All In the Family

It’s getting hard to tell restaurant fare from home cooking, and vice versa, says our food trends expert

If there’s one overarching trend in cooking this year, it’s this: Restaurants have embraced home cooking, and home cooks have never had such easy access to the tools and techniques of the professional kitchen.

The newcomers in the fast-casual restaurant segment allow diners to personalize meals like they would at home, with options that go far beyond “wit or without,” while new devices that have come to market over the past few years have emboldened home chefs to create dishes they’ve only had in restaurants.

But what’s really new is the speed of change. In the past, the restaurant industry simmered like a soup.

You’d take a bunch of ingredients (a new idea, some fancy kitchen tools, a handful of early adopters, a pinch of social media, and celery, because there’s always celery), stir them together, add heat, give it some time—everything good took time—and new concepts would emerge.

But then came Instant Pot, and Instant Pot makes everything move faster.

It’s usually hard to pinpoint the exact tipping point when a trend takes off, but that’s not the case with Instant Pot. It occurred on July 12, 2016, on the totally made-up corporate holiday known as Amazon Prime Day. During that hot Christmas in July, Amazon moved 215,000 Instant Pot electric pressure cookers in 24 hours, sending hundreds of thousands of people to YouTube in search of recipe videos and launching breathless news articles with headlines like “Why Is Everyone Obsessed with This Pot Thing?” (Confession: I got my first Instant Pot for Christmas, and the things it can do to short rib in 30 minutes are astonishing.)

Idiot-Proof

There’s a simple reason why Instant Pot took off—the device seems to be idiot-proof. Home cooks who may have been intimidated by old-fashioned pressure cookers and their potential to explode pea soup all over the kitchen can find comfort in the sleek, push-button technology that allows you to set cooking times and styles to cook everything from beef stews to yogurts. (Those who might still need inspiration can find it among the many Instant Pot obsessives of Pinterest, or increasingly in New York Times recipes.)

But pressure cookers aren’t the only restaurant tool that ambitious foodies found under the Christmas tree this year. Also popular: the as-seen-on-TV “Steakager.”

“It was just a perfect example of Big Brother Facebook marketing,” says OperaDelaware General Manager (and accomplished home cook) Brendan Cooke. “Something came up on my Facebook feed —I guess my interests include meat—and in a weak moment in the middle of the night, I clicked on it. And then the ad starts following and following you.”

The Steakager, as seen on CNBC’s not-quite-Shark-Tank Make Me a Millionaire Inventor, fits inside your fridge and works to replicate the walk-in dry aging facilities of major steakhouses. The website says you can “age your beef for a minimum of 12 days to however adventurous you are,” which sounds decidedly like a dare.

“After you get 30 days in, it starts to develop a more beefy flavor,” Cooke says. “Longer than 40 days, it starts to take on the funk of a blue cheese, which is not really my thing. The sweet spot to me on the ribeye seems to be a 35-day age. You lose some moisture, it intensifies the flavor, and really changes the texture. What’s normally pretty toothy in a fresh steak becomes like butter.”

Cooke also has been experimenting with his new sous vide device (technically, a Christmas gift for his wife). Sous vide is a method where food is vacuum-sealed and placed in a temperature-controlled water bath for long periods of time. It’s used by top chefs for uber-precise cooking of everything from steaks to eggs.

“The device looks like a stick blender and it hangs on any vessel—I have a big plastic Rubbermaid container for it—and I can control it from my phone,” Cooke says. “The beautiful thing about that is that you literally can’t overcook things.”

The Chipotle of Eating Out

At the same time pressure was building at home, so to speak, fast-casual restaurants like Roots Natural Kitchen and honeygrow were expanding throughout Delaware, offering natural, fresh, and often locally grown fare. At honeygrow, the cooking happens right in front of you, as if you’re standing in a friend’s kitchen, with ingredients you both recognize and that are personalized to your tastes and dietary needs, before they are assembled into a bowl and handed over the counter.

“People want to know what they’re getting, unfiltered, and when possible where it’s coming from,” says Justin Rosenberg, founder and CEO of honeygrow. “I eat the same way. It never was about following a trend—more so about building a brand that exhibits the same values that my family and I share.”

It must be a bitter irony that the restaurant style popularized by Chipotle—pick your base, your protein, your toppings and your sauces, and promote their all-natural origins—has taken off at the same time Chipotle itself is seeing its profits plummet. Sales dropped after E. coli sickened a few burrito eaters in 2015, while similar ideas exploded in many markets, including Delaware.

“It’s a trend to see restaurants going with smaller footprints, with less overhead, for fast-casual food,” says Eric Aber, customer development specialist at Gordon Food Service.

