Bread, Brenton, Bonz, Bramble, Buttery and Berg

The chefs’ shuffle continues
November 12, 2013

Nothing stays the same in the restaurant business. On the surface, everything might look consistent, but behind those swinging doors, servers, cooks and even chefs know that those doors do indeed swing both ways - in and out. Recent examples include former Eden sous chef Joe Churchman’s success at his shiny new Bramble & Brine, and Root Gourmet opening toque Brenton Wallace’s new home at Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats. Ambitious chefs add to their skillsets by moving from one eatery to another.

Ryan Cunningham was the kitchen boss for the opening of Bonz Steakhouse in the Harrington Casino, and he has used those swinging doors several times (in both directions) to return to his friend and mentor Kevin Reading at Abbott’s Grill in Milford. In a few days, Ryan will be leaving Bonz yet again, trekking south to Laurel to open Reading’s latest venture, Abbott’s on Broad Creek. If he and Kevin can duplicate the success they created in Milford, the Laurel installation will be yet another feather in their already feather-laden caps.

John Donato, co-owner of The Buttery in Lewes, is excited about a brand-new chef taking over the reins from Jenell Mattera. Executive chef Aaron Berg was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. In fact, Aaron was lead cook and sauté cook at Simon & Seafort’s, a fine-dining gem in Anchorage where I have been fortunate to eat several times in my life. He emigrated from the 49th state in January 2012, slingin’ upscale pub grub at The Wedge in Landenburg, Pa., and donning the executive chef whites for a while at The Back Burner in Hockessin. If you could see the view of Cook Inlet from Simon & Seafort’s, you’d know why Berg had his eye on the beach. We are fortunate to have him well ensconced at the corner of Second and Savannah, working to keep The Buttery’s status where it has remained for so many years.

I’ve written in the past about The Buttery’s Pub menu (locals call it “Lewes’ best-kept secret”), and it’s certainly quite a deal. One of Berg’s goals is to elevate that menu with “…a bit more whimsy; simple complexity with a sexy presentation.” That actually sounds good on many levels. Aaron’s fresh take on the somewhat set-in-its-ways Buttery will be evident in his 2013 Thanksgiving menu: Butternut squash and venison sausage bisque, butter-roasted turkey with challah/pear stuffing and seared salmon with English pea puree and cranberry fig chutney. Wow! Pass the pumpkin pie with maple mascarpone cream, please.

Keith Irwin, Root Gourmet’s storied Bread Whisperer, has taken over the operation of former Teller Wines boss Steve Kogler’s Old World Breads, adding his own popular loaves to the OWB lineup (including that ridiculously delicious beer bread). Keith and Nage/Root Gourmet boss Josh Grapski are remodeling Root to accommodate Kogler’s baking equipment, still operating at his farm in Ellendale. They will continue marketing through his established network, and will add an online ordering system where you may click “Add To Cart” at midnight in your bunny slippers, then pick up your yeasty treasure at Root Gourmet.

Old World Breads will also be sold at the Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Sea Colony, Bethany Beach and Fenwick farmers markets, the delightful Dolcé Bakery in Milford, FreshFarm Market at Penn Quarter in Washington, D.C., and the Annapolis Sunday Farmers Market down by the harbor. Enjoy Keith’s ciabatta and multigrain loaves at Nectar Café, and his light and crusty baguettes at The Back Porch Café. Watch out for more as the new bakery hits full production.

Speaking of chefs, next week I’ll be attending the Delaware Restaurant Association’s 12th Annual Cornerstone Awards ceremony at the Dover Downs Hotel/Casino. This year they’re honoring our very own a(MUSE.) boss Hari Cameron, along with the owners of The Back Porch Café - with a tribute to the late chef and co-owner Leo Medisch. Tune in next week for a bite-by-bite description!

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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