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.”

Worth Trying – Feb. 2017

Suggestions from our staff, contributors and readers

Keep It Local

I try to find small, locally-owned options whenever I can. During my inevitable weekend home repairs, I find myself at Wagner Hardware on Lancaster Avenue (formerly in Greenville). The staff brings an old-school approach of being helpful and knowledgeable, unlike the big-box hardware employees who avoid eye contact and turn the other way. These folks will hand your child a lollipop as they answer your questions and guide you to the items you need.

—Matthew Loeb, Creative Director/Production Manager

A Winter Hike

February is an easy month to feel cooped up indoors. For an extended period of time, that makes most people—like me! —miserable. So why not face the elements and get outside at a state or county park? Particularly after a snowstorm, Delaware’s trails, forests and meadows have a solitary allure in the winter that you just can’t find during the warmer months when they’re crowded with people and activity. So layer up, grab your dog, a friend, a loved one, or hit the trails solo for an outdoor adventure.

—Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Locale BBQ Post Breakfast Sandwiches

This place is the best for all your BBQ needs in the City of Wilmington. However, I think the best kept secret is its breakfast sandwiches. For five bucks, you get your choice of meat (usually bacon or sausage for me), topped with a perfect runny egg, cheese, an amazing remoulade sauce, on a fresh English muffin from La Fia’s Bakery, downtown. Served with a house pepper-vinegar sauce on the side, this thing will kick you in the mouth with flavor. If you find yourself on Lincoln Street during your morning commute, do yourself a favor and make a pit stop here.

—Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

Jerry’s Artarama

A few years ago, my dog chewed our art director’s new sketchbook. Naturally I was mortified. In an attempt to reconcile as soon as possible, I ran to Jerry’s Artarama on Market Street. I have a hard time drawing a stick-person, so I was out of my element, but the staff was friendly and the store was filled with so much cool stuff. So when my son recently asked if we could make a cobra for his school project, I knew Jerry’s Artarama would be the place to go—and we didn’t have to deal with Concord Pike or Kirkwood Highway. The staff loved that there was a child there who was interested in art, and they enthusiastically guided us to the right supplies.

—Marie Graham Poot, Director of Digital Media

Newark Restaurant Week is Happening Now

Jan. 16 marked the start of Downtown Newark’s 11th annual Restaurant Week.  Through Jan. 22, diners will have the opportunity to dive into exciting and flavorful dishes from Newark’s most popular restaurants and eateries. Participating restaurants are offering two and three course meals from a prix fixe menu for both lunch and dinner. Most offerings include two course lunches at $10 and two or three course dinners for $22 and $28.

Whether you are faithful to one establishment of Newark’s food scene or looking to try someplace new, with 14 restaurants participating there is sure to be a place and meal for every taste and budget.

For the full list of participating restaurants and course offerings visit enjoydowntownnewark.com/restaurantweek.

Remembering Darius

Darius Mansoory’s first restaurant in Wilmington was Knuckleheads Saloon in the late 1980s. He’d be the first to tell you that it was aptly named; Darius knew little about running a restaurant in those days.

So, after a few years he sold the place, left town for nearly a half-decade, and returned to repurchase the same building – 1206 Washington St. – at sheriff’s sale. In 1997, the location was reborn as the Washington Street Ale House. Darius had, indeed, learned quite a bit about running a restaurant by then.

The Ale House, which is still going strong after nearly 20 years, was the foundation for Darius’ Cherry Tree Hospitality Group. Mikimotos Asian Grill followed. Then Presto Coffee Bar & Bistro and The Marashino Room – all three located along Washington Street in Wilmington. A few years ago, he expanded his restaurant holdings to Rehoboth Beach with Stingray Sushi Bar & Asian Latina Grill. The former “knucklehead” had become quite the restaurateur.

