Market Street Joins the Craft Brew Revolution

Brainchild of two Wilmington natives, Stitch House combines microbrewery and pub

In 2016, the Brewers Association—a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers—reported that, on average, Delawareans drink 11.1 gallons of craft beer annually, good for sixth in the nation. Additionally, since 2007, the BA has tracked the number of breweries operating in each state, with Delaware’s total jumping from just seven to more than 20 in that span.

Obviously, Delaware’s beer drinkers not only support the craft industry, but with each passing year, they’re thirsty for more.

Enter Stitch House Brewery, which will give Wilmington’s Market Street its own microbrewery. Expected to open early this month, Stitch House is the product of local entrepreneurs Dan Sheridan and Rob Snowberger. The Delaware natives will join forces with Head Brewer Andrew Rutherford, who worked for more than a decade at Yards Brewery in Philadelphia.

Sheridan has been around the Delaware dining scene for quite a while, having worked at La Fia on Market Street, after which he opened Locale BBQ Post as well as the Wilmington Pickling Company. Snowberger, meanwhile, is a former Navy SEAL who also attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The two grew up together in Wilmington and were raised by fathers who worked for the city.

The full-scale restaurant will seat upwards of 170, including 40-plus in the bar area and a back room for private dining.

“We’d talked about opening a place together for years, but Rob was the first one to see this site at 829 Market through his connections with the Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG),” says Sheridan. “When I first took a look at the building, I knew there would be a lot of work to do. Fitting out four floors to fit apartments and a huge brewpub and brewery was an enormous undertaking.” (Stitch House encompasses the first floor and part of the basement for storage, while BPG outfitted the upper two floors for apartments to lease.) 

Seating for 170-plus

That work would include months of renovations and construction on a building erected in 1909 that had served, at various times, as a coal house, ice house, tailor shop, and even a linen shop. Sheridan and Snowberger, after discovering the building’s past lives, decided on Stitch House, as a tribute to its history. The result is a full-scale restaurant that will seat upwards of 170, including more than 40 in the bar area and a back room for private dining.

“The guys at BPG told me they wanted to open up a microbrewery on Market Street, to specifically cater to all that was going on downtown, especially the huge Residences at Mid-Town Park project right outside our back door,” says Sheridan. “Once I understood the scope of that project, I went with it.”

According to Buccini/Pollin, the Residences at Mid-Town Park will feature 200 luxury studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with a 511-space parking garage below and 12,000 square feet of ground floor retail along Shipley Street. The parking garage is expected to open this month, and the first phase of the apartments is expected to be ready in June, with the remainder finishing up over the summer.

Once Sheridan and Snowberger embarked on their new culinary journey, they quickly began scouring the area for an experienced brewer looking for a new challenge. Fortunately, they were able to woo Rutherford, a 10-year veteran at Yards.

“I was in a rut and needed a change, so I began entertaining the idea of making a move and maybe recapturing a little creative freedom in the brewery,” says Rutherford. “The guys came to me with their plan for Stitch House and we just jelled. This is a good fit and I’m really excited to see what we can accomplish on Market Street.”

Sheridan and Snowberger are ecstatic to have been able to bring on Rutherford, who put in many 18- and 20-hour days leading up to the restaurant’s opening. “The guy is a machine,” says Sheridan. “He’s super talented and we are beyond excited to have him on our team.”

Rutherford says that to start, Stitch House will fill nine of its 12 taps with house brews, including a lager, pilsner, stout, IPA and pale ale, among others. The remaining three taps will be filled with local brews, and they will only offer draft beer, rather than any outside bottles or cans.

Adds Sheridan: “Our hope is to have all the taps filled with our own beers by late in the spring, and then begin offering crowlers (large cans) to customers, so they can take our beer with them.”

Head Brewer Andrew Rutherford previously brewed for 10 years at Yards Brewing Co.

Adding a Smoker

As for the menu, Sheridan, a chef by trade, will focus on catering to the downtown lunch crowd; several sandwiches, burgers and paninis will be featured, as well as skillet dishes like dips, nachos, and even scallops and the increasingly popular sautéed Brussels sprouts. While they’re forgoing a pizza oven (found at many brewpubs), Sheridan says an on-site smoker will contribute heavily to the menu.

“I don’t necessarily want to do barbecue, because I leave that to Locale BBQ, but I do want to offer a lot of good smoked meats that will be seasoned and prepared to specifically pair with our beers,” he says. “The skillet dishes are designed for sharing and will fall into the comfort food category because we want to establish a laidback vibe here.”

The interior features murals and beer menu boards designed by Against the Grain Arts, of Wilmington, a logo designed by Snowberger’s sister, Molly, and design work by Stokes Architecture, of Philadelphia. Many of the high-top bar tables and booths were crafted by the Challenge Program, a Wilmington-based organization that offers at-risk teens the opportunity to learn life skills like carpentry and construction.

Many of the tables and booths were crafted by the Challenge Program.

Stitch House will be open seven days a week and possibly for brunch on the weekends. Sheridan says they will offer some sort of discounted parking validation at the Parking at Mid-Town garage, as well as some other Colonial Parking garages in the city. They are also looking into the possibility of offering valet service on weekends.


Ogden’s Odyssey

Wilmington’s ‘Famous’ tavern owner reflects on 35 years in the bar biz

According to a July 2017 report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.6 million American workers were holding down multiple jobs, up 2 percent from midway through 2016. The numbers vary between those with full-time gigs and one or two side jobs and those with two and three part-time jobs.

Paul Ogden can beat those numbers handily. At 57 years of age, the Wilmington native currently runs eight bars, part of an incredible total of 33 establishments he’s owned or operated (or both) over nearly three-and-a-half decades. Some of New Castle County’s most popular bars (and most “Famous” taverns) have been successful under Ogden’s guiding hand, and that includes the recently opened Rockford Tavern, which Ogden reclaimed from the short-lived Halligan Bar.

On a recent—and rare—night off, Ogden swigged a Miller Lite at his new establishment, which occupies a cozy spot on Lovering Avenue, and reflected on his affinity for bars. “I love being here like I love being at all my establishments over the years, because I get to see so many employees and customers that have really become my extended family. This is probably my favorite spot right now, but mostly because I live just up the street and usually make Rockford my home base.”

Rockford Tavern features a new bar design—the standard style, with 17 seats, as opposed to the awkward, multi-sided rendition of the past—as well as high-top tables made from reclaimed shuffleboard tables and better sightlines for the many TVs and new stage that can accommodate six-piece bands. For Ogden, it’s just another watering hole in his long line of establishments that stretches back to 1982.

That was the year the Wilmington native began his journey in the bar biz, shortly after dropping out of the University of Delaware. Ogden first ran the Logan House for the Kelly family, and then opened his first solo project—aptly named Logan’s Run—on Maryland Avenue. He even used to bus people to and from both establishments, as a way to boost revenue and popularity.

“From the moment I started running bars, I was in up to my ears,” Ogden says. “I did everything at the Logan House—managed, tended bar, cleaned toilets—and basically had the same role at Logan’s Run. But y’know, I loved every minute of it. It was just the right career path for me. When I look back at all the places I’ve run over the years, the good times everyone had just make me smile.”

A Policeman’s Son

The son of a former Wilmington police officer—and fourth of five brothers —Ogden stayed close to his roots in the city, opening classic haunts like Legends and Bottlecaps, as well as his beloved Stuffed Shirts (currently the Washington Street Ale House). The last of those three holds the fondest of memories for him.

“It’s hard to pick my favorite bar, but if I had to, I’d go with Stuffed Shirts,” says Ogden. “You just always got the sense in that place that everyone was friends, because it had such a great neighborhood vibe to it. Heck, I made some long-lasting friendships in that place, and have even attended weddings of some former employees.”

One example: John “Howdy” Hudson, who was working the bar during a packed Halloween Loop back in 1991. It was on that night, while serving hundreds of locals, that one young girl, Georgia Shafer, stood out. She walked in without a costume, and Hudson called her out playfully, which led to conversation. Today, the two have been happily married for 22 years.

“We poured more drinks in that place per square foot than any bar in Delaware —I’m certain of it,” says Hudson, who now lives in Siesta Key, Fla. “But she comes walking in with no costume on—she had just gotten back from Hawaii—and she’s absolutely stunning. I couldn’t help but strike up a quick chat with her—after I served her a free beer, I’m sure—and we met up the next night at Legends.”

Hudson says his story is not unique. “I guarantee you we’re not the only couple that fell in love under Paul’s watch,” he says. “Stuffed Shirts was a blast, and Paul had a knack for repeating that type of fun atmosphere at all of his places. I’ll bet a lot of guys and gals met at his spots, and then got married down the line.”

