Coast cuisine. Owner Matt Haley keeps it simple with appetizers such as steamed shrimp dumplings with soy-ginger dipping sauce, as well as flash-fried baby lobster tails with spicy mayonnaise. Signature entrées include jumbo shrimp picatta with mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes, and crab cakes with corn salad and mustard cream. When the weather warms, look for flash-fried soft shell crabs. 

Cool Springs Fish Bar & Restaurant
2463 S. State St., Dover, 698-1955

Dennis Forbes and his chefs prepare your fish your way. And you can rest assured that the seafood was bought that morning from a reputable seller. While seven types of fish normally inhabit the menu, regulars know to ask for the Parmesan-crusted swordfish. Tuna and grouper are the biggest hits. This month, shad and shad roe star, and Forbes begins his seasonal soft shell crab watch.

Deep Blue Bar & Grill
111 W. 11th St., Wilmington, 777-2040

Chef de cuisine Matthew Crist is taking Deep Blue back to its roots as a contemporary American fish house. Thus, the legendary Chinese five-spice ahi tuna has—gasp!—been replaced by a heartier peppercorn crusted tuna featuring Parisienne gnocchi, butternut squash and shiitakes in a veal stock reduction. Crist’s diver sea scallops are another hit. Naturally, the raw bar remains. It offers six types of oysters daily. (They’re half price on Thursdays). 

Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House
Dover Downs Hotel & Casino
1131 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 857-3223

Oysters rule at Doc’s, natch. The raw-steamer bar features 16 varieties on the half-shell, along with clams, mussels, crab, shrimp and lobster. Buck-a-Shuck Mondays feature $1 oysters from 4 p.m.  to 7 p.m. Crab cakes and bouillabaisse are joined by eight types of seafood, from Atlantic swordfish to jumbo sea scallops, that can be paired with one of five sauces. Here’s the pearl: Add lump crab meat for four bucks. 

Fin’s Fish House and Raw Bar
243 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-FINS

On the raw bar, you’ll find a variety of oysters and hard-to-find beers. Have your selection from the fish board broiled, blackened or grilled. Salmon, halibut, mahi mahi, rockfish, red salmon and grouper are regulars, but look for other types of fish during summer. For a bit extra, your fish is stuffed with crab Imperial.

Grove Market
12402 Saint Martin’s Neck Road, Bishopville, Md., (410) 352-5055

The Grove doesn’t take credit cards, bans children and cell phones, and doesn’t print  a menu. That’s only part of the reason it’s one of the toughest reservations around. Grove is all about seafood. The appetizer combo of scallops and the fish of the day is smoked on the premises. The salmon pâté appetizer is near famous. The signature horseradish-encrusted fish, trumpeted by a Washington Post dining critic, is famous. Grove opens for the season in late March. Book now. 

Harry’s Seafood Grill
101 S. Market St., Wilmington, 777-1500

Harry’s Seafood turned 5 in November and it’s still the Riverfront’s seafood destination. Hit the raw bar on Tuesdays and Thursdays for half-price oysters. (Choose from 10 varieties). Blue Points from Connecticut, Kumamotos from California and anything from Prince Edward Island are popular. The sashimi-ceviche menu offers raw ahi with sesame oil, soy, sesame seed, chives and toasted almonds. The diver sea scallops and pan-seared big eye tuna are top notch. 

Mariachi Restaurant
14 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-0115

Mariachi puts a Spanish spin on seafood. Everything is grilled, baked or steamed. Only the chimichangas are fried. Top dishes are the fajita of salmon, shrimp and scallops, and the seafood enchilada of shrimp, scallops and Monterey cheese. Tilapia is prepared Tijuana-style: steamed with fine herbs in banana leaves. The trinity of shrimp, scallops and squid star in many dishes. And we must highlight Mariachi’s signature mussels al gengibre (mussels in sherry wine with ginger and garlic). 

Page 9: Local Flavor, Localvores


At Krazy Kat’s, locally grown exotic mushrooms flavor dishes such as (clockwise, from left)  herb-crusted lamb served with royal trumpet duxelles, porcini dust and brandied cherry-basil caramel; golden chanterelle bisque; and black truffle risotto with spaghetti squash and pomegranate kernels on Kobe crudo. Photograph by Thom ThompsonLocal Flavor, Localvores

When it comes to the local-first, farm-to-table approach, these standouts have stepped up to the plate. The result? Everyone wins.

