Spring welcomes brewpubs, bistros and more to the restaurant scene

The frigid winter that kept foodies inside with their cookbooks has finally given way to warmer weather. So forget loading your Facebook page with photos of homemade soups and stews—it’s time to get out and dine in one of the many restaurants that have opened or are about to open in New Castle County and the surrounding area. Local chains are expanding and seasoned chefs are delving into new concepts. As summer approaches, there’ll be even more tasty options on the horizon.

The Far East in Little Italy

Brian Ashby, whose parents own the Deer Park Tavern, Cantwell’s Tavern and McGlynns Pub, is hoping to open 8th & Union Kitchen this month. The restaurant is located in Little Italy, in space formerly occupied by Union City Grille and, before that, Tarabicos Restaurant.

Ashby, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu, has rearranged the restaurant’s footprint. There’s a 30-seat copper-topped bar and a total capacity of 150 indoors. He also added 24 seats outside. The hip décor features subway tiles and natural materials, including reclaimed wood.

Ashby worked in a restaurant featuring Southeast Asian cuisine when he was in culinary school, and he’s incorporating some of those dishes into the eclectic menu. “For lack of a better term, it’s gastropub, but I’m not offering any sushi,” he says. Although he could handle the kitchen, he’s hired a chef, Scott Morozin, with whom he worked at Espuma in Rehoboth Beach.

Got Your Goat

The opening of another restaurant this month is whetting diners’ appetites. Goat Kitchen and Bar, whose sign in a small North Wilmington shopping center has prompted double takes for months, is scheduled to debut at any time.

You might remember owner David Weir from Buckley’s Tavern. His restaurant group also owned Four Dogs Tavern, the Chaddsford Inn, and the Marshalton Inn in Pennsylvania. After taking a break as a consultant at the Kitty Knight House for a year, Weir decided to get back in the business in space occupied by China Royal until that owner retired.

Goat is an approachable 75-seat space with lots of reclaimed wood, some of which came from the Marshalton Inn. The menu is peppered with shared snacks, salads and entrees with seasonal ingredients. There are burgers (beef, black bean, lamb and tuna), pizzas and sandwiches, as well as “big plates.” It sounds like pub food, and it is, but Goat is not competing with nearby Two Stones or Ulysses. Although Goat will offer craft beers, taps won’t line the bar. Yes, Buckley’s fans of old, there will be Thai chicken noodle soup.

Weir has been holding the “goat” name in reserve for years. “It sticks in the mind,” he says. “Goats are cute, and goats eat everything.” Further down the line he might open a vegetarian spot, Rabbit, and a rib-centric location, Pig.

The Return of Miz Walt’s

Barbecue has been the main offering at Fat Rick’s BBQ, which is tucked in a business-medical complex off Foulk Road near Brandywine High School. Owner Rick Betz originally took the space for its commercial kitchen, which he could use for catering. Then he opened the small dining room for lunch. This winter, he brought Miz Walt’s fried chicken into the fold. Betz and wife Tina opened a Miz Walt’s location in Little Italy in 1990, and it later moved to North Wilmington before closing. Fans of the juicy chicken with the crisp, golden crust are thrilled to see it on the menu.

That’s Italian!

Arguably Delaware’s favorite style of cuisine, Italian continues to dominate the restaurant scene, with the openings last year of Bella Coast on Concord Pike next to the Charcoal Pit, Vincenza & Margarita (V&M) Bistro on Marsh Road in Brandywine Hundred (across from the Shoppes of Graylyn), Café Sítaly, also in Brandywine Hundred, and Limoncello Italian Grill in Newark.

Meatball pizza at Bella Coast on Concord Pike. Photo provided by Big Fish Restaurant Group

Meatball pizza at Bella Coast on Concord Pike. Photo provided by Big Fish Restaurant Group

A new concept from the Big Fish Restaurant Group, Bella Coast has the same clean, bright design. There are branded bottles of olive oil on the tables, as well as copies of the Fodor Guide to Italy—should you care to read while you wait for your food. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner with a menu featuring baked ziti and meatballs, chicken parm, pizzas and sandwiches. Not surprisingly, you can’t go wrong if you choose a seafood dish. Big Fish also has a wholesale seafood division.

V&M Bistro brings an upscale look to the once pedestrian and mostly empty strip of shops across from the Shoppes of Graylyn. The restaurant is surprisingly roomy inside. Step in the vestibule to spot the open bakery and see the tempting loaves of bread, calzones and pizzas.

Named for sisters Vincenza and Margherita Carrieri-Russo, who run the restaurant with their family, V&M is a step above red gravy places, with the prices to prove it. But the budget-conscious can opt for sandwiches and pizzas at dinner as well as lunch.

On Naamans Road, Café Sítaly occupies European Bistro’s old digs in a small old-fashioned strip center that received a makeover. This slim space has quickly become popular with the North Wilmington crowd. One caution: Add a few minutes to takeout orders; arrive at the appointed time and you may have to wait.

Lauren Cox-Ristenbatt and her husband, Ed Ristenbatt, owned and operated Cafe Sole’ in Rehoboth Beach before moving to New Castle County and opening Limoncello on Ogletown-Stanton Road in Newark last spring. Here you’ll find pizzas, cheesesteaks and such entrees as pork roasted for 12 hours, Southwest salmon, crab cakes, and pasta specialties.