Marketer Par Excellence

The Rockford Tavern, on Lovering Avenue, has become home base for Ogden, who lives just up the street. Photo Joe del Tufo

Ogden sees himself as more of a marketer than a bar owner or operator, and in 2008, he had one of his better marketing ideas when he opened the first of his many “Famous” taverns—Famous Jack’s—on Naamans Road. Ogden’s hook to get folks in the door was spawned by the economic downturn and rising gas prices.

“We actually started the $3 everything when I owned Bar 317 on 4th Street in Wilmington, and the tagline—‘Our pints are cheaper than gas’—worked pretty well,” says Ogden. “Once we started up the Famous franchise, we used it at every place and packed ‘em in. We’ve moved away from it a bit—now most beer is still $3, but wine, liquor and the good craft beers are $4. No matter what, they’re still some of the cheapest prices around.”

The same prices apply at Rockford Tavern, despite it not being one of Ogden’s seven “Famous” taverns: Joe’s, Pat’s, Tom’s, Bob’s, John’s, Tim’s and Buck’s. Drew Rivas tends bar at Rockford a few nights a week and is also responsible for the architectural updates. Rivas, who’s been working for Ogden almost as long as Ogden has been in business, says his boss’s easygoing personality and willingness to listen are keys to his success.

“You always know where you stand with Paul; he’s a real straight shooter and has some really simple rules to follow,” says Rivas. “He jokes that he’s been married to me longer than his own wife, and I guess it’s kinda true. But aside from being an honest businessman, he’s always willing to listen to the opinions of others, whether it’s employees or customers.”

Ogden’s wife, Lisa, and son Jack, 14, aren’t interested in participating in his business endeavors, and that’s fine with all three. As Ogden puts it, “My wife is the smart one, and my son has already made it clear where he stands on taking over, saying, ‘Dad, I’m not built for this.’ He’ll probably wind up being an attorney, like his mom.”

Ogden deflects credit for his long and still flourishing career. “I’ve said it time and again, but I’m really only successful because of my patrons and my employees,” he says. “They have always pointed me in the right direction and kept me on track.”

Whether that track includes more taverns is yet to be determined, but either way, Paul Ogden has certainly made himself into one of Delaware’s most famous bar owners.

Uber & Lyft: Good for the Bar Business

But does responsible drinking take a back seat?

The digital age of rapidly advancing technology is ubiquitous. Each day, new apps offer us ways to connect and make life easier, whether it’s sharing videos and photos, managing our bank accounts, or checking in and meeting up with friends.

The Uber and Lyft apps have revolutionized the ride-hailing landscape, which once consisted of either scheduling a car service well in advance or calling and waiting on a cab for who knows how long. While they both can be used to hop a ride anywhere, the prevailing destinations are bars and restaurants.

Naturally, the hospitality industry welcomes any assistance when it comes to getting patrons to belly up at their establishments. But sometimes those same apps can encourage folks to stay out past the point of intoxication, knowing they have no responsibility to drive. We asked some local bartenders about the positives and negatives of the digital designated driver.

John Kelly, a Wilmington resident who works at Tonic Bar & Grille on 11th Street, has seen his share of guests who range from the mildly buzzed to the utterly sauced. He believes Uber and Lyft have had a positive effect on business, especially in crowded areas where parking can be an issue.

“For the bars and restaurants, ride-hailing is great. It encourages people to stay out a little longer, and sometimes even gets people out in the first place, if they’re going where parking is an issue,” says Kelly. “We have a garage right around the corner, but the convenience factor is big for Uber users, because they can come and go as they please, sometimes for as much as it costs to park.”

Greg Safian, a bar manager at Trolley Tap House, says ride-hailing services keep the crowds out later, especially in his neighborhood, where parking can be almost non-existent on weekend nights. On average, Safian says, about 25 percent of his patrons use Uber on busier nights.

“The taxi thing is pretty much dead, especially in Wilmington, and I don’t know if you’ll find a bartender who doesn’t appreciate how Uber has had an effect on things,” says Safian. “I can recall, in the past, you might see crowds die down a bit after midnight. Not now. Having the option of what is basically a designated driver—to order—keeps people out, which is a good thing.”

Kelly says nearly 50 percent of his patrons use Uber, either to get to Tonic, get home, or both. And even on the occasion where someone has more than their fair share to drink, Uber makes it easy on the bartender to get the inebriated folks home safely.

“Before ride-hailing became popular, calling a cab for someone could take hours, and even trying to get the address out of a drunk person was a challenge,” says Kelly. “Now you can just ask to use their phone to call them an Uber, hit the ‘HOME’ button, and the car arrives within minutes. It’s not like taking someone’s keys anymore. Most people are happy to get home safely for just a few bucks.” 

Irresponsible Drinking?

While ride-hailing apps keep the inebriated and intoxicated off the roads, the notion of responsible drinking can sometimes take a back seat. After all, when a designated driver can be arranged at the tap of a button, what’s to stop bar hoppers from binge drinking?

Jen Stike, a former bartender at the Greene Turtle in Rehoboth Beach, is all too familiar with the issue. She’s seen hordes of already drunk bar-goers take advantage of ride-hailing at the beach, even though she knows part of the responsibility is still hers.

“I’m sure you’ve seen groups of people come into a bar at the beach in the middle of summer, out of control, yelling, ‘We’re not driving!’ or ‘We took an Uber!’ without realizing I still have a responsibility,” says Stike. “I still go by the old dram laws and consider it my job not to over-serve.”

According to the current State of Delaware Trained Alcoholic Beverage Server Program, Delaware no longer observes Dram Shop laws, which hold a business selling alcoholic drinks liable in the event that someone becomes intoxicated at the establishment and injures themselves or others. However, it is stated that overserving may result in fines and a civil penalty. Either way, Stike isn’t taking chances.

“I think that because people take Uber they think I won’t try and manage their drinking, or serve them responsibly, or cut them off if the situation warrants,” she says. “So, it’s added a little bit of a challenge. Trying to explain to somebody Ubering home that you can’t serve them anymore can be as tough as taking their keys away and calling a cab. I feel like sometimes Uber is used as an excuse, or a crutch.”

Much of Lyft’s and Uber’s business comes from bar patrons who are either heading out or going home. Photo courtesy of Lyft Inc.

Kelly says he’s seen multiple guests do just that—including one regular on multiple occasions—to the point where he must either cut off the person or ask for his or her phone to call Uber to pick them up. It’s an awkward situation, and one he tries to avoid, although sometimes he can’t.

“Bartenders are responsible for not over-serving, let’s make that clear right away,” says Kelly. “But if someone comes in off the street and has already been drinking, it can be hard to tell how far along they are. Sure, [ride-hailing] probably encourages more drinking, but the fact it offers a safe way home is key. It makes our jobs easier, that’s for sure.”

Uber’s Commitment to Safety

Regardless of where you fall on the ride-hailing argument, Uber officials stand by their commitment to provide a safe means of getting home, whether you’ve had one beer or 10. According to Craig Ewer, a Mid-Atlantic spokesperson for Uber, the company even set up a breathalyzer kiosk in Rehoboth last summer.

“Uber is changing the way people think about drinking and driving in Delaware,” says Ewer “By providing a reliable ride at the push of a button—no matter the time or place—we’re empowering people to make better, safer choices.”

Such is Uber’s commitment that, in 2014, it partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to further fight drunk driving and the accidents and fatalities it causes. Malcolm Friend, Pennsylvania state program manager with MADD, calls the partnership “a match made in heaven.” He adds, however, that his organization has no position on any individual’s alcohol consumption.

“If alcohol is sold legally to patrons over 21, and not those who are already drunk, then it is the business of the individual after that point,” says Friend. “Our goal is to see that people get home safely, and in that regard, Uber has been a wonderful partner. We’ve seen some numbers to specifically support that.”

According to a study furnished by MADD?though conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group, an independent, New-York based strategic research consultancy—the number of arrests for driving under the influence fell 10 percent between 2013 and 2014 in Seattle. Similar results were found in Chicago, Austin, Texas and Pittsburgh.

The numbers are encouraging, though no such studies have been conducted in Delaware. On a national level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that the number deaths of resulting from alcohol-impaired-driving crashes—not arrests—actually increased slightly between 2015 and 2016, from a total of 10,265 to 10,497.

Safian believes that, in the long run, ride-hailing services are a positive. “My question is, would you rather pay the $5 or $10 for an Uber and worry about getting your car the next day, or pay a ton in fines if you get a DUI, or worse? To me, the answer is pretty clear.”

