It’s a rare discussion about Rehoboth-area dining that doesn’t include some mention of Kevin Reading. After all, it’s his entrepreneurism and talent that gave us such shining stars as Espuma and Nage - with Nage still going strong to this day. But Rehoboth was not Kevin’s first rodeo. He started out as general manager of the Taboo restaurant in West Palm Beach, Fla., and in 1994, his passion for the kitchen prompted him to enroll in the culinary arts program at The Philadelphia Restaurant School.
He opened Fox Point Grill in Wilmington as naysayers cried that upstate diners’ conservative palates wouldn’t tolerate his unusual cuisine. In patented Kevin fashion, he ignored their advice, opening the doors to a menu that included wild game, terrine of eel, cactus salads and elk. Food critics loved his anything-but-conservative fare, and the place took off. In 2001, he brought his concept south to Rehoboth Beach in the form of Espuma. But Wilmington’s affection for Reading’s progressive menu didn’t translate quite as well to Rehoboth Beach - at least not in the first year.
Again, his defiantly clever attitude responded by keeping Espuma open year-round - something relatively unheard of in those days. He bought a snow shovel, reined in the menu, turned up the heat, and all of a sudden Espuma became the “in” place to warm up on the ocean block. His numbers skyrocketed 70 percent.
During his tenure there, Kevin and well-known pastry chef Andrew Hooven opened Sweet Dreams Bakery on Coastal Highway, instantly garnering Delaware Today’s Best Bakery Award. But health problems removed Hooven from the picture (at least for a while), and after selling Espuma, Kevin replaced Sweet Dreams with Nage. (Andrew is back in the fold once again, whippin’ up breads and desserts at Abbott’s Grill in Milford.)
Nage has been a springboard for many talented chefs, none the least of which are Hari Cameron, Cloud 9 alumnus and now the award-winning owner/chef of a(MUSE.); Ryan Cunningham (opening chef for Bonz Steakhouse at Harrington Casino); and most recently, Brenton Wallace (now at Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats on Rehoboth Avenue). Deceptively young kitchen savant Ted Deptula now keeps faithful Nage patrons coming back for more.
But Kevin Reading is a pioneer. He loves restaurants, but he loves creating them even more. When he chose to leave Nage to try something new, the self-proclaimed cognoscenti shrieked that Milford was certainly not the place for Kevin to open a restaurant. Well, surprise, surprise: Abbott’s Grill has been hugely successful in the space where Smith & Company Steakhouse used to be. Opening chef Phil Lambert also cooked at 1776 Steakhouse long ago, and now wows those fortunate enough to belong to Kings Creek Country Club.
Under the watