Domaine Hudson Part Deux

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

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

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

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

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

A Novel Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 Things to do This Fall

We’ve got your autumnal to-do list covered

The season of corn mazes and pumpkin patches, hayrides and ghost tours is here. Let us help you navigate the options with a few suggestions.

Ride the Castle Trail Along C&D Canal
Between Delaware City and Chesapeake City, Md.
The Branch Canal Trail, which is the section of recreational trail winding through wetlands connecting Delaware City to the Michael Castle Trail, was completed in June after a few years in the making. The approximately 14-mile Castle Trail runs along the canal from Delaware City to Chesapeake City. Just a small portion near Chesapeake City is left to be paved, and should be completed any day. In the meantime, that section is easily cycled on a mountain bike. Closer to Chesapeake City, the trail is varied in terrain with a few challenging hills and wildflower-filled meadows, while it’s a smooth ride in the direction of Delaware City.

Fort Delaware Ghost Tours
Pea Patch Island, Delaware City
Various October dates
destateparks.com/ghost
Join the Diamond State Ghost Investigators and park staff for three-hour (6:30-9:30 p.m.) recreational paranormal investigations each Friday and Saturday this month. Be part of an actual paranormal investigation using electronic magnetic field detectors, data recorders and other techniques. Tickets are $40 per person, but Saturday, Oct. 29, is for hardcore ghost hunters only, from 9:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Tickets are $100.

topiaryNightscape at
Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Rd., Kennett Square, Pa.
Now-Oct. 29; 8-11 p.m.
longwoodgardens.org
Back after a successful show last year, the light and sound experience by Philadelphia’s Klip Collective is back for nighttime adventure across a magical landscape transformed by light, movement, color and original music. The expansive gardens are a backdrop for new music, new displays and a heightened cohesive experience.

U-Pick at Milburn Orchards
1495 Appleton Rd., Elkton, Md.
Various dates now-Oct. 30
milburnorchards.com
Family-owned and operated since 1902, Milburn Orchards is a local mainstay for families to gather handpicked peaches, cherries, apples, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, nectarines, plums, and of course, pumpkins. U-Pick Apple, Berry & Grape Adventures are Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For additional hours see the website.

Corn Maze at Ramsey’s Farm
330 Ramsey Rd., Wilmington
Various dates now-November
ramseysfarm.com
Travel around the world at Ramsey’s Farm’s eight-acre corn maze representing each continent, emphasizing the international importance agriculture. It’s open weekends 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Nov. 1; for other dates and times, visit the website. Meanwhile, the pumpkin field is 10-12 acres of gourdy bliss, yielding approximately 20,000 pumpkins each season.

Coverdale Farm Preserve Adventures
543 Way Rd., Greenville
Saturdays, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; additional dates on website
delawarenaturesociety.org
Coverdale Farm Preserve, a working farm that hosts farming, gardening and cooking classes and camps, is a definite autumnal destination. Self- and staff-guided tours, U-Pick fields of flowers, herbs and vegetables, lawn games and more are available. The special theme on Saturday, Oct. 15, is Pumpkin Celebration & Hayrides.

Brandywine Village Riverfest
Brandywine Village, Wilmington
Saturday, Oct. 1; 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
oldbrandywinevillage.org/events
The annual event is a fun-filled community day with music, children’s activities (mad science, tennis in the street, mini golf and more), artists and food vendors.

The Inspire Lot Series
215-219 W. 7th St., between Orange & Tatnall, Wilmington
Friday, Oct. 7; 5:30-8 p.m.
creativedistrictwilm.com
The 7th Street Arts Bridge Inspire Lot Series, held during the First Friday Art Loop, features poet and songwriter King Zimm this month. Also enjoy live music by Gable Music Ventures, assorted food trucks, hands-on art activities and more.

dsc_0907Vendemmia at Bellevue
Bellevue State Park,
800 Carr Rd., Wilmington
Sunday, Oct. 9; 2-6 p.m.
societadavinci.org
The region’s biggest celebration of the Italian grape harvest, the da Vinci Society of Delaware’s 13th annual Vendemmia da Vinci, will take over Bellevue State Park. The event includes fine Italian wine, beer and catering by Italian restaurants. Admission is $50 in advance and $60 at the door.

Grainfest 2016
Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, 270 E. Main St., Newark
Saturday, Oct. 15; 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
grainonmain.com
This will be a fall celebration of craft beer and live music, featuring five bands on Grain’s new outdoor stage in the back lot, providing the perfect backdrop for the new beer garden, featuring more than 15 breweries and two food trucks. Chef Bill will be cooking up something special for the day. There will be kids’ activities as well.

Delaware Wine & Beer Festival
Delaware State Fairgrounds, 18500 S. DuPont Highway, Harrington
Saturday, Oct. 15; noon-5 p.m.
delawarewineandbeerfestival.com
The 7th annual festival features national acts Sam Grow and the Dueling Pianos. Local and regional wines, beers and spirits will be available. Painted Stave, Evolution Brewing, Bellefonte Brewing Co., and Dogfish are just a few.