Uber and Lyft are both available to riders in all three counties in Delaware, including the towns and cities of Wilmington, Newark, Dover, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach. The mobile app is available for free download on iPhone and Android OS, as well as Samsung Bada and Windows Mobile.

Fall Beers and Winter Warmers

Here’s a sampling of what Delaware’s best brewers have to offer for the coming colder months

Target recently released a $5 line of wines, fermented malt beverages like hard ciders and sodas continue to sell, and the Paloma—a refreshing Mexican mix of tequila and grapefruit soda—has been randomly popping up on restaurant cocktail lists.

But while those are three distinct trends that speak to a specific type of drinker, craft beer geeks will be happy to know that their suds are safe. As the calendar turns to autumn and, way too soon, winter, those big, malty fall beers and winter warmers are on their way. Here’s a sampling of what some of Delaware’s best breweries have to offer, from north to south:

More than 20 years after it burst onto the local scene, Stewart’s Brewing Co. in Bear continues to churn out a bevy of both flagship and seasonal beers. On tap this fall is the Gourdzilla, a high-octane pumpkin ale that features several yeast strains. According to owner Al Stewart, this isn’t your average pumpkin beer, weighing in at a lusty 8 percent ABV.

Meanwhile, India Pale Ales still rule no matter the time of year, with the Spaced Invader IPA taking up tap space in November. The session IPA (just 5 percent) was originally brewed and named for the ‘80s fans at 1984 in Wilmington. Stewart says they’re currently (mid-October) a bit low on tank space, but if they can brew a double batch again this year, they’ll be sending another 10 kegs to the Fourth Street bar that features classic arcade games and pinball machines.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant’s most award-winning beer just received its 13th medal in October—this time Silver—at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado. Courtesy of the Newark location, the vaunted Russian Imperial Stout is a robust 9.8 percent that ages well into the winter months. Four-packs will be available by can for $22 by Nov. 22.

Up the road a piece, the Wilmington location is preparing to release the second iteration of its Last Alarm IPA, which commemorates Delaware’s fallen firefighters with a donation of $1 per pint sold. The beer—which was brewed with the help of local firefighters—will be available at both Delaware restaurants, benefitting the I.A.F.F. Local 1590 (Wilmington Firefighters Assn.) and Aetna Hose, Hook & Ladder Co. in Newark.

Despite the change in location from Greenville to Newport, Twin Lakes Brewing Co. is up and running with its new tasting room, featuring German beer-garden-style tables, a 20-seat bar, darts, board games, and an 18-foot shuffleboard table. They’re currently featuring seven beers on tap, including some nano-brew one-offs, and the 8 percent Jubilicious come late November.

Twin Lakes has been brewing this malt-forward holiday ale for years, and they recently learned it ages particularly well in oak barrels. The initial brew features seven specialty (and secret) grains, Belgian yeast, and imparts flavors of caramel and dried fruit. If you venture out for a taste, Twin Lakes is in the same building as the Delaware Tile Market, but on the side of the L-shaped building that faces the railroad tracks.

At Bellefonte Brewing Co., bigger is better. They’re now featuring a regular rotation of 32-ounce cans called “crowlers” (basically a play on merging cans and growlers), and will be featuring a combo Saison-cider spiced ale, as well as the new EZE IPA, a session beer made with American-grown Ekuanot hops (think more citrus than pine) and reduced gluten, for those watching their figure or suffering from allergies.

As the colder weather approaches, though, get ready for the Big V Porter. This big buy (8.5 percent) is aged with vanilla beans, making it the perfect pairing for those holiday desserts. Bellefonte is also planning a Fall Fest (because there probably aren’t enough local beer festivals on your calendar) for late November.

Up in Yorklyn, Dew Point Brewing Co. is releasing a collaborative Imperial Black IPA, in which they’re using locally grown hops from Greenview Farm in West Chester. It boasts an ABV of 9.5, and the Dew Point brew team is suggesting a hearty pairing of beef brisket or rack of lamb, as well as sweet desserts like crème brûlée and carrot cake.

And speaking of hearty, hold onto your hats for the brewery’s upcoming barley wine, which will use some undisclosed (but locally grown) herbs for flavor and is targeted to reach an ABV of around 12. A strong charcuterie board—with big cheeses, cured meats and candied nuts—would make a great complement to this one, whether on draft or in the bottle.

Rounding out the hop field in New Castle County is Blue Earl Brewing Co., which begins releasing its Big Earl Bourbon Series in November with the barrel-aged imperial breakfast stout called Dark Star. Distribution will be somewhat limited for this 10-percenter, but 22-ounce bottles will be available just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The series continues in December with I Put a Spell on You, a Belgian dark, strong ale that’s been conditioning for about a year, followed in January by the American barley wine called Big Boss Man. At around 12 percent, the BBM will feature notes of rich dark caramel, licorice, toffee, bourbon, and even fig and plum. Be sure to stop by Wednesday through Sunday and check out The Juke, Blue Earl’s live music series that features a rotation of local bands and acoustic acts.

Heading downstate, Kent County’s crown jewels are following the local trend of spiced ale and stout. Fordham & Dominion Brewing Co. in Dover is putting out a Spiced Harvest Ale that blends a “tea” of nutmeg, allspice, ginger, clove and honey. It won “Best Spiced Ale” at Peco’s Liquor Store’s Great Pumpkin Debate in late September. The autumnal ale will be available in six-packs at Peco’s, Kreston’s Liquors and Total Wine & More, as well as on draft at the Washington Street Ale House.

Also on tap is the Morning Glory Espresso Stout, a sneaky good stout that measures 9 percent but drinks smooth, like a 6. This is the first year the stout makes an appearance as a seasonal, rather than a flagship beer, due to competition from Dominion’s Oak Barrel Stout (a mere 5.5 percent). Morning Glory, being the bolder of the two, makes a better fit for the winter months, and is brewed with nearly 70 pounds of locally roasted Indonesian and South American espresso beans. It will be available at the same liquor stores mentioned above, as well as on draft at Stanley’s Tavern, Ulysses Gastro Pub and Trolley Square Oyster House in Wilmington.

A little further down the road, Mispillion River Brewing will be challenging the notion that dark beers are too heavy and “chewy” to drink with their Seven Swords Golden Stout. This lighter colored stout still features notes of chocolate and coffee, but is easy on the palate and higher in alcohol than your average stout (at 8.6).

Beer drinkers looking for a little energy in their effervescence should try what may be the first “SportsBerliner” ever conceived, with electrolytes (like potassium, calcium, magnesium) added to the brew. The brainchild of brewer Ryan Maloney came about when he found himself mixing his daily sports drink with Mispillion’s Berliner Weiss, or German wheat beer. Called War Kitten, this novel concoction has a slight grape flavor and is available in 16-ounce cans and on draft.

Since most of us have come to expect something “off-centered” from Dogfish Head, diehard fans won’t be disappointed with the Liquid Truth Serum. This IPA unconventionally has three different hops

Dogfish Head Brewery’s Liquid Truth Serum IPA. Photo courtesy of Dogfish Head Brewery

added after the boil (rather than during), but is hoppy without much residual bitterness. The result is balance, with 65 International Bitterness Units (or IBUs, which is low for an IPA) and a finish that leans more toward crisp, zesty citrus, rather than pine or floral notes.

A little less than 10 miles away, 16 Mile Brewing Co. is planning an entire event around its new fall beer, and it’s a pretty creative brew, especially for Fireball fans. Called “Soul Cake,” this English pale ale is brewed with American oak chips that have been soaked in Fireball, the cinnamon whiskey that’s a favorite among bar-goers.

This 9.6 percent spiced ale will be the centerpiece of 16 Mile’s Launch Party on Saturday, Nov. 18, at which the folks from Screams at the Beach will set up a beer-centric haunted maze outside the brewery in Georgetown. Make your way to the middle and get a taste of the Soul Cake, which is a nod to the Old English tradition that commemorated All Souls Day. Before trick-or-treating became popular, the cakes were passed out and eaten as a sign of good fortune and the escape from purgatory.

While a majority (if not all) of the beers featured in this story should still be available after publication, Out & About cannot guarantee how long each will remain in stock, either on tap at the breweries or by bottle or can at liquor stores.

Disc Golf: Give It A Spin

Here’s a primer to get you started before you head to one of the seven courses in New Castle County

Drive by most state parks in Delaware and you’ll see basketball courts, baseball diamonds, tennis courts and soccer fields. But finding the spots where Frisbees fly takes a little more exploring.
But disc golf courses are there—18 “ holes” made of steel poles holding chain-link baskets, awaiting anyone willing to give it a whirl, from experienced players to novices. New Castle County alone features seven courses, and more might be on the way.

