Gifts With Good Taste

Here’s a smorgasbord of satisfying food and drink options that are easy answers to your gifting dilemmas

The clock is ticking, and you still haven’t finished your holiday shopping. In addition to buying for family and friends, you need presents for your dog-sitter, housekeeper, and administrative assistant. You’ve also got a stack of event invitations, which means you need to stock up on host and hostess gifts.
Lower your stress level by relying on a present that’s sure to please. Everyone needs to sup and sip. Here are a few delicious ideas.

A bottle—or more—of cheer

This go-to gift is the usual choice for the person who’s throwing the party. You can’t go wrong with a bottle of wine or a six-pack. But it’s also ideal if you know that several people on your shopping list have a penchant for a certain type of beer or a local wine.

Many area purveyors are offering special releases or packages during the season. Dogfish Head, the big daddy of Delaware’s craft beer scene, has released a 12-pack with four varieties of ales, including Sixty One, an exclusive that is a hybrid of continually hopped 60 Minute IPA and Syrah grapes. The other ales in the pack are 60 Minute IPA, 90 Minute IPA and Indian Brown Dark IPA. Look for the set at stores throughout Delaware. dogfish.com.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant has released Reindeer’s Revenge, a four-pack of an American-style Belgian golden ale with flavors of grapefruit, spice, and banana. For the holidays, you can also purchase four-packs of Russian Imperial Stout and 750-milliliter bottles of Iron Hill’s special reserve selections. (Buy a case of reserves and you’ll get 10 percent off.) Iron Hill’s growler gift pack includes the 64-ounce bottle, two glasses with the company logo and a $20 gift card. ironhillbrewery.com.

Local brewers aren’t the only ones highlighting the season. Chaddsford Winery’s Holiday Spirit is a spiced red wine with a hint of sweetness, cinnamon and cloves. You can drink it warm or cold with an orange peel. chaddsford.com.

If you’re not sure what your wine-lover likes, consider a gift card from Penns Woods Winery, also in Chadds Ford. You can buy $25 to $200 cards online. They’re delivered via UPS. pennswoodsevents.com.
Frank Pagliaro of Frank’s Wine in Wilmington says many customers are buying his wine-of-the-month club memberships for friends. “That always seems to be a huge gift item,” he says. “For $149.99, you get a bottle each month and the opportunity to purchase more of that wine for 25 percent off during that month.” He expects that bourbon, rye, and Irish whiskey will be popular gift items since these categories of spirits are “on fire” right now. frankswine.com.

Don’t know whether they like Grey Goose or Tito’s? Give the mixologist in your life all the fixings for the perfect cocktail with a subscription to the Shaker & Spoon Cocktail Club. The monthly delivery is a box with three recipes and everything needed to make 12 drinks—except the alcohol. shakerandspoon.com.

Spirited weekend

If you have a serious Dogfish fan in the family, buy him or her the Spirited Weekend package offered by Dogfish Head Distilling Co. Held from Jan. 12-14, the weekend includes two nights at the Dogfish Inn in Lewes and guided tours of all the Dogfish Head properties in coastal Delaware, including Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Dogfish Head Brewings & Chesapeake & Maine. That’s not all. The package also features an exclusive bottle of Rum Casked Whiskey in a handmade wooden box, a Moscow Mule happy hour at Striper Bites (the restaurant next to the inn), a fireside chat with Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, a mixology class, and a discount code to use on spirits at the Milton brewery. Transportation to the Dogfish Head properties is included. dogfishheadbrewery.ticketleap.com.

Winter coffee break

Gifts that go down easy aren’t limited to booze. This season, Brandywine Coffee Roasters, started by Brew Ha Ha! founder Alisa Morkides, is offering Doe Run, a limited release blend of Gustavo de Jesus Rivera Colombian micro lot and Costa Rica Cereza Roja Natural. It’s a light roast combination that will take the chill off winter mornings. According to Morkides, it’s a full-bodied blend with tasting notes of cocoa, raspberry, cranberry, and ginger snaps. brandywinecoffeeroasters.com.

The roast is also available at the Brew Ha Ha! cafés, which are now selling holiday latte drinks, including Candy Cane Latte, Frosted Gingerbread, White Mocha Matcha, and Salted Caramel Mocha. brewhaha.com.

Carnivore’s delight

For the meat-eater in your family, consider The Meat House’s Butcher’s Club Membership. The recipient will receive a choice of one to 12 options each month for six months. Selections might include filet mignon, jumbo shrimp, cowboy steaks, prime New York strip or rib-eye. If you just want to purchase a special item from the Chadds Ford shop, peruse exotic sausages made with wild boar, alligator or pheasant. themeathouse.themeathouse.com/pa-chaddsford.

You can also sign him or her up for the Stock Yards Steakhouse Club, offered by Harry & David. There are three- , six- and 12-month options. Despite the name, the selections feature more than red meat. An oven-roasted turkey comes in November, for instance, and spiral-sliced ham is the April feature. harryanddavid.com.

Local favorites

If you’re traveling during the holidays, and want to give your hosts a taste of the First State, there are plenty of options.

If you’re not going far, Grotto Pizza sells frozen, shrink-wrapped bake-at-home pizzas. grottopizza.com.
Claymont Steak Shop uses a special wrapping process for those who want to transport subs out of the immediate area. claymontsteakshop.com.

Bring your Delaware “transplant” a sub from Claymont Steaks. Photo Anthony Santoro

And both of these Delaware-based businesses offer gift cards. “They’re popular as stocking stuffers and thank-you gifts for clients and employees,” says Demi Kollias, owner of Claymont Steak Shop, which has three locations in New Castle County.

Put together a package of local ingredients, including products from Wilmington Pickling Company. You can find them at Locale BBQ Post in Wilmington’s Little Italy. (Dan Sheridan owns both businesses.) localbbqpost.com.

The pickles are also available at Janssen’s Market, which increases its supply during the holidays to meet demand. janssensfinefoods.com.

Add a box of chocolates from Govotos, which has been part of area family holidays since it opened in 1894. There is a location downtown as well as one in Talleyville. Prefer to send by mail? The shop ships orders from Oct. 1 through May 15. Gift certificates are also available. govatoschocolates.com.

There are several area bakeries that sell goods that are beloved holiday staples. Serpe & Sons Bakery in Elsmere reopened in October 2016 after a devastating fire. Once again, you can grab some Italian pastries or cookies and a slice of tomato bread for yourself. serpesbakery.com.

You can also buy Italian goods, from panettone to homemade cannoli to prosciutto, at Papa’s Food Market in Little Italy. Search Papa’s Food Market on Facebook.

Bountiful basket

Those who don’t want to DIY a gift basket can turn to the pros. In north Wilmington, Janssen’s Market is the go-to place. “Gift baskets are always popular,” says Paula Janssen, who owns the store with her

A bountiful gift basket from Janssen’s Market. Photo courtesy of Janssen’s Market

parents. But not just any gift basket. “Fruit baskets are no longer as common—very few families can eat an entire basket of fruit before it goes bad,” she notes. She says the team prefers to work with the giver to personalize a basket to suit the recipient’s preferences. It may include several pieces of fruit.
Note that Janssen’s is still the place for hard-to-find items that were once holiday staples. Picture plum pudding, fruitcake, mincemeat and stollen, a fruit bread.

Meal plan

When all else fails, there’s the gift card to the recipient’s favorite full-service restaurant. “You’re not giving just food; you’re giving an experience,” says Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Savoy Grill and co-owner of Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal Grill & Saloon.

You won’t be the only one opting for an easy way out. “Each year, our gift card sales increase,” Teixido says. It helps that restaurants like Harry’s Savoy Grill offer completely digital transactions. Not only can you buy them online, but you can also send them digitally to the recipients, who can redeem them using their mobile phones. “You need a last-minute gift, you can send it to them or print it out and take it to their house,” says Teixido, who acknowledged that many people still feel more secure with a card in hand. harryshospitalitygroup.com.

Swimming With the Big Fish

Mikimotos and Washington Street Ale House are now owned by Big Fish Restaurant Group. Photos Krista Connor

Restaurateur Eric Sugrue builds on Darius Mansoory’s legacy

Eric Sugrue met Darius Mansoory only once. They were both guests at an Eagles/Redskins tailgate. But Sugrue, the managing partner of Big Fish Restaurant Group, had visited Mansoory’s restaurants many times, particularly Stingray Sushi Bar & Latino Grill, in Rehoboth Beach, Sugrue’s home town.

After Mansoory’s sudden death in January, many wondered what would happen to his company, Cherry Tree Hospitality Group. Of particular interest were Mansoory’s Washington Street Ale House and Mikimotos Asian Grill & Sushi Bar, side-by-side restaurants that anchor Washington Street in downtown Wilmington. The answer came in June when Sugrue announced the purchase of Mansoory’s businesses, which are now under the Big Fish Restaurant Group umbrella.

Those with an interest in downtown Wilmington’s vitality were pleased by the news. “I am so excited that Big Fish, a company that enjoys a statewide reputation for excellence, has purchased the properties of the Cherry Tree Hospitality Group,” says Martin Hageman, executive director of Downtown Visions.

Dr. Carrie Gray, managing director of the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation, agreed. “We’re thrilled to hear that Big Fish has purchased Darius Mansoory’s restaurant group,” she says. “Darius was a long-committed restaurateur in Wilmington who believed in downtown before many others did. To know now that the vision he had for his restaurants will not only be continued but expanded upon is very exciting news for Wilmington.”