“When I opened up, I knew it all. I was the best,” Darius told Out & About during a 2012 interview for the Ale House’s 15-year anniversary. “And then the next year went by. I looked at me in the previous year, and I said, ‘Oh, that guy probably didn’t know anything. I know it all now.’ And then the next year goes by, and I look back at myself the year before and say, ‘That guy didn’t know anything.’ Where does it end? I don’t think it’s gonna.”

Unfortunately, it ended much too soon for Darius; he died Dec. 31 of an apparent heart attack while vacationing in Cuba. He was 52.

I knew Darius for all 28 years of this magazine’s existence; saw his shortcomings; was amazed by his resilience; admired his creative intelligence. Darius lived big and had a heart even bigger. The size of his heart is what I’ll remember most.

Let’s hope Darius’ restaurants continue to operate. It would be a fitting tribute.

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.

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.

Tuned In – Jan. 2017

Not-to-be-missed music news

Firefly: Now A Fan-Curated Music Festival

Firefly Music Festival, the East Coast’s largest music and camping festival, has taken fan engagement and interaction to a new level. Through a variety of consumer-focused initiatives, including fan surveys, votes and contests, Firefly has become the first-ever fan-curated music festival.

Since the festival’s inception in 2012, the organization has embraced fan feedback regarding the acts they would most want to take stage at The Woodlands in Dover. This which has directly impacted the lineup each year. Moving forward, Firefly organizers will be incorporating fan feedback into additional major decisions and changes for the festival. Examples of fan voting options include the lineup, merchandise designs and products, attractions, cocktails and food, camping and festival amenities, and more.

This summer’s Firefly is June 15-18 at The Woodlands. Ticket sales and the lineup will be announced soon. Four-day general admission passes will go on sale at the initial price of $289 and VIP at $699. General tent camping will start at $169.

To create a profile and begin voting on a variety of attractions and topics for Firefly 2017, fans can head to FireflyFestival.com and view the Community Page.

A Neil Young Tribute

On Sunday, Jan. 15, at World Cafe Live at The Queen, tribute band Broken Arrow will play the music of Neil Young—both the electric guitar-driven favorites and the country flavored classics with pedal steel and acoustic guitar. Veteran Philadelphia rockers Joe Mass, Larry Freedman and Danny Gold promise “good old Neil with some improvisational interstellar jamming and a few very cool departures and side trips,” according to their website.

Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8. Tickets are $12 in advance and $14 day of show. Visit worldcafelive.com for more information.

Donny McCaslin Comes to Town

Saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his band—the Donny McCaslin Group—are coming to Arden Gild Hall on Saturday, Jan. 14. The band is featured on the David Bowie album Blackstar, which has garnered significant worldwide acclaim since its release last January. A three-time Grammy nominee for Best Instrumental Jazz Solo, McCaslin was raised in Santa Cruz, Calif. After playing in his father’s band as a teenager, he attended Berklee College of Music and, in his senior year, joined the Gary Burton Quintet. From there he toured with various artists and received dozens of awards while recording 11 CDs.

The Jan. 14 show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 for members and $25 for general admission. The concert also features Tim Lefebvre, Mark Guiliana and Jason Lindner.

Pressing Strings at Grain

Pressing Strings, a trio based out of Annapolis, Md., blends American roots, blues, folk, rock and reggae. They’ll be at Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark on Saturday, Jan. 7. The music stems from lead singer Jordan Sokel’s bluesy and soulful songwriting and is firmly anchored by drummer Brandon Bartlett and bassist Nicholas Welker. The band released two recordings last year, Five from Three (March), a five-track EP done mostly live with minimal overdubbing, and Most Of Us (summer) on which the band teamed up with producer Scott Jacoby (John Legend, Jose James, Vampire Weekend) and engineer/producer Neil Dorfsman (Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan).

For more information, visit pressingstrings.com. The show starts at 9 p.m.