The nearly 100-year-old sport is seeing a renaissance in Delaware, with new courses popping up to complement those that have been here for a while. Some local pros (and yes, there are pros) and experts took time to talk about how to get started, how to acquire a Delaware Disc Golf membership, and what new courses are open and possibly on the way.

Disc Golf Starter Kit

Jimi McIlvain first came across disc golf while driving a cab in Baltimore 20 years ago, but only from a distance—he could see the baskets from the roads where he drove. But it wasn’t until he returned to his home state of Delaware a few years later that he had his first opportunity to play. And he was immediately hooked.

“Within a few months of playing, I was able to beat the young guy who introduced me to disc golf,” says McIlvain, a Seaford native now living in Newark. “There is so much to like about the sport, but I think what appeals to most beginners is that you can compete quickly. If you go out and play regular golf, it could take you years to get to a decent level. With disc golf, it can happen much, much faster.”

Now a professional disc golf player —which requires nothing more than competing in tournaments for prize money—McIlvain, 54, plays several times a week, when his schedule permits. Work (he’s a landscaper) and family responsibilities sometimes get in the way of his favorite hobby, but he says the two other major advantages of disc golf over ball golf—the time and money invested—make it doable.
“Look, I’m busy like a lot of people, but I can get in a round of disc by myself in an hour or so, and with some friends in under two hours,” McIlvain says. “Try getting out for a round of ball golf in less than four hours and spending less than 50 bucks; it’s pretty much impossible.”

Though McIlvain prefers disc over ball golf, he says there are certainly similarities, in addition to the scoring set-up of par-3s and par-4s and playing 18 holes in a round. He says it all starts with getting accustomed to the sport by taking the beginner’s approach and learning how to hit the right “clubs” before going for the basket on every tee shot.

“In golf, you’re told that it’s best to learn how to putt and hit a 9-iron or 7-iron, and then work up to the bigger clubs like a 3-wood or driver,” McIlvain says. “Same with disc golf. If you can’t throw a putter and an approach disc fairly straight for some distance, you don’t need to bother with the other discs. You try and chuck a driver disc 200 or more feet, and you’re going to spend a lot of time in the weeds.”

The tee box on Hole #2 at Iron Hill Park. Photo by Matt Loeb)
The tee box on Hole #2 at Iron Hill Park. Photo by Matt Loeb)

On a trip to Brandywine Park, McIlvain first showed our group how to tee off using an approach disc. The disc mirrors a regular Frisbee one would toss at the beach, but it’s about one-third smaller and made of softer plastic. McIlvain says the best way to toss an approach club is to keep the thumb of your throwing hand above the plane of the disc, to ensure that it flies flat and straight, rather than slicing off to the right or hooking to the left.

He also demonstrated two ways to toss the putter, which is typically thicker and softer than most regular discs. The design keeps the disc from sailing too far, or at any angle, like a regular Frisbee, and when it hits the chains and pole, it dies and falls flat—hopefully into the basket.

“There are two ways to putt,” McIlvain says. “You can either flatly toss it straight at the basket, or put a slight angle on it and glide it right into the chains. Both styles of tossing it work well, it just depends on your preference. My suggestion is to try both and figure out what works for you.”

McIlvain’s top five courses from bottom to top in New Castle County are: Lums Pond, Brandywine Park, Canby Park West, White Clay Creek State Park and Iron Hill Park. The latter, incidentally, is considered by pro disc golfers to be the most difficult permanent, public course in the world. He suggests taking on Iron Hill last, after hitting places like Brandywine and White Clay. And always bring water and bug spray.

Club Up

Possibly the most challenging obstacle about starting a new sport or hobby is finding people to play with on a consistent basis. But a Delaware Disc Golf (DDG) membership—a simple and free process at—offers players a way to connect throughout the week and throughout the year.
Robert Teitelbaum, treasurer of the DDG, says the group’s Facebook page provides community interaction, but that leagues and doubles nights are also scheduled on the group’s website (see above). Groups typically meet at 5:15 or 5:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at a rotation of state parks.

“There is no charge for signing up for the club, and any fees you might pay throughout the year to participate in a tournament or otherwise go directly back into the club,” Teitelbaum says. “We also offer a yearly tag challenge, where you pay $15 for a new colored tag that features an assigned number.”

Teitelbaum says the challenge allows members to play against each other in a casual setting and compete for bragging rights. The tag numbers range from 1 to 200, and if a member with a higher number (say, 125) beats a member with a lower number (say, 50), the two players exchange numbers. “It’s a fun little side competition we have on a yearly basis,” Teitelbaum says, “with the goal being to acquire the lowest number and rack up as many head-to-head wins as possible.”

The DDG also puts on annual tournaments that attract pro players from around the region, country and even the world. Upcoming outings include the Brewer’s Challenge 2, hosted by Stewart’s Brewing Company, at Iron Hill on Sunday, July 16, and The King of the Hill on Saturday, Aug. 19, also at Iron Hill. Both are C-tier events, which are open to players of all skill levels, according to the Professional Disc Golfer’s Association.

Discover a New Course

Experienced disc golfers are familiar with the twists and turns of Lums Pond and the ups and downs of Brandywine Park. But two new courses have popped up over the last few years: Canby Park West in Wilmington, and the newly opened Greenridge near Harmony Road outside Newark. Both designs and openings were heavily influenced by Fran Hoffman, a Wilmington native who has turned disc golf course architecture into a hobby of his own.

“I’ve played more than 200 different courses in the U.S. and Canada, so I have an eye for what kind of terrain would make for a good disc golf course,” Hoffman says. “I also have 22 portable baskets that I can bring with me to a county or city park, so that I can set up a beta course and have people out to see if it works.”

Hoffman hosted a few successful makeshift disc golf events at Harmony Brook Park in 2015, and he knew that the area along Greenridge Road could make for a great permanent course. He spoke with members of the community, who were concerned with how drug use and general vandalism had become an issue, and they backed Hoffman’s proposal.

“Once the civic association was good with my plan, which involved minimal hacking of trees and excavating of land, I took it to the county and got things approved,” Hoffman says. “One important thing I take into account when considering a new course is to avoid interrupting the natural habitat. If the tree lines and bushes and elevation all lend themselves to a challenging but fair disc golf course, they should be left alone. It preserves the integrity of the area and is cost-efficient.”

Hoffman says he has his eyes on some other parks that would make for good disc golf courses in New Castle County, but wasn’t willing to speculate before discussing possibilities with county officials. To keep abreast of upcoming group events and outings, search “Delaware Disc Golf” on Facebook and join their group.

Fine Dining at the Christiana Hilton

The hotel’s $8 million facelift includes a new restaurant with a distinct culinary presence

Based on a very unscientific poll of some Wilmington area foodies, there seems to be a feeling that dining at hotel restaurants and bars is reserved strictly for the travelers staying at those establishments. These locals opt instead for the familiarity of a favorite brewpub or family restaurant, and leave hotel dining to the out-of-towners.

The folks behind the scenes at the Christiana Hilton hope to change that mentality with an $8 million renovation of the 32-year-old hotel near the Christiana Mall. What began with an aesthetic and technological upgrade of the guest rooms and front lobby has spilled over into a new gastropub, called the Market Kitchen & Bar.

The Market’s menu boasts farm-to-table dishes and cocktails featuring ingredients that are about as locally sourced as you can get, thanks to a new herb and vegetable garden in the hotel’s courtyard. Gone is the old-school steakhouse feel, and in its place is a new dining destination worth your attention.

Twelve years after the last significant renovation, the Christiana Hilton is halfway through a complete makeover that will touch every inch of the 164,000-square-foot hotel, according to General Manager Brad Wenger. Construction began last October and should be finished late this summer, but the new restaurant is already open for business.

“When you look at the market, there aren’t many examples of hotels that are truly full service and good at food and beverage,” says Wenger. “We feel that everything we’re doing makes us different, whether you’re traveling or live locally. This hotel does a creative job with culinary and beverage efforts.”

The 270 guest rooms have been updated with a new silver/purple/blue color scheme, smart TVs that allow guests to access their personal Netflix accounts while traveling, and a new, high-tech door lock system that allows guests to access room keys from their phones.

“Through the Hilton Honors app, guests can log on, make their reservation, select their room, and even check in, without ever having to go to the front desk,” says Wenger. “This new technology, called Quantum RFID, even works as a key access. Through Bluetooth technology, you can open the door to your room while walking down the hall, or even while lying in bed awaiting room service.”