Darius Mansoory died suddenly in January.
Darius Mansoory died suddenly in January.

In many respects, it’s fitting that Big Fish Restaurant Group should have ownership of Mansoory’s culinary legacy. Mansoory and Sugrue shared a path to success that is laced with certain professional similarities, most importantly the ability to spot an opportunity and an untapped niche.

Taking Chances

Improving Wilmington’s restaurant scene was one of Mansoory’s goals in 1997 when he opened the Washington Street Ale House, which is located in two circa-1920s buildings that he’d purchased and merged.

Mansoory was no stranger to that section of town near Wilmington Hospital. He’d owned a tavern, Knuckleheads, and a pizza restaurant there from 1991 to 1993. (Between 1993 and 1996, he worked in restaurants in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.)

His idea for a beer-centric restaurant came just as brewpubs were bubbling up around the country. Dogfish Head, for instance, debuted in 1995 and Iron Hill in 1996. Mansoory, who borrowed money from friends on a handshake, was banking on people’s burgeoning interest in microbrews. He once vowed to put “chili and cheese on every chip.” Nachos, burgers, and sandwiches made up the bulk of the menu, which evolved with changing tastes.

But in the 1990s, restaurant patrons weren’t flocking to downtown Wilmington in the late evening. There were more than a few nights when the ale house’s restaurant was empty by 8 o’clock. Mansoory, however, refused to close until 1 a.m.

By 2000, he was confident enough in the growing scene that he opened Mikimotos. The sleek, contemporary restaurant was a departure from the more common mom-and-pop sushi restaurant with bamboo and pagodas.

Renovations that enlarged the ale house’s kitchen led to the creation of Presto!, a coffee house and—hopefully—an after-theater hangout, as well as Maraschino, a second-floor event space. Unfortunately, Presto! had trouble finding its footing and closed.

Big Fish In the Small Wonder

Like Mansoory, Sugrue entered the entrepreneurial waters in 1997 when he and brother Norman

The bar at Washington Street Ale House, which has undergone some cosmetic makeover.
The bar at Washington Street Ale House, which has undergone some cosmetic makeover.

opened the first Big Fish Grill on Route 1. At that time, most independent restaurants were in downtown Rehoboth Beach. (The restaurant 1776 was an exception.) Opening on the highway was a risk.

Sugrue already had a wealth of experience. He started working in the industry at age 13 as a busboy in Rehoboth Beach. After earning a degree in business from the University of Delaware, he joined Knoxville, Tenn.-based Cooper Cellar Restaurant Corp.

Back in Delaware, Sugrue and his brother pooled their money, borrowed from friends and family, and took out a bank loan to open Big Fish. The restaurant was a hit with families looking for affordable but good food at the beach.

Big Fish on the Wilmington Riverfront opened in 2009, and a location in Glen Mills followed the next year. Recently, a Big Fish debuted in Ocean View. The company also has other concepts, including Bella Coast on Route 202 and The Crab House on Route 1 in Rehoboth.

Sugrue also has a knack for finding established restaurants that go up for sale. Consider Summer House and Salt Air in Rehoboth Beach; he has kept those two concepts, which had name recognition. That was not the case with Satsuma in Trolley Square, which he turned into the successful Trolley Square Oyster House.

Big Fish Restaurant Group now has 10 restaurants in its stable, as well as a bakery, market, and wholesale division. The coffee shop space is expected to reopen, albeit to a tenant, and the banquet facility is functioning.

Nourishing & Nurturing

The sushi bar at Mikimotos Asian Grill & Sushi Bar.
The sushi bar at Mikimotos Asian Grill & Sushi Bar.

By the time Big Fish took control, Cherry Tree Hospitality Group’s restaurants needed “a little love,” says Holly Monaco, vice president of operations for Big Fish Restaurant Group.

Fresh paint and artwork and new booths and tables are part of the makeover. Improvements are also underway on the HVAC, lighting, computer systems, audio and TV systems, and flooring. Updates on the banquet facility should be done by mid-September. “We’re putting a great plan together to revive the on- and off-premise catering,” Sugrue says.

The company hired Paul DeBrigida to help ease the Wilmington restaurants’ transition into the Big Fish fold. “He has done a super job thus far of observing, assessing, and evaluating the current operations and implementing some new systems and processes that we feel make for a better experience for all of our guests and team members,” Sugrue says.

The service is being brought up to Big Fish’s standards. One has only to dine in the flagship Rehoboth Big Fish to spot the efficiencies that keep guests moving through the crowded waiting area to the tables.

Big Fish’s restaurants embrace a team approach. One server might take your order, but a number of servers may refill your water glass, deliver your meal, or whisk away dirty dishes. “They do it for each other,” says Monaco, who’s been with the company since 1999. “It’s one big team effort.” How to motivate this team to pitch in? “We find that a little structure and constant gentle pressure is key for us.”

The kitchens are creating dishes for possible menu additions, some of which are now on the ale house menu. But the Big Fish crew is still “getting our feet wet” with Mikimotos, Monaco says. Sugrue acknowledged that running a sushi and Asian restaurant—the group’s first—has caused some trepidation.

Hageman says the markedly different concepts, combined with Domaine Hudson, make the stretch of Washington Street a dining destination. “I believe Big Fish will not only continue this idea but will also grow the area’s desirability,” he says. Will Minster, director of development for Downtown Visions, concurs.  He says the nonprofit organization wants to focus on new growth in this section of downtown.

Sugrue’s vision includes enhancements to Torbert Street, which runs between Mikimotos and

Eric Sugrue

the ale house. The street until now has offered limited parking for the restaurants, and it’s often a game of musical cars to find a space.

“We hope to share our plan with the city as soon as possible,” Sugrue says. “Our goal is to bring the area a bit back to life, as no improvements have been made in many years.”

Meanwhile, he’s also juggling plans for a seven-story, 122-room hotel and banquet venue on the Riverfront. And he’s a partner with other restaurateurs in Baltimore restaurants.

But he seems to be up to the tasks, and judging by Trolley Square Oyster House’s busy dining room, he’s got a good track record in the city.

Says Hageman of the Big Fish team: “They are a very welcome addition to downtown Wilmington’s restaurant scene.”

A Mouthwatering Mecca

Having rounded the 50 mark last year, Claymont Steak continues to hold its own against Philly’s biggest steak-holders

They are from Sussex County, Philly, and New Castle. They are plumbers, bankers, politicians, even tourists. No matter where they’re from or what they do, most people come to Claymont Steak Shop for one thing: a sturdy-but-giving roll overflowing with tendrils of meat and melted cheese.

Since 1966, when Claymont Steak Shop first opened, the restaurant has developed a cult-like following. “Claymont has better cheesesteaks than anywhere in Philly,” maintains Kathleen Case, formerly of Wilmington. “We miss them now that we’re in Texas; you can’t get anything like it here.”

Bonne Burslem agrees. She grew up in the Wilmington area and now lives in Lewes. “I love and miss their Italian subs and cheesesteaks,” she says.

Like Winterthur Museum and Longwood Gardens, Claymont Steak is a go-to spot for those with houseguests. “I take all of my out-of-town guests there for a ‘Philly’ cheesesteak,” says Jay Sterin, who lives in Garnet Valley, Pa. “I love seeing the mound of meat ready to be grilled.”

What’s the secret to Claymont Steak Shop’s success? Some credit the aforementioned meat. Others say it’s the roll. But the real secret behind the shop’s recent growth and continually fresh branding is owner Demi Babanika Kollias.

A Claymont Steak Shop cheesesteak. Photo Anthony Santoro
A Claymont Steak Shop cheesesteak. Photo Anthony Santoro

A Community Anchor

Claymont Steak Shop wasn’t the first to put steak on a roll. That honor reportedly goes to Pat Olivieri, a Philadelphia hot dog vendor who in 1930 slapped a rib-eye on the grill for an employee. It looked so appealing that a customer asked for a steak on a roll instead of a hot dog, and voila!, Pat’s King of Steaks was born. In 1966, Joe Vento opened Geno’s across from Pat’s. Geno’s claim to fame is the addition of cheese. Both stands now duke it out for bragging rights.

Meanwhile, down the road, cousins Bob Hionis and Sam Demetratos opened Claymont Steak Shop on Philadelphia Pike in 1966. The Greek immigrants vividly remember the hunger that was widespread in Greece after World War II. Their determination to feed people well is one reason why Claymont Steak’s sandwiches are packed full of meat. (Indeed, it’s a challenge to keep it from tumbling from the roll. Some say you could make two sandwiches with the filling.)

The shop originally had a counter and a few stools. It was a neighborhood hangout, where customers gossiped over their sandwiches. When the adjacent drugstore and cleaners closed, Claymont Steak expanded. So did the shop’s reputation. It began winning magazine and newspaper readers’ choice awards, beating out restaurants with multiple locations. Carolyn Wyman, who wrote The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book, pronounced it her personal favorite.

After more than three decades, the partners contemplated retirement. Enter Demi Kollias.

Demi Kollias has run the business since 2005. Photo Anthony Santoro
Demi Kollias has run the business since 2005. Photo Anthony Santoro

A Modern Mindset

Like the original owners, Kollias grew up in Greece. She came to the United States at age 18 to go to college. At first, she lived with her aunt in Minnesota. That did not last long. “It was extremely cold,” she remembers. One of her friends was attending Widener University’s law school. When Kollias visited her, she liked what she saw and applied. After earning an undergraduate degree at Widener, she went to Drexel University for a master’s in business administration.