Playing the Ace of Hearts

Local jazz, blues and funk quartet Ace of Hearts is performing Thursday, Jan. 19, at Gallucio’s Restaurant at 1709 Lovering Ave., Wilmington, from 8 to 11 p.m. The group melds guitars with electric bass and drums. Ron Sherr is on guitar and vocals, Dillingham McDaniel plays electric bass, Harry Spencer is saxophonist and Desmond Kahn plays drums. Check the band’s Facebook page—The Ace of Hearts Delaware—for more upcoming appearances.

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.

Olive Oil: The New Wine?

Find out about EVOO, give a tasting party. Learn to love this liquid gold.

I know someone whose first sip of wine was a 45-year-old Port. My inaugural taste could boast no such vintage; it was from my aunt’s bottle of Manischewitz, which was first cracked open three Thanksgivings prior. For years, my wine consumption was limited to gifted bottles or summer sangria made with cheap wine. Eventually, business interests took me to wine dinners, where the origins of a Syrah and a Shiraz, a Grenache and a Garnacha, became important to me. Once I could carve out a budget for great wine, bottles from five continents began rotating through my once-dusty wine rack. Although I’m not yet an oenophile, I cannot imagine going back to “factory wine.”

Similar to my wine choices, what occupied my cabinet for years was store-brand olive oil, the quality of which reflected the budget I’d devoted to it. Once again, professional interests led me to a palate-awakening, and for me there is no turning back to generic olive oil.

If you can tell a Merlot from a Cabernet, or even if you can’t, olive oil may be the next horizon for broadening your palate. From tasting parties to sommelier certifications to health magazines, there are many routes to learning why olive oil is worthy of the same enthusiasm as wine. With U.S. consumption increasing by 250 percent in the last quarter century (compared to worldwide growth of 73 percent), there’s a good chance this “liquid gold” has seeped or will be seeping into your kitchen soon.

Things to Know

Some things to know when shopping for “good” olive oil: extra virgin is the best; it can cost a dollar or more per ounce; reading the fine print is important, and it should impart an unmistakable flavor. That $6 store-brand olive oil probably tastes like any other oil in your cabinet…nothing distinctive, even if it does say “Imported.”

Process and timing is everything. For superior quality oil, olives are gently picked (often by hand), taken to press hours after picking, mashed into a paste, and “cold” pressed until “extra virgin olive oil,” with an acid level no higher than .08 percent, pours out. “Virgin” olive oil is limited to two percent acidity—same process, riper olives. Refining with heat or chemicals can turn imperfect, bruised or old olives into edible oil, albeit devoid of flavor and aroma. “Pure” and “light” oils are all or part refined oil.

Where its olives are grown is part of an oil’s pedigree. Your olive oil is most likely imported from the Mediterranean, where archaeologists have found evidence of olive oil production going back at least 6,000 years. By some estimates, America imports 97 percent of its consumption.

This is not to say there is anything innately inferior about American olives. They grow in California, Texas and the “Olive Belt,” stretching from South Carolina to Mississippi. However, it is a relatively new industry in the U.S. The self-proclaimed “oldest” American olive oil producer is only 80 years old. The largest domestic producer of olive oil has grown its market share somewhat quickly thanks to mechanized harvesters, a newer technology not yet widely used overseas.

Every nation thinks its olive oil is the best, and marketers capitalize on the reputation of a country to sell oil to American consumers. In other words, the phrase “Made in Italy” is on a lot of oil, but you need to know more to determine quality.

Indicators of Quality

Italian olive oils, for example, may have origin labels that are a reasonable indicator of quality. Protected Designation of Origin (PDO/DOP) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI/IGP) labels are guarantees of authenticity, regulated by the European Union. A PDO oil has an attribute that is unique to its geography (in wine lingo, terroir), whereas PGI indicates region alone. The E.U. applies such labels to wine and other agricultural products, like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and champagne and cognac.

Olive oil lovers like to talk about traceability and authenticity. One in 20 people I meet at tastings asks me, “Did you see that 60 Minutes episode…?” about how the Italian Mafia counterfeits extra virgin olive oil. The product is adulterated with inferior oils, possibly oils from outside of Italy, colorants and deodorizer… if there is even any extra virgin content at all. This is a national crisis to Italians, who use 10 times as much olive oil per person as Americans. For them, olive oil authenticity is a matter of national pride, and it has a direct impact on the economy.