Hilton Honors members staying at the hotel also have exclusive access to Club 4, the newly redesigned lounge on the fourth floor. On Tuesday nights, Executive Chef Robert Fratticcioli gives cooking demonstrations, and on Wednesday nights, Beverage Director Pete Lynch provides mixology instruction. Downstairs on the patio, rotating acoustic musicians play mid-week from 6-9 p.m.

The Market's Tuna Poke and sesame crisps with a handcrafted cocktail. Photo by Matt Urban.
The Market’s Tuna Poke and sesame crisps with a handcrafted cocktail. (Photo by Matt Urban)

Going to Market

“A hotel should be a bustling hub of activity, and there should be excitement in the air when you arrive, whether it’s for business or pleasure,” says Wenger. “That’s our goal here and we think the programs we’re rolling out, along with the food, drink and entertainment, will create a fun environment.”

The Market Kitchen & Bar’s menu reads like a who’s who of local purveyors: Dogfish Head fondue, Maiale specialty sausages, Kennett Square mushrooms, Firefly Farm and Calkins Creamery cheeses, LeBus brioche rolls, and Woodside Farm Creamery ice cream. Fratticcioli says the rollout menu took a lot of time and research, and though he’s happy with it, things will certainly change.

“You’ve got to stay fresh in this business, and I mean that in two ways; your food has to be fresh, and the menu has to be fresh, or people will go elsewhere,” he says. “We’ll be changing things up periodically, but always getting our ingredients from vendors within 100 miles of the hotel.”

Though the restaurant is essentially in the same place, just to the left of the main lobby, the décor is completely different. Again, silver and purple dominate, and the newly renovated bar sparkles from a distance. Tiny lamps light up the 12-seat bar, which features a $35,000 zinc surface.

“This was a spare-no-expense type of project, and we’re really happy that the owners continue to give this place the attention it deserves,” says Wenger. This particular Hilton, like 90 percent of the chain’s hotels, is franchised by Meyer Jabara Hotels, which owns more than 25 lodgings throughout the U. S.

The current menu features appetizers like the tuna poké ($14), with chunks of ruby red ahi tuna, onions and cucumbers tossed in soy sauce, sesame oil, served with sesame crisps. Entrees like the pork and beans ($24), featuring braised pork belly served with Applewood smoked bacon, a bean cassoulet and garlic crostini, as well as the flat iron steak ($29), served with Kennett Square mushrooms, grilled asparagus, horseradish cauliflower mashed potatoes and a mushroom demi-glace, fill out a menu that has more than 30 items.

As for the bar menu, small plates are discounted during happy hour (Monday through Thursday, 4-6 p.m.), and there are myriad craft beer options. Additionally, handcrafted cocktails like the Queen’s Park Swizzle ($13) features a delicious blend of light rum from Seacrets Distilling Company in Ocean City, Md., along with fresh lime, simple syrup and hand-picked mint, the last ingredient harvested by Food & Beverage Director Keith Davis.

A portion of Christina Hilton's herb garden.
A portion of Christiana Hilton’s herb garden.

Hilton Herbs

Davis, a dedicated gardener, is essentially the leader of the farming program at the Christiana Hilton. He began with a small herb garden three years ago, and has since raised his output to more than 15 beds of peppers, tomatoes and other veggies and herbs, all grown in the Hilton’s patio area.

“I’m pretty passionate about gardening at home?I go out and forage for mushrooms all the time?so when the opportunity to do some planting here came up, I jumped on it,” says Davis. “We’ve multiplied the output by about five times since we started, and we not only use the ingredients in our cooking, but the different plants really add to the overall appeal of the hotel.”

Davis says he brought in mushroom soil from Chester County, Pa., to make sure he had the right nutrients for planting and growing. He’s harvested elderberries, sriracha peppers, lavender baby tomatoes, chives, rosemary and thyme, and he finds a way to use it all in the dishes and drinks.

“The fact that the garden is contained here on the grounds and not outside of the hotel near the sidewalk or parking lot makes it easier for us to tend to,” he says. “Although we have had some issues with guests and kids accidentally stepping on the flowerbeds, it’s been a real success so far.”

With all the renovations, the room prices naturally have gone up, but Wenger says the Hilton is still incredibly competitive for what it offers. “Obviously, a big focus is return on investment,” he says, “but I think these upgrades will appeal to the right traveler and guest we’re looking to have here. The next few months should be really exciting as we get up and running.”

For a full look at the dinner, lunch and cocktail menu, go to There you will also find sample menus for the Chef’s Table program, which is open for reservations and offers a full-service experience with Chef Fratticcioli.

Hail, Yes

Uber and Lyft lead a ride-hailing revolution in Delaware

It was an early Sunday morning and a torrential downpour had moved into the northeast corridor. Heather VanDeveer, returning home from a trip to New York, watched the rain drops pelt the window of her SEPTA R2 commuter rail car from Philadelphia to Wilmington. Regrettably, she hadn’t arranged for a ride, and it was too early to call family or friends without feeling guilty.

So she fired up the Uber app on her smartphone, and by the time the train pulled into the Amtrak station at 100 French St., a ride was waiting to take her to Trolley Square. Sans jacket or umbrella, she was able to skip down the steps and into the back of a warm, dry Toyota Camry.

VanDeveer’s driver offered her a bottle of water after her long (and somewhat hungover) trip. Parched, she inhaled it and thanked him. Ten minutes later, she was at the front door of her apartment. She tipped the driver $5 on top of the $9 ride.

A year prior, VanDeveer would have had to wait on a bus or try to hail or call a cab. But thanks to the technological advancement of rideshare apps like Uber, she had a handy option. And it’s one that more and more riders are taking advantage of now that both Uber and Lyft are operating in Delaware. The result is a ripple effect that impacts commuters, the economy, and cab companies and car services. Since Uber arrived in Delaware in 2015—first in Wilmington and Newark, and shortly thereafter in Dover and at the beach—the freedom to come and go at a moment’s notice has become a reality.

500 Uber Drivers

“We’ve seen riders in Delaware quickly embrace Uber as an easy, reliable way to get a safe ride at the push of a button,” says Craig Ewer, regional communications representative for Uber, which launched in San Francisco in 2009 and now operates in 570 cities worldwide. “Uber offers a unique, flexible work opportunity that fits around drivers’ lives, not the other way around,” says Ewer. “More than 8,000 people rode with Uber in Delaware from January through March, with roughly 500 active drivers in the state.”

Lance Charen, a resident of Forty Acres, says he first encountered Uber in San Diego in 2014, when traveling for business. He has since switched careers and no longer travels as much, so he decided to go into the Uber business for himself. Charen began working for the mobile app company as a driver in October of 2015, and he couldn’t be happier with his experience so far. (Drivers simply hop on the app, make themselves available, and wait to be connected with local riders, after which they pick them up and then drop them off at their destinations.)

“I love it, it’s a blast,” Charen says, before ending the phone interview because a customer had just pinged him for a ride. Later that day, he says, “I’ll never get rich doing it, but I’m between gigs right now, so it’s a way to supplement my income. It’s great extra money, I see some really cool stuff, and I come away with the best stories after meeting interesting people.”

Charen typically operates as a driver during the busier hours –Friday and Saturday evenings, or on weekday mornings when commuters and business travelers are looking to get to and from the local train station or the Philadelphia airport. One of his more interesting rides came in Philly.

“This couple hops in and they’ve obviously been fighting, and it gets to the point where the female says she’s had it with her fiancé, and right near Rittenhouse Square, I hear a ping against the back window of my car,” says Charen. “She took off her engagement ring, threw it at her about-to-be-ex, and that was it. I had to ask him to get out, because she had ordered the car. It was awkward, but I drove her to a nearby bar for a drink, and she tipped me handsomely.”

Charen says he is often on the clock all night when working between Wilmington and Philadelphia, though not all rides end with a big tip. In fact, according to many drivers (Charen included), tips are infrequent. Uber doesn’t currently offer in-app tipping (unlike Lyft), so tips must be paid to the driver in cash. If a rider doesn’t have cash, the driver goes tipless, but Uber still takes its 25 percent service fee off the total cost of the ride.

As for fares in general, with UberX, Uber’s most popular and cheapest option, rates vary depending on the time and day. However, there is typically a $2 base fare, $2.10 booking fee, and then a cost-per-mile and cost-per-minute. Says Ewer, “Riders are given an upfront fare, so they always know what they’ll pay before they ride; there’s no math to do and no surprises.”

