Restaurant Renaissance on Market Street

Margaux IN Wilmington by Joe del Tufo

Downtown Wilmington has become a diner’s delight with new, eclectic cuisine

In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a dining renaissance happening on Market Street. And it couldn’t come at a better time, as the City begins its new branding campaign—“It’s Time”— to promote Wilmington as a place to live, work and play.

Last year, only a handful of new dining options opened. They included the Wilmington Green Box, which serves smoothies and healthy food; UDairy Creamery, serving ice cream, burgers and salads; and, two blocks over, on Orange Street, Bull Bay Caribbean Cuisine, best known for its Jamaican-inspired food and digs. This year and into 2019, Market Street is on track for a half-dozen restaurant openings, with more to come.

Here’s a look at recent additions to the Market Street scene, along with a glance at those scheduled to arrive soon.

Farmer & the Cow, 413 N. Market St.

After a quiet opening back in March, Farmer & the Cow has made its mark on Market Street with a wide selection of upscale burgers, bourbon and boozy shakes.

Having lived in Delaware for many years, owner Mike Day realized there was potential in his location on North Market Street.

“Wilmington never seemed to be known for its restaurants, nightlife or happy hours. [However], through strong revitalization and focus on growing the city in such a positive manner, downtown Wilmington, specifically Market Street, seemed like a great opportunity to be part of its rebirth,” Day says.

Farmer & the Cow focuses on quality ingredients and house-made burgers, created with a blend of brisket, chuck and filet that chefs grind and prepare to form an eight-ounce patty. 

There is also a strong craft focus, whether it’s spirits, cocktails, beer or the extensive bourbon collection.

Says Day: “Our bourbon list is impressive. We’re always looking for new projects from producers. We want to provide an opportunity for our guests to try something new, even those with an experienced palette.”

And for those with a sweet tooth, Farmer & the Cow offers milkshakes that can be made kid-friendly or “boozy” with the addition of a house shot. The most popular drink is called “The Brimley,” or what Day calls a “candy shop in a glass.” The concoction is a blend of Reese’s, Hershey’s chocolate, Butterfingers, Oreos and M&M’s, all folded into vanilla ice cream.

Margaux Restaurant, 902 N. Market St.

Located in the former home of Delaware Trust, Margaux Restaurant is a long-awaited addition to Market Street.

Says co-owner Soufiane Lailani: “I wanted to create an intimate space that blended modern and old school tastes.” When Lailani saw the space for the first time, he was excited that the front-of-house was a completely “blank canvas” and that the location was “a perfect match,” with so many workers living within walking distance.

Margaux serves classic, old-school French cuisine, using local and seasonal ingredients when possible. The most popular dishes include le Hamburger at lunch and the oh-so-decadent Tournedos Rossini, a seared center-cut filet mignon with foie gras, pickled shallot mousse, potato gratin, haricot vert (green beans) and demi glacé.

Menus will change seasonally, so look for the cassoulet, a rich stew typically made with beans and pork, this fall. The most anticipated update is the addition of the creperie adjacent to Margaux, which is tentatively scheduled to open in late fall.

And as the only full-service, classic French restaurant in the city, it has already made an impact. This year, it will be the 2018 exclusive caterer for the first-ever Le Dîner en Blanc, Wilmington, an internationally renowned pop-up dining event where guests dress all in white.

Stitch House Brewery, 829 N. Market St.

Stitch House Brewery began the rebirth of the Wilmington business district and has become a bright spot in both the daytime and late-night restaurant scene.

“I grew up in Wilmington and wanted to be part of the resurgence of Market Street,” says owner Dan Sheridan.

Having worked previously at La Fia, Sheridan says he has always felt “more comfortable than others” when it came to working on Market Street. In addition, he had early intel on the new Residences at Mid-Town Park project and knew that he wouldn’t “find a space big enough” for his restaurant and brewhouse anywhere else.

Fast forward to today and the brewery and restaurant is going strong. Stitch House serves a long list of meaty sandwiches, skillets to share (or to keep to oneself), and a list of craft beers made on the premises by Head Brewer Andrew Rutherford, formerly of Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Co.

“The person who built our brewhouse threw out a few names for head brewer and after 50 or so interviews, I knew that Andrew was the one,” says Sheridan.

He adds that Rutherford has “carte blanche” in the brewhouse. For example, Stitch House partnered with OperaDelaware last fall to make a High Note Abbey Dubbel beer to commemorate the Puccini festival.

218 Grille, 218 N. Market St.

After a quiet opening earlier this year in the LoMa neighborhood, 218 Grille has made quite a splash on Market Street. Anyone who walks by this space can tell by the aroma that it’s all about the chicken wings.