After graduation, Kollias hit the ground running with three 7-Eleven franchises in Pennsylvania. For more than 10 years, she traveled to locations that were 24-7 operations. It was grueling. When she learned that Claymont Steak Shop was available, she seized the opportunity. Bob Hionis, however, was skeptical. He let her manage the store as a trial run for six months, fully anticipating that she’d give up. He underestimated her. In 2005, Kollias and her husband, Basil, purchased the restaurant. (She runs the business.)

Kollias put her education and experience to good use at Claymont Steak, where she modernized the systems and kept an eye out for opportunities. The Newark location opened in 2010, and the Concord Pike site followed in 2015.

The 3,800-square-foot Newark restaurant, the largest of the three, serves wine and beer, which Kollias thought would be a good fit for the college town. “It did work,” she says. Because Concord Pike is the smallest and has a more quick-casual focus, she opted not to offer alcohol there.

The north Wilmington shops aren’t far from each other, but she isn’t worried about the Brandywine Hundred shop cannibalizing the Claymont restaurant’s business. Because it is the original site, Claymont still draws people from across the region. Sterin, for instance, calls himself “Old School” and only goes to the original.

Only the Best

No matter the location, the ingredients and the preparation are the same. Claymont Steak has a wholesale division to buy the meat, and everything is sliced on the premises, including deli meats. Rib-eye steaks are sliced so thin that they naturally break up on the grill; the meat is never chopped in advance. Chicken cheesesteaks are made with white meat. Nothing is marinated, Kollias says. She wants the natural flavor and the quality to shine. The rolls, made by Serpe & Sons Bakery in Elsmere, are split on the top rather than on the sides to better support the mounds of meat.

From there, the perfect cheesesteak is a matter of preference, starting with the choice of cheese. American cheese is the most popular, followed by provolone, Kollias says. Customers can also have Swiss or pepper Jack.

In Philly, those in the know order “Whiz wit,” which is slang for a steak sandwich with Cheez Whiz. (Order Swiss or provolone, and you might be laughed right out of the City of Brotherly Love.)

Occasionally, someone will “ruin a cheesesteak” by asking for the processed cheese sauce at Claymont Steak, says Kollias, who tells them so to their face. After getting that off her chest, she makes it the way they want it. The shop, however, only uses a product from New York rather than the Kraft brand.

Claymont Steak has myriad toppings. Former Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, ordered a cheese steak with provolone, fried onions, and sweet peppers.

Despite the name, Claymont Steak isn’t limited to the main attraction. Pizza has become very popular. “On a busy day, we sell 150 pizzas, which is a significant number even for a pizza place,” says Kollias. The kitchen makes the dough every day.

Moving Forward

It’s a challenge running one store, let alone three, Kollias acknowledges. She credits her employees, many of whom have been working for the company since before she purchased it, for the smooth operation. Good workers, she says, help to maintain quality and consistency.

“I consider them my family,” she says. “We’re very close. They can call me anytime they want to, and I will be there for them.”

Her employees are a family in more ways than one. Her two daughters were 13 when they started working the counter. On a recent rainy day, Claymont Steak was short on delivery drivers. So one of her daughters, who was home from college, got behind the wheel. “They’re not afraid to work—are you kidding me? I’m their mother,” she says.

Kollias says she considers her employees, like Fernando Salas and Lorena Aguilar Hernandez, “like family. They can call me anytime.” Photo Anthony Santoro
Kollias says she considers her employees, like Fernando Salas and Lorena Aguilar Hernandez, “like family. They can call me anytime.” Photo Anthony Santoro

Photographs of the staff are prominently displayed on the revamped website, which allows customers to order online. They can also view the menu, which includes gluten-free options and vegetarian dishes, as well as wraps and quesadillas. The site also describes the company’s catering services, which includes breakfast dishes, cheese steak and deli trays, and lunch boxes.

Kollias isn’t ruling out further expansion, which could come in the form of a food truck. She’s consistently on the lookout for new customers. At the same time, she’s determined to build on the legacy. She often greets customers who’ve been coming since 1966. “We appreciate all our customers’ loyalty over the last 50 years,” she says.

Three and Counting

Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue, owners of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, are on an ambitious growth track

When Lee Mikles sold his share of The Archer Group, a Wilmington-based digital marketing firm, his sister predicted that he would either go into politics or open a bar. “A bar,” Mikles says, “seems safer these days.”

Early indications are that he made the right choice.

Most observers would agree that Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen—the downtown Newark restaurant Mikles and friend Jim O’Donoghue opened in July 2015—has been successful. What’s more, in the past few months, the partners have gone from one to three establishments.

As this magazine hits the streets, the partners should have opened Grain H2O in the former Aqua Sol at Summit North Marina in Bear and a second Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in the old Half Moon Saloon & Restaurant in downtown Kennett Square.

That might seem risky, but growing Grain has been part of the plan from day one. “We always knew that to achieve our goals, we needed to scale up,” Mikles says.

Two restaurants in the same month, however, is a different story, particularly when you consider that the partners had never owned a restaurant before opening Grain.

Still, Mikles and O’Donoghue are no strangers to the world of business, and it is their experience combined with their ability to spot—and seize—opportunities that seems to be their recipe for success.

Growing up, neither Mikles nor O’Donoghue had any idea they would wind up in the restaurant business. Mikles, who grew up in North Wilmington, graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in electrical engineering and an MBA. His interest in advertising started at an early age. His father was head of marketing for a division of the DuPont Co. that made golf balls. “I got to read his advertising magazines, and we never ran out of golf balls,” he says.

He and Patrick Callahan started The Archer Group in 2003 in Mikles’ basement. By the time they sold it to other partners, the firm had 60 people and counted Wawa and Chase Bank among its clients.

Dreaming of a Restaurant

O’Donoghue’s father was an accountant for Hercules, and his mother was a hospice nurse. “They wanted me to be an accountant,” he recalls. After graduating from UD with a degree in business and political science, he went into finance. He was a first vice president at MBNA, a senior vice president at Bank of America, and the director of the retail segment at Barclaycard. With MBNA, he worked in sports marketing.

The partners-to-be and their families lived across from each other for more than a decade. “We would get together and talk about our shared dreams of opening a restaurant,” Mikles says. “But one drink would lead to another, and we would move on to something else.”

They weren’t total novices. Mikles had worked in Pike Creek pizza shops as a delivery driver and pizza maker. He’d also been a restaurant manager. In high school and college, O’Donoghue worked at such restaurants as the Down Under, Bennigan’s and the Waterfront in Dewey Beach.

In 2015, the timing was right for the friends and their wives, Catie Mahoney O’Donoghue and Kathy Malone Mikles, to realize their dream. “As we continued to flesh out our vision for a restaurant, we felt increasingly confident we could be successful,” Mikles says.

A location became available on Main Street, a stretch that the partners knew well. It was the former site of Mojo Main and East End Cafe on East Main. They took the plunge.

Grain's chicken and waffles dish, from their brunch menu. Grain was named Top 50 Best Brunch Resturants in America by Elle Decor Magazine. (Photo by Matt Urban)
Grain’s chicken and waffles dish, from their brunch menu. Grain was named Top 50 Best Brunch Restaurants in America by Elle Decor Magazine. (Photo by Matt Urban)

The name Grain was inspired by Oliver Evans, who was born in Newport in the 1750s. Mikles learned about Evans when he was president of Start Up Delaware, which seeks to increase tech entrepreneurship in Delaware, and he was impressed. It’s easy to see why. Evans developed an automated flour mill that revolutionized the industry. It was just one of his inventions.

The name also refers to the restaurant’s large craft beer selection. But while it appeals to hop heads on the cutting edge, Grain is also a family-friendly place. And it’s a spot where coworkers can meet after work. In short, there’s something for everyone. “We wanted it to be a melding of good food, good drink and good times,” Mikles says. “Live music was always in the plan, but it’s continued to expand.”

As with the Newark site, timing and availability also came into play with Grain’s new locations. Aqua Sol, they maintain, was a hidden gem on the canal in Bear. “We loved the seasonal potential of the huge deck outside, and the year-round potential of the inside,” Mikles says. “We felt we could successfully bring the Grain brand to the area, with the craft drinks, good food and live music.”

They saw parallels between Half Moon’s location in Kennett Square and Grain’s Newark site. Both are in established communities with people who long to be regulars at a cool-but-casual neighborhood restaurant.

The Importance of Branding

Although the locations are different, they boast the Grain name. Certainly, Mikles, the digital marketing maven, and O’Donoghue, the savvy credit card pro, know more than a little about branding. The three restaurants share the same core menu, which gives the company greater buying power when it comes to ingredients. It also helps with cross-training and moving staff from location to location.

Lee Mikles and Jim O'Donoghue at the first Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark. (Photo by Matt Urban)
Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue at the first Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark. (Photo by Matt Urban)

As the partners at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant can attest, having multiple restaurants is a boon for hiring, retaining and promoting. All of which is critical considering the industry is facing labor shortages in the kitchen. Grain has hired people even before certain jobs were available just so they would not lose them to another restaurant. The company also offers benefits and paid days off.

Despite the same name and core menu, the partners are keen on keeping each site’s local flavor, which is in line with their “neighborhood” philosophy. No doubt, that approach will filter into each restaurant’s approach to philanthropy.

