Best of the Best: Delaware
Recommendations for best places to eat locally — morning, noon, night and more
Morning: Centreville Place: Cafe + Market
5800 Kennett Pk., Centreville
302-777-4911 / CentrevillePlace.com
Located in a converted historic home, this charming spot is the perfect place to start your day. Grab a coffee or tea and a delicious pastry for a light snack, or bring some friends for a homecooked breakfast, served until noon. Menu highlights include the Sammy (smoked salmon topped with wasabi or plain cream cheese, capers, red onion, tomato and cucumber on a bagel or in a wrap), avocado toast with tomatoes, feta and balsamic glaze, and the French breakfast — a fresh baguette with brie, jam and butter, with a side of seasonal fruit. Now you’re ready for anything.
Noon: Buckley’s Tavern
5812 Kennett Pk., Centreville
302-656-9776 / BuckleysTavern.com
When Coley du Pont needed a chef for Buckley’s Tavern, a famed hangout frequented by artists, sports celebrities and folks from Delaware’s chateau country, he found Tom Hannum, recently retired from the Hotel Du Pont’s kitchen. As executive chef, Hannum manages an iconic spot that’s both comfortable and casual. For lunch, we recommend comfort food: macaroni and cheese, chicken wings or nachos, followed by a wild game burger, Reuben or crab cake. The tavern has an extensive list of beers and a solid selection of scotch, bourbon, rum and rye. Savor your meal, but keep your eyes peeled. Who’s that pulling up in pajamas in a Rolls-Royce?
Night: Bardea Food & Drink
620 N. Market St., Wilmington
302-426-2069 / BardeaWilmington.com
He won’t drown your pastas in red gravy. But the James Beard semifinalist and Executive Chef Antimo DiMeo’s restaurant does do Italian — called “innovative Italian” — with imaginative interpretations of the country’s cuisine, using local ingredients. Sample small plates of halibut with lobster bisque, charred octopus and washugyu tri-tip. Pastas — spaghetti, busiate, fusilloni, mafaltini, casarecce, ravioli, messe paccheri — are all deliciously inviting. Chicken, ribeye, fish of the day and spare ribs can be prepared for the table. Choose an Italian wine from its long list. But, eat slowly and save room, if you can, for cheesecake and a dessert wine.
Night: La Fia
421 N. Market St., Wilmington
302-543-4474 / LaFiaWilmington.com
Formerly the head chef at Domaine Hudson, and a James Beard award semifinalist for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic Region, Executive Chef Dwain Kalup heads the kitchen of this small restaurant in downtown Wilmington. Everything from the Brazilian fish stew to the ravioli with oxtail is homemade using local ingredients. For starters, choose spice-crusted lamb ribs, crispy duck or chicken liver mouse. Finish with white chocolate mousse or yuzu semifreddo, an olive oil cake with Thai granita and lime curd. Wine or beer is from a carefully selected list, as are creatively named cocktails — Not in Kansas Anymore, Don’t Fig with My Heart. One diner called his the “best meal of my life.”
Happy Hour: Merchant Bar
426 N. Market St., Wilmington
302-502-3385 / MerchantBarWilmington.com
In Wilmington, on Wednesday through Saturday, 5 to 7 p.m., head to the Merchant Bar for an outstanding Happy Hour. It’s right downtown, modern and hip, blocks from the Opera House and the Playhouse, a short walk from the river. Try some appetizers, ranging from $3 to $10, like guacamole, salsa and chips, tacos, fried calamari and tuna crudo. Sip a well-made old fashioned or margarita for $10, or the $5 house red or white wine. Tempted to stay for dinner? Korean fried chicken bao buns, duck moo shu and crab pad thai make that the smart choice.
Don’t Miss: Le Cavalier at Hotel Du Pont
42 W. 11th St., Wilmington
302-594-3100 / HotelDuPont.com
USAToday Top 10 Hotel Restaurant. The Hotel DuPont’s chandeliers, ornate carved-wood ceilings, paintings and marble tables are a sumptuous backdrop for French African cuisine at Le Cavalier that’s a must for residents and visitors to the Brandywine Valley. Brunch on salmon tartine with capers and crisp cucumbers or crab sandwiches and frites. Dine on duck Provençal. Word is that even the burgers possess an air of elegance there. Between courses check out the players’ balcony, where piano and sax of yesteryear provided live music. Back at the table for dessert, revel in chocolate mousse with berry compote, paper-thin golden bric tuile and white chocolate pearls that add a delightful crunch. Funny how “perfection” is the same word in French and English.