Ami Rae's local roots run deep. With a family history that can be traced back to the 1600s in the Cape Region, she knows what it's like to be from eastern Sussex County. Heritage and history are integral to her new Milton restaurant, The Backyard, where she offers a friendly, inviting atmosphere for her neighbors.
“The largest part of the concept of The Backyard is community,” said Rae. “We wanted to create a space that is comfortable for all members of the community; to come either for a cup of coffee and a muffin or for a special dinner, and everything in between.”
The Backyard started out as an expansion of Rae's Vintage Cafe in downtown Milton, but as planning got underway, she realized she had something much bigger.
“When we decided on this property, we saw it needed a slightly new concept,” she said.
The 59-seat restaurant is much larger than the 14-seat space she had on Union Street. A bigger kitchen also allowed her to include a dinner menu.
“I tried to bridge the gap between casual and upper scale,” said Joseph Charles, executive chef and business partner. “It's not really fine dining, but a place where you can go grab a burger with your kids or you can make it a date night.”
Prior to moving to the Cape Region, Charles worked for celebrity chef José Andrés in Washington D.C. Andrés was named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time Magazine in 2012. Charles is also the graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Charles' parents are good friends with Rae's in-laws, and that connection blossomed into The Backyard.
The name of the restaurant is indicative of the concept, Rae said. The Backyard will feature seasonal menus with ingredients found locally, a style she calls traditional twisted: traditional in the sense that she knows food in the Cape Region, but twisted in that Charles has an outsider's perspective and Rae adds what she's learned from her travels.
“It's familiar flavors we've just put our twist on,” she said.
Joining Charles and Rae at the restaurant is executive pastry chef Edith Enrique, who worked with Charles in Houston before relocating to the Washington D.C. area, where she worked for Trump National Golf Club and Fluffy Thoughts Bakery, where she was manager and head baker, making wedding and birthday cakes as well as cupcakes and other assorted pastries.
At The Backyard, Enrique produces everything in house, from muffins and cookies to the croissants used for sandwiches. She said freshly made food stands out.
“It makes a difference,” she said. “It makes your visit worthwhile. You go out to eat to get something different, something you wouldn't necessarily make at home.”
To help create the backyard, neighborhood feel, The Backyard literally has a backyard. With a fenced-in area behind the restaurant, Rae looks forward to opening the space during the warmer months. Plans for the space are not yet set in stone, but Rae is excited about the possibilities. She said she got the idea for the patio area from a restaurant in Florida.
“Children could safely leave the table and adults could enjoy themselves without the sleeve tugging,” she said.
The interior of the restaurant was constructed by Rae's husband and includes many personal and local items to add to the ambience.
“Our design scheme is definitely our back yard, which to me is farms and the ocean,” she said.
Wood from a tree cut down by Rae's father and grandfather at the family farm in Primehook in 1970 is incorporated into the bar and the trim around the private dining room doors. Shutters from a 100-year-old home on Federal Street were repurposed for a cabinet behind the bar, and chicken coops came out of Rae's own barn. Rae herself created ocean paintings throughout the restaurant.
“We've had a really great response,” Rae said. “The first couple days were pretty tough on us and probably on the customers as well, but we just feel like we learn stuff every single day, ways to make things better.”
The Backyard, at 211 Broadkill Road (Route 16) in Milton, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays. To see the menu, go to www.backyardmilton.com.
The restaurant may be rented out for private parties and a private dining room is also available. The Backyard will also offer catering services beginning in early 2014. For more information, call 302-684-3440.