For instance, Grain in Newark has focused on local first responders, including the employees of the police and fire departments. In the restaurant’s First Responder Wing-Eating Championship, policemen compete against firemen to benefit Preston’s Playground, an all-inclusive park that will be on a Newark site. (Organizers are seeking to raise $500,000.) Grain donates $1 for every wing consumed by the contestants or the guests, along with proceeds from T-shirt sales. In April, the police nabbed the championship for the second year in a row. This year they won by just two wings.

What does the future hold for these ambitious restaurateurs? Both Mikles and O’Donoghue admire Iron Hill for its “operational excellence,” Mikles says. The locally based chain has taken the brewpub concept to 13 locations and counting. Although all Iron Hill brands, they are in different building footprints and diverse areas, including Lancaster to Center City Philadelphia.

They also admire Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts, which has a variety of themes, such as Latin, Italian and seafood, at locations along the Delaware beaches.

“We respect them and want to follow in their footsteps,” Mikles says. “We like the idea of applying operational excellence to different concepts in a certain geographical area. We want to expand the Grain brand and other concepts.”

As the partners run between the restaurants—they call visiting all three in one day “running the gauntlet”—they have yet to consider a limit on their growth. “Right now the great team we’ve got with us is continuing to allow us to grow,” O’Donoghue notes. All options, Mikles agrees, are possible.

Small Town, Big Appetites

Newark is now a destination for even the most discerning diners

When the owners of Churrascaria Saudades decided to open a Brazilian steakhouse, they initially considered Middletown. Then they visited the Newark Shopping Center. “There was a new movie theater, the natural food store was opening—they felt it was a really good time to get into Newark,” says Jonathan Keegan, the restaurant’s assistant manager. “It was changing.”

But was it changing enough for diners to plunk down $46 for 15 different kinds of all-you-can-eat cuts of meat? After all, Newark is traditionally known for pizza places and sub shops—the foods that college students crave after a night spent studying or partying. In a word, “yes.”

Since opening last year, Churrascaria Saudades regularly serves up to 400 people on a Friday or Saturday night, says Keegan, who previously worked at Fogo de Chão, a Brazilian steakhouse in Philly.

And the guests aren’t all students, parents, and faculty. “You get the business professionals, the bankers,” he says. “We do a lot of medical parties. But then you get people coming in to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations—lots of celebrations going on.”

To be sure, for Newark diners, there’s much to celebrate these days. The dining scene is diverse and concentrated, says Karen Stauffer, director of marketing for the Delaware Restaurant Association, which is near Main Street. “As an adventurous eater, that is something I appreciate.”

Restaurant volume is a good thing for all, says Bobby Pancake, past chairman of the Delaware Restaurant Association and a partner in High5Hospitality, whose restaurants include Buffalo Wild Wings and the Stone Balloon Ale House. “The more restaurants you have, the more people come to Newark,” he says.

But that does force businesses to up their game. “The more restaurants you have, the better you have to perform,” Pancake adds. And that’s good news for diners.

The Icons

The Main Street area has long been the epicenter of Newark dining. Admittedly, it wasn’t as diverse in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when The Glass Mug, the Malt Shoppe, Sam’s, and Daffy Deli reigned.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant shook up the scene when it opened in 1996—before the craft beer craze took hold. Many wondered if a brewery could survive in a town where students quaffed cheap beer and counted pennies. Fortunately, area families and diners with bigger wallets were happy to belly up to a brewpub in their backyard.

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Asian cauliflower wings at Home Grown Cafe (Photo by Jim Coarse)

Home Grown Café and Caffé Gelato also brought fresh concepts to the scene when they opened in 2000. Home Grown Café was an offshoot of a retail store, Home Grown, which opened in 1998. By 2004, the restaurant consumed most of the retail space. Surrounded by sub shops, the kitchen turned out fresh food made from scratch and vegetarian options in the days before the gluten-free revolution.

Caffé Gelato, which started as a gelato shop, has expanded to become a full-service restaurant with an award-winning wine list.

The longtime businesses have built a loyal fan base. Home Grown serves food that’s “outside the box,” says Heather Hook, a Wilmington resident who heads to Newark for the restaurant scene. “I love their buffalo cauliflower florets and the crispy russet potato chips with yogurt aioli. I swooned when I had the avocado-carob mousse.”

Two restaurants loved by generations of UD alums are still thriving, albeit with a more modern approach. The Deer Park underwent a total renovation when Bob Ashby’s company purchased it in 2001. Now it’s Klondike Kate’s turn.

In November, Gilda and Gianmarco Martuscelli bought the restaurant, which opened in 1979 in a building that held a gas station, jail, post office, pool hall, skating rink and movie theater. The family also owns Chesapeake Inn and La Casa Pasta.

Gianmarco Martuscelli saw Klondike Kate’s, which is busy during the school year, as a complement to the Chesapeake Inn, which is busy in the summer. Like Ashby, the Martuscellis have instituted some changes that initially led to pushback. Klondike Kate’s had been famous for its daily specials that extended to takeout. The UD football team would order half-priced burgers to go on Mondays, Gianmarco Martuscelli says. Offices would send someone to pick up half-priced salad and sandwiches for an entire department. Additional employees were needed just to fill the discounted takeout orders, but the dining room wasn’t full.

Back Creek Roll at Klondike Kate's made by Sushi Sumo. (Photo courtesy of Klondike Kate's)
Back Creek Roll at Klondike Kate’s made by Sushi Sumo. (Photo courtesy of Klondike Kate’s)

Now only in-house guests can order the discounted specials. Martuscelli has also streamlined the menu, which had so many items that it was worthy of a diner. The kitchen spent too much time prepping before meal service, and the volume of options slowed down the meal service. There were also too many sides, which again led to time spent prepping. Martuscelli has cut the quantity for quality. Burger meat, for instance, is now fresh, not frozen.

One addition to the menu is raising eyebrows. Klondike Kate’s offers 12 sushi rolls made by Sushi Sumo on Kirkwood Highway. “My staff had said there was no longer a sushi spot on Main Street,” Martuscelli explains. “It’s been really popular with the students.”
And for nacho lovers, rest easy. They’re still on the menu.

The Melting Pot

Sushi might be scarce on Main Street, but the surrounding area is a mecca for those who love ethnic cuisine. “There’s so much more variety in the Newark area than in Wilmington,” says Robbie Jester, executive chef of the Stone Balloon Ale House.

Consider Chef Tan and Ramen Kumamoto, both on Main Street. Chef Tan has most of the Chinese staples, complete with little red peppers beside spicy menu options. Ramen Kumamoto has created diehard noodle addicts who rave about the “tan tan,” a spicy chicken broth with miso and sesame paste, topped with minced meat, bean sprouts, noodles, and chicken or pork.

Sara Teixido, a Pike Creek resident, is such a fan of the ramen that she sent her fiancé for a takeout order of it when she was sick. She’s also a fan of Ali Baba on Main Street. “It’s stayed the same for years, but their Ali Baba hummus, carrot salad, and spicy Moroccan chicken are crave-able,” she says. “You can feast with a group, have a fun time in a unique atmosphere, and not break the bank.”

Robin Glanden, who lives within walking distance of Main Street, recommends Olive Tree Café, which also features Mediterranean food, in Chestnut Plaza. “It has a friendly owner and wait staff and absolutely delicious food—the mint tea is to die for.”

The Mexican segment is oversaturated in Newark, acknowledges Pancake of Buffalo Wild Wings and the Stone Balloon Ale House. It is home to the most recent El Diablo Burritos location, Santa Fe Mexican Grill, Del Pez Mexican Gastropub, and Tex-Mex chains, including Chipotle Mexican Grill. “There are like five burrito places within two blocks,” Martuscelli says. For now, they’re holding their own.

Good Food To Go

Along with competing for market share in a certain dining segment, many restaurants are vying for the lunch crowd, Martuscelli says. Klondike Kate’s in January added a lunch buffet on Fridays to tempt university staff interested in a quick bite. “It’s been popular,” Martuscelli says.

The plentiful choices include chains that specialize in fast-casual fare.

Roots Natural Kitchen, which offers rice bowls and salads, is a newcomer, as is honeygrow, a Philadelphia-based chain featuring salads and stir-fry.

“We wanted to open in Newark because Main Street has always been a vibrant and bustling community, whether the university is in session or on break,” says Jen Denis, the chief branding officer for honeygrow and a 2000 graduate of the University of Delaware. “The community seems ready to welcome and embrace wholesome cuisine served up fresh, fast, and fully customized. Honeygrow thrives in locations with active, creative, and civic-minded populations, and the Newark area community fits that bill perfectly.”

Soup to Nuts

Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes on the Newark dining scene has been the rise of restaurants like Churrascaria Saudades, which have a higher price point, and eateries that appeal to a variety of diners, including families.

Rigatoni & Sweet Italian Sausage at Taverna Rustic Italian (Photo by Danielle Quigley)
Rigatoni & Sweet Italian Sausage at Taverna Rustic Italian (Photo by Danielle Quigley)

Since Taverna Rustic Italian opened in 2012, it’s consistently listed among local diners’ favorites. “My husband gets pretty bored with Italian, but he loves Taverna because it is so different and the food is often locally sourced,” Glanden says.

