DE.CO: A Downtown Dining Evolution

Eight stalls bring ‘European-esque’ food hall experience to Wilmington

Wilmington’s next dining evolution has arrived.

DE.CO, short for the Delaware Collective, has finally opened its doors and three massive hydraulic windows on the corner of 10th and Orange Streets, allowing diners a truly al fresco experience in the heart of Wilmington.

With a total of eight stalls, DE.CO offers something for a variety of clientele, from weekday workers, to families, to retirees. As its name states, it’s a collective, or an all-hours food hall, open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until midnight on Fridays, and from 8 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and until 11 p.m. Sundays.

Here’s how its eight owner-operators describe their contributions to this European-esque food hall experience:

Phubs

The Pho made at Phubs (pho + subs) is simmered at least 24 hours before serving. It’s labor-intensive, but as brothers and owners Paul and Chuong Nguyen discovered, it’s the only way to make the popular Vietnamese rice noodle soup.

“We learned to cook pho at a very young age,” says Chuong. He credits his first-generation parents for teaching him the “old school” way of cooking the ubiquitous dish.

Phubs’ pho dish is made-to-order with meats such as steak and smoked brisket, chicken breast, vegetarian, shrimp and the “Phubolicious,” which is loaded with thin steak, brisket, and meatballs. Two bases are available: beef bone and vegetarian broth, both topped with cilantro, bean sprouts, white onion, scallions, jalapeños and lime wedges.

In addition to its pho, Phubs will serve made-to-order banh mi, rice or salad bowls, fried pork and shrimp spring rolls and “Fraigon Fries,” whose name combines “fries” and the southern Vietnamese city of Saigon.

Housemade drinks also will be available, including bubbles with Thai iced tea or coconut tea, and Vietnamese iced coffee made with sweetened condensed milk.

Phubs began as a pop-up stall in R.House, the sister food hall in Baltimore that inspired DE.CO. 

There’s more than the traditional buttermilk waffle available at Connie’s Chicken & Waffles. Photo by Moonloop Photography

Connie’s Chicken & Waffles

It may be unusual to find Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries in waffles, but not at Connie’s Chicken & Waffles, where brothers Khari and Shawn Parker strive to bring “love” back into the dining experience. It’s something that Khari says has been missing for some time.

“We believe in treating everyone with love,” he says, “so our guests leave better than when they came.”

The crushed corn cereal is infused in the buttermilk base to give the waffles their distinctive flavor. In addition to this childhood favorite, Connie’s will serve other exotic waffles like Oreo, red velvet and chocolate chip, in addition to the traditional buttermilk waffle. Additional toppings like fresh strawberries and bananas are extra.

Waffles can be topped with the brothers’ hand-breaded, fresh, never-frozen chicken tenders, which are also available a la carte. When asked about the most important part, the breading, Khari would only divulge that the chicken is well-seasoned and dipped in a flour-based batter. Chicken boxes and a shrimp basket served with fries also are available.

The stall, named in honor of their mother, Connie, started out as a three-week pop-up at R.House in Baltimore.

The Verandah offers Indian cuisine. Photo by Moonloop Photography

The Verandah

Depending on whom you’re dining with, there are many combinations at The Verandah to satisfy an Indian food craving—from a chicken tikka masala bowl to samosa chaat, a samosa topped with curried chickpeas, a medley of chutneys, red onion and cilantro. There are also curries and wraps that make up this all street-food menu.

Radhika Sule, chef and owner of The Verandah, grew up in India and is an architect by training. Her passion for Indian cuisine began when she applied to be part of the Downtown Baltimore Farmers Market, something she knew nothing about.

“I had no culinary training,” says Sule. “The Farmers Market manager took an interest in me and my cuisine and offered to be my mentor throughout the process.”

As her market business grew, Sule had the rare opportunity to be one of R. House’s pop-up restaurants in 2017. Fast forward to today, where she and her husband, Amit, will serve their traditional Northern Indian specialties to Delawareans in a permanent space.

“We plan to serve two parathas, kheema (ground beef) and a housemade paneer, once we’ve settled into the space,” says Sule.

Guests will be able to wash down their parathas with housemade ginger-mint lemonade or mango lassi.

Scott Stein serves up a pie at Pizzeria Bardea. Photo by Moonloop Photography

Pizzeria Bardea

What do adobo-rubbed pork, honey and chives have in common? All make up the “Spicy Pig” – just one of the Neapolitan-inspired pizzas available at Pizzeria Bardea, the offshoot of the James Beard Award semifinalist Bardea Food & Drink, which is led by Scott Stein and Chef Antimo DiMeo.

In addition to the “Spicy Pig,” Stein says Pizzeria Bardea “will have five other pizzas available, including the Bardea staple the ‘Upside Down’ made with fresh mozzarella, grana padano, ricotta, garlic oil and tomato drizzle, the traditional ‘Margherita,’ and a handful of other rotating pizzas.”

The 11-inch pizzas are made with “00” flour, a specialty flour used by master pizza-makers that produces a light and airy dough that when cooked creates a “puffy, charred crust and a super crispy bottom,” says Stein. Each pizza is enough for a single diner or shareable, perhaps with a salad, for two diners.