It’s called the “Chipotle effect,” and those smaller shops around Delaware include places that might be called the Chipotle of Indian food (Zaikka Indian Grill, with your pick of protein and style of curry), the Chipotle of donuts (Duck Donuts, on Newark’s Main Street, where you decide the glaze and the sprinkles and whether your donut should come with bacon, and yes, the maple donut should come with bacon), and the Chipotle of pizza (Snap Pizza, with options on sauces, cheeses, meats, organic veggies and even finishing oils, on a pie that’s baked in just a few minutes).

The idea of quick-fired pizzas has spread beyond its fast-casual roots. When La Banca restaurant opens in Middletown, it will come equipped with a Marra Forni 800-degree rotator oven that will allow the restaurant to cook a 10-inch personal pizza in about 90 seconds, according to General Manager Adam Cofield. The menu for La Banca hasn’t been finalized yet, but that speed should allow for very personalized personal pizzas indeed.

And the menu at honeygrow reads like what any Whole Foods shopper might put together on a Thursday night. Whole-wheat noodles with roasted FreeBird chicken and a red coconut curry? Sounds good, and if not, the menu is “fully customizable,” with ordering on Wawa-style screens for people who want to linger over whether to include bean sprouts.

But even in a time when fast-casual is on the rise and home chefs dry-age their own sides of meat, the traditional restaurant experience still has its appeal.

“I will say that I do froth at the mouth when I see Xavier Texeido’s Facebook posts about the 45-day aged ribeye at Harry’s,” Cooke says. “We might give that a try.”

The Final Four of the Perfect Pour

Area Guinness lovers vote for the venues that best pour the popular stout

Last month all around New Castle County, Guinness beer lovers spoke their minds, voting for the bars, pubs and restaurants they feel pour the best pint of the dark, creamy stout.

Guinness is one of the few breweries in the world that encourages a specific six-step procedure for pouring its product.

“We spent a long time crafting this beer, which is why we’re so passionate about the pour,” the brewery states on its website. “This is how we ensure that every single mouthful of the black stuff tastes exactly as our expert brewers intended.”

Similar to a single-elimination bracket tournament, 16 locations were chosen and divided into four divisions of four venues each. On Feb. 21, after hundreds of votes were tallied, the “Final Four” of the perfect pour were decided: 6 Paupers in Hockessin; Dead Presidents in Wilmington; Kid Shelleen’s in Wilmington; and Klondike Kate’s in Newark.

Guinness fans will have the opportunity to vote up until March 15 in the final round to decide which of the four venues is the “Champion of the Perfect Pour.” The winning bar will then send two of its bartenders to Atlantic City in April to compete in a tristate contest.

To cast your vote and help determine this year’s champion, go to: PerfectPourDE.com.

 

Trendy Toast to Health

Restorative beverage options are growing in popularity, and local health food shops and restaurants are keeping pace

It may be time for coconut water, apple cider vinegar and green drinks to slide to the back of the shelf—there are other healthful beverages taking center stage, and some are even locally produced. Fermented tea drink kombucha on tap and mixed into cocktails and wheatgrass wellness shots are just two of the drinks that are keeping Delaware in stride with major health tonic trends.
(And when it comes to apple cider vinegar we’re jesting, of course. ACV and its miraculous benefits will never get old.)

Baba’s Bucha: bottled, on tap, on the rocks

When the topic of kombucha comes up, area restaurant and health food shop managers get a little giddy because of two words: Baba’s Bucha.

The Phoenixville, Pa., organic kombucha nano-brewery helmed by entrepreneur Olga Sorzano focuses distribution of small-batch kombucha in kegs and bottles to local establishments, though Baba’s Bucha’s reach is spreading as far as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. With a name derived from “babushka” (it’s Russian for grandmother), Baba’s traces back to Sorzano’s childhood in Siberia, and her kombucha-brewing great-grandmother who would always have a glass jar of the tonic on hand. Sorzano grew up drinking her Baba’s kombucha on a regular basis until she arrived in the U.S. in 2000. A few years later, craving the taste of home, she began making her own brew, and in 2015 she started the company, utilizing the old-world recipe.

Baba’s bottled kombucha is widely available in the area, but a few local places—including Newark Natural Foods, Home Grown Café, Harvest Market Natural Foods and Delaware Local Food Exchange—take it to the next level by offering the beverage on tap, too.

Newark Natural Foods’ grocery manager Jeremy Tingle is impressed by how well the macro business is faring compared to leading brands like GT’s.

“People who love kombucha really love it and start getting into the subculture of it and loyally follow national brands like GT’s, so it’s interesting to see how a local company, which started out with no following, can now be very close to the sales of major brands,” says Tingle. “It speaks volumes of how people are perceiving our local economy and local merchants.”

