Walking down the steps and into the dark wood doors of 1861 Restaurant is like stepping into another time and place. The walls are brick and decorated finely with wood and stone accents, classic light fixtures, and posh bar seating. I half expected to see Ernest Hemingway, bottle of gin in hand, sitting in a cozy circular booth and flirting with a dressed-to-kill Ava Gardner.
It’s hard to believe 1861 is located in Middletown, DE, only a few miles from my house. Opening for business in September of 2011, 1861 is named after the year Middletown was established. Seeing as the owner, Jasper, is a champion of the local community and describes his restaurant as “regional, casual pub fare, some might even call a gastro-pub” I couldn’t wait to try it.
Since film siren Ava Gardner is no longer with us, I opted for something even better and met my blessed-with-movie-star-good-looks friend Nicole for Happy Hour.
Nicole’s a regular at 1861 and has always wanted to try the Scrapple Pizza. Yes, that’s right, SCRAPPLE. For those of you not from the Mid-Atlantic region, scrapple is a pork product traditionally served for breakfast. Kind of like sausage (but not really) in loaf form. I don’t usually eat it, but I’m up for anything local, so we ordered one. Topped with fried eggs and artfully doused with ketchup, Scrapple Pizza is a delicious take on breakfast, complete with hashbrowned potatoes.
As Nicole and I enjoyed our Happy Hour snack (and $5 glasses of Pinot Noir) Jasper, the owner, stopped by to say hello. Ever the gracious host, Jasper answered my questions about where his food comes from. I discovered that he relies heavily on Filasky’s, one of my favorite places to shop! He also makes a point to source most of his ingredients within 50 miles of the restaurant. Hailing from New York, Jasper’s restaurant philosophy is sophisticated yet simple, while his understanding of quality, regional ingredients is evident in the cuisine he produces.
After gobbling up that pizza, Nicole and I made plans to come back with the husbands for dinner later in the week. Since Nicole and her husband Bryan dine at 1861 at least twice a week, it wasn’t hard to find a date. The date we picked happened to be Peach Festival day. In honor of this Middletown tradition, 1861′s menu boasted all things peach, including small plates like Peach Caprese Salad and Ribs with Peach Barbecue Sauce.
For the main course, the husband and I split the Shrimp and Grits. But a diner can also order casual fare like Fried Chicken and Waffles or 1861 Meatloaf. If you’re in the mood for something more upscale, try the Pan Seared Duck with Blackberry Gastrique. I’ve also heard great things about the Lamb Burger.
Our Shrimp and Grits arrived already split into two portions for us. Cheddar grits with bacon-infused shrimp were a perfectly rich combination. But the star of this show was the fried green tomato nestled on top of the creamy grits. Crunchy and juicy at the same time, the green tomato enlivened the dish, making it light, bright and comforting. Jasper told us he rode with Johnny from Filasky’s to a special field on the farm to pick these tomatoes. Johnny wanted to make sure they were perfect for 1861.
For dessert, the boys enjoyed peach cobbler, while Nicole and I indulged in a decadent brownie with coconut ice cream from a local favorite, Woodside Creamery.
When Jasper stopped by to give Bryan a glass of his favorite Scotch, he chatted with us like we were old friends. A great ending to a pleasant evening.
A great ending to this blog post is the following review of 1861 written by the beautiful Nicole:
If I had to describe 1861 in one word it’d probably be propitious [for those of you not as smart as Nicole, it means "indicating a good chance of success"]. I have never been a foodie of any sorts, but I know a good recipe for success when I see one. Between its unique atmosphere, friendly staff and consistently good food it’s hardly a place to get sick of [and she's there A LOT]. In fact, the restaurant’s owner Jasper, recently introduced me to a fellow patron as a “regular”. I don’t think I’ve been considered a “regular” anywhere so I immediately felt special. Then I reminded myself that Jasper makes everyone feel special. He talks, and more importantly, he listens. I bet he could even tell you the brand name of our dehumidifier. We’re close like that. I’m even invited to the one year anniversary party in September. But then again, you probably are too.
If you ever see Bryan and Nicole in a corner booth, it would be easy to mistake them for movie stars. I mean, look at them. But they’re just regulars, being treated like celebrities and enjoying all the good things 1861 has to offer.
423 North Broad Street
Middletown, DE 19701