I am fortunate in that I can respond confidently when asked about the source of the oil I sell. For the past four years, I have worked for a Wilmington company that is the exclusive American importer of a single-source oil from a family-owned Italian farm and frantoio (olive mill). Olevano Olive Oil is pressed from hand-picked olives grown in Wilmington’s sister city, Olevano sul Tusciano, in Salerno. When I mention the surnames of the Wilmington owners, Delle Donne (Tom) and Fierro (Al), to locals, and describe how it’s their cousins in Italy who pick the olives, Delawareans often recognize some connection to the family, and thoughts of fictional Corleones hijacking our oil supply are quickly forgotten.

Marketing and regulation aside, country and region can be a reflection of your flavor preferences. Oil from northern Italy—Tuscany, for example—can seem lighter in mouthfeel than other oils, but no less flavorful. Further south toward Umbria, peppery olive oils dominate. Southern Italian olives, such as those from Campania and Puglia, produce full-flavored, fruity oil.

Planning a Tasting Party

Armed with what you now know about process and origin, you may be ready to dive into the world of what Rachael Ray calls “EVOO” (extra virgin olive oil). Tasting parties are a trendy way to experience good EVOO, and sites like Williams-Sonoma.com offer party planning tips.

Buy several bottles, or have each guest—ideal party size is three to eight people—bring a bottle, aiming for a variety of origins or attributes (filtered or unfiltered, buttery or peppery, grassy or fruity, consecutive harvests, distinct varietals). Serve room temperature, in order from mild to strong flavor, and observe the swirl and the nose, before loudly slurping (yes, really) and swishing the oil in your mouth, just like wine. Skip the official cobalt glass in favor of wine glasses, which tasters can hold in their palms to temper the oil, or you can opt for single-use plastic tasting cups for beginners.

Search “what wine pairs with olive oil” for beverage ideas. Don’t forget the “spit cup” and palate-cleansing bread or tart apples, and give guests pen and paper to write notes. After the tasting, try your favorite oils on bruschetta, buffalo mozzarella and even vanilla ice cream.

Visit Fusion Taster’s Choice in Wilmington, the Olive Orchard in Rehoboth Beach or visit a vendor (like me) at an arts and crafts festival, for low-key tasting opportunities. No time to taste? Buy your oil where the foodies shop, like Capers and Lemons or Janssen’s Market.

When it’s time to cook, remember “smoke point.” Exceeding any oil’s smoke point creates bitterness and devalues EVOO’s health benefits (in fighting diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis), but is not hard to avoid. At its lowest reported temperature, EVOO’s smoke point is close to that of butter. If you wouldn’t fry a cutlet in butter, don’t fry it in good EVOO. Low acid makes EVOO more versatile than some would have you believe, but pros still suggest saving the expensive stuff for dishes where its subtle flavors will shine: salad dressings, drizzles, dipping, quick sautés or braises.

As a gastronaut, you may even set your sights on becoming an “olive oil sommelier.” OliveOilTimes.com offers a course through the International Culinary Center in New York City. The first of three courses costs $1,200; you’ll taste 100 oils from 25 countries over a three-day weekend, learn the history and process of making EVOO, how to judge the quality and attributes of an oil, and more. Sommelier candidates complete two additional levels of coursework. Alternatively, for $350 plus airfare, you can get a “Master of Olive Oil” certification in Los Angeles (nasommelier.com).

Whatever level of expertise you aspire to, tasting olive oil is perfectly positioned to be a palate-pleasing pastime for trend seekers.

Food Trends, 2017

Pokes, boar meat and breakfast all day long: Once again, our fearless prognosticator offers his thoughts on what we’ll be eating in the new year.

Wellness tonics. Purple cauliflower. Coconut chips. Beet noodles.