Owned by the Platinum Dining Group, which also owns Eclipse and Capers & Lemons, Taverna has coal-fired pizzas, as well as entrees such as spinach ricotta with agnolotti, shiitake mushrooms, truffle butter, and lemon. “Taverna has been incredibly successful,” says Carl Georigi, the hospitality group’s founder, who had his eye on a Main Street location for years before the Taverna space became available. “It’s been well received by the entire community. We’re very happy we went there.”

Pancake is a big fan. He eats there often—when he’s not eating at the Stone Balloon, which his company purchased in 2015.

The Stone Balloon has gone through a few incarnations—from a wine house whose license prohibited children to an ale house concept with a celebrity chef. The most recent version gets help from Robbie Jester’s contributions. Since his appearances on Guy’s Grocery Games and Beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network, Jester has seen business soar.

He began working at the restaurant when it was the 16 Mile Ale House—an interlude between the Stone Balloon Wine House and the Stone Balloon Ale House. Business had increased 200 to 300 percent, he says. “The Stone Balloon is a different animal on the street,” he says. ““It’s a higher-quality service experience.” He’s noticed that other restaurants have stepped up their game.

Still, owners keep the college town in mind. There are a variety of price points on the menu for those who want the full dining experience or those who want a bite at the bar.

Grain Craft Bar+Kitchen, which opened in 2015, also bridges the gap between the university population and the surrounding community. Lee Mikles and partner Jim O’Donoghue are both UD grads. “We were very familiar with Main Street,” Mikles says. “The vibrancy of being on a college campus, even though we aren’t a ‘college bar,’ was very appealing. Lots of people live and work around town, and we wanted to create something to appeal to them.”

By most accounts, they’ve succeeded. “It has good food, but it’s also a bar, and it’s appropriate for families,” says Stauffer of the restaurant association, who wants to see more restaurants in the area like Grain.

A Twist on the Traditional

Longtime concepts have not gone away, but they have been reinvented. Take, for instance, Snap Custom Pizza, which lets customers choose their ingredients.

Matthew Hans, the owner of Wood Fired Pizza, also bucked the pizza parlor norm. In January 2014, he moved his wood-fired pizza concept from food truck into a restaurant. But he kept the menu focused on artisan pizzas. It also includes salads, craft beers, cocktails and a few desserts.

Wood Fired Pizza is near the intersection of East Cleveland Avenue and Paper Mill Road, a location he selected for economic reasons. But it’s turned out to be an advantage. Residents in the surrounding apartment buildings walk to the restaurant in good weather. There’s a 14-car parking lot, which may not seem like much until you realize there are only 35 seats in the restaurant.

Wood Fired Pizza opens at 4 p.m. during the week, and there’s a breakfast pizza brunch menu on weekends. The restaurant does not offer slices, and there is no delivery service. The approach is working. “We stay busy,” Hans says. “The quality of our pizza helps us stand out in a town that’s pretty saturated with pizza places.”

Buddy’s Burgers, Breasts and Fries, a local chain that recently opened a location on Main Street, turns the burger segment on its head by staying open until 3 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

What’s the drawback for these eateries? Parking concerns can scare some customers away, Jester says.
It’s definitely an ongoing conversation between officials and businesses, Georigi says. The city promotes its municipal lots, and many businesses validate parking. “We manage, and we work around it,” Georigi says. Still, Delawareans like to park in front of their destination.

Clearly, it’s not keeping new restaurants from opening their doors and diners from walking through them. “As far as Main Street and Collegeville USA goes, the dining scene is firing on all cylinders,” Georigi concludes.

The Calm Amid the Culinary Storm

Bob Ashby has carefully built a hospitality empire. Now—he says—he’s retired.

Name a culinary star who has made a difference on the local dining scene, and you will likely think of a chef. Unless, that is, you’re an industry insider. Those in the know will put Bob Ashby, a seasoned restaurateur, at the top of the list.

“Bob is a great operator,” says Xavier Teixido, founder of Harry’s Hospitality, which has three Wilmington restaurants. “He’s very engaged in initiatives that keep our industry healthy.” Ashby is a past president of the Delaware Restaurant Association and a recipient of the DRA’s Cornerstone Award. He’s also served on the board of the National Restaurant Association.

If you haven’t heard of Ashby then you’ve undoubtedly heard of his restaurants: Ashby Management owns three McGlynns Pub locations, the Deer Park Tavern and Cantwell’s Tavern. It’s a successful track record for the University of Delaware graduate, but as of Jan. 1, Ashby says, he’s retired.

Those who know him aren’t so sure. “For a man who eats, sleeps and breathes the business for as long as he has, I find it hard to imagine him not having a hand in it, in some regard,” says his son Brian, chef and owner of 8th & Union Kitchen in Wilmington’s Little Italy.

Cooking Up a Business

Bob Ashby didn’t set out to become a restaurateur when he was growing up in Caldwell, N.J., but he had a keen interest in business. However, it was his football skills that brought him to the University of Delaware. Unfortunately, his athletic career was short-lived. He broke his leg during his freshman year and blew out his knee as a sophomore.

By that time, he’d met wife-to-be Sandy. She first spotted him in 1974 at a football game. (He was not playing.) “I said: ‘Who is that guy? I’m going to marry him,’” she recalls. When she met him one evening at the Deer Park Tavern in downtown Newark, then a local watering hole with beer-stained floors, she thought he was conceited. She told him so and then fell off the barstool, giving the expression “falling in love” new meaning.

While studying business at UD, Ashby started working at the Stone Balloon, which was another local watering hole that was better known for live music than its beer. Ashby had already decided he wanted to open his own business, and the young owner of the Balloon at that time, Bill Stevenson, was an inspiration.

After graduating from UD, Ashby and Sandy got jobs at H.A. Winston & Co., a restaurant chain. Sandy was waiting tables until she began teaching school in the fall. Ashby had his eye on management.
The company trained its managers “from the kitchen out,” he says. “I learned how to cook, sauté—everything. The manager was the extra hand in the restaurant when needed; it’s your job to jump in and help.” Ashby Management follows the same approach in its restaurants.

While scouting for a new location for the chain, he visited the old Drummond Ale House in Newark, another haunt from the Ashbys’ college days. It was too small for H.A. Winston but just right for the Ashbys, who purchased it in 1983. McGlynns Pub & Restaurant was born.

Growing the Brand

He tested new waters in 1986 when he opened Ashby’s Oyster House, which is located off Main Street in Newark. At that time, seafood restaurants were few and far between. The price point and the menu items called for cocktails, but Newark only allowed beer and wine licenses. There were other issues. In the 1980s, Main Street was deserted when the students weren’t in town. The restaurant closed in 1990.

Ashby had more luck with his original concept, McGlynns, which he duplicated in 1999 in Peoples Plaza and in 2008 in Dover. All three are neighborhood restaurants. The Dover restaurant, however, was built from the ground up and has the look of an upscale Victorian public house, complete with woodwork from a pub-centric specialty shop in the United Kingdom.

In 2001, the Ashbys purchased the Deer Park Tavern. Using a vintage postcard as a guide, they elected to renovate it to its glory days. It was a bold move. A landmark since 1851, the three-story structure was the object of fond memories for generations of UD students—including the Ashbys. Many did not appreciate the newly gentrified façade, which includes a two-story porch with ornate spindles all capped by a corner cupola. But the majority embraced the change. Alumni now feel comfortable taking their children and grandchildren to the Deer Park for nachos or a burger.

In 2011, the Historic Houses of Odessa wanted to put a working restaurant in a circa-1822 tavern, once known as The Brick Hotel. When the first operator backed out, Ashby picked up the project and opened Cantwell’s Tavern in the space.

Though both the Deer Park and Cantwell’s are in historical sites, they couldn’t be more different. There was no retail traffic in the historic complex. “You couldn’t spend a dollar in Odessa before Cantwell’s opened,” Ashby says, jokingly. Fortunately, area residents embraced the restaurant, and Cantwell’s has become the locals’ choice for lunch, dinner and special occasions, including weddings.

The Hospitality Guru

By now, Ashby knows the secret to a restaurant’s survival. “You have to constantly be aware that your customer is the only reason you’re there. It’s like throwing a party at your house: Every time you open the doors, you have to have everything ready, and their experience has to be a good experience.” If customers aren’t happy, his managers are told to do whatever it takes to make the customer want to come back.

That approach, plus fresh ingredients, he says, will help the casual full-service segment compete against the fast-casual restaurant, such as Panera Bread, which appeals to those who want a kale Caesar salad with grilled chicken in five minutes or less.

Ashby is generous when it comes to sharing the lessons he’s learned. Merry Catanuto, a former chef at the Deer Park, turned to Ashby for advice when she and husband Bill Hoffman decided to open The House of William & Merry in Hockessin. (The couple met while working at McGlynns.)

“He was very honest about the restaurant business and its highs and lows,” she says. “He let us know that we could lose our investment. He was a great resource. He is one of the first people I go to, and he’s always helpful.”

She’s not the only one who seeks his counsel. “He’s one of those people I will call to say: ‘What do you think about this?’” says Teixido, the past president of the National Restaurant Association. Carrie Leishman, director of the Delaware Restaurant Association, would agree. “He was always my go-to guy,” she says. “He always has a way of cutting through the chaos to think clearly about all the decisions he makes, and I really respect him for that. He’s been an institution on our board.”

