Situated between two waterways, Middletown has long been a place for weary travelers to rest their feet––but more importantly, a place to eat and drink. 1861 Restaurant, whose name is inspired by the year the town was founded, strives to embody that same spirit, but without waking the banshees. The welcoming New American cuisine aims to echo the satisfying tavern-stop grub of yesteryear, from the handcrafted pizzas loaded with farm-fresh veggies to hearty main courses and decked-out sandwiches. Likewise, diners can sate their thirst with a huge range of pours from behind the bar, including specialty cocktails, craft beers, and wine.
In Vallé Cucina’s kitchen, chefs form fresh jumbo lump crabmeat into thick patties, pan-sear them to a golden-brown hue, and drizzle their crispy crusts with beurre blanc. The eatery’s crab cakes have been hailed by Delaware Today as the city’s best for several years running. Vallé Cucina’s classic Italian entrees are held to the same high standard: chefs hand-roll gnocchi and drizzle them with slow-simmered tomato sauce, and accent dry-aged steaks with elegant flourishes such as peppercorn brandy cream sauce and blue cheese. Servers recommend selections from Vallé Cucina’s vast wine list to enhance steaks or Trevi Fountain reproductions.
Matt Crist, the new executive chef of Union City Grille, crafts lunches and signature dinners of handmade pastas, rich short-rib chili, and steaks seasoned with a house rub. An updated list of hand-selected wines and over 70 craft beers augment dishes that include hand-turned ricotta gnocchi and gourmet burgers. Guests can enjoy fare in the comfortable dining area, or in the eatery's cozy banquet room, accented with a modern fireplace. Sunday "choose your cut" fillet specials allow guests to feast on steaks discounted by the ounce, or pretend they are directing a film starring steaks.
From a kitchen inside the Clarion Hotel, executive chef Jeff Kirby concocts a diverse spread of Southwestern-influenced dishes from sandwiches and Tex-Mex favorites to tender, perfectly cooked steaks. Kirby and company keep the Maryland crab soup and other crowd-pleasing dishes on the menu and conceive new menu additions and daily specials to keep diners on their toes and to prevent cooking utensils from dulling due to complacency.
Drawing on his culinary background working in East Coast bistros and stately hotel kitchens, Mile High Steak & Seafood’s Executive Chef David Robinson crafts a rotating menu of upscale steakhouse cuisine. Robinson, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, refuses to cut corners with his ingredients, going so far as to fly in fresh seafood and grass skirts overnight from the Honolulu Fish Company. He only chooses aged certified Angus beef for his steak-centric entrees, and he revs up traditional sandwiches and appetizers on the bar menu with high-end items such as shaved prime rib, artisan cheeses, and lobster. These gourmet bites pair palatably one of the bar’s signature cocktails or glasses of wine.
Even in his down time, Robinson keeps his culinary skills sharp, coordinating charity events for the Chester County SPCA and the Brandywine Hospital Strawberry Festival. But even with his busy schedule and impressive resumé, he’s still thankful for landing his “dream job” at Mile High Steak & Seafood.
Within a bi-level space, Twenty9 and its menu find room for both elegant, upscale dining and casual pub eats below-decks. Applewood bacon seals in the juices of the filet mignon ($33.50) and insulates it from jealous gossip between crab-and-corn risotto and garlic spinach. Free-range chicken ($33.50) adapts to the confines of the table with the help of butternut squash and apple-and-goat-cheese salad, and 18-ounce rib eyes ($28.50) leave room on the plate only for a classic side of veggies, potato, or machismo. The lower level slides shareable plates such as prime-rib cheesesteak nachos ($10.95) and burgers with gourmet toppings ($8.95) down the bar toward flat-screen-fixated munchers. In the warmer months, live music launches from an immense open-air patio and trespasses into the formal dining room to tiptoe amid warm wood tones and elegant cut-stone inlays.
At Tokyo Hibachi & Sushi, every meal is a production. Surrounded by seated guests, the hibachi chefs put on a performance behind the tabletop grills and wow diners with dexterous knife skills and the controlled bursts of flame that bloom from the grills' surfaces. This isn't purely entertainment, though. It's a way for the chefs to engage with their patrons as they cook everything from chicken and vegetables to filet mignon and lobster within full view of the crowd.
In contrast, the sushi chefs opt for a bit less showmanship as they meticulously assemble rolls behind the sushi bar. They create an assortment of familiar sushi-house staples, but they also treat taste buds with specialty maki, including ingredients such as pepper-crusted tuna, fried asparagus, or homemade chili sauce.
Befitting their main-stage status, the hibachi stations dominate almost an entire room of the dining area. Japanese-style lanterns, artwork, and mementos mirror the menu's dedication to Pacific culture, and the bar's selection of sakes and imported water complements the restaurant's commitment to Japanese flavors.