That’s what you have to look forward to if Whole Foods is right and these are the hottest trends of 2017. And that’s why you need to care about food trends, lest you be caught unawares by a sudden beet noodle in your entrée.

You will find no beet noodles here. This is my third year of making predictions for the future of Delaware food, and one thing I’ve learned—I’m not very good at it. (Check the scorecard below.) While I thought 2016 would find a distillery opening in northern Delaware, I missed the brewery boom that was fermenting all around us. And though I saw sushi cooling off, I didn’t notice Newark becoming a hotbed for truly authentic Chinese cuisine.

But those are the risks foodie prognosticators take. There’s no accounting for taste, and even less accounting for what taste buds will crave from year to year. And so I rounded up a few of my usual suspects, did my research, and herewith offer another few predictions for the new year, in full knowledge that life will likely prove me wrong. Again. Happy dining.

Trend: Restaurants enter the bowl game

There’s a reason bowls are the serving vessel of choice at fast-casual restaurants. They’re quick to assemble, can contain both liquid and solid ingredients, and since they don’t require slabs of bread to hold the good stuff together, they’re easy to make low-carb or gluten-free. But while fast-casual trends often filter down from fine-dining experiences, expect bowls to be one idea that trickles up.

“I think that a growing theme is losing the pretense in a lot of things,” says Chef Robbie Jester from Stone Balloon Ale House. “When you get into tuna tartars and tuna carpaccio, they all sound really fancy. But when you shorten that to a four-letter word, I think that’s approachable.”

That four-letter word? “Poke,” as in Hawaiian for “slice,” and no relation to 2016’s least palatable smartphone trend. Jester serves his ahi tuna and avocado poke in ginger sambal sesame sauce with toasted sesame seeds in a bowl. Since he introduced it, it’s been (in his words) “supremely popular.”
“You can mix it with different ingredients, since it’s a larger cut,” Jester says. “I just think it’s a better preparation, and I enjoy eating it. And I think it’s going to continue to catch on until people beat the shit out of it on the East Coast.”

Prediction #1: Pokes pop up on appetizer lists around the state (gotta eat them all!), and bowls don’t stop there. Watch for authentic Asian flavors in a bowl near you.

Trend: Third-wave coffee washes over Delaware

What, you missed the first two waves? Then you haven’t been staring at the coffee horizon as deeply as the coffee nerds who have transformed caffeine consumption on the West Coast. The waves, loosely defined:
First wave: Insta-cofeee. The best part of waking up.
Second wave: The Starbucksization of America.
Third wave (as popularized by San Fran coffee maven Trish Rothgeb): “[In the third wave,] the coffee will make the moment, not the whipped cream or flavored syrup. These baristi will be able to tell you exactly when their coffee was roasted, how the beans were processed, the idea behind the blend, and offer cupping notes.”

The third wave first started to crash over the First State when Drip Café opened its doors and Brew HaHa! expanded its Trolley Square outpost into a coffee roastery. Both were smashing successes. Expect more to come.

Prediction #2: More quality coffee shops, increasingly local coffee production (perhaps another roastery in town?), and potential invasion by national third-wave riders like Stumptown Coffee.

Trend: Breakfast for breakfast, breakfast for lunch, breakfast for dinner

Breakfast for dinner has been a thing since I was a kid, but you can probably blame McDonalds for proving that people dining out will eat breakfast all day, any day, if given the option. Delaware may not have a strong diner culture, but some restaurants will be quick to fill the gap.

“I don’t think that boom is over yet,” says Karen Stauffer, director of communications for the Delaware Restaurant Association. “I see restaurants, especially in bigger areas, expanding to Saturday brunches, with more breakfast-themed items on menus.”

In Newark, brunch hasn’t just expanded to Saturday. It’s already a seven-days-a-week thing at Home Grown Café, where five brunch items are now available daily from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and the breakfast burrito is one of the top three items at lunch.