Brian Ashby says his father—an avid reader—always had a word of encouragement when his children needed it. “When I would ask him for advice because I was feeling overwhelmed, his reply was: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’”

Brian was 14 or 15 when he started working in the family business, scraping gum off the bars and scrubbing tobacco stains off the wall. He cooked, washed dishes, bussed tables, served and bartended. But Ashby never told his children they had to work at the restaurants. “We were very lucky to have such supportive parents,” Brian says. “They just wanted us to be successful at whatever it was we chose to pursue.”

The well-traveled Brian, who wanted to explore the cuisines he experienced while abroad, opened 8th & Union Kitchen in 2015. In addition to their other son, Marc, the Ashbys’ daughter Lauren works for Ashby Management, overseeing the company’s charitable giving.

It will be interesting to see how Bob Ashby handles retirement. Says Brian: “I know he plans to take full advantage of spending time with my mother and being on the water—two of his greatest joys.”

But decades of habits are hard to break, and the hospitality business is a lifestyle, not just a job, Teixido says. It’s challenging to detach from the industry. As of February, Ashby was still going into the office a few days a week, and he serves on various boards. “I’m still trying to figure it out,” he says about retirement. No doubt, he will do just that.

Serving Up Sustainability

Bison, Boraxo and biodegradable coasters: Are green restaurants the wave of the future? Some local eateries are giving it a try.

On a blustery fall morning, members of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce gathered at Ted’s Montana Grill in the Christiana Fashion Center for the restaurant’s grand opening ceremonies. It was only 10 a.m., but that didn’t stop servers from passing copper mugs filled with “Hendrick’s Mules” and diminutive burgers speared with tiny American flags. The crowd gathered to watch Ted’s CEO, George McKerrow Jr., and chamber President Mark Kleinschmidt cut into a steak so large that it easily dwarfed a cheesecake.

Just another restaurant opening near the mall? Not quite. The ceremonial steak and sliders are bison, which is the star attraction at Ted’s Montana Grill. Sodas, which come with wax-coated paper straws, are placed on 100-percent biodegradable coasters. Want yours to go? Takeout cups are made with cornstarch. In the bathroom, soap dispensers contain biodegradable Boraxo.

McKerrow and his partner, the media mogul Ted Turner, are dedicated to sustainability in the restaurant industry. “We started the conversation,” says McKerrow. In 2008, they spearheaded “The Green Restaurant Revolution” tour.

But they’re not the only ones making an effort. Several Delaware-based establishments are also stepping up to the plate. It’s not easy. Most restaurants lack the resources of Ted’s Montana Grill, which is fueled by Turner’s convictions, McKerrow’s 40-plus years of industry experience—he also founded LongHorn Steakhouse—and some serious buying power; Ted’s is now in 16 states.

But even Ted’s bows to some consumer preferences, practical considerations, and an industry that has yet to catch up.

Blackened blue catfish from NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View, one of nine restaurants owned by Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts. All nine feature the fish, which is threatening the ecosystem in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Pam George
Blackened blue catfish from NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View, one of nine restaurants owned by Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts. All nine feature the fish, which is threatening the ecosystem in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Pam George

On the Plate

Turner—who is an avid outdoorsman—and McKerrow decided to feature bison to help increase the threatened animal’s herds. The population, which numbered up to 30 million at one time, dwindled due to habitat loss and overhunting in the 19th century.

As more consumers become aware of the health benefits of bison (it’s higher in nutrients and lower in calories than most meat), they will increase the demand—or so the theory goes. Ranchers, as a result, will grow their herds, which can be good for the environment. Able to withstand harsh weather conditions, bison are natural foragers that thrive on grass outdoors; there’s no need for feed and artificial shelter. They calve without human interference, and their natural heartiness requires fewer vet visits than cattle.

Their grass diet results in meat that is slightly sweeter than regular beef and much leaner. The taste and the health benefits have whetted the public’s appetite, which is evident by the number of bison burgers in many local restaurants, including Buckley’s Tavern in Centreville. Of course, both Buckley’s and Ted’s also offer standard beef burgers and steaks.

Supporting the growth of an endangered species is one way that restaurants can be sustainable. Another is to create dishes with creatures that are causing an imbalance. Take, for instance, the wild blue catfish, which was introduced into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in the 1970s for anglers. The fish, however, has few predators other than man, and it exhibited a voracious appetite for just about anything on the bay’s bottom.

“It’s a pesky fish, but it is delicious,” says William Hoffman, who with his wife, Merry Catanuto, owns The House of William & Merry in Hockessin. “We try to serve it as much as we can to try and help balance the ecosystem in the bay.”

Farm-raised fish have been getting a bad rap for the fish’s unhealthy habitat. Disease not only can affect the farm-raised fish but it can also drift into the wild fish population.

But not all aquaculture practices are detrimental to the ocean. Brian Ashby, the owner of 8th & Union Kitchen in Wilmington’s Little Italy, features Verlasso salmon, which is raised on Patagonian farms that follow sustainability standards established by the World Wildlife Fund. He also sells specials with cobia that’s raised in open-water farms.

These new methods encourage containment in the deep ocean, where the currents can flush the pens. The containment mimics a natural habitat as much as possible, right down to including species such as mussels, which consume waste.

Hoffman offers alternatives to overfished species like swordfish, tuna and salmon. “There are so many species out there that aren’t overfished, but that people don’t know about,” Hoffman says.

In the House of William & Merry, diners expect to find new ingredients prepared in innovative ways.

Buckley’s Tavern, known for its comfort food, recently offered parrotfish, which are threatening coral reefs. But at the Big Fish Grill restaurants, customers stick to the familiar, says Eric Sugrue, the managing partner. “It’s challenging because obviously, we want to do the right thing, but we also want to put items on the menu that people like and can afford to eat,” he says.

The price point is also a factor for the restaurant’s cost, Sugrue adds. Joe Van Horn, owner of Chelsea Tavern, might agree. “We use reputable vendors, and purchase the most sustainable [ingredients that] we can, while continuing to offer the price point that we do,” he says.

What’s more, many restaurants won’t take a risk on an item not selling because diners refuse to try it. Sugrue says there’s been no noticeable uptick in customer concern for sustainable fish or new species, even in the market adjacent to the original Big Fish location in Rehoboth Beach.

Recycle & Reuse

Sourcing sustainable food is not the only way that restaurants can benefit the environment. The reclaimed wood that makes 8th & Union Kitchen’s décor so distinctive likely came from a tobacco factory, says Ashby, who noticed the aroma when the workers were cutting the wood.

Van Horn says that his restaurants recycle paper, cardboard, plastic. glass, metal and fryer grease.

(Using services that manage and recycle kitchen oil has become a common practice.)

Along with reclaimed wood for the dining rooms, using services that manage and recycle kitchen oil has become a common practice.

Brian Ashby, owner of 8th & Union Kitchen, says the restaurant's reclaimed wood decor likely came from a tobacco factory. Photo David Norbut
Brian Ashby, owner of 8th & Union Kitchen, says the restaurant’s reclaimed wood decor likely came from a tobacco factory. (Photo by David Norbut)

Reducing food waste is also a practical priority. Home Grown Café in Newark orders small quantities to make sure that everything is used, says owner Sasha Aber, who also buys as much of her seasonal food as possible from local vendors.

Restaurants like Home Grown and 8th & Union Kitchen that make items from scratch can be resourceful. “There is very little that goes to waste in this kitchen,” Ashby says. “Nearly every vegetable scrap is used in our mushroom pho. Meat scraps are almost always incorporated into other dishes. There is always a veg scrap bin in the walk-in.”

Some Delaware restaurants once participated in a composting program with the Wilmington Organic Recycling Center. But that business was ordered to cease operations in 2014 due to neighbors’ complaints about the smell.

At Harry’s Savoy Grill, the leftover prime rib is donated to Emmanuel Dining Room and other charities. Oyster shells are sprinkled in garden beds. From plastic to glass bottles, everything that can be recycled is recycled at The House of William & Merry.

Ted's Montana Grill at the Christiana Fashion Center. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)
Ted’s Montana Grill at the Christiana Fashion Center. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

Materials Matter

With their plastic straws, coffee stirrers and takeout containers, restaurants can generate a lot of waste that collects in landfills—and stays there. When McKerrow and Turner decided to open Ted’s Montana Gill, they wanted to do something about that problem. In 2001, McKerrow researched paper straws online and found a company in New Jersey that invented the product in 1833. He called and talked to the third-generation owner.

“He said: ‘George, we haven’t made a paper straw since 1970,’” McKerrow recalls. It was possible, however, that the machine was still around. The owner called back to say the engineers had indeed found the machine and could make it work. With packaging in hand, the straws arrived at the first Ted’s in Columbus, Ohio, in trash bags. Unfortunately, they quickly turned to limp noodles in the soda.
The motivated company found a biodegradable polymer to make the straw and stirrer last an hour.

Today, the company also sells the products to cruise lines under the name Aardvark Straws. Being responsible does not come cheap. Regular straws cost less than a penny when purchased in bulk. A package of 24 paper straws is $4.99 online.

Ted’s originally used all biodegradable takeout containers. Without clear plastic lids, though, servers mixed up the orders. Plus, some foods quickly soak through cardboard. The restaurant conceded that aluminum with a clear lid was better for some items.

As for building materials, low-flow toilets, no-water urinals, and high-pressure/low-volume water sprayers deliver a return on investment and help promote sustainability. These are additions that customers, who can press restaurants to do more, cannot see. But for those committed to sustainability, there is too much that they do notice.

Yasmine Bowman, for one, is watching. The realtor and Wilmington resident says she is dedicated to being a responsible consumer. On her Facebook page, she writes, “‘Sustainability’ will be my personal word and cause for 2017.”