More Than a Deli

Speaking of Newark, Arena’s Deli & Bar in December opened a location on Main Street in the former home of Pita Pit and Cold Stone Creamery. The 93-seat restaurant, which has a pet-friendly patio, is the latest location for the restaurant chain, which initially gained fame for its creative sandwiches at the 25-year-old Rehoboth Beach site.

South of the Border Fare

Also on the casual side in Newark, El Diablo Burritos recently opened its third location on Main Street. Menu-wise, the 26-seat restaurant follows the lead of the Trolley Square and

El Diablo Burritos' house salad includes romaine, cheddar jack cheese, corn salsa and pico de gallo with crispy tortilla strips. Photo Tim Hawk

El Diablo Burritos’ house salad includes romaine, cheddar jack cheese, corn salsa and pico de gallo with crispy tortilla strips. Photo Tim Hawk

Brandywine Hundred locations. However, owner Dean Vilone hopes to offer breakfast in Newark at some point.

By May 1, Bryan Sikora plans to open Cocina Lolo in the Renaissance Building on King Street, across from the courthouse in downtown Wilmington. It’s a short jaunt from Sikora’s other restaurant, La Fia, which opened in 2013 on Market Street. The new restaurant, whose dining room will seat about 40, is inspired by Latin and Mexican cuisine. “It’s my interpretation,” Sikora says. “Everybody has their own; every chef does it his or her own way.”

Fresh ingredients and execution will differentiate Cocina Lolo from the many Mexican restaurants that dot the highways. Finishing is also key, from finding just the right cheese to the fresh salsa. The restaurant will also feature tequilas and rums, as well as craft cocktails.

Bread, Bagels, Baked Goods

Sikora quietly opened Market Street Bagel & Bread in Primo’s old location on Wilmington’s Market Street about six months ago to make wholesale goods, but retail is on the way. “We’re getting our technique down and getting the right equipment,” he says. “In the future, we want to open a bagelry with sandwiches, sodas and lunch stuff—this area is bustling at lunchtime.”

Expect more for Sikora, who has plans for a bar concept, also on Market Street.

A Restoration and a Restaurant

In Smyrna, Howard Johnson also has had big plans. If all goes well, he will open the Inn at Duck Creek in June. Johnson, who opened and sold Odd Fellows Café in downtown Smyrna, is restoring the Inn at Duck Creek for use as an upscale restaurant.

“Our chimneys for our fireplace are just about finished, and then we will move inside to plaster and repair the flooring, and install restrooms, the kitchen and a bar,” he says. “This project is the direct response to the town of Smyrna forming a redevelopment authority, and the funds being used for our project are federal.”

He’s partnered with Donna Ignasz on the project, which also has received funds from a Kickstarter initiative.

Brew News

Johnson will feature local products, including beer from Blue Earl Brewery, which will hopefully open soon. “We don’t have an exact date—it depends on construction and inspections,” says Ron Price, president of the brewery. “Things don’t always go as planned.”

The brewery is located in the Smyrna Business Park. Price plans to brew varying styles of beer, including hoppy American ales, lagers and Belgian-style beers. The brewery will bottle, and there will be tours and a tasting room.

Also on the beer front, plans for a Two Stones Pub in Hockessin fell through before settlement. “We incorporated Hockessin Two Stones, so we have it if something else comes up,” says co-owner Mike Stiglitz. A Jennersville, Pa., restaurant is in the works. Meanwhile, he and his partners have more time to devote to 2SP, a brewery opening in Aston, just over the Pennsylvania state line.

Burger and fries from Stone Balloon Ale House. Photo Squatch Creative

Burger and fries from Stone Balloon Ale House. Photo Squatch Creative

The brewery benefits from the talent of Bob Barrar, whose beers have won medals at the Great American Beer Festival for Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant. The brewing system should be up by May 15, Stiglitz says, and the brewery should open for tours sometime this summer. 2SP plans to feature six core beers. (Barrar is known for his Russian Imperial Stouts, Stiglitz notes.) The brewery will offer glass and stainless steel growlers and noshes, such as charcuterie and pressed sandwiches. You may see some of the crazy themed tacos for which the pubs have become famous.

People in Pennsylvania and Delaware have been anxiously awaiting the opening of Victory Brewing Company’s Kennett Square location, which is scheduled to open this year. (Although the building looks as though it’s an old brick warehouse building in a commercial district, it was built from the ground up.) Expect a menu similar to the flagship Downingtown brewpub, which has sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and beer-friendly entrees.

Down in Newark, the Stone Balloon Ale House this year opened in the space most recently occupied by 16 Mile Taphouse, which took over the Stone Balloon Winehouse, built on the site of the old Stone Balloon nightclub. Got it? This incarnation has new owners, including Bobby Pancake, who owns Buffalo Wild Wings franchises in Delaware, and it salutes the old Stone Balloon with its décor, which includes a back wall sporting the names of popular acts that played there.

Chef Robbie Jester, formerly of Piccolina Toscana, is in the kitchen, and the beer list is impressive.

That’s appropriate, because for foodies, there are many good reasons to toast the Northern Delaware dining scene.

Pam George
Pam George has been writing about the Delaware dining scene for more than 15 years. She also writes on travel, health, business and history. In addition to Delaware newspapers and magazines, she’s been published in Men’s Health, Fortune, USA Today and US Airways Magazine. She’s the author of “Shipwrecks of the Delaware Coast: Tales of Pirates, Squalls and Treasure,” “Landmarks & Legacies: Exploring Historic Delaware,” and “First State Plates: Iconic Delaware Restaurants and Recipes.” She lives in Wilmington and Lewes.