One 2.5-mile trip across Wilmington on a Wednesday afternoon near lunchtime cost roughly $8-$11, with a minimum fare of $6.10, and a cancelation fee of $5. While anyone with a smartphone can start an Uber account as a rider, drivers must undergo a thorough background check before signing up. Additionally, all vehicles must be 10 years old or newer, must be a four-door, truck or minivan, and must pass a state vehicle inspection, as well as other requirements, before being approved for service.

Give Me A Lyft

As with all profitable enterprises, competition is inevitable, and in 2012 Lyft launched in San Francisco, making its way to Delaware in early 2017. While Lyft does not disclose market-specific data, the company touts itself as the fastest growing ridesharing company in America, according to Communications Manager Scott Coriell.

“At the beginning of 2017, we announced we would expand to 100 new communities, and as of [late March], we have already exceeded that goal,” Coriell says. “We get great reviews from riders and our drivers love the fact that passengers can tip within the app, something that is exclusive to our program.”
Christine Frick, a Bellefonte resident, started driving for Lyft last October to make extra money after falling into some debt with her daughter’s college bills. The holidays were approaching, so Frick had some retail offers, but she chose the flexibility of becoming a rideshare driver.

“I actually went to sign onto Uber online and somehow ended up on the Lyft site,” Frick says. “They offered me a mentor to get started, checked out my car, did a background check, and I got started soon after. I really love it. My day job goes from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., so I have some time in the morning and after work to offer my services.”

Frick says she will sometimes park near the Philadelphia Airport, open a book and start reading as she waits for a ride request. She’s taken couples to the Hotel DuPont and single riders into the city. Many times, she doesn’t know if the riders tip her until she gets her monthly statement. But the fact that she doesn’t have to handle money makes her feel safe.

“People ask me, being a 60-year-old woman, if I’m worried about something going wrong or afraid someone would rob me,” Frick says. “But it’s so well-tracked that it’s almost impossible. Between the GPS they use and the credit card authorization to pay for the ride, it’s a pretty safe side job.”

The Ridesharing Effect

Local cab companies failed to respond to phone and email requests for comments regarding the growing popularity of ridesharing apps, or more important, what cabbies might be doing to keep up with the competition. The lack of response might speak louder than words.

But not all car companies are running for the hills. Sean McDevitt, president of Spirit Transportation, Inc., in Newark, often gets questions from clients about Uber and Lyft taking over the car service market. He feels his company can coexist with the rideshare apps, because they service a different clientele.

“We do mostly corporate airport transportation for executives, VPs and what have you, who in most cases don’t want to be driven by a random person off the street,” McDevitt says. “However, it seems like Uber has crushed the late-night ride market, something I, honestly, want nothing to do with.”

Bars, restaurants and hotels have noticed the dip in the number of cabs outside their establishments. Joe Mujica, general manager of Kelly’s Logan House in Trolley Square, remembers a time when calling a cab for an intoxicated patron or group of girls looking to get home safely was the norm a few times a night. Now, he says, it rarely happens.

“Back in the day, drunk people would ask us to call them cabs all the time,” Mujica says. “It took time to make sure they knew where they were going, where the cab was going to be, or if they even had cash. The nice part about something like Uber is it’s linked to a credit card, so it’s easy for you to call for a ride, tell them exactly where to take you, where to get you, and pay for it, especially nowadays when people don’t carry much cash.”

Spencer Derrickson, owner and operator of the Sandcastle Motel and Heritage Inn, both in Rehoboth Beach, says he hasn’t seen a cab outside either location in more than a year. Even around downtown Rehoboth, he estimates that Uber pick-ups outnumber cabs by 10 to 1.

“Especially at the beach, during the height of the season, you could wait 30 minutes or more for a cab, while Uber is usually close by and picking you up within 10 minutes,” Derrickson says. “For our business, there is no accountability with Uber. With cabs, we’d have to call them in and then be on the hook if the cab showed and the patrons had tired of waiting and left. Now it’s all between the Uber driver and the rider. It takes our concierge out of that equation, which is a good thing.”

Derrickson says the only ride in Rehoboth that has an advantage over Uber or Lyft is the Jolly Trolley, since it runs on a constant loop and picks up patrons every 15 minutes for just a few bucks.

On a personal level, Derrickson, who spends his winters near Orlando, uses Uber frequently, even for trips to the Philadelphia Airport from downstate. “I’ve taken Uber everywhere: from my house in Florida to the theme parks, and from my place in Rehoboth to the airport in Philly when I’m flying out,” Derrickson says. “Uber drivers are usually pretty nice, down-to-earth people who will chat it up for an hour or so, and it’s just a cleaner, simpler ride that is either on par with the cost of a car service, or cheaper. It’s really ideal.”

On the tail of Uber and Lyft are other car services, including Sidecar and Rideguru, but both have yet to get the wheels rolling in Delaware. For now, most First-Staters who like to get somewhere quickly, conveniently, and on the cheap go with Uber or Lyft. Down the road, more competition may make it even easier for commuters, tourists, and bar-hoppers to catch a ride.

Montana Wildaxe: 30 Years and Still Jammin’

And they’re as popular as ever. Catch them at The Queen Dec. 29.

There are a handful of Delaware bands that have been around for years and years: Love Seed Mama Jump, The Bullets, Dr. Harmonica & Rockett 88 and The Cameltones are just a few that come to mind. They all include plenty of cover songs in their acts, and they’re all still playing regular gigs, whether it’s throughout the summer at the beach or even this month in Trolley Square.

But Montana Wildaxe trumps them all, having played the local scene for more than 30 years. Their unique blend of Grateful Dead and Allman Bros. covers, psychedelic rock, and jam band improvisation attracts hippies and hipsters alike. It’s a style and vibe that’s difficult to describe unless you’ve seen them live.

These days, “Montana,” as fans affectionately call them, are as popular as ever, even though they play less than a handful of dates each year. While that statement might not make sense on the surface, it’s a matter of simple economics; the diminishing supply of live performances has resulted in an increase in popularity and demand, both with diehard fans and the venues still fortunate enough to host the band.

Uncovering the Cover Band

Back in the ‘80s, the music scene was a whole lot different, according to Montana Wildaxe bassist and vocalist Tony Cappella. Original bands dominated the scene in the tristate area, and now-defunct Wilmington hotspots like The Barn Door and The Coyote Café featured live and local originals most nights of the week.

“There were a ton of original bands back then, really, and if they had any chops, they had no problem finding venues to play in Delaware,” Cappella says. “I think a lot of it sparked from acts like George Thorogood and The Hooters, who really opened the door. Everyone who could play an instrument jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to be the next big thing.”

Cappella joined Montana Wildaxe in 1987, just a few years after Kurt Houff (lead guitar, vocals) and Chip Porter (rhythm guitar, lead vocals) had started the band with a few other musicians. The current lineup that includes keyboardist Dan Long, percussionist Tim Kelly, and drummer/vocalist Glenn Walker would form in full by 1991.

Porter says he and Houff decided to become a jam band for two reasons: they wanted to improvise musically, rather than being boring or repetitive, and their vocal and guitar abilities somewhat mirrored the godfathers of the jam band, the Grateful Dead.

“I’d probably seen the Dead 100 times by the time we started the band,” says Porter. “Jerry Garcia’s guitar solos were the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. Plus, we could sing like Garcia and Bob Weir, who were some of rock’s greatest poets ever.”

Houff says the arrangement of the songs and the style of the music are big reasons why the band has stayed together for so long, even if in a somewhat limited capacity the last decade or so. “Each song, each night is up for specific interpretation. Each and every moment is the product of all the preceding moments.”

Houff says he knew the band would be successful from the get-go, but didn’t know it would be a lasting part of his life until sometime in the ‘90s. For Cappella, however, the first gig he played with Montana Wildaxe set the tone for decades to come.

“I remember my first show with Montana, downstairs at the Logan House. The place was packed and the smell of weed was in the air,” Cappella says. “I’m not sure I’d ever seen a cover band get a crowd like that before. From then on, any Deadhead within spitting distance knew about us, and they came out in droves to see us play.”

Low Supply, High Demand

After nearly 20 years of hitting it hard on the local circuit, the members of Montana Wildaxe decided to play fewer shows as they moved closer to middle age, with families and full-time jobs taking up much of their time. But rather than fade into the music scene ether, they’ve continued to show up.

“I think our musical chemistry is the main element that has kept us together for so long,” Walker says. “We are all very good listeners while we play and can pick up and follow subtle variations in the music as it’s being played. The crowds are proof that it works.”