“I tend to stay away from restaurants that do not recycle. I prefer to frequent establishments that are in line with my value systems. I also do not go to fast food restaurants that put hot food in plastic containers. The health dangers of BPA leaching into the food are a huge health threat. I would also like to see more restaurants offer organic, cruelty-free and gluten-free options. This is the future. Those who find a way to accommodate this sooner will thrive; those who don’t will slowly fail.”

Grape Destinations

Want to learn more about wine? These four tips can help you find the right source.

Americans’ love affair with wine is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1960s and ‘70s, many restaurants primarily sold sweet or semi-sweet wines such as Lancers and Blue Nun, Mateus. Young adults reached for Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. No wonder that in 1970 Americans’ annual consumption was only 1.31 gallons per person.

Compare that to 2015, when wine consumption per U.S. resident averaged 2.83 gallons a year. Total consumption jumped 242 percent from 1970 to 2015, boosting the U.S. to the top of the worldwide list, in front of even France and Italy.

Sampling and exploring different wines is now as common as sipping regional microbrews or ordering a plate of exotic cheeses. There are wine tastings, wine festivals and wine dinners.

Still, the world of wine is overwhelming, and, for many, it remains intimidating. It helps to find a store that specializes in wine. But not all are created equal. You may need to look beyond the corner liquor store. Here are four tips to help you find the right fit.

1. Visit several stores

You can tell a lot simply by stepping inside a store. “We all have different personalities, without question,” says Linda Collier, who opened Collier’s in 1981 on Union Street. It’s now located in Centreville.

For some, the design matters. Collier’s of Centreville is in an old building next to Buckley’s Tavern, which gives it a village vibe. Veritas Wine & Craft Beer on the Wilmington Riverfront has a sleek bar in the shop.

David and Joanne Govatos, the owners of Swigg in Independence Mall, took their cue from hip retail stores. “We have always liked the aesthetic of Terrain [in Glen Mills] and sort of that Restoration Hardware look,” David Govatos says. “Many customers tell us they love the feel of the store.”

Feel a chill in the air? That’s a good thing. FranksWine in Wilmington, Swigg and Moore Brothers Wine Company in Trolley Square keep the thermostat at 60 degrees or lower, the recommended “cellar” temperature for wine. “Even a few weeks at more than 70 degrees degrades the condition of the wine and your enjoyment of it,” Govatos explains. Light also can damage wine, which shouldn’t sit in full sun.

If you visit on a hot day and the store is warm, the shop is not taking care of the wine, says Frank Pagliaro, the owner of FranksWine.

2. View the selection.

A store’s size is not as important as the selection and service. Boutique wine stores tend to have a niche. Swigg primarily focuses on family estate-grown wine, while Moore Brothers specializes in small artisan producers. Collier looks for wines you won’t find in big box liquor stores. Like many hands-on owners, she tastes every wine before it hits the shelf.

Emphasizing small vineyards or family estates doesn’t mean the wine is expensive. Swigg has a wall of wines that are all under $15. The secret is to know a good value, Collier says. If you spend $10 on a bottle of wine that’s undrinkable, it’s not a good value.

Not all stores arrange wine in the same fashion, and you might appreciate one system over another. At Collier’s, for instance, the wine is organized by varietal, because even a diehard Chardonnay drinker might not realize that it’s originally from France’s Burgundy region. As a result, white Burgundies are with the Chardonnays.

State Line Liquors in Elkton organizes wine by the region in the imported section. Domestic wine is arranged by varietal and then by area, such as Oregon or California. FranksWine in Wilmington sorts the wine by country and then by varietal.

Heading to the beach? Teller Wines in Lewes separates wine by flavor profiles, such as “Fresh and Clean” and then by price, moving from the least expensive, usually $7.99, to the highest priced.

Teller Wines’ owners write all the tasting notes, which appear on cards by the selections. Some stores use notes provided by the vineyard or distributor. Admittedly, creating tasting notes is challenging for larger stores. FranksWine does a mix of both and has a wall of wine that the staff selects.

3. Look for learning opportunities.

Exploring the world of wine should take you out of your comfort zone. “If you have a glass of Chardonnay every night, you’re not really a wine drinker,” Collier says. “You’re just using your Chardonnay as a cocktail for the evening. But if you start thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a beautiful night. I want to sit out on the back porch and have sushi with this particular wine’—then you become a wine drinker. You’re matching wine to your mood, your food, and your friends. It’s a different bottle, not the same old thing.”

Tastings are a great way to discover the nuances. Most wine and liquor stores offer them on a regular basis. Indeed, FranksWine offers them every day, with more promoted tastings on weekends.

There might be a theme, such as “varietals you’ve never heard of,” says John Murray, owner of State Line. He’s also conducted tastings just on wines from Willamette Valley in Oregon or featured one vineyard. State Line has enough room in one area to seat up to 60, and restaurants have often provided food—including whole pigs and oysters—for special food pairing events.

FranksWine regularly pairs tastings with a selection of cheeses and charcuterie from Di Bruno Bros., which it sells on site. (Many boutique stores augment wine with complementary products, such as cheese and chocolates.) Premier Wine & Spirits on Limestone Road has held a series of tastings, prepared by local chefs, in the store.

Some stores go beyond tastings. Collier’s is famous for its wine classes, which started when Collier first opened her shop. On Jan. 19, for instance, the store will focus on Meritage wines.

4. Build a relationship.

Wine education isn’t limited to events in a fine wine shop. “There should be an employee who can answer your basic questions and your more technical questions,” Murray says. At Swigg, many employees have taken sommelier classes. “We keep a full library in the store, and we are constantly tasting and discussing wine,” Govatos says.

Customer service is a priority. “Frankly, it’s the difference-maker in retaining customers,” says Ryan Kennedy, director of marketing for Harvey, Hanna & Associates, which owns Premier Wine & Spirits. “Customers have dozens of options within a few miles of their home or office; we have to make sure we give them a great experience.”

Premier has two locations, but the 3,900-square-foot store in the Limestone Shopping Center caters more to the serious wine lover. Tell the sales associate what you like to drink and what you don’t like, says Tim Pettit, the general manager. “We’re really just trying to find out what they’re looking for and help them.”

Don’t let the employee lead you in a direction that you don’t want to go, Murray says. He notes that some stores put the staff on commission. State Line does not.

Says Collier: “It should be fun. It should be relaxing. No matter how little or how much you know, you should be able to come in and enjoy the experience.”

Domaine Hudson Part Deux

The second owners of the Wilmington restaurant have focused on food and cocktails as well as wine

Domaine Hudson isn’t the type of place you’d associate with the TV show Cheers. The Wilmington restaurant, which opened in 2005 near Midtown Brandywine, has been recognized for its wine selection and fine dining. But on a recent Saturday night, two diners turned to their right to see a couple they knew through mutual friends. They then spotted a friend on her way out the door. After finishing their duck and rigatoni with kale pesto, they joined four friends who on a whim stopped by for a nosh after a gala.

The place where everybody just might know your name has gone through a transition. In 2011, Mike and Beth Ross purchased the fine-dining restaurant from founders Tom and Meg Hudson. Both veterinarians, the Rosses had no previous experience in the hospitality industry. At that time, the fine-dining sector was struggling in the wake of the financial crisis.

While navigating a few bumps in the road, the Rosses have brought a fresh take to the original concept. Just ask longtime customer Barry Roseman. “I knew both Meg and Tom. They had a nice concept and good execution,” he says. “Mike and Beth picked it up and ran with it. Now, Domaine Hudson features some of the best and most innovative food in the state. The special event wine-matched dinners and wine-tasting events have been a great success.”

Always a top favorite for wine on OpenTable, Domaine Hudson in October was ranked the most popular restaurant overall of the 800 Philadelphia-area establishments on the online reservation site.

A Novel Approach

Domaine Hudson is the brainchild of Tom Hudson, an accountant who traveled for business. A wine lover, he noticed the number of wine bars in metropolitan areas. Meanwhile, Delaware had none. The enterprising Hudsons took the plunge in a vacant restaurant near Wilmington Hospital. They decorated it in the same style as their home, an elegant manse on Baynard Boulevard. “My interpretation … was that it had a Ralph Lauren-club kind of feel,” Beth Ross says. “It was very masculine.”

The restaurant was well received from the start, although many dubbed it a “special occasion place.” Jason Barrowcliff made a name for himself as the chef before moving on. The wine list was extensive. You could order pours in three sizes, as well as bottles.

Then came the housing crisis and the recession. Total gross sales dropped from $1.1 million a year to $750,000. “It was hard to break even,” Tom Hudson says. The Hudsons had also decided to get a divorce, which became final in January 2011. That’s when they put the restaurant on the market.

Enter Mike and Beth Ross, who’d wed in 2006. The two vets shared a love of horses, food, and wine.

Beth grew up in Lithuanian/German families that put a priority on huge family meals with traditional dishes. “My appreciation for food and how it brings people together originated with these experiences,” Beth Ross says.

Interested in exploring a business outside of the veterinary world, the Rosses told their favorite servers, including Javier Matamoros, then at Marco’s in Greenville, about their hopes to own a restaurant. He promised to keep an ear out. (He’s now a server at Domaine Hudson.)

For Beth’s birthday in May 2011, the couple went to Domaine Hudson for the first time. “I had read the reviews, and it sounded like a place right up our alley—good food and a great wine list,” she says.

