Nothing gets Wilmington residents quite as excited as a new restaurant—unless it’s a celebrity sighting.
I recently experienced both thrills on one evening.
The Brandywine Restaurant at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave.—which many call “the old Michael Christopher’s building”—had an invitation-only preview, and Brent Celek, a former Philadelphia Eagles tight end, was in attendance.
I don’t follow sports, so I relied on a friend to fill me in, and Celek graciously posed for photos with his enthusiastic fan.
However, I follow restaurants, and I am as giddy about the eatery as my friend was about Celek.
The Brandywine Restaurant officially opens to the public on Tuesday, Nov. 14, and Bill Irvin, a partner at Snuff Mill Restaurant, Butchery & Wine Bar in Independence Mall, is the owner.
Not surprisingly, expectations are high, and here’s a peek at what to expect.
The 21st-century Brandywine
Despite the name, The Brandywine Restaurant has no connection to the wainscoted Brandywine Room in the Hotel du Pont—other than the shared salute to the river and valley that define this area.
There are no Andrew Wyeth paintings on the new eatery’s walls.
Instead, cranes fly across salmon-colored wallpaper from Asia, European mirrors, and a barrel ceiling painted a metallic shade of steel blue.
It’s a narrow room with just over 40 seats until outdoor dining is available. Suffice it to say that you’ll get cozy with your neighbors.
For more elbow room, consider the underlit bar stretching down one side of the room that boasts handsome tweed-covered chairs.
A banquette runs down the other side, and the tufted back has a mid-century modern vibe, as do the drum shades on the pendant lights.
Between the appointments and the dining room’s size, I felt like I was in the dining car of the Orient Express in the late 1930s.
But there’s also a Parisian bistro sensibility, complete with white table linens and custom-made French napkins featuring a fox with glasses, a restaurant mascot.
In short, the place shimmers with retro glamor.
It’s a sumptuous space thanks to Stephen Mottola, a well-known Realtor with a flair for design.
To be sure, Irvin—a hospitality veteran who previously worked for Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Phillips Seafood Restaurant group—has a knack for finding good, local talent.
Consider that Robert Lhulier is his partner at Snuff Mill and a consultant for the new project.
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Glennon Travis, the general manager, comes to Delaware from the Hamptons, and he’s opened Soho Houses in the United States and abroad. The front-of-the-house crew is polished, no easy feat given the shortage of industry workers.
Chef Andrew Cini, a native Delawarean, has worked in Philadelphia and fine-dining establishments in Wilmington.
Irvin drew inspiration for the restaurant from the upscale eateries of the past, including posh lunch spots in tony department stores.
It was up to Cini and Lhulier to turn that vision into a menu—or “Bill of Fare.”
No shortage of starters
The chefs know their audience, and there are seafood selections to start.
Since there were four of us, we ordered the Gulf prawn cocktail ($22).
Four glistening colossal shrimp spooned each other on a bed of ice with cocktail sauce and rouille and the novel salsa macha with chilis.
There were also four oysters in the oyster Rockefeller ($24), a traditional take with novel ingredients, including Thai chili and Vietnamese nuoc mam.
Warning: the tiny red chilis leave a peppery sear on your tongue. Fortunately, it quickly dissipates.
Do yourself a favor and get the Parker House rolls ($12) with everything bagel seasoning. We couldn’t stop eating them.
The rolls are in the hors oeuvres section, as are
However, if you want to share, add a dollop of crab and tartar sauce to a crispy maize cracker.
The main event
There are salads and soups, but we went straight to the entrees.
Steak Diane ($52) is a happy throwback— a 6-ounce filet elegantly presented with trumpet mushrooms and a mound of hot fries.
Fries, it seems, have a firm footing in the upscale market, as does its constant companion, the burger.
The Brandywine’s version is called a Royale with Cheese ($28), a tongue-in-cheek reference to a conversation in the cult film “Pulp Fiction.” (France has no Quarter Pounder because they have the metric system.) Using Creekstone Farm meat, the kitchen makes two smash burgers.
Several dishes are en croute (surrounded by pastry), including salmon ($39), which was still blushing while the pastry was a beautiful shade of gold. The dish came with bearnaise sauce and fresh peas on the side.
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The Brandywine also shows off the kitchen’s pastry skills with beef Wellington for two ($138) and chicken vol au vent ($36)—a comforting blend of peas, carrots and creamy sauce cradled in a puff pastry cup.
I’m sure the team does an equally good job with its dessert program, but we were stuffed, and there were celebrity photos to take in the room, which had a party air.
Indeed, by the end of the evening, Irvin had shed his sportscoat and untied his bow tie, which seemed like a purposeful accessory against his crisp, white shirt. He still looked like a dapper proprietor.
Like Snuff Mill, the air of fun and familiarity—a Delaware thing—keeps The Brandywine Restaurant from becoming stiff.
It also takes the sting out of paying the check. You walk away with a full belly and new friends.
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