Delaware celebrates ‘What’s for dinner?’ with a triumphant party
In keeping with the tradition upheld every season by many of our local eateries, the Delaware Restaurant Association’s 12th Annual Cornerstone Awards Celebration did not disappoint. Not that we expected anything less from Delaware’s leading food industry trade organization. Powered by more than 1,900 businesses, the Delaware restaurant community employs more than 40,000 people with an economic impact of over $1.3 billion. So this group should be able to throw a pretty decent party. According to CEO and President Carrie Leishman, this year’s event might have broken the record for attendance.
It was 6 p.m. at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino when jazz vibraphonist Joe Baione and his band kick-started the gala into high gear. Many of Delaware’s shining stars who lined the perimeter of the columned and domed room did themselves proud by serving their peers such delights as dark chocolate cremeux with sea salt & caramel krispies (Eden), rabbit loin with parsnip mofongo, prosciutto and sage (Bramble & Brine), and braised pork shoulder with bosc pear chutney and a fontina baguette (Vita Nova, the student-run restaurant at the University of Delaware) – to name just a few.
Leishman focused attention on the stage by introducing directors Matt DiSabatino (Striper Bites/Kindle/Half Full), Steve “Monty” Montgomery (The Starboard/Bethany Blues), Bobby Pancake (Buffalo Wild Wings) and Jeff Cook (2 Fat Guys). Southern Sussex County was very well represented, given that the evening’s awards honored two of our local restaurants. The Back Porch Café added to its long list of accolades by accepting the DRA’s coveted Cornerstone Award. Approaching its 40th season on Rehoboth Avenue, The Back Porch Café paved the way for Rehoboth’s undeniable status as a dining destination. Owners Keith Fitzgerald and Marilyn Spitz spoke briefly about how it all came to pass, and rest assured, the talent, skill and generous spirit of the late Leo Medisch were not overlooked, as a moving tribute to the popular co-owner and chef unfolded on the stage. There weren’t many dry eyes in the house.
If talent, skill and generosity were the benchmarks of the evening, then the Restaurateur of the Year Award could not have been bestowed upon a more deserving guy. Hari Cameron’s a(MUSE.) restaurant is as unusual as its name, sprinkling an impressive roster of small plates with progressive New American cuisine crafted from Mid-Atlantic ingredients. It’s not unusual to find Cameron foraging for beach plums at Prime Hook or lurking in the nooks and crannies of local farmers markets. He takes that word “progressive” very seriously, and his ever-changing menu is as much a tribute to modern technology as it is to his genuine respect for quality. I’ll never forget a magazine photo shoot at a(MUSE.) where Cameron made endless last-minute adjustments to his plates – using a pair of tweezers! He swore me to secrecy, but when I feel compelled to gush, I lose all inhibitions. Sorry, Hari.
Delaware’s up-and-coming toques were also honored with their own awards. The Cornerstone Education Awards were given to Jaclyn Keefer (Delaware Tech) and Arielle Bragg (University of Delaware). The DRA ProStart Education Awards went to two young men from William Penn High School: Kevin Castro and Endy Ortiz-Ocampo. There were no bigger smiles in the place than these four young people proudly displaying their framed certificates.
Though it seems like tastings shouldn’t qualify as actual eating, many revelers seemed to have trouble leaving the casino under their own power. Amid all the cheering, tears and virtually endless food, our Delaware eateries stepped up to the plate in every sense of the word. The answer to the eternal question, “What’s for dinner?” shines brightly here in the Rehoboth Beach area, and I’m proud to know so many brave and talented entrepreneurs who are genuinely dedicated not only to their craft but to our culinary enjoyment as well.