Photo by Joe Del Tufo
This spring, visit one of these 24 prime spots perfect for dining and imbibing in and around downtown Newark.
When baby boomers attended the University of Delaware, dining options were limited. No longer. The growth of ethnic cuisine, gourmet coffee and plant-based diets have elevated the student palate. Moreover, well-traveled foodies of all ages—from Gens X, Y and Z to boomers—now populate Newark’s enhanced downtown and neighboring communities.
Today, the college town’s dining scene is “inclusive,” agrees Olivia Brinton, co-owner of The Peach Blossom Eatery on Main Street. “We get UD faculty and staff and residents in Washington House condominiums. Students come out to brunch in groups, but right next to them will be a family.”
The Peach Blossom, which opened in late 2021, is one of many new restaurants in town. Newark recently welcomed Hamilton’s on Main, which merges a low-key vibe with sophisticated cuisine, and The Little French Café, which adds creativity to a traditional French menu.
These establishments have joined businesses that spearheaded the restaurant renaissance, giving food fans good reason to view Newark as a dining destination.
The Peach Blossom Eatery (76 E. Main St.; 715-3392; peachblossomeatery.com ), a boutique breakfast and lunch spot, is owned by Brinton and Chef Samantha “Sam” Ross, who met while working at the House of William & Merry in Hockessin.
Brinton is also a co-founder of Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co. in Newark, which sells third-party baked goods. To supply the coffee shop with products and satisfy their yearning to start a restaurant, the friends opened The Peach Blossom. It was a labor of love. The partners, family and friends did most of the construction work. The hearty breakfast combo has become a bestseller, Brinton says. No wonder. It includes two eggs, hash browns, meat and toast or a pancake. But guests are also gravitating toward French toast with spiced anglaise and wild berry-maple syrup, and a scrapple sandwich with eggs, greens and hot pepper jam on rye. For lunch, the “Greek Freak” is a hit. The baguette sandwich is piled high with slow-roasted lamb neck, caramelized onion, cucumber-sumac yogurt and herbs.
Ross makes everything from scratch, including the hash browns—there are no frozen Ore-Ida bags in this restaurant’s fridge. To keep from running themselves ragged, the partners initially limited the days of operation. That should change in 2022 after the staff finds its footing. They also plan to hold pop-up dinners.
Cafés serving breakfast and lunch are au courant. Witness the summer 2021 opening of The Little French Café (64 E. Main St.; 703-3555; tlfcnewark.com ), owned by former French teacher Martha Barrier. The Parisian-influenced menu includes sandwiches on a baguette or croissant, crêpes, quiche and pastries. Barrier, however, takes some creative licenses. “You won’t find a peppermint latte in France,” she notes of the café’s novel beverage.
Also on Main Street is Hamilton’s on Main (102 E. Main St.; 358-8533; hamiltonsonmain.com ). Pop culture fans will picture Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping in the old Newark Bank building. However, it was owners Anthony and Jeremiah Brooks’ dog that inspired the name. It is also a riff on Hamilton’s Tavern 1840, the partners’ former restaurant in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
The couple relocated to Newark because they could not secure a liquor license in Harpers Ferry. “We wanted a wine-and-beverage program and the ability to express chef’s passion for wine pairings,” says Anthony, who manages the restaurant while Jeremiah commands the kitchen.
If you visited the space when it was Catherine Rooney’s or the short-lived Finn McCool’s Irish Gastropub, you’re in for a surprise. “We eradicated the smell of beer,” Anthony promises.
As for the food, the concept is “American cuisine,” which allows Jeremiah to pull from a melting pot of cultures. Everything is made fresh. Indeed, the freezer is mainly for homemade ice cream.
Anthony recommends salmon in any preparation or the pork Wellington, a moist center-cut pork loin wrapped in bacon and crisp, buttery puff pastry. After dinner, head upstairs to the lounge, which specializes in bourbon.
Atexquita Mexican Grill & Bar (136 S. Main St., Suite 106; 349-7180) opened in early 2020, but given the pandemic, you may not have checked it out yet. Named for a region in Mexico, the restaurant has a New Castle location and sites in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Penns Grove, New Jersey. Extensive offerings include more than eight kinds of nachos, 12 tortas and a vegetarian section. Like a bit of spice? Try the chipotle margarita with blackberry, orange, grapefruit and lime.
If you haven’t driven down East Cleveland Avenue in a while, you might be surprised to see that Wood Fired Pizza Shop is now Pizzeria Mariana (140 E. Cleveland Ave.; 737-2135; wfpshop.com ). Relax. The pizza hasn’t changed. The rebranding reflects additions to the menu, including handmade pastas, more salads and meat-and-cheese boards. Well-known chef Robbie Jester is also featuring the shrimp scampi that helped him “Beat Bobby Flay” on Flay’s Food Network show of the same name.
Sonora Restaurant & Bar (3 Chesmar Plaza; 525-6010; sonoranewark.com ), which relocated to Newark from New Castle, is winning fans with French-press cocktails, brunch and eclectic cuisine. Owner Melissa Ferraro is not afraid to take chances—she also owns the Outlandish food truck. Her restaurant menu includes chicken-and-crawfish meatballs, a poutine section, venison pot pie and porchetta mac-and-cheese with broccoli rabe.
The Coffee Connection
One newcomer with deep roots is Bing’s Bake & Brew (57 S. Main St.; 751-3177; bingsbakeandbrew.com ), the offspring of Bing’s Bakery, which started in 1946 and moved to its current Main Street location in 1955. The Guzzi family purchased Bing’s in 2005. At Bake & Brew, you can munch a macaron or muffin. Coffee, however, shares equal billing with the sweets. Order it hot, frozen or over ice.