Staff members at World Cafe Live at The Queen on Market Street feel as if it works pretty well, even though Montana only plays there two or three times a year (including an upcoming annual holiday show on Thursday, Dec. 29). Director of Programming Christianna LaBuz is a longtime fan who is especially looking forward to jamming with Montana.

“Their shows are a social event that everyone—the fans and our staff alike—always look forward to,” LaBuz says. “They’re wonderful humans to deal with on a professional level from beginning to end and their music is phenomenal. The guys also play with so many other folks and contribute their talents toward many of the collaborative shows we present throughout the year.”

When Kelly’s Logan House General Manager Tim Crowley was asked to plan a 60th birthday party for one of the bar’s most esteemed guests, the idea of featuring a live band upstairs was suggested. Crowley booked Montana Wildaxe without blinking an eye.

“They’ve been playing here for years, so there is certainly a longstanding connection between Montana and Kelly’s, but it’s more than that,” Crowley says. “If we have a big event and I have my druthers, Montana Wildaxe is my first choice because they always have a great crowd and bring an incredible, fun vibe.”

For Cappella, the high praise comes as a welcome surprise. “I think we can actually be a pain in the ass to deal with,” he says, laughing. “But I guess that’s with each other since we’ve been together so long. It’s nice to hear, though.”

A Literal Connection

So, what’s with the name, many people ask. Who is from Montana, and what does “Wildaxe” even mean? The genesis, it turns out, goes back to the band’s college days in the ‘80s at the University of Delaware. One of Porter’s roommates, an English major, coined the name while reading the Kurt Vonnegut classic, Slaughterhouse-Five.

“It was a big house, and one of the many people coming and going gave the name to our bassist at the time, who was always wearing a cowboy hat while he was practicing,” Porter says. “The character from the book was named ‘Montana Wildhack,’ but we changed the ‘hack’ to ‘axe,’ to reference the guitar. The ‘Montana’ part fit because of the big hat he wore.”

It’s a story that every band member is familiar with, even if they’re not familiar with Vonnegut’s sci-fi story. Neither Porter, nor Long, nor Walker, nor Cappella have read the book. Only Houff, who coincidentally shares the same first name as the novel’s author, has read the World War II satire.

“The biggest parallel I made when we stuck with that name is that Vonnegut writes the book in these flashes of going back and forth in time,” Houff says. “I’ve always felt like music has the ability to do that, to transport us to different places in our minds.”

Tickets to Montana Wildaxe’s Dec. 29 show at The Queen are on sale at for $13, or $15 the day of the show. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show begins at 8.

Delaware’s Beer Scene: Fermenting

Three new craft breweries have sprung up over the past few months

Note to craft beer enthusiasts in Delaware, particularly New Castle County: With Thanksgiving almost upon on us, you have plenty to be thankful for—namely, three new breweries that have tapped their kegs and are pouring and distributing to the beer-swilling public.

We talked to folks behind the scenes at each of the breweries to get their story and discover where they are in terms of kegging and construction. To see what we found out, read on.

Bellefonte Brewing Company

Despite its geographical namesake, which is north of Wilmington, Bellefonte Brewing Company is located near Prices Corner in a warehouse unit fitted with a tasting room and bar made of California redwood. But co-owner Craig Wensell started BBC years ago as a home-brewing supply shop out of his house in —you guessed it—Bellefonte.

“I’ve been exposed to brewing since a very young age; my father, uncles, cousins, brothers, all of us have been involved in home brewing since the mid-‘80s,” Wensell says. “So I began opening up the front porch of my home in Bellefonte as a supply store for the advanced brewer, where people could taste what I’d brewed and purchase brewing products at the same time.”

Now Wensell, along with fellow home brewer Joe Jacobs and business partner Neil Shea, is running his own full-fledged brewery, which tapped its first commercial keg on May 20. The menu at Bellefonte relies on rye, with these four beers on tap: Grapefruit Rye IPA, Rye IPA, Rye Stout and Red Rye Abbey.

“I really like rye as ingredient, even though it can be a sticky mess for brewers to deal with,” Wensell says. “It’s got a very distinct flavor and crisp spiciness that goes really well with the citrusy hops we use, like the Simcoe, Cascade and Citra.”

Jacobs, meanwhile, brews what has been a very popular beer at Bellefonte since opening, according to Wensell. Called the Orange Street Ale, it’s a refreshing specialty ale made with orange blossom, honey and orange zest, though not heavily hopped, Wensell says.

While no food is served at Bellefonte, there will be occasional food trucks on site, at 3605 Capitol Trail. Hours are Thursday and Friday from 5-9 p.m., Saturday from 1-10 p.m., and Sunday from 1-6 p.m.

Growlers to go are $20 brand new and $15 for a refill. Bellefonte’s beers also are available locally at the Bellefonte Café (naturally), as well as North Quarter Creole, 1984 and Oddity Bar, all in Wilmington.

Twin Lakes Brewing Company

Almost a year to the day after closing its original digs in Greenville, Twin Lakes Brewery was up and running again in Newport in early August of this year, pumping out kegs of its popular pale ale and pilsner. Brewer Jack Wick, who had stepped away from the business for a few years after 2010, is thrilled to be back.

“We’re in a better place now. We’ve got more room to brew and a 2,000-square-foot tasting room we’re working on where we’ll be able to sell our product,” Wick says. “Everything that we couldn’t do at the old place, we can do here.”

With a name like Twin Lakes, it’s a given that the water in each brew was important to the quality and consistency of the product. While Twin Lakes can no longer rely on the natural springs at the old Greenville facility, Wick’s family background in water and waste water management helped to ensure that the brewer gets as close as possible to perfection in the H2O department.

“Outside of the licensing and deciding on where to relocate, selecting the water we use for Twin Lakes was one of the most important things we did,” Wick says. “We are having our water sent to us via tanker from a particular well in Chester County, so it’s free of chemicals that would affect the beer negatively, while being rich in the right minerals we need.”

Co-owners Burke Morrison and Matt Day have also helped with the transition, which Morrison said has gone as smoothly as possible, although not without some concern. “We brewed as much beer as we could before leaving Greenville, but even that only lasted until about January,” Morrison said.

“We’ve been essentially out of the market for more than six months, but based on the feedback we’ve gotten, I’m certain we’ll be fine,” he says. “The craft beer community is more cooperative than competitive. If you’re making a quality product, you’ll survive.”

Some of the Twin Lakes quality products include the Jubilicious and Tweed’s Tavern Stout, along with the Twin Lakes Pale Ale (formerly the Greenville Pale Ale) and Blue Water Pilsner (formerly the Route 52 Pilsner), both of which reflect the change in location for the brewery.

Wick, Morrison and Day are hoping to have their tasting room open sometime in November, but say a December or even early 2017 launch might be in the cards. When it does happen, they plan to cater to the happy hour crowd from 4-7 p.m. during the week. They will have growlers to go, and there will be various caterers and food trucks on site. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates on the tasting room opening and events throughout the fall and winter.

Dew Point Brewing Company

Nestled in the middle of acres filled with mansions, sprawling farms and woodland in northern New Castle County sits the historic mill outpost of Yorklyn. Blink and you may miss it, or make a random left or right off Rt. 82 and you’ll bypass it entirely. But keep your eyes peeled and you’ll see the area’s first microbrewery, housed in one of the old snuff mills, where passersby can stop in for a pint of freshly brewed ale or lager.

Dew Point Brewing Company, named for the area’s dense morning fogs and located along Creek Road in the heart of Yorklyn, opened its tasting room in mid-August. Dew Point boasts six regular beers flowing in a taproom where Marketing Director Nick Matarese also doubles as part-time bartender.

“This whole operation is like a family gathering; my uncle John (Hoffman) is a chemist and has been working out a lot of the technical issues, and my cousin Cody (Hoffman) is our head brewer,” Matarese says. “Everyone else you see around here is pretty much family helping the cause. I think there are five or six ‘partners’ altogether.”

Head Brewer Cody Hoffman developed a fascination with brewing at an early age when his sister, Alexa, gave their father a brew kit for Christmas. Only 16 at the time, Hoffman was hooked. He eventually worked unpaid internships at Triumph Brewing Company in New Hope, Pa., and Twin Lakes Brewing Company in Greenville before attending Brewlab for official training in England.

“No breweries would give me a chance to work at only 18 years old, so I had to work for free to get experience, like a lot of young, aspiring brewers,” Hoffman says. “When my dad and family agreed to go in on a brewery, we started doing the research and landed here.”

