Bramble meets Brine on The Avenue
Well, goodness knows it took them long enough! But the planning and effort that went into converting a flower shop in a circa 1900 cottage (flower shops don’t have commercial kitchens) into a fine-dining restaurant (which now has a huge commercial kitchen) bordered on the monumental. But it’s paying off in the form of the brand-new Bramble & Brine restaurant at 315 Rehoboth Avenue, just west of the Hotel Rehoboth.
Joe and Megan Churchman completely restored the iconic Rehoboth Avenue structure, remaining true to its turn-of-the-century charm. The building was home to South Pacific Florist for more than 26 years, and the newly revamped building glows with an atmosphere that is both elegant and inviting. Clever bric-à-brac and rustic tchotchkes adorn antique sideboards, china cabinets and mantels while chandeliers sparkle over every table. Joe’s wife Megan (proprietor of Poor Little Rich Girl clothing in Rehoboth Mews) has sprinkled whimsical antiques throughout the restaurant, creating one of the more engaging settings here in Rehoboth. The high-backed dining chairs impart a sense of formality while the white marble-topped bar beckons with prohibition-era cocktails and updated classics like the Churchmanhattan.
Chef Joe Churchman brings an impressive curriculum vitae to Bramble & Brine. His Abruzzese-inspired culinary flair was sharpened at none other than Philadelphia’s Le Virtù, before he took the reins as opening chef for the now long-gone Luca in Millsboro. Over his career, he has cooked at Eden, JAM Bistro, and even Justine Zegna’s Planet X and Venus on the Half Shell. Joe’s aptitude for fine-dining fare is evident in his globally inspired menu, rich with handcrafted dishes that fuse both classic and modern techniques. Megan’s talent with stylish antiques and elegant collectibles is not only evident in the décor; just wait ‘til you see the silverware.
So now we know what the place looks like. But what about the food? I was honored to be a part of last week’s “soft opening” events, and returned several times thereafter (just to make sure, of course). See the pain and suffering I endure for my Cape Gazette readers?
No duck is safe around Joey Churchman. The shining stars on his menu include a roasted duck breast with lavender, thyme, orange and coriander, and an impossibly delicious duck ragù over fazzoletti pasta crowned simply with shaved parmesan and Italian parsley. One of my favorite dishes at JAM Bistro was Joe’s pasta Bolognese, and this new version is, well, downright ducky. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Of course, Churchman’s dexterity with duck is not to the exclusion of beef, pork or chicken. Evidence of that comes in the form of a ribeye crown appetizer nested on sautéed red onion and sweet corn accompanied by honey vinaigrette. The Butcher Plate appetizer also merits comment, with a cannoli of foie gras (yup, a real cannoli shell) and something he calls pork puffs. Y’know those cracklin’ pork rinds you buy in little bags at Wawa? Well, the Bramble & Brine versions are
the ones they serve in heaven. Delicately spicy and light, it’s like eating air that crunches.
The front corner of the restored cottage is home to a bar of white marble and a counter hewn from a solid chunk of what appears to be cypress spanning the length of the front window. Seating at the window is prime real estate. The cozy, candle-strewn and chandeliered corner is presided over by none other than barkeep-in-residence Rob Bagley. Locals will recognize Rob as the son of baker extraordinaire Nancy Stout. In her words, he’s her “No. 1 son.” (The magic Nancy works with specialty cakes at Rehoboth’s Giant bakery is the stuff of legend.)
Joe & Megan Churchman’s Bramble & Brine is off to a running start. Last weekend’s soft opening turned into a mob scene, and guests were all smiles as they departed. Reservations are encouraged (302-227-7702), and are also available online at OpenTable.com. Bon appétit!