The co-op’s Cafe 67 offers flavors on tap like pear and apple, ginger and floral. Seasonal options rotate, and customers easily go through a couple of fresh kegs each month. In the meantime, the co-op can move 20 cases—240 bottles—in a month.

“Olga was the first local kombucha person, but now we expect to see more and more. People will start asking for someone’s homemade kombucha and before you know it, it’s turning into an enterprise,” says Tingle.

There are no perceptible health differences between kombucha bottled and on tap; it’s more of a matter of convenience and cost. For customers on the run, a bottled kombucha makes sense. Otherwise, you get more for the cost for a glass or growler up to 32 ounces. Prices start at $4.29.

Even though he loves GT’s, Tingle prefers Sorzano’s Bucha to the leading brand, especially if someone is being introduced to the beverage for the first time. “Hers is way more palatable, way milder than leading brands,” he says. “Baba’s would be a perfect way to get someone into kombucha. It’s just a completely different flavor.”

And flavors abound. Harvest Market offers four rotating flavors on tap (and seven options in bottles), and CEO Bob Kleszics appreciates the drink’s fall seasonal Asian pear brew, which is ginger-heavy. Winter brews hibiscus, love potion, pear chai and strawberry shortcake were on tap at Harvest Market as of press time, with expectations of blueberry options from local orchards for the warmer months.

Meanwhile, in addition to Baltimore’s Wild Kombucha brand, Trolley Square’s Delaware Local Food Exchange touts Baba’s rosy apple (rosemary and apple) and desert rain (rooibos tea, strawberry, rosehips and cinnamon) on tap. DLFE owner Karen Igou notes that desert rain goes well with whiskey.

Or perhaps gin? Home Grown’s bar/assistant general manager Joe Renaud likes to experiment with kombucha cocktails. These typically have a liqueur base melded with seasonal fruits for $8. And good news for vegans: aquafaba is mixed in the cocktail instead of egg whites, which are traditionally used to add texture.

“I do a martini with aquafaba, kombucha, Creme Yvette liqueur and citrus forward Dogfish gin,” says Renaud. “It works well with springtime. These drinks are usually very easy for anyone to drink and enjoy. We could literally sell it and not tell people it’s kombucha and people would love it.”
Kombucha cocktails not for you? Throw it back with a shot, perhaps.

Wheatgrass shots, infused water & KeVita

Sans the alcohol, plant or herbal-based options in liquid form are available at Cafe 67. In small plastic cups, freshly-pressed “shots” of wheatgrass, turmeric, ginger or cayenne are packed with vitamins and minerals.

The most popular of these is wheatgrass. “If you’ve never tried a wheatgrass shot before, you’re going to be knocked off your ass, pretty much. It’s strong, bitter,” says Tingle. “A lot of people get their morning cup of coffee, but here, some people just need that little shot of wheatgrass for energy.”

Depending on the shot, prices range from $2.50 to $4.

Delaware Local Food Exchange offers Jacob’s Raw shots in small bottles ready to go.

Additionally, infused beverages—essentially fruits and vegetables that marinate in water for the day—also are available at Cafe 67, giving water a mild, fresher taste.

“It’s more of a flavor thing than anything,” Tingle says. “We’ll take basil leaves, oranges, mangoes, ginger, lemon, mint, whatever, cut them up, put them in the water, infuse them—it’ll taste so good.”

Kleszics from Harvest Market recommends a few other tonic options too, like KeVita and REBBL. KeVita is a sparkling probiotic drink, fermented with coconut water or reverse osmosis water. It’s light in flavor, and unlike kombucha, it’s neither tart nor vinegary. REBBL is a beverage that offers ethically-sourced whole roots, extracts, berries, barks and leaves.

Really, right now, restorative beverage options are limited only by the creative means in which they are sourced.

“For so long people have been getting their vitamins from supplements,” says Tingle. “Now we’re starting to see a trend where instead of supplementing, people are finding it from sources in their food.”

 

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.

Pucker Up

Sour beers are a growing presence on the brewing landscape

Lore has it that thousands of years ago, when humans first discovered that hops, grain and water combined to create beer, all the resulting beverages featured a taste profile that we would describe as sour.

Blame the microorganisms that linger around us—then and now. Bacteria and naturally occurring yeasts were in the air, water and dust, and especially in the open vessels often used to craft the early brews. They settled freely in the wort (the grain and water mixture that forms the beginnings of beer) and thrived.

Once Louis Pasteur demonstrated how to rid food and prep equipment of unwanted microorganisms using his namesake process and simple sterilization, brewers learned the importance of making sure the final product was free of unwanted microbial visitors. Open wooden vessels gave way to closed, easily cleaned copper kettles and eventually, stainless steel vats. Paired with high-temperature cleaning, the simple changes all but eliminated the potential of unwanted critters infesting a batch of beer.

