Above: The meatloaf entree at Dorcea. Photo by Butch Comegys.
By Pam George
In 2011, Xavier Teixido and his partners purchased Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal House & Saloon in Trolley Square and promptly removed the chicken-corn chowder from the menu. The guests voiced their displeasure with “howls and threats of boycotts,” Teixido says. “It came back quickly.”
Smart move. In Delaware, certain items have a cult-like following, and woe to the restaurateur who messes with success. You can add new items, of course. But daring to ditch what’s become a signature dish can spell disaster.
Here are 15 favorites.
Southwestern Chicken Salad at Kid Shelleen’s
Available at the Trolley Square and Branmar Plaza locations, this salad is a tumble of fried chicken, cheddar Jack cheese, tomatoes, pickled onions, corn-black bean salsa, hard-boiled eggs, crispy tortillas, jicama, romaine and honey-chipotle dressing.
Fish & Chips at Stoney’s British Pub
A British pub owned by a Brit must have fish and chips. That said, Mike “Stoney” Stone makes a delicious version. “I start with fresh fish — I’m now getting my cod from Icelandic waters — and the batter is simple flour and water,” he says. “I think it’s best not to overthink it when your ingredients are good.”
Initially, Stone didn’t offer tartar sauce at his Concord Pike restaurant because he grew up using vinegar or salt as a condiment. But behind the restaurateur’s back, employees began making the popular seafood sauce, which originated in France. “I love to complain about it,” he proudly says of their initiative.
Yorkshire pudding, a popover-like baked pudding, is also beloved.
Meatloaf at Dorcea
Shortly after Dorcea’s opening in 2020, customers started craving Chef Michael Bomba’s char-grilled meatloaf with a spicy tomato glaze and garlic mashed potatoes. His Jamaican carrot soup is another sleeper that has found a firm footing on the menu.
Chicken Nixon at Ulysses American Gastropub and Six Paupers Tavern and Restaurant
In 1997, Michael and Steve Lucey opened Dead Presidents Pub & Restaurant in Little Italy partly to salute their passion for U.S. history. Not surprisingly, the menu included an homage to the country’s former chiefs. Chicken Nixon, one of the first creations, boasts cheddar cheese, bacon, creole barbecue sauce — and many napkins.
Although the brothers sold that restaurant in 2009, the tasty sandwich has staying power. It’s on the menu at the Luceys’ Ulysses and Six Paupers.
Broasted Chicken at Lettie’s Kitchen
This Hockessin restaurant’s logo includes the head of a chicken — and with good reason. It is the main attraction, and Lettie’s version stands out in an area with no shortage of fried chicken. Credit the cooking method invented by Wisconsin-based Broaster, which patented the pressure fryer in the 1950s, explains Lettie’s owner, Tom Alexander.
“About 15 years ago, a good friend introduced me to this style of cooking — under pressure — and I fell in love,” says Alexander. The method gives the chicken a good sear, after which it cooks inside out in its own juices, he explains. “The oil never penetrates the meat making it far less greasy than the traditional way of frying chicken.”
Alexander owns four sturdy Broasters built in the 1990s, and they’re kept busy. Although the equipment is expensive, it’s worth it, he says. Customers agree. “When we first opened, I never thought the fried chicken was going take off like it has, but here we are,” he says. “I’m so glad that others enjoy it as much as I do.”
Meatballs at Scalessa’s “My Way” Old School Italian Kitchen
The Forty Acres restaurant makes between 600 and 1,000 meatballs a week, depending on the time of year. “We hand-roll and fry each one — it’s a ton of work,” says owner Donnie Scalessa, who has tweaked the recipe over the years to produce the current rave-worthy version. Scalessa loves to see the first-timers’ reactions. “Wow, these are better than my grandmother’s,” they often tell him.
Caesar Salad at Vincente’s Restaurant
During its long life, this Italian restaurant has moved from Wilmington to Brandywine Hundred to Glen Mills. It’s now on Kirkwood Highway. But no matter the location, the restaurant has retained the famous Caesar salad made tableside.
Assembling the garlicky salad gives customers a dinner and a show, thanks to founder Vincente Mancari. “My father created his recipe in 1972,” says Tom Mancari, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother, Danny. “I filled in for him when he had a health issue at age 43. Once he returned, he resumed making it until he passed nine years ago.”
The brothers have continued the tradition, which includes hurling Locatelli into the bowl from an admirable distance. Mancari says about 95 percent of the guests order the Caesar — up to 240 a weekend. That’s a lot of lettuce.
The Carpetbagger at Snuff Mill Restaurant, Butchery & Wine Bar
When Robert Lhulier was planning the menu for the Independence Mall restaurant, he pictured an appetizer that would be an “absolute homerun, knock-out dish,” he recalls. The result is a plump flash-fried oyster with shaved filet mignon, thick-cut bacon, Roquefort, jalapeno ranch and a zap of hot sauce — aka the Carpetbagger.
“It’s decadent, vibrant and surprisingly fresh despite its components,” Lhulier says. “Every element is essential… Otherwise, it’s not the same.” The chef’s sister, Michele, makes the ceramic “shells”— another touch that makes the carpetbagger a menu staple.
Cream of Tomato Soup at Pizza by Elizabeths
The Greenville restaurant quickly goes through 15 gallons a day in fall and winter, says owner Betsy LeRoy. It helps that the creamy comfort food comes with freshly baked breadsticks.
Pumpkin-Mushroom Soup at the Back Burner
Long before pumpkin became fall’s signature flavor, the Back Burner turned it into a gourmet delight. Consider that in 1983, News Journal culinary columnist Nancy Coale Zippe received more requests for the recipe than any other.
Prime Rib at Walter’s Steakhouse or Harry’s Savoy Grill
You can’t go wrong with this cut at either restaurant. Walter’s, for one, can satisfy most appetites. Sizes range from 10 ounces for a petite to a whopping 34 ounces for the Adams cut. You can also pick the chuck side (rich marbling with a kernel of fat) or the leaner sirloin side. At Harry’s, choose from the 12- or 18-ounce slab.
The Bobbie at Capriotti’s
Sure, Delaware’s homegrown sub shop is now a national chain, but the First State will always have bragging rights to the Bobbie, a hoagie with roasted turkey, mayonnaise, cranberry sauce and stuffing. The Thanksgiving on a roll is named for the aunt of founders Lois and Alan Margolet, who decided to focus on roasted turkey to stand out from other sub shops.
Crab Cake at George & Sons
In the pandemic’s early days, crab cakes and lobster rolls kept registers ringing at the Hockessin hotspot. One taste, and easy to see why people pine for “dad’s crab cake,” a colossal mound of jumbo lump with roasted red pepper aioli.
Chicken Bobby O’Neill at Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities Restaurants
The Little Italy icon opened in 1988 and was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives on the Food Network. Part of the lasting appeal is Brooklyn-born Vitrone’s devotion to his customers, including former state deputy attorney Bobby O’Neill. The eponymous entrée features a lightly breaded boneless chicken breast layered with ricotta, prosciutto, eggplant, Bolognese sauce and fontina, which Vitrone has called “Gaelic meets garlic.”
Tortellini at Piccolina Toscana
Since 1991, tortellini with finely ground mortadella ham has graced the menu at Dan Butler’s Trolley Square restaurant. The hand-rolled pasta also contains ricotta, and it’s served with a sun-dried tomato cream sauce. The atmosphere has changed a few times over the years, but you can always count on the tortellini.