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Food and music light up Paynter’s Mill once again

August 21, 2020

The town of Milton has been sort of a revolving door when it comes to restaurants.

Except for a few well-established spots, a number of restaurants have come...and gone. A cursory glance might give the impression that Milton isn’t much of a “restaurant town.”

But a closer look reveals something different. The simple fact is that some - not all, but some - of the restaurants that failed in Milton were poorly run.

During a radio interview, The Nook (formerly Good Morning Breakfast Nook) co-owner Dina Escamilla summed it up: “My husband does the cooking, and I’m happy to wait on our customers to give them good service. But I know that the most important thing is the accounting and controlling our costs.” By the way, this very bright Russian-born entrepreneur is also an accountant. Her restaurant is doing quite well at Paynter’s Mill.

I’ve written more than once that the very last reason to open a restaurant is that “Aunt Murlene makes SUCH good chili. She should open a restaurant!” The chili, good or not-so-good, is but a small part of keeping a restaurant running successfully, especially during this difficult time in the business of eating.

One of the sad stories is the space originally opened by the DiSabatino family in Paynter’s Mill. They debuted their successful Kindle concept there, and it did exceptionally well. But Matt and family learned that if they were to continue to be successful - especially with their bar program - that a close-in Lewes location would make more sense. The restaurant that followed them into that space was a dismal failure. And it has sat sadly vacant. Until now.

Experienced restaurateurs and Milton natives Anthony Lewis and Ed Waples have had their eye on that beautifully designed two-story space with two large outdoor dining areas for awhile. With ongoing development and the introduction of other new concepts, not to mention the popular Milton Theatre, Milton has matured since the Kindle days. Lewis and Waples believed that a restaurant of that size could now survive there without totally depending on Lewes and Rehoboth guests’ driving concerns after sipping a couple of cocktails. And thus was born Sydney’s Restaurant and Lounge, opening to the public this Friday.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. The new Sydney’s has nothing to do with Sydney Arzt’s groundbreaking and now long-gone food and music venue in downtown Rehoboth. In fact, Lewis and Waples have been operating a similar concept under the same name for many years in Arlington, Va. They made a point of lowering the price point in Milton in order to make their restaurant more of a “neighborhood” concept and not only a special-occasion spot.

Anthony was born in Lewes and raised in Milton about a mile from the restaurant. Ed Waples grew up in Slaughter Neck. Locals will recognize him as part of the Cape Henlopen School District operation. At 15, he worked as a busboy at a now-long-gone restaurant in Milford. He went into the education business, but never forgot about restauranting.

Sussex favorites like chicken & dumplings, fried chicken, fish tacos, crabcakes and a dedicated raw bar all have a special meaning to these guys, and they’re excited about pairing those with local and regional jazz acts.

Johnnie Harris is the opening chef, imported from Fork & Flask in Rehoboth Beach. He and the bosses are holding to price points averaging around $12 for apps and sandwiches and around $18 for entrees. Sydney’s is a big restaurant, and wallet-friendly pricing along with live music should keep the place pleasantly busy.

The restaurant has several private dining areas, as well as two large outdoor dining spaces, both of which overlook the little pond and fountain at the entrance to Paynter’s Mill. Opening night is Friday, Aug. 21, with music provided by organ jazz duo Hammond Hot. Reservations may be had by calling 301-313-4770. Be sure to drop by and say hi to the keyboard player.

  • 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 byesbek@capegazette.com.

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