The disappearance of sour beers from the American landscape also had a good bit to do with changes in approaches to food storage, as well as a healthy dose of big-business marketing, says Craig Wensell, CEO and co-owner of Bellefonte Brewing Co. in Wilmington.

“Brewing in America has been in an awakening almost since Prohibition. Everything changed after that period of self-isolation. Sour beers almost immediately made a comeback right after that,” he says. “But along with the whole concept of canned foods and long-term shelf-stable products, there was an attempt to run the old-style beers off. Either that or they just faded away.”

Bellefonte Brewing Co.'s sour Belgian quadruple, Sour Claymonster, fermenting. It’s available at the brewery this month. Photo Anthony Santoro
Bellefonte Brewing Co.’s sour Belgian quadruple, Sour Claymonster, fermenting. It’s available at the brewery this month. Photo Anthony Santoro

Because nothing is as alluring as the forbidden or unattainable, modern brewers began to plumb history for those funky flavors lost through modern cleanliness. However skeevy it might sound, in pursuit of this primordial flavor born from higher acidity, modern beer makers began intentionally infecting their brews with several types of bacteria and wild yeasts, all designed to add a little something to bring about that new/old sour flavor only the wonkiest beer enthusiasts and culinary anthropologist even knew we were missing.

The master brewers of Belgium were the first in recent history to bring these flavors back to commercially produced brews, going back to the old open koelschip—the Germanic name for what Americans refer to as the coolship, or an open vessel used to cool wort. This allowed “wild” yeasts and bacteria to settle into the mix before it moved to the brewing process.

They began offering up their intentionally inoculated and fermented sour ales known as lambics, as well as lambic blends (known as gueuzes) and Flanders ales. Others not of Belgian provenance included Berliner weisse and gose, both from Germany. Goosed with naturally occurring flora in the wort stage, the finished brews were often aged in used wine barrels, where other lingering bacteria and the remnants of each vintage would boost the flavor profile further.

Properly prepared, these beers can range from light and fruity to verging on the complexity of a fine, dry red wine and lend themselves to a variety of food pairings. In fact, Wensell says that among traditional craft brew drinkers who lean toward a hoppy flavor, sours can often fall flat. But with wine drinkers who often claim to not like beer, sours are frequently a hit.

“The mouth feel of the product is going to be the same as wine, so I use that as my reference point for people who say, “I don’t really like beer,’” he says. “Ten to 15 times over the course of every weekend we see the beer person turn up their nose and someone who doesn’t like beer will go to the sours. It can really take people 180 degrees out of where they thought they were.”

Bellefonte Brewing Co.'s Funk n' Pineapple. Photo Anthony Santoro
Bellefonte Brewing Co.’s Funk n’ Pineapple. Photo Anthony Santoro

Done wrong, the taste of a sour beer can skew toward the unpleasantly earthy or even, um … poopy. Because of their brewing process, even when done well, consistency isn’t the hallmark of sour beers. If you find a brand you like and stick with it, you can still expect flavor variations from batch to batch, Wensell says.

“Sours are kind of hit and miss, but they’re becoming more ‘hit.’ In my drinking experience, I’ve been punished by a number of sours,” he notes. “It’s been kind of an adventure in discovery. It doesn’t always go your way, but it’s always entertaining.”

Sours available at Bellefonte this month will be the Sour Claymonster, a sour Belgian quadruple (or “quad” – essentially an extra-strong Trappist-style ale) with flavors of tart cherry and caramel; a mixed fermentation with Brettanomyces bruxellensis (“Brett brux”) and Saccharomyces Trois (“Sacc. Trois”) yeasts that Wensell describes as “a big, bright. pineapple bomb”; Bellefonte’s second batch of Solera #1, a complex sour with a wine-like flavor that, with carbonation, comes off like a prosecco; and a bright and complex full Brett fermentation that features strong flavors of sour peach and mango. Wensell says he also likes to keep at least two sours on tap throughout the year, usually a blueberry and raspberry.