Also new, Beans Coffee House (249 E. Main St.; 470-2740; beanscoffeehouse.org ) is brewing up a mission. Proceeds help fund Beans House Foundation, which offers workforce-development programs to people with special needs. Try the bacon, egg, and cheese or avocado toast, and wash it down with sustainably sourced coffee.
Eat brunch all day, every day, at Drip Café (60 N. College Ave.; 565-4685; dripcafede.com ), be it lemon-poppy seed waffles, pancetta hash or caramel-apple pancakes. The shop also serves up sandwiches, salads and its proprietary coffee brand. “The Cali”—fried egg, mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil aioli on sourdough toast—is the favored sandwich in Newark and Hockessin. Most people pair it with a cold brew coffee, says owner Greg Vogeley.
The ‘Suds’ + Sips
You’d expect to find libations in a college town. But in 1996, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (147 E. Main St.; 266-9000, ironhillbrewery.com) took beer to the next level. One of Delaware’s first brewpubs is still going strong, and there are now more than 20 locations, from Ardmore, Pennsylvania, to Atlanta.
Beer is so revered at Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen (270 E. Main St.; 444-8646; meetatgrain.com ) that guests receive a “Beer Bible,” a user-friendly guide that categorizes beers in quadrants: fruitier, more bitter, maltier and sweeter. Lunch and dinner daily; brunch on weekends.
As for vino, Caffe Gelato (90 E. Main St.; 738-5811; caffegelato.net ) features a wine cellar that’s received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and organizes fun wine and dine spotlighting and northern Italian cuisine. (Don’t forget the gelato.)
While new restaurants are a draw, longtime Newark restaurants are true landmarks. Perhaps the best example is the Deer Park Tavern (108 W. Main St.; 369-9414; deerparktavern.com ), built in 1851 on the site of St. Patrick’s Inn, which Edgar Allen Poe visited. (Hence all the raven references.) In 2001, Bob and Sandy Ashby purchased the three-story watering hole and lovingly restored it. Even with a makeover, the nachos reign supreme.
Klondike Kate’s Restaurant & Saloon (158 E. Main St.; 737-6100; klondikekates.com ), which opened in 1977, is another Main Street must-do. Purchased by Martuscelli Restaurant Group in 2016, the circa-1880 building received much-needed tender loving care. Housemade cheesesteak egg rolls are staples. Try the sunny-side-up burger for brunch, while nachos—the perpetual crowd favorite— are the Tuesday special.
The Healthy Fare
Before Paleo, plant-based and keto meals went mainstream, Home Grown Café (126 E. Main St.; 266-6993; homegrowncafe.com ) accommodated a variety of lifestyle diets. Owner Sasha Aber and then-husband Eric started the business in 2000, shortly after she graduated from UD. She was a vegetarian at the time. Today, the menu notes whether an item is vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. Omnivores don’t despair; there’s plenty for you, too.
Roots Natural Kitchen (129 E. Main St.; 273-2620; rootsnaturalkitchen.com ) is a destination for those craving fast-casual fresh salads and bowls. Create your own combo using the available ingredients. (Kids eat for free.)
The Global Cuisine
The university has helped create a cultural confluence, which has boosted the ethnic dining options. Ramen Kumamoto (165 E. Main St.; 733-0888; ramenkumamoto.com ) fans once kept their favorite eatery under wraps, but the word is out. The Japanese restaurant is acclaimed for its ramen, pillowy buns wrapped around seared chicken, udon and curries.
For a taste of the Middle East, Ali Baba (175 E. Main St.; 738-111; alibabade.com ) has been wooing diners since 2001. The eatery offers flavors from Morocco, Lebanon and Israel. Before or after dinner, you can puff from a hookah.
Part of Platinum Dining Group, Taverna (121 E. Main St.; 444-4334; tavernapdg.com)leans more toward rustic Italian cuisine. But there’s a pleasant sense of familiarity. For example, consider grilled shrimp with orzo, coal-fired pizza and veal meatballs with polenta.
Just outside the city, Ole Tapas (1126 Capitol Trail; 224-9378; oletapaslounge.com ) brings a touch of Spain to Newark. Items include paella, tapas dishes (small plates) and cheese or meat boards.
Churrascaria Saudadas (230 E. Main St.; Newark Shopping Center; 355-5551; eatsteaks.com ) is a Brazilian-style steakhouse featuring skewered meats served tableside paired with an optional salad bar.
The Al Fresco Hot Spots
In true small-town fashion, the city’s Main Street is lined with outdoor dining opportunities. If you want to cozy up to the sidewalk for prime people-watching, visit The Stone Balloon (115 E. Main St.; 266-8111; stoneballoon.com ), whose namesake is a college nightclub that opened on the land in 1972. The latest incarnation is far more refined. The menu includes caprese hummus and pumpernickel-encrusted salmon.
If you want parking with your patio, head to Skipjack (401 Louviers Drive; 456-1800; skipjacknewark.com ), which recently installed a spacious outdoor dining area to complement Chef Donny Merrill’s cuisine. Merrill, who previously cooked in some of Delaware’s upscale eateries, combines impeccably prepared plates with a friendly, casual ambiance.
The Student Hangout
Few would argue that UD drives the Newark economy; many restaurants count on students for staff. That’s especially true at Vita Nova (Trabant University Center; 17 W. Main St; 831-0500; lerner.udel.edu/centers/vita-nova-restaurant ), a restaurant operated and managed by UD hospitality and business management students. The Bistro Room offers casual dining, while the main dining room features a five-course dinner. Availability depends on when school is in session.
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