The renovated loft area of Dew Point’s tasting room features hardwood flooring, a 14-seat bar, plenty of communal high-top tables, and natural light pouring in from the surrounding valley. Some of the more popular beers, according to Matarese, include the Nit Wit, a traditional Belgian witbier, the Hopworts Express, a Harry Potter homage that is classic West Coast American IPA, and the delicious Dubbel Dip, a 7.1 percent Belgian dark ale.

“Right now we’re brewing a porter, and we will also brew some stouts and sours, as well as two Belgian red ales later this month,” Hoffman says. “I like everything, really. I like every kind of beer, every style, so I’ll try to brew anything I can. We’re right around 50 barrels of production right now, but that will increase. Once we get to 100, we’ll start sending to restaurants and festivals.”

A half-barrel produces about 124 pints, all of which you can only currently get at Dew Point’s tasting room, open Thursday through Sunday. Large growlers aren’t yet available, but mini growlers, or mason jars, can be purchased to go for $4. Four-beer flights, or tasting samplers, are $8, while pints are $5. If you bring in a large growler from another brewery, they’ll “consider” filling it, according to Hoffman.

“Just make sure you slap a Dew Point sticker on there,” he says, laughing. “We’re holding off on filling our own growlers until we’re at a production level that’s more comfortable. Last thing we want is to fill a bunch of growlers on Friday and Saturday and then only have one beer on tap come Sunday.”

Dew Point also features an outdoor picnic area, though they don’t yet have a patio license. Hoffman says they can seal the mini mason jars, which patrons can take outside to drink, but can’t allow for a random, open pint to travel outside, per state law.

No food is currently available on-site, but Matarese says they are planning to have food trucks come out on weekends, particularly in the spring. The tasting room is open Thursday from 4-9 p.m., Friday from 3-11 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m.-11 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. For updates on Dew Point’s tap list and events, follow them on Facebook or visit

Fresher Than Ever

After 15 years and five stores, PureBread is running with the big dogs, and its commissary is keeping it near the head of the pack

Drive along most major roads in the Delaware Valley and you’re likely to be inundated with lunchtime options, ranging from sit-down restaurant to fast food joint. If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, the choices are virtually unlimited; it’s hard to blink without seeing a spot that proudly claims it serves the best subs, steaks, hoagies, hot dogs, burgers, etc.

It appears, however, that some of the classic, family-owned sandwich shops are becoming harder and harder to come by, what with the onslaught of national chains like Panera and Quiznos, and regional behemoths like Wawa. Multiple locations, kiosks for quick service, and even the addition of fuel service (particularly at Wawa) make them difficult to resist.

In 2001, when Mike Nardozzi opened his first PureBread location, he knew the battle against “Big Sandwich” would be uphill. Fifteen years later, he’s quietly challenging the chain locations with his five stores (Pike Creek, Greenville, Christiana, Wilmington, and Glen Mills, Pa.). His recipe for success calls for fresh-baked breads and house-roasted meats, all served with a friendly smile and a connection with customers that keeps ‘em coming back.

Building a Loyal ‘Bread Base’

Nardozzi opened the first PureBread location in September of 2001, but his love for working in the front of the house at restaurants goes back to his post-college days in the mid-1990s. After graduating from Clemson University in 1995, he went to work at a southern dining institution: Waffle House.

“Waffle House was one of my first jobs out of college, when I was living in Marietta, Ga.,” Nardozzi says. “I learned so much about the great system they have in place there; it really made an impact. Then I wound up playing in a golf outing with the CFO, and after that day, I was hooked.”

He soon moved home to Delaware, where he found work with the Shemp Restaurant Group (Scratch Magoo’s, Tyler’s). Shortly thereafter, he and a co-worker began brainstorming a new business. A dog lover at heart, Nardozzi wanted to use man’s best friend in the name and marketing for the restaurant, and thus, “PureBread” was born.

He quit his job in April of 2001, worked on a business plan, and opened the doors to the first PureBread in Pike Creek just five months later. Ever since, the menu and restaurants have featured a dog theme, with sandwiches named after breeds and photos of regular customers’ dogs decorating the walls.

“Our fall menu, which we just revamped, has 25 different dog-named sandwiches, and even our culture follows the notion of being friendly and loyal, a lot like dogs are,” Nardozzi says. “When we hire people, we expect them to adhere to our values. I really think it’s our friendly service and the smiles you see on our employees’ faces that brings customers back again and again.”

While most restaurants might save their mission or keys to satisfying guests for the employee training manual, PureBread features it proudly on posters and table tents. Five rules, covering quality products, accurate orders, legendary service, pure hospitality, and cleanliness, are posted throughout the restaurants. As Nardozzi says, “Our values and keys to guest delight are right there in plain sight. If we don’t fulfill them all, the customers will know it.”

Greenville resident Beth Friedman has visited all five restaurants, but frequents the PureBread closest to her house several times a week. She’s been going since it opened, mostly for the consistent product and cheerful employees behind the counter. Even a slight mix-up in her order years ago impressed her.

“They used to put a pickle on every sandwich and, well, I hate pickles,” Friedman says. “There was a pickle on my platter, and it was not good. I barely mentioned it, and they didn’t even blink. They insisted on making it right, immediately. No roll of the eyes, no attitude. Within a minute, I had a new sandwich. I’m not sure you get that kind of service at a lot of places.”

Commitment to service and making each store “achieve excellence” is a big reason Nardozzi hasn’t considered offers to expand downstate or farther north along the Main Line. He says he’s too focused on the five stores he already has, and with a newly built, half-million-dollar commissary in Newport, proximity to the five PureBread locations is key.

Food for 15,000

Plenty of sandwich shops rely on Boar’s Head or Sysco to provide their meats, cheeses and other delicatessen side dishes, but Nardozzi wanted to go the proprietary route with PureBread’s own recipes, roasting techniques, and homemade dough. While other places are figuring out how to cut costs, he says, PureBread added the commissary and is using better ingredients.

“Quality is everything to us, so we spent $500,000 on this new commissary that opened in January,” Nardozzi says. “We used to have bakers at all the stores, but it just got inconsistent. Everything is now from scratch, and is delivered to each store by midnight for service the following day, including our house-roasted chicken.”

Director of Operations Linda Morel says the Newport facility is a well-oiled machine despite less than a year of operation. Between five and seven employees are on hand at any time, making the dough from scratch and hand-chopping and mixing side salads like the popular coleslaw.

“Our delivery drivers—who work as mailmen during the day—come to the commissary every evening,” Morel says. “By midnight, all five stores are stocked with all the supplies they need for the next day. It’s the best solution for guaranteeing that everything is always fresh at each store.”

Nardozzi says the bakers typically churn out between 400 and 500 muffins a day, in addition to all the loaves of bread and bagels they make. On average, all the meat, vegetables and bread the commissary pumps out is enough to fully stock the five stores with food for about 3,000 guests, or 15,000 people a week.

Smile. Be Kind. Do Good.

Just as commuters might see hundreds of dining options out on the local roads, it’s also easy to spot one of PureBread’s best marketing tools. Any time you see a “Lend a Paw” car magnet, look a little closer while at the next stop light, and you’ll see the PureBread lettering in fine print.

“It’s part of a program we’ve had here for years, where we set money aside for employees who have fallen on hard times, and allot that money to a deserving individual,” Nardozzi says. “We’ve bought cars, furniture, helped pay bills, you name it. We see it as part of that whole pay-it-forward philosophy we impart.”

While the Lend a Paw magnets are still popular, the company’s mantra has changed to something just as meaningful, according to Nardozzi: “Smile. Be Kind. Do Good.” The change was implemented about two years ago, when former employee Phillip Bishop died as a result of a hit-and-run accident on Brackenville Road near Hockessin. The 27-year-old was pedaling his bicycle home from a shift at the Greenville location when he was struck and killed.

“You probably remember reading the story in the paper, but it was devastating,” Nardozzi says. “Phil had worked for us for about two years and was so genuine, so full of life, so willing to listen and take time with each guest; when we lost him, we felt it was necessary to keep his spirit going.”

Nardozzi says Bishop’s mother, Johanna Bishop, was quoted after the funeral as saying, “We have to live life now … according to Phillip’s principles, which was just to be kind and do good.” That motto has been featured on PureBread posters and in their corporate email response since soon after the funeral, and is now part of the company’s mission. “We just want to be positive and genuine, like Phil was, and hope our customers see and feel that when they walk in our doors,” Nardozzi says.

The Lend a Paw program still exists, as does PureBread’s Pups Calendar, featuring photos of customers’ dogs, for $25. Proceeds from the sale of the calendar go toward the fund that helps employees overcome financial hardships. The calendar includes $175 in PureBread coupons, and will be available at and in stores by early November, in conjunction with the new menu roll-out.