Musikarmageddon Finale
the baby grand, 818 N Market St., Wilmington
Saturday, Oct. 15; 8-11 p.m.
outandaboutnow.com/musikarmageddon
Who will be champion of the area’s biggest battle of the bands? Arden Kind, Hoochi Coochi, The Susquehanna Floods and TreeWalker are the finalists for the Musikarmageddon X showdown.

Delaware Splatter Dash
Oberod Estate, 400 Burnt Mill Rd., Wilmington
Sunday, Oct. 16; 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
cffde.org
Benefitting Children & Families First, this fundraiser is for anyone who wants to walk, jog or run for a cause – and plow through seven color stations to get splattered by non-toxic, biodegradable powder en route to the finish line. The course covers 1.5 miles of off-road grass trails through trees, with a few inclines, but nothing difficult.

Pirate FlagHeavy Seas Party
Kalmar Nyckel & Riverfront
Dravo Plaza, Wilmington
Thursday, Oct. 20; 5-8 p.m.
Hosted by O&A, the Heavy Seas Party on the Riverfront includes tours on the Kalmar Nyckel (5-6:15 p.m.) and live music on the Riverfront with beers from Heavy Seas. This will be a fundraiser for the Delaware Children’s Museum. Featuring fresh pours of the Pounder Pils, Loose Cannon IPA, and the Partner Ships Terrapin Rye Wit, the event includes appetizers and live music by the Brad Newsom Trio (6-8 p.m.). Those 21 and older are welcome, and tickets are $30 in advance, $40 at the door.

The Ultimate Tailgate
Sheraton Wilmington South
365 Airport Rd., New Castle
Thursday, Oct. 20; 6-9 p.m.
mealsonwheelsde.org/ultimate-tailgate
The event will feature the best of area restaurants serving unique interpretations of tailgate food. This sophisticated yet casual event also will feature wine, spirits and a beer garden curated by 2SP Brewing Company. VIP admission is at 5:30 p.m.

I Want My CTC
– A Tribute to the ‘80s
World Cafe Live at The Queen, 500 N. Market St., Wilmington
Saturday, Oct. 22; 7 p.m.
worldcafelive.com
Joe Trainor assembles some of the area’s finest musicians and City Theater gathers some of its finest singers, traveling back in time to when video ruled the airways. Focusing on the golden age of MTV, this production brings some of the enduring ‘80s classics live to the stage for just one night. Tickets start at $20.

Halloween Blue Jean Ball
222 Lake Dr., Newark
Saturday, Oct. 22; 6:30-10:30 p.m.
fbdbluejeanball.org
This year’s event will take place at the Food Bank of Delaware’s new Newark building. To help combat hunger in the state of Delaware, the Food Bank is holding its 11th annual event, complete with a seasonal Halloween theme—come dressed in a costume or casual blue jeans (there will be a costume contest). A small plate menu prepared by students from the Food Bank’s Culinary School will be featured, led by the team at Iron Hill Brewery (also the presenting sponsor). Tickets are $75.

Beers & Gears at Delaware Park
777 Delaware Park Blvd., Wilmington
Saturday, Oct. 22; 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
delawarepark.com
Rev your engines for this annual seasonal favorite for area car enthusiasts. It’s open to all years, makes and models for participants, and of course, anyone is welcome to stroll through the colorful rows of sheet metal, chrome ad steel. Rain date is Oct. 23, rain or shine, and trophies will be awarded in all categories (rat rods, muscles, exotics, hot rods, tuners, pro street, classics, imports, and trucks). Rolling Revolution food trucks will be around for lunch and dinner.

DTC’s Wine Feast and Auction
Delaware Art Museum, 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington
Friday, Oct. 28; 6-9:30 p.m.
delawaretheatre.org/winefeast
Wine lovers rejoice! The Delaware Theatre Company announces the return of the successful Wine Feast and Auction for another year. Enjoy a night of tastes from local restaurants like Caffé Gelato, Harry’s Hospitality Group and Domaine Hudson, and wine from purveyors like Branmar Wine and Spirits, Collier’s of Centreville and Frank’s wine at this intimate evening of philanthropy at the Delaware Art Museum. Beer will also be available from Dogfish Head and other breweries. All proceeds benefit the artistic, education and community engagement programming of the Delaware Theatre Company. Tickets range from $75-$250.

37th Annual Halloween Loop
Various Wilmington venues
Saturday, Oct. 29; 8 p.m.
outandaboutnow.com/halloween-loop
The Halloween Loop is a citywide party in which club patrons pay a one-time cover charge of $10 to visit more than a dozen nightspots throughout Wilmington. It (almost) goes without mentioning: wear a costume! Buses start running at 8 p.m., and stop their regular routes at 12:45 a.m. with last-visit stops at 1 a.m.

Auburn Heights Fun
3000 Creek Rd., Yorklyn
Various dates
auburnheights.org
During Steamin’ Days at Auburn Heights, visitors can climb into antique automobiles or board a train to experience what it was like to travel at the turn of the 20th century. Guests can also tour the magnificent 1897 mansion that was home to three generations of the Marshall family. Steamin’ Days this fall are Oct. 2 and Nov. 6, plus Steamin’ Halloween on Oct. 30 and Steamin’ Thanksgiving on Nov. 26. Other events take place throughout the month.