“We would get calls daily to ask if we were serving breakfast,” says Sasha Aber, owner at Home Grown. “It’s just nice, comforting food for people to start off the day. And they’re a good price point for people too.”

High-end breakfast food is the main course at Egg Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach and De La Coeur Café et Pâtisserie. Drip Café expanded its restaurant in 2016. Mrs. Snyder’s brought lemon hollandaise to New Castle. Expect all to continue.

Prediction #3: Diners make a comeback. A new one will open, with a commitment to local, freshly sourced ingredients and breakfast all day.

Trend: Fast-fresh-casual takes over the world

Consider this trend a subset of “everything in a bowl,” since that’s where you’ll find most fast-fresh-casual food being served. Also consider it one of the most obvious trends I missed in 2016, with the opening of two Honeygrows (one in North Wilmington, one in Newark), a Zoës Kitchen at the Christiana Fashion Mall, and Roots Natural Kitchen in Newark.

But the fast-fresh-casual trend deserves a category of its own. People certainly want to eat healthy, people increasingly want to eat fresh/local … but people don’t have much time. Those realities used to cancel each other out. Not anymore.

“I think we definitely see more of this coming in 2017, especially in Newark, Wilmington and Dover,” Stauffer said.

Prediction #4: Definitely in Wilmington. If there’s a concept that seems ready-made for Market Street, this is it.

Trend: Wild game gets tamed

Game meats have been popular in Delaware since the first time someone looked at a muskrat and thought, “Hmmm, I could eat that.” But what once was an acquired taste, embraced by a few select spots (like the always-game Stewart’s Brewing Company and the serving-kangaroo-before-its time Matilda’s) is now entering the mainstream. Metro Pub & Grill in Middletown has venison chili and wild boar sloppy joes. Stone Balloon in Newark has a venison Salisbury steak—and expects to add more game to the menu this year. Game meats tend to excite chefs—and they’ll try to excite you.

Prediction #5: It won’t be hard to find wild boar, ostrich and venison on menus in 2017.

Three final trends to watch:
• House-cured meats. (Domaine Hudson has the best charcuterie plate in town; Maiale Deli and Sulumeria continue to impress. Watch for more.)
• Locally produced sour beers.
• Wawa-style touchscreen ordering expanding everywhere.

Last Year’s Predictions Scorecard

1. The End of Tipping: At least one fine dining restaurant in Delaware eliminates tipping in 2016—most likely one at the beach.
Ouch. Not only did the trend to eliminate tipping not come to Delaware, but it seems to have stalled nationally. In fact, the San Francisco restaurant where I first ate under a no-tipping policy brought it back after only five months. If no-tipping is the future, the future is not now.
2. Home Cooking: Increased interest in home cooks entering the sharing economy leads Delaware legislators to loosen cottage food regulations, or they get no pie.
On May 1, 2016, the Division of Public Health published new Cottage Food Regulations that allow for the preparation of a limited type of food products in residential kitchens, pies included. Those regs are now final.
3. Scrapple is the new bacon: The biggest scrapplephobic in your life will venture to try some in 2016.
Only you know what your people think, but Bill Hoffman’s scrapple at The House of William & Merry was a revelation to scrapple-deniers in my life in 2016.
4. More wineries, more breweries … and more distilleries.
One out of three … well, that ain’t good, but at least I have beer to drown my sorrows. Breweries exploded in northern Delaware last year, with the arrival of Dew Point Brewing and Bellefonte Brewing, the re-opening of Twin Lakes, and more. And we got a meadery in Liquid Alchemy. Fenwick Wine Cellars expanded into Salted Vines Vineyard down in Frankford. But still no signs of a distillery up north.
5. Market Street, Dining Destination: Look for a net gain of five places on or near Market Street in 2016.
Let’s see: We added Merchant Bar, Masala Kitchen, Twisted Soul, Starbucks, Market Street Bakery & Cafe and Coffee Mode. Brew HaHa! moved across the street and expanded, but closed the first location, so that’s a net neutral. Still, nailed it!