Searching your favorite beer shop for something to take home? Here are a few top-rated bottles to try:

Dogfish Head's SeaQuench Ale. Photo courtesy of Dogfish Head Brewery
Dogfish Head’s SeaQuench Ale. Photo courtesy of Dogfish Head Brewery

Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale – The only blend on the list happens to also be one from the locals at Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth Beach. This session hazy golden sour combines three separate brews—a traditional German-style Kolsch wheat beer; a gose with hints of sea salt, coriander and black lime; and a Berliner weisse flavored with lime and lime peel. All three are aged together to produce a thirst-quenching drink that’s tart and citrusy up front with a hint of salt and a malty sweet finish. It pairs well with steamed mussels, grilled chicken and raw oysters for the main dish, or a bit of chevre during your cheese course. As a seasonal release, SeaQuench won’t be back around until the summer.

otravez-bottle-pint2016Sierra Nevada Otra Vez Gose-Style Ale – Flavored with prickly pear cactus fruit, coriander and grapefruit, this brew from the Chico, Calif.-based brewery offers a tangy bitterness reminiscent of watermelon that goes well with spicy main dishes, goat cheeses and citrusy desserts. Its 4.5 percent ABV makes it a refreshing, smooth-drinking selection.

Russian River Consecration – A dark reddish-brown brew, Consecration gets much of its color from being aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels acquired from wineries local to the Santa Rosa, Calif., brewery, and from being spiked with black currant prior to the four- to eight-month aging process. What emerges is ale with a sour punch. Undertones of the wine remain, complementing top notes of currant, chocolate truffle, tobacco and spice. Its 10 percent ABV is as foreboding as its dark color, so take your time enjoying this one.

Weyerbacher Brewing Tarte Nouveau Session Sour – This light, refreshing and mildly sour offering originally began as an experiment by the Easton, Pa., brewery to see if it was possible to create a sour beer that wouldn’t contaminate the rest of its drafting and packing equipment. What first emerged as their limited-edition Zulu label has now morphed into this tart, pale-yellow ale that offers an easily drinkable 3.9 percent ABV and a dry, smooth finish. The subtle presence of cherries helps this beer pair well with light seafood dishes like ceviche and the earthier tastes of a beet and goat cheese salad. Be patient, though. This sought-after seasonal won’t be back again until spring.

Bites

Tasty things worth knowing

A Winter Harvest

Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, located in Glen Mills, Pa., and at six other sites throughout Pennsylvania, recently released a new winter menu.

The restaurant offers farm-to-table fare featuring organic, local, sustainable and non-GMO ingredients sourced from more than 75 local farms. Freekeh, Caputo Brothers Creamery Cheeses and Baker Street Bread Co.‘s baked goods play a starring role in the new menu.

Restaurateur Dave Magrogan and Executive Chef Josh Short are utilizing Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-Op’s organic, local and sustainable ingredients to create the restaurant’s new winter menu, which is available at all of the restaurant’s locations.

Among the menu items are street tacos, flatbreads, brick oven pizzas, sandwiches, salads, appetizers, seafood, meat, poultry and vegetarian dishes. The super grain salad, vegetarian poutine, tuna poke, Vietnamese chicken tacos, macadamia nut-crusted halibut, Kennett Square mushroom stroganoff and the vegetable stew are also new additions.

And for dessert? There’s the sugar plum cobbler, upside-down zucchini bread cake and bourbon butter pecan.

Harvest Seasonal Grill is currently pickling vegetables for its charcuterie offering, and is working with local initiatives to forage, source and pickle fruits and vegetables during the cold winter months. The restaurant has also begun working with Baker Street Bread Company to secure fresh bread deliveries daily.

Taking A Bite Out of Hunger

Thanks to a $10,000 donation from Delaware Food Lion locations, kids at Clayton Court Apartments in Wilmington won’t have to worry about being hungry after school. Clayton Court is the newest site to participate in the Food Bank of Delaware’s pilot after-school grab and go meal offering. Meal service began just before the holidays, and it’s already popular with both kids and parents. Kids who live in the complex can stop by the rental office and grab a nutritious meal to take home.

Meanwhile, two ongoing supporters of the Food Bank surprised the staff with significant donations. The TD Charitable Foundation delivered a check for $80,000, and the Norfolk Southern Foundation donated $15,000 for the Backpack Program plus an additional $15,000 for community nutrition programming.

More Food Bank news includes its Culinary School course, which begins Feb. 13. It’s for those interested in a career in the food service industry. The 14-week training class will take place in Newark and Milford.

The program includes 12 weeks of hands-on training in basic and high-end kitchen skills, safe food handling, and life skills. Students also have the opportunity to become ServSafe certified. The 12 weeks of training culminate with a two-week paid internship at a food service company. Upon graduation, the Food Bank of Delaware helps place students in entry-level jobs in the food industry.

Breakfast & Bird Walk

Kick off the Great Backyard Bird Count at Coverdale Farm Preserve with a hot breakfast and a bird walk on Friday, Feb. 17, from 8-11 a.m. (with an extended portion from noon-2 p.m.). The bird data collected will be submitted to this international bird survey, a continent-wide survey in which anyone can participate. It creates a snapshot of birds in mid-winter and provides useful bird trend data.
The fee is $15 for Delaware Nature Society members and $22 for nonmembers. Meet at the preserve at 543 Way Rd., Greenville.