Krazy Kat’s
Del. 100 and Kirk Road, Montchanin, 888-4200

Executive Chef Donny Merrill can’t deny his roots—farmers on his mother’s side and a father who plied the Chesapeake for blue crabs and stripers. Merrill thus turns to local folks for fresh ingredients. He taps Milburn Orchards in Elkton for apples and cider and Mattes Seafood for local stripers and crabs. He’s connected with local goat cheese farmers and a matsutake mushroom grower, too. And Merrill swears by the heirloom tomatoes from H.G. Haskell’s in Chadds Ford. 

Bethany Blues BBQ Pit
6 Pennsylvania Ave., Bethany Beach, 537-1500

The milk is fresh at Bethany Blues because it comes from cows that you probably drove past on the way to dinner. Lewes Dairy milk goes into the macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, batters, desserts and dressings. The Kirby & Holloway sausage comes from Milton. The veggies are gathered from various local farms. Lewes Fish House supplies seafood, and Dogfish Head Brewery provides the signature birch beer, Blue Hen Vodka and other beverages. 

Bistro on the Brandywine
1623 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa., (610) 388-8090

Chef Seth Harvey maintains a small organic garden behind his restaurant, where he nurtures 9-foot heirloom tomato plants and sweet Romas. What Harvey can’t grow he purchases from H.G. Haskell’s farm in Chadds Ford. The mushrooms from local farmer Mike Moser are the reasons the Kennett Square mushroom soup is the restaurant’s biggest seller. 

The Buttery
102 Second St., Lewes, 645-7755

Considering Lewes Dairy is just down the street, you won’t find fresher milk, butter and whipped cream than that served at The Buttery. The restaurant goes a little farther for produce, tapping Fifer Orchards near Dover. Arugula and other greens come from Community Organics in Greenwood. In season, the seared ahi tuna dish benefits from local heirloom tomatoes. Other dishes shine thanks to nearby Freeman Farms, considered a Mecca for sweet corn. 

The Fair Hill Inn
Md. 273 at Md. 213, Elkton, Md., (410) 398-4187

Owner Phil Pyle Jr. keeps a one-acre garden behind the inn, so he regularly roots for vegetables such as acorn squash and gourds year-round. Pyle smokes and cures 18 types of meat, including hams of pig, lamb and deer, and his apiary produces honey that’s key to entrées and desserts such as the honey-ginger pumpkin mousse. Last year Santé, a prestigious trade magazine, recognized Fair Hill as Best Sustainable Restaurant in the Mid-Atlantic. 

Irish Eyes Pub & Restaurant
213 Anglers Road, Lewes, 645-6888
105 Union St., Milton, 684-8889
52 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-5758

Corporate chef Marcus Donovan says working with local businesses is “keeping it in the family.” Irish Eyes’ kin spans Sussex County with places such as Brittingham Produce in Milton, Davidson’s Exotic Mushroom in Seaford, Vincent Farms in Laurel and Copp’s Seafood in Lewes. So dishes such as the three-beet salad burst with flavor from locally produced greens, beets, goat cheese, sunflower seeds and lime-jalapeño vinaigrette. Donovan kicked off the localvore approach at the Lewes restaurant and plans to expand it to the other two locations. 

Lupo Di Mare Cucina Italiano
247 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2240

Lupo Di Mare and its seafood-focused cousins (Fish On, Blue Coast, NorthEast Seafood Kitchen and Catch 54) deal with Good Earth Market in Clarksville, which allows the restaurant to pick produce such as snap peas daily. Sea Eagle Market and Lewes Fish House supply fish, which means your tuna was likely swimming off the Sussex coast earlier in the day. 

Patsy’s Restaurant
121 Campbell Place, Bethany Beach, 537-CHEF

Mother-daughter team Patsy and Robin Rankin maintain a garden that abuts the restaurant. Daily harvests include mint used in the countless mojitos served at Patsy’s. They also comb roadside stands for fresh stuff. Organic produce comes from Good Earth Market in Clarksville and Greenbranch Farm in Salisbury. The menu changes often, according to whatever goodies become ripe that week. Berries for the homemade cobbler come from Blueberry Lane Berry Farm while Bennett Orchards provides peaches. 

Porcini House Bistro
210 Second St., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6494

Chef-owner Jay Caputo imports mushrooms from Davidson’s Farm in Kennett Square, which is why the flatbread topped with porcini mushrooms and truffles is so flavorful. Caputo insists on the sweetest tomatoes from Russell Farms in Milford. The freshness is evident in his risotto with tomato basil, chicken and Parmesan. The rest of Porcini’s vegetables, including the butternut squash used in Caputo’s savory soups, are purchased at local farmers markets. 