Owner Darril Guilford serves up wings with creative flavors like Thai coconut curry, mesquite dry rub, Jamaican jerk and sesame ginger. The rest of the menu is a handful of sandwiches and your choice of fries—plain, truffle, rosemary, crab or sweet potato—or cornbread.

Banks’ Seafood Kitchen & Raw Bar, 101 S. Market St.

The newly named Banks’ Seafood Kitchen and Raw Bar should be on everyone’s radar. Sole owner and chef David Leo Banks has kept much of the menu the same since the change of ownership, but has added his own touches by adding a half-dozen “noshing” items and more raw bar offerings, including three new tuna dishes. 

Even with the name change from Harry’s Seafood Grill, it’s the same at heart. “The restaurant still has a hyper-focus on service and will serve a variety of snacks and small plates,” says Banks.

Another addition to the menu is the late-night happy hour known as Decompression Drafts & Snacks, where drafts and seafood snacks are half-price from 8:30 until closing at the bar.

Recently, Banks noticed a massive shift “in eating habits from full courses to shared or small plates.” He adds that he’s “seen an uptick in younger crowds” with the completion of the 101 Avenue of the Arts apartments, owned and operated by Capano Management. That created the need for more shareable specialties like the new Big Eye Tuna Togarashi and Big Eye Tuna Timbale (or Ahi tuna, its common name).

Coming Soon

Bardea Food & Drink, 620 N. Market St.

The soon-to-be-open Bardea Food & Drink at Seventh and North Market Street will set itself apart from other Italian restaurants by “remastering the classics,” says Mike Prince, publicist at Peter Breslow Consulting Public Relations.

It’s the brainchild of Scott Stein and Chef Antimo DiMeo, who worked together at Ardé Osteria in Wayne, Pa. They have come together again to create Bardea, an interpretive take on old-school Italian food. Bardea, named after the goddess of food and drink, will take inspiration from multiple regions throughout Italy in both its food offerings and drink selection.

Says Prince: “There has been a renaissance of restaurants and overall great things happening in Wilmington. Both Scott and DiMeo want to be there [in Wilmington] when they open their new restaurant.”

I got a sneak peek at the highly anticipated lunch and dinner menu and can attest to the fact that Bardea is going to fit right in. I can’t go into details, but I can say that there are small plates, charcuterie boards, pasta, large plates (entrées), and, of course, oven-baked pizzas. Get ready to open those pocketbooks, you’ll want one of everything.

DE.CO, 111 W. 10th St.

Although not directly on Market Street, DE.CO on Delaware Avenue has sent shockwaves through the downtown food community. This food collective will house eight restaurant concepts that “push the envelope,” says Peter DiPrinzio, director of food & beverage at Seawall Development. It will be “a place where chefs can launch cool, new ideas,” he says. So far, concepts include Korean, Mediterranean, coffee, smoothies and juice, and American comfort food, with more to be announced soon.

Located on the main floor of the Nemours building, DE.CO will have about 250 seats, a private event space for 30-50 people, and one show-stopping feature: three large hydraulic garage doors on 10th Street that “open up the inside to the outside,” according to DiPrinzio, allowing customers the “al fresco” experience in the heart of downtown Wilmington.

And for those looking to live, work and play in downtown Wilmington, the best part is that DE.CO will be open for three meals a day.

Says DiPrinzio: “DE.CO will be . . . a comfortable place so you can just hang with friends and colleagues.”

It’s tentatively scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2019.

Other Notables

Agile Indian Grill, 209 N. Market St.

Another significant event on Market Street was the discreet changing of the guard in the former LoMa Zaikka Indian Grill space. Zaikka Indian Grill wanted to focus on its Newark location and food truck, so it decided to turn over its space to Agile Indian Grill, which would offer some of the same Indian build-your-own meals. Agile is owned by the same partners who run the Hyderabad House, and serves more than a half-dozen curries to complement its variety of Indian street foods and drinks.

Edible Arrangements, 824 N. Market St.

Though not a restaurant per se, Edible Arrangements is a nice addition to the otherwise carb-laden restaurant offerings. In addition to selling its signature FruitFlowers Bouquet, Edible Arrangements offers fruit salad, dipped fruits and smoothies perfect for a midday snack.

There’s no excuse not to visit Market Street. Parking is plentiful—Mid-Town parking on 8th and Orange Streets has more than 500 spaces and costs only $4 after 5 p.m. Downtown Visions provides safety escorts during late evening hours throughout most of downtown Wilmington. So the toughest choice you’ll make may be where you want to eat and drink.

Pictured: Margaux Restaurant’s Tartare de Thon, chopped yellowfin tuna, diced mango, sliced green onions, diced avocado and tomato oil. Photo Joe del Tufo. This post appears courtesy of Out & About Magazine