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.”

Sips – Jan. 2017

Here’s what’s pouring

2SP Brewing Releases Third Canned Beer

In December, 2SP Brewing Company released Bellcracker Double IPA in cans. This is the Aston, Pa., brewery’s third canned beer, following the successful Delco Lager and ASAP IPA.

According to director of sales and marketing Mike Contreras, Bellcracker is one of the company’s biggest beers.

“We love it at the brewery, but we have to be careful with it, because, well, it’s dangerously smooth and easy to drink at 8.7 percent,” says Contreras.

The feedback on the beer has been excellent, he says, and retailers—like Branmar Liquors, Kreston and Peco’s— have already put in re-stock orders.

“For those who haven’t tried it, this double IPA has Amarillo hops that give it a big tropical hop flavor. The beer is balanced by a solid malt bill, so it won’t wreck your pallet with hops, and there is no burn from the high alcohol,” says Contreras.

Visit 2spbrewing.com for more.

Delaware Art Museum Happy Hour

On Thursday, Jan. 19, join Delaware Art Museum’s Executive Director and CEO Sam Sweet for casual conversation and free drinks in the museum’s on-site Thronson Café.

Sweet, who is new to the Delaware community, will hear guests’ thoughts about the museum while also getting tips on local events, restaurants, and hidden Delaware treasures. Beer, wine and light snacks will be provided. The event is set for 5-7 p.m.

Olde School Barleywine Is Back

This month, Dogfish Head is bringing back one of the brewery’s most requested beers of 2016—the Olde School Barleywine. Currently scoring a 98 percent rating on RateBeer.com and an 88 on Beer Advocate, the brew, fermented with dates and figs, is sweet and fruity. Brewery founder Sam Calagione came up with the beer’s concept in 2002 after discovering an old cellerman’s manual.

At about 15 percent ABV, this beer is a great candidate for aging. Over time, it dries out, the pit fruit flavors come forward and the hops recede. Pairing it with blue cheese and honey is recommended.
For brew availability, check dogfish.com.

Movies On Tap Keeps On Going — and Giving

Since last April, the monthly Movies On Tap series at Penn Cinema, in partnership with Premier Wine & Spirits, has raised $12,720 for local charities, including Food Bank of Delaware, Delaware KIDS Fund, Read Aloud Delaware, Meals on Wheels, Food Bank of Delaware (twice), Preston’s Playground, Good Old Boy Foundation and Delaware Nature Society.

The event is one of the most interactive beer tasting experiences around. Each month, a different local brewery sends its brewers to talk with guests, who sample beers and catch a cult-classic flick on the big screen. Ticket sales go to charities like those mentioned above.

Next up is Bellefonte Brewing Company and The Princess Bride on Friday, Jan. 27, at 6:30 p.m. The charity of choice is TBA.

A full event schedule will be announced in February.

Says Premier director of marketing Ryan Kennedy: “The best part of this series is that it supports our local community. Bringing beer and movie fans together to support the community we live, work and play in is the main reason we do this, but knowing 99 percent of ticket sales go to a worthy cause is the icing on the cake for us. It’s been a great experience and 2017 is going to be packed with incredible breweries and movies.”

Visit premierwinespirits.com for more information.

Bites – Jan. 2017

Tasty things worth knowing

New Peruvian Eats in Middletown

Local Peruvian restaurant chain The Chicken House, with locations in Newark and Wilmington, opened its newest eatery in Middletown last month.

At 422 E. Main St., the space previously occupied by a Vietnamese eatery, The Chicken House is a 100-seat restaurant with a bar, featuring Peruvian beer and more. The menu includes dishes with seafood, pork, beef and, of course, chicken. Featured item “pollo a la brasa” rotisserie chicken is made by marinating fresh chickens with a unique blend of spices and roasting them, which is one of Peru’s most famous dishes. Visit thechickenhouserestaurant.com for more.

A Second Location for Cajun Kate’s

Last month, Booths Corner Farmers Market creole favorite Cajun Kate’s opened a second location—at 722 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington.

The new eatery serves classic New Orleans-style dishes like po-boys, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and more. Both locations are open only on Fridays and Saturdays.

Owners Don and Kate Applebaum moved from Philadelphia to New Orleans in 1997 and quickly established themselves in two of the premier establishments in the French Quarter—Don at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA Restaurant and Kate at Bayona Restaurant. The couple moved back to this area in 2003 to start a family, and in 2006 Cajun Kate’s also was born. Every item on the menu is made from scratch, including all the “special sauces,” and both locations serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.
Visit cajunkates.com for hours and more.