The Terrace Restaurant
1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, Pa., (610) 388-1000

The Terrace at Longwood Gardens features local organic produce from its own garden, as well as from nearby operations such as Branch Creek Farms, which provides greens. Fruits come from Glen Willow Orchards in Avondale. As one might expect, Longwood gardeners grow amazing broccoli, peppers, corn and other vegetables that are used in daily specials. Executive chef Vince Alberici is using more local pork, veal and beef. Check in when renovations are complete in April. 

Page 10: Some Like it Hot


The spicy calamari at Rasa Sayang receives extra bite from Malaysian spices and red and green peppers. Photograph by Thom ThompsonSome Like it Hot

Pan Tai owner James Olivere has been warming Wilmington for 25 years. His accomplice: the red thai pepper. “They can be lethal,” he says. After a young spice aficionado heckled him for weeks, Olivere let him have it. “The back of his shirt was soaked. He left and didn’t say a word. We haven’t seen him since. We don’t know whether he was transferred or we killed the son of a gun.” Following are other places that revel in the spice of life.

Rasa Sayang Malaysian Cuisine
1601 Concord Pike, Suite 73, Wilmington, 543-5286

Battered with Malaysian spices and doused with a hot sauce of green and red peppers before it is fried, the calamari packs a punch. “On a scale of one to 10, it’s a six,” says manager Aaron Kwan. The Kang Kung Belacan of stir-fried spinach gets heat from a sauce of spicy Malaysian shrimp paste. Mee Goreng, stir-fried rice noodles in a spicy squid sauce, is flavored by the Malaysian sambal chili pepper. 

Bangkok House
104 N. Union St., Wilmington, 654-8555

Bangkok House is a five-star restaurant, not in the Michelin sense of the term, but in the spicy sense. Owner Tom Wechkul uses stars to measure how spicy customers want their dish. One star is tepid. Five is nuclear. Many of the restaurant’s curry dishes (red, yellow, green and panang) do well with some spice enhancement. The fried shrimp, seasoned with tamarind, goes well with extra heat, too. Wechkul says those familiar with authentic Thai food are typically the only ones brave enough to tangle with five stars. 

Blue Parrot Bar and Grille
1934 W. Sixth St., Wilmington, 655-8990

The secret to most spicy dishes at the Blue Parrot: a mash of orange habañeros, jalapeños, cayenne pepper, garlic and other spices. Brace yourself if the mash is made with yellow Scotch bonnets, which tip the Scoville scale at more than 300,000 units (the top end of the system used to measure the heat in a pepper). This is what allows the Voodoo Shrimp to do what it does so well: make you sweat. Sorry, no refunds. 

China Royal
Plaza III Shopping Court, Wilmington, 475-3686

China Royal is a utopia for chili-heads, with many sizzling dishes ripe with spice. The seafood hot pot contains shrimp, scallops and mixed veggies. But the hot in this pot comes from specially seasoned cooking oil. The Szechuan dumplings, little steamed pork-filled gems, are accompanied by a spicy brown sauce and fresh cucumbers to cool the mouth. The salt-roasted green pepper appetizer contains broiled long peppers with spicy brown sauce. 

Genelle’s Bakery and Café
730 N. Market St., Wilmington, 654-5322

Chef Christabell Josiah’s flavors flow from her native Guyana. That’s what provides the symphony of spices in specials such as the pumpkin shrimp, a dish powered by scallions, garlic, onions, chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper and just a bit of Jamaican Scotch bonnet habañero. The popular shrimp and spinach draws its flavor from fresh coconut milk. The spinach is cooked with Old Bay and other seasonings and shrimp are sautéed in garlic. 

Pan Tai Restaurant, Bar and Lounge
837 Union St., Wilmington, 652-6633

Owner James Olivere uses yellow curry, not the orange curry common to Indian cooking. “The yellow curry is more mild and complements the food,” he says. “The red curry is so pungent, it’s overpowering.” Just about everything on Pan Tai’s Asian-inspired menu can be jacked up with the tiny but combustible red Thai pepper. Olivere loves the shrimp and curry, Pad Thai and, of course, the Jimmy Fried Rice. 

The Saigon Vietnam Restaurant
207 Newark Shopping Center, Main Street, Newark, 737-1590

If you wish to kick it like they do in Vietnam, go for the No. 74 with the No. 29. That’s a traditional meal of thit kho to, pork stewed in a clay pot in a delicate broth flavored with pepper and onion, and canh chua tom, sweet-and-sour shrimp soup flavored with basil and lemon juice, bean sprouts, shrimp, tomatoes and pineapple. Chef-owner Lan Chen will crank up any dish to your liking, but be warned: “Too spicy makes your tongue numb and you sweat.” 

Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine
275 Wilmington-West Chester Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa., (610) 358-4015

Thai food in America might get watered down in the spice department, but at Sweet Basil, owner Paul Lauprasert can customize to suit your taste buds. The panang curry, made with coconut milk, zucchini, baby corn and basil, gets its spice from dried chilies in the panang curry paste. It comes to your table moderately spicy, but some guests enjoy the Thailand-level heat that comes from extra curry paste. 

Que Pasa
124 Dickinson Street, Dewey Beach, 226-1820

Que Pasa’s flavor is hooked on chipotle mayonnaise. Chef Jacob Barr blends smoky chipotle peppers with mayo, cumin, coriander and other seasonings to lift his tacos to another level. For quesadillas and burritos—you say more heat, Barr says more poblano. Spanish pickles (pickled serrano peppers served with chipotle mayo) make for a spicy side dish. The crawfish taco is flavored with Guajillo chile powder. The meat for the alligator taco is marinated in—what else?—chipotle barbecue sauce. 

India Palace Indian Restaurant
101 N. Maryland Ave., Wilmington, 655-8772

Sunshil and Anjna Sharma are masters of the masala—the blend of spices that makes Indian cuisine so flavorful. Each dish has its own mixture. The key is fresh ingredients such as curry, ginger, garlic and cumin seeds. Enjoy the flavor of chicken saag: boneless chicken pieces cooked with creamed spinach and enhanced with mild spices, and chicken tikka masala, which features tomato and onion in a cream sauce. Hotter dishes are known as vindaloo (a spicy curry). Need the heat? Just ask. 

Page 11: A Season of Change | New Places open, old ones close, and some simply move or remake their images. Here’s to a parade of variety.


Executive chef Ivan Torres specializes in innovative Spanish dishes at Olé Tapas Lounge and Restaurant in Newark. Photograph by Thom ThompsonA Season of Change

New places open, old ones close, and some simply move or remake their images.
Here’s to a parade of variety. by Pam George

Change is inevitable, especially in the restaurant industry. To keep ’em coming, chefs and owners have to simultaneously keep their fingers on several pulses. Today, that means they must respond to the economy, the high price of ingredients and customers’ ever-evolving tastes.

The top trend has multicultural flavor. Delaware’s fervor for Asian cuisine, for instance, shows no signs of waning. Shanghai Buffet & Grill (18701 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 644-2688) promises the “best prices at the beach.” Perhaps that’s because it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet with more than 100 items.

Beijing Buffet (18908 Rehoboth Mall, Rehoboth Beach, 644-7198) in December moved into space formerly occupied by Panda Buffet. Expect seafood—including crabs—Korean, Chinese and American dishes.

In fall, Takumi (1601 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 658-8887) opened its doors in Independence Mall. The restaurant is owned by Hideyuki Okubo and wife Jessie, who have been gradually updating both the decor and the menu. Okubo for 13 years was a chef at Utage, so Takumi’s menu features many familiar dishes. “People will come into the same space and see the same sushi chef and the same waitress,” he says. “The kitchen chef is the same, too.”

In time they will see influences of Okuba’s training. He studied French and Italian cuisine—along with Japanese food—at Tsuji Culinary Institute, one of Japan’s largest professional culinary schools. Along with offering the familiar favorites, he plans to introduce some creative selections that blend various culinary traditions.

Utage’s owners, the Oka family, in fall began offering intimate group dining events at the Hockessin Athletic Club. Visit the restaurant web site,, for updates.

Takumi’s new neighbor is Rasa Sayang (1601 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 543-5286), a 70-seat Malaysian restaurant that opened in September. “Malaysian food is quite rich in flavor,” says Aaron Kwan, the general manager. “It’s a mixture of Thai, Indian and Chinese cuisine.”

He recommends the roti canai, a rolled, crispy Indian pancake with a curried chicken dipping sauce; chicken and beef skewers; crispy calamari; and spareribs, which are fried. The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

Pho Nhu Vo (1146 Pulaski Hwy., Bear, 595-2529) brings Vietnamese food to Bear. It’s no surprise, given its name, that the menu is heavy on pho (beef noodle soup). Order it with steak and brisket, steak and meatball, brisket and meatball, steak and tripe, and just about every other kind of beef, including tendon.

In Trolley Square, the Dumpling House (1828 W. 11th St., Wilmington, 888-1828) is packing them in. The intimate 14-table restaurant, of course, features dumplings. “They’re a delicacy,” says owner Eileen Chao. But so are the spicy eggplant and the fried rice noodles. “The menu is so small, almost everything is popular,” Chao says. The third floor is for parties of 20 or more.