They sat at the bar, ordered a flight of rosé and a cheese plate, and started chatting with Hudson. “We were impressed with the place,” she recalls. “Mike told him of our aspirations of owning a restaurant.” Hudson knew a few that were for sale. “Little did we know he was thinking of his own,” Mike Ross says.

New Beginnings

While Ross was in Italy, where he often traveled to treat horses, Hudson called. Domaine Hudson was available. On Aug. 16, just three months after dining at Domaine for the first time, they purchased the restaurant. Hudson stayed on as a consultant for four months. “It was a very, very good transition,” he says.

The Rosses agree. Beth Ross recalls the day Hudson told her husband: “My motivation is to do whatever I can to make you successful.” They appreciated Hudson’s accounting skills. He’d kept detailed records that helped the novices better understand the business.

The economy, however, remained challenging. “We realized it was an uphill battle,” Mike Ross says. “Fine dining was in decline.”

The new owners moved the focus from the wine to the food. It wasn’t easy. “There was a lot of change in the kitchen for a while,” Ross acknowledged. J.D. Morton, who’d been named a Rising Star by the James Beard Foundation, left in 2012.

In 2013, they hired Dwain Kalup, who was previously with Blackbird in Chicago, which is co-owned by Executive Chef Paul Kahan, a 2013 James Beard award recipient. Kalup had worked for restaurants under the Wilmington-based Harry’s Hospitality umbrella, including Harry’s Savoy Grill.

It didn’t take long before he began attracting new guests. Frequent diner Roseman, for one, appreciates Kalup’s use of unusual ingredients. Take sweet corn agnolotti with saffron cream, tempura corn, anise hyssop, and Urfa Biber pepper. The well-traveled Roseman says Kalup’s cabrito (roast goat) is hands down the best that he has tasted.

While selections change throughout the year, whole fish has been on the menu since the Rosses purchased Domaine Hudson. Mike Ross fell in love with it in 1991 while visiting Milan.

In addition to promoting the food, the Rosses added a cocktail menu and ramped up the beer list. The restaurant’s efforts to create a successful bar menu failed until Kalup joined the team. The items, which start at $5, change daily but often include cheese plates and oysters. “People can now stop by for a drink and a bite after work and relax,” Beth Ross says. The combination of cocktails and noshes has boosted the bar business, she adds.

Wine is still a star. The inventory has increased 50 percent. Not surprisingly, given how often Mike Ross travels to Italy for work, there are more Italian options, both affordable and high end. Ross has visited the vineyards and met the winemakers. He’s also a fan of California Cabernets, and he increased the selection on the list.

For the Hudsons, watching the Rosses’ success has been gratifying. “Selling Domaine Hudson was very bittersweet,” says Meg Hudson, who now owns Lula Brazil in Rehoboth Beach. “Yet we knew that the Rosses had the ability and resources to maintain the level of hospitality that we became known for. It is very satisfying to know that not only have they done that, but they have also excelled at it. They’ve established Domaine Hudson as one of the finest dining experiences in the region.”

Holiday Hosting Made Easy

Whether you want turkey stock or six turkey dinners, area establishments are ready to help

There was a time when many hosts cowered in the shadow of Martha Stewart. Faithful followers stenciled tablecloths and napkins for the Thanksgiving meal. They made the gravy from scratch and carefully tucked decorative herbs under the turkey skin for a wow factor.

No more. Today’s time-starved hosts have learned the shortcuts to a stress-free holiday meal or party: buy a dish or even an entire meal from a shop or restaurant.

“There’s definitely no shame in it,” says Lisa Scolaro, executive chef at Moveable Feast, a gourmet takeout shop and café in Wilmington. “Our clientele depends on us, for sure. They were asking for the Thanksgiving menu in October.”

Moveable Feast, whose slogan is “cutting-edge comfort food,” is just one of the local businesses that can ease your entertaining workload over the holidays.

The Whole Enchilada

Many shops offer the entire Thanksgiving meal, which is a boon for you if your kitchen is small or you have a black thumb when it comes to cooking.

Moveable Feast’s complete dinner includes all the favorite sides for eight to 10 people. Janssen’s Market in Greenville sells a complete turkey dinner for between two to 12 people. (If you have small children, you can likely make do with dinner for two.) The menu includes a choice of stuffing, potatoes or rice, vegetable, relish, and pie. It also includes giblet gravy, turkey stock, dinner rolls, and even cut flowers for the table.

You can also find prepared turkey dinners in some unexpected places. Toscana To Go might have an Italian flair, thanks to big sister Piccolina Toscana. But come November and December, the cooks are roasting turkey and preparing America’s favorite trimmings.

Not surprisingly, Wegmans in Concordville is a contender. Just remember that the super store’s full turkey meal is packaged cold. Don’t pick it up 10 minutes before guests arrive.

Spending Thanksgiving solo but still want your turkey dinner? Call Montrachet Fine Foods, the catering arm of Centerville Café, which will happily prepare dinner for one.

On the Side

Admittedly, you might delight in the smell of a roasting turkey. Or perhaps you want to pull out the turkey fryer you received last Christmas. (Remember to make the time to heat the oil, and for heaven’s sake, use it outside.)

Popping the turkey in the oven or oil is one thing. Peeling and mashing potatoes, cubing bread, stirring lumpy gravy, and baking pies is another. “The most requested dishes we sell are the old standbys that take a lot of time to prep and cook: mashed potatoes, maple-whipped yams, stuffing and a lot of gravy—vats of gravy,” Paula Janssen says. “We preorder all the turkey necks we can get in the week before Thanksgiving to meet the demand.”

If you like to cook but don’t like the prep, there is also an option. For one client, the Centreville Café makes the turkey stock and chops celery and onion. The client makes the stuffing. “We save her the labor,” owner Susan Teiser explains.

If you decide to order prepared sides, Centerville Café will happily arrange the food on your platters or in your casserole. “Customers can take full credit for it,” she says. Without cartons and bags, your guests won’t be the wiser.

Have it Your Way

In these days of gluten-free, dairy-free, and Paleo eating, you’ll probably encounter guests with dietary preferences. The Centerville Café specializes in customizing a dish or ingredient to meet the client’s needs. “So much of our work now is gluten-free,” says Teiser, who’ll also make sugar-free items.

Janssen’s sells gluten-free stuffing and pies. Moveable Feast can provide both gluten-free and vegetarian options. Harvest Market Natural Foods in Hockessin is the go-to place for ingredients that will appease guests on most special diets.

For kosher foods, turn to ShopRite in Brandywine, which has a kosher kitchen on site and will deliver throughout New Castle County. ShopRite also sells specialty meats, such as halal foods, which are permissible under Islamic law.

Holiday Dazzle

Let’s say it’s Thanksgiving—the start of the holiday season hoopla—and it’s your turn to host. House a mess? Consider holding the party at an event venue, such as the Centreville Café, which can host up to 35 indoors. You could also book Domaine Hudson’s new private dining space, which seats 35, or the 20-seat private dining room.

If your home is presentable but your culinary skills are subpar, Montrachet caters in a client’s home. “We’ll do full-service—whatever anybody wants,” Teiser says.

More often than not, most hosts just want, well, help. Order and pick-up has become a popular option at Toscana To Go. “We have a casual catering menu that we’ve written just for home entertaining,” says owner Dan Butler.

Bachetti Bros. Catering will deliver or you can pick up. (Bachetti’s also offers full catering.) Opt for the catering menu if you have more than 20 guests. Otherwise, check out the market for dips, soups, and prepared salads. Moveable Feast has a lengthy list of options, including Middle East samplers and antipasti with grilled vegetables.

Restaurants also have seen opportunities in this market sector. Big Fish Grill on the Riverfront, for instance, has a lengthy menu of cold and hot appetizers, entrees, salads and desserts. Stop here if you need shrimp cocktail, a raw bar platter, or three pounds of Big Fish’s addictive smoked tuna dip.

Increasingly, supermarkets have stepped up to the holiday party plate. ShopRite locations in Delaware offer a variety of catering options, including sushi. Carnivores, conversely, will appreciate oven-roasted beef tenderloin, served medium-rare with Black Bear horseradish-cream sauce. Many dishes are prepped for cooking, such as prime rib that’s tied and seasoned. Just pop it in the oven.

But the most requested catered items during the holidays are appetizers and desserts, Teiser says.

“Appetizers are a little fancier and desserts are a little richer.” As usual, she keeps the cheese case stocked.

If you’re having a small party, stop by Bon Appetit Gourmet Food Shoppe in Talleyville, which sells apps such as lollipop lamb chops with basil-walnut pesto and skewered sesame chicken by the piece.

Buy or Lease

Party planning involves more than buying food. You also need the right tools of the trade. If you’re lacking good barware, head to Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond, where you can snag up to 12 glasses for well under $20 and often under $10. You can also get some great deals on cheap white plates, cutlery, and white napkins on Amazon.com.

For patterned linens, chafing dishes, tables and chairs, Teiser recommends Diamond State Party Rentals, which posts its pricing on the website.

Be Prepared

During the holidays, Teiser keeps her coffer full of popular items, such as lollipop lamb chops. But if you want quail egg or boneless duck breast, order at least a week in advance.

As for Thanksgiving, there are only so many turkeys to go around. Determine your store’s deadline, and fill out the order form. Check it twice. Otherwise, you and your family might be eating in a Chinese restaurant on the big day.