For those looking for a keto-friendly entree, try one of the six seasonal, farm-to-table salads or go all out and dig into Bardea’s most popular lunchtime sandwiches, the meatball parmigiana.

Keep an eye out for the Roman-style pizza, which is similar to the Philadelphia tomato pie, something that may debut later this year. ?

Spark’d is in essence a bakery café. Photo by Moonloop Photography

Spark’d

If you loved Neapolitan ice cream as a kid, you’ll love the cake version made with three luscious layers of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry at Spark’d, a new venture by the Hotel Du Pont Bakeshop, led by Executive Pastry Chef Leah Steinberger.

Says Steinberger, who has always had a passion for combining interesting flavors in unexpected ways: “This space will allow us to have more opportunities to be creative. Customers have asked us for more unique flavors, which we plan to deliver.”

The bright, art-deco designed stall will in essence be a bakery café serving traditional pastries like croissants, muffins and scones alongside more innovative flavors like its namesake the Spark’dler, a flaky, Danish-like pastry filled with pastry cream and a soufflegg (souffle + egg + meat/vegetables), both of which are available for breakfast—until they’re gone.

Spark’d also will carry handcrafted espresso-based drinks and the famous Draft Latte on tap using Philadelphia’s favorite homegrown coffee brand, La Colombe.

The stall also will serve as a physical location for placing large catering and custom orders like wedding and event cakes and pastries.

Keep an eye out for more seasonal treats like a strawberry basil cookie and a miso raspberry chocolate chip cookie bar.

Stripp’d is a juice and bowl bar. Photo by Moonloop Photography

Stripp’d

You’ll find a combination of sweet and savory at Stripp’d, a juice and bowl bar that will serve cold-pressed juices with fun names like “Jala at Ya Boy,” a blend of red grapefruit, apple, jalapeño, kale, lemon and blood orange; and two açai bowls: the “Classic” with strawberries, banana, and peanut butter, and the “Point Break” with pineapple, banana, and Blue Majik, a blue-green algae high in antioxidants. All bowls will be topped with granola, honey and, of course, fruit.

As a lifelong pescatarian, or a vegetarian who eats fish, Khoran Horn, CEO & Founder of Stripp’d, had always gravitated toward healthy foods. After a 2012 trip to Los Angeles, Horn saw how popular cold-pressed juices were but was flabbergasted by the cost of a single bottle.

“I had to find a way to bring juice back to the East Coast and most importantly, make it more affordable,” says Horn. “During my visit to Los Angeles, cold-pressed juice was $12 for 16 ounces!” All Stripp’d 16-ounce juices are $11 and under.

In addition to its juice and bowls, Stripp’d will serve two rotating seasonal salads, smoothies and handheld breakfast foods from an egg sandwich to the chipotle and guacamole toast, overnight oats and chia seed pudding.

Al Chu is rolling sushi again in Wilmington. Photo by Moonloop Photography

Al Chu’s Sushi

Al Chu is back! The former Mikimoto sushi chef is rolling sushi again in Wilmington. Al’s Signature roll is made with fried shrimp, avocado, spicy sauce, and crab stick topped with eel sauce.

“I’m so honored to be back in Wilmington,” says Chu, chef and owner. At first, he was hesitant about opening a sushi restaurant in a food hall. However, his concerns were quickly relieved when he visited R.House in Baltimore.

“I was amazed by R. House and its tenants,” says Chu. “This visit made me realize that it [DE.CO] wasn’t going to be just a food hall, it would be a big restaurant with multiple food options.”

Al Chu’s Sushi stall dominates the front window on 10th Street with its nine-seat sushi bar and kitchen. The bar will serve a mix of Japanese favorites like gyoza dumplings, Crabby edamame steamed with Old Bay, maki rolls, nigiri and sashimi, as well as the Hawaiian import, the poké bowl, which is deconstructed sushi-in-a-bowl.

Be sure to ask for extra containers of Al’s “special sauce,” which is a specially formulated mixture of Japanese-imported soy sauce, wasabi and a touch of jalapeño.

Also available are lunch combos perfect for downtown workers that will be available until 2 p.m., with a choice of two rolls or one roll with sashimi and served with Japanese pickles.

The Pop- Up

Brisket, barbacoa and barbecue chips, oh my! The first month will feature three of Locale BBQ Post’s signature BBQ sandwiches—brisket, pork and chicken—served with coleslaw and pickles, as well as an assortment of additional sides like fried mac-and-cheese balls and homemade barbecue chips, all made by Dan Sheridan, owner of Stitch House Brewery on Market Street and Locale BBQ Post at 1014 N. Lincoln Street.

“[The pop-up will] be a mini-taste of Lincoln Street. We hope that this will introduce the downtown crowd to our Little Italy shop,” says Sheridan.

The second month will be an all-taco menu made by Mexican-born Louis Cobos, one of Stitch House Brewery’s longtime sous chefs. The menu will feature classic Mexican tacos like the barbacoa, al pastor and brisket tacos.

The pop-up space is one of the smallest stalls at DE.CO, but it’s specifically designed for new and up-and-coming chefs to flex their creative muscles. There’s plenty of equipment for those just starting out, so it’ll be exciting to see what pops up in July and later. 

So, what do you think? Please comment below.