In other ethnic news, Olé Tapas Lounge and Restaurant (1126 Capitol Trail, Newark, 224-9378) is mining new territory with its tapas, paellas and Spanish wines. The owners are executive chef Ivan Torres, Joe Tis and Juan Manuel Aguinaga. Family introduced Tis and Torres, who met while working at Harry’s Seafood Grill, to businessman Aguinaga, who moved here from Ecuador.

“It was a unique opportunity,” Aguinaga says of the partnership. “It’s the area’s first real Spanish tapas restaurant, and tapas is one of my favorite foods.” The most popular dishes are anything tapas and the paella, which includes one made with lobster. The restaurant in December started featuring a classical guitarist on Saturdays.

Apparently, culinary minds think alike. Julio Lazzarini, formerly the chef at Deep Blue, in November opened the 67-seat Orillas Tapas Bar & Restaurant in downtown Wilmington (412 N. Market St., Wilmington, 427-9700). Along with tapas, the restaurant serves ceviche, soups and salads. “We have a wide selection of wine and simple, straight flavors with a beautiful presentation at good prices,” Lazzarini says. “We’re upscale but affordable.”

Lazzarini says the crowd has been a pleasant mix of downtown workers, area residents and business travelers who appreciate proximity to the train station.

Another Dan Butler alum, Matthew Curtis, formerly of Deep Blue and Toscana, in September purchased Union City Grille in Little Italy (Eighth and Union streets, Wilmington, 654-9780). Before buying Union City, Curtis worked in finance, which served him well. He was determined to buy both the building and the business—not a bad move in today’s economy.

Curtis added a 52-inch plasma TV that’s been popular among banquet organizers. He’s also hired chef Robert Lhulier, who gave Curtis his start at Deep Blue. Curtis says the food will be straightforward, sans heavy sauces. The menu also includes fun appetizers and steaks, which have long been a signature at Union City. Homemade pasta is available both on the menu and for retail sale. Curtis promises a tribute to Little Italy on Sundays, which are new hours for the restaurant. No matter the day, he says, prices will remain moderate. “I have a cool landlord,” he says. “And I know what my overhead is.”

Also downtown is the 50-seat Southern- and Caribbean-influenced restaurant The Rebel (201 N. Market St., Wilmington, 658-2018) and the chain Qdoba Mexican Grill (837 N. Market St., Wilmington, 397-8851). The Philadelphia-based Public House is scheduled to soon appear in space formerly occupied by the Residences at Rodney Square’s great room.

Meanwhile, two city restaurants—C.W. Harborside Bar & Grille on the riverfront and Ameritage Bistro—have unveiled new personas. C.W. Harborside, formerly Conley Ward’s Steakhouse, (110 S. West St., Wilmington, 658-6626), has been rolling out the promotions. In November, for instance, kids could eat Sunday brunch for free, and there was a $25 filet mignon and lobster special on Saturdays.

Ameritage Bistro (Ninth and Orange streets, Wilmington, 427-2300) has brought in entertainer Tommy Conwell. It’s also turned the gourmet section into a coffee bar, added chef Nick Devine, and began offering new lunch and dinner menus.

In Greenville, Pizza By Elizabeths will soon move into new digs. Pizza remains the focus. “We are the pizza specialists,” says co-owner Betsy LeRoy, who recently won the Delaware Restaurant Association Restaurateur of the Year award.

A separate to-go area, Pick-up By Elizabeths, will offer canned goods and prepared dishes that reflect the multicultural staff. Find Thai spring rolls, Asian noodle salads and ropa vieja. An area for private events can seat up to 50. The new venue will also feature a separate lounge called Cork Bar.

In Sussex, Overstuffed Sandwiches (28266 Lewes-Georgetown Hwy., Milton, 684-4443) is the brainchild of contractor Rob Landon, who found it challenging to find a satisfying bite along that long stretch of U.S. 9. Overstuffed Sandwiches is open for breakfast and lunch.

Bob Cirelli has changed the name of his La Rosa Negra to Cirelli’s Fine Italian & Seafood Restaurant (1201 Savannah Road, Lewes, 645-1980). Too many tourists thought the cuisine was Mexican. The name is different, but the dishes are the same.

Finally, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Steak is popular, no matter the economy. Mile High Steak and Seafood (1102 Baltimore Pike, Glen Mills, Pa., 610-361-0855) opened in August.

Vincente’s, which moved from Little Italy to Independence Mall to Glen Mills, is scheduled to return to Delaware in the Library Plaza at 5914 Kirkwood Hwy., Wilmington.

When it comes to trends, what was old is new again. 

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