Hagley’s Winter Movie Series

Indulge in free popcorn and be a part of a good cause with “Hagley After Hours: A Night at the Movies,” in February and March. The series will include cult classics Mean Girls on Thursday, Feb. 9, The Matrix on Thursday, Feb. 23, and The Breakfast Club on Thursday, March 9.

Hagley Museum is partnering with the Sunday Breakfast Mission for the March 9 showing, and all attendees who bring a nonperishable item for the Sunday Breakfast Mission will receive a free bag of popcorn. Donated items can include canned food, toiletry items (toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc.), winter clothes, diapers or formula, and school supplies.

Movie nights will feature themed cocktails and snacks for purchase. Guests are invited to embrace each movie’s theme to receive a free goodie: e.g., wear pink to the Mean Girls showing; wear your favorite sci-fi shirt or accessory to The Matrix; or wear 1980s clothing to The Breakfast Club.

Movies will be shown on the large screen in Hagley’s Soda House auditorium. Prior to each feature film, there will be a short film from Hagley’s collection. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the feature starting at 7 p.m. Admission is just $2 per person.

Events are weather-dependent, so check hagley.org for updates. Because of construction, use Hagley’s Buck Road entrance (298 Buck Rd., Wilmington).

Grain Now Caters

Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark is now offering catering for meetings and special occasions. The food is prepared fresh and designed to serve 10-200 or more.

The catering menu varies, featuring create-your-own yogurt parfaits, street tacos, sandwich stations and more. Orders can be made online at catering.grainonmain.com. Grain’s chef will review the order and confirm prior to starting. Catering is either available for pickup or both delivery and setup for an additional $25 fee. Grain supplies plates, napkins, cutlery, sides, chafing stands, and the Sterno to keep everything warm.

A Taste of Honey

Two new establishments are bringing an Old World beverage—mead—to today’s market

“I rose up in the morning and I felt a dire need
To dream away the dreary day
And drink a cup of mead.
Ignoring the sting of honey bees
I drank and drank some more.
Awoke the very next day and
My [expletive] head was sore.”

— 12th century English drinking song

Yes, they used expletives in the 12th century, and probably a lot of them after a long night drinking mead, the exquisite and potent honey wine that is making a comeback in the 21st century.

Throughout history, people have found a way to turn just about anything into a cocktail, including grain, grape, potato, rice and even something sweet like molasses or honey. And mead, made from honey, is one of the oldest recorded alcoholic beverages, dating back to 7000 BC in Northern China and 2000 BC in Europe.

To most people, the word “mead” conjures images of fur-clad Vikings sitting around a fire while they throw down the sweet drink from cups made of ox horn, or England in the Middle Ages, with bawdy inns and Robin Hood and his merry men draining pewter mugs of the stuff as they sing “I rose up in the morning…” and plotting against the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Like most great discoveries, mead probably was created by accident; some fermenting agent got into some honey, time passed and—voila!—it was cocktail hour. But because honey was hard to acquire (those darn bees), the drink, although still made and enjoyed, was soon passed in popularity by beverages that were made from fruits and grains and other non-stinging sources.

But now, two establishments in Delaware are trying to bring the ancient concoction to modern drinkers.
“It’s one of the oldest and most popular alcoholic beverages on earth, but not many people have ever tried it and a lot of people have never even heard of it. We hope to change that,” says Terri Sorantino, who, along with partner Dr. Jeffrey Cheskin, has opened Liquid Alchemy Beverages on Brookside Avenue in Elsmere.

Sorantino and Cheskin discovered mead by accident. Four years ago, the couple was on vacation in Maine and stopped at a café that served mead, which neither had ever tasted. Intrigued, they sampled some and immediately fell in love with it. And on the long drive back to their home in Old New Castle, they decided to bring mead to Delaware, and maybe make a little money, too. Even though they both have thriving careers—Cheskin is a chiropractor and Sorantino is a nutrition counselor—they wanted to invest in a food or beverage business where they could be creative and be their own bosses, but they knew the craft beer market was flooded. So, their trip to Maine proved to be serendipitous.

Dr. Jeffrey Cheskin and Terri Sorantino of Liquid Alchemy Beverages fell in love with mead the first time they tasted it. (Photo by Jim Coarse)
Dr. Jeffrey Cheskin and Terri Sorantino of Liquid Alchemy Beverages fell in love with mead the first time they tasted it. (Photo by Jim Coarse)

Growing Up with Mead

“You’re always looking for something new and different, something that sets you apart from everybody else,” says Sorantino. “As soon as we tried mead, we knew that we had found what we were looking for.”
Whereas Sorantino and Cheskin were amateurs who stumbled onto mead and its possibilities, Jon Talkington is a brewing professional who grew up with it—even as a kid he used to home-distill mead in his kitchen, as well as beer and wine.

“I’ve been making mead for over 20 years,” Talkington says. “Both of my grandfathers made different kinds of stuff over the years and I just picked up on it. They both lived on farms and made apple jack and cider and brewing has just been a part of my life ever since I can remember.”

That early exposure to the benefits of fermentation led Talkington, a native of Ohio, to become a brewer at Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, the undefeated and undisputed king of local craft breweries.

Talkington has worked at Dogfish Head for the last 12 years and he’s also a professional wine maker, so it was a relatively easy and natural move for him to make mead. And, like Sorantino and Cheskin, he saw that there was a market niche he could fill with the ancient drink.

Talkington has teamed with business partner Robert Walker Jr., who has worked at Dogfish Head for the last six years and currently has the title of Inventory Fulfillment Specialist. In the next month or two they will open Brimming Horn Meadery in Milton, with Talkington as the beverage specialist and Walker as the business specialist.

As the name indicates, they will emphasize mead’s Viking tradition in their marketing and décor at Brimming Horn. That’s why their meads are called things like Freya’s Kiss, Bjornbar and Viking Berry, as well as one with the gotta-try-it name of Goat’s Blood (made from grapes and cherries).

“I first learned about mead like a lot of other people did, from reading history books and mythology,” Talkington says. “Mead is mentioned in Beowulf, so you know it’s been popular for a long time when it becomes part of a mythology like that. And that mythology is a big part of mead’s appeal today. At the same time, we’re not just marketing this as some kind of trip back through history. It’s also like a sweet wine, and there are enough different kinds to appeal to all kinds of tastes.”

Kitchen-Inspired

Sorantino-Cheskin and Talkington-Walker have something in common when it comes to making different kinds of mead —both teams get most of their inspiration not from the brewery, but the kitchen.

“I love to cook and Jeff loves to experiment and that combination is a key,” Sorantino says. “We also get a lot of our inspiration from cooking shows on The Food Network. We’ll see somebody do something with a recipe, with different fruits and spices and flavors—like when we saw someone making a popsicle out of blackberries and lime—and then we’re like, ‘Hmmm…I wonder if that would work with mead.’ And then we’ll experiment and make a small batch. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, but some of our best meads have come from that approach.”

Says Talkington: “I’ve always cooked and I’ve always enjoyed trying different recipes and making my own recipes, and that’s a big part of my approach to making mead—don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s one of the real pleasures of doing this, when you can come up with a recipe of your own that really works. It’s a very creative process that just also happens to taste great.”

Variety is a key to making not only good mead, but also marketable mead. Basic mead is made from just fermented honey, but despite what one might think, it’s not thick and syrupy. Regular mead—at Liquid Alchemy Beverages it’s called “Sweet-Nothing” —definitely has sweetness about it, but there’s no mistaking the alcoholic bite. And that’s just one of many varieties available, and most batches of mead are some combination of fruits and spices and grains and, of course, honey.

“It’s like wine,” Cheskin said. “Some people like red and some like white. Some like a dry wine and some like a fruity wine and some like a spicy wine. It’s the same thing with mead. The key is to find out what works and what doesn’t and that’s all part of the process and part of the fun of doing this. It’s a great feeling when you have an idea and it ends up tasting delicious.”

Both Liquid Alchemy and Brimming Horn use local fruits as much as possible, but they also go exotic at times, which is why one of Liquid Alchemy’s meads will contain cinnamon from Sri Lanka and blackberries from Hockessin.

“You want the best of both worlds, so to speak,” Talkington says. “You want the freshness of local produce and you want to support local businesses. That’s very important because we want to be part of the community. But we also want to bring other worlds to Delaware. If you do it right, it makes for a great combination.”

Getting the Word Out

For Sorantino and Cheskin, one of their biggest challenges is to get people to sample their wares at their renovated warehouse. Their meadery is in the middle of a street lined with industrial garages and warehouses, and even though they completely redid their place and it has a warm, cozy feel to it, the location isn’t ideal for starting a new business. To compensate, they’ve gotten involved with local food fairs and festivals and other events where they’ve been able to introduce mead to a different and mostly younger crowd.

“That’s the most important thing of all—getting the word out,” Sorantino says. “Every time we go to some festival or event we get more and more fans of mead. People are intrigued by the idea and they love the taste and they love the idea that it’s different. And then they want to know where they can get it.”

“There’s a reason this drink has been around for centuries,” she adds. “And that, of course, is part of the allure of mead—its history and place in literature, that feeling of connecting with the Old World. What we’ve tried to do is bring the past into the present, and we’re having a lot of fun while doing it.”

For more information, including hours or operation and different varieties of mead, log onto brimminghornmeadery.com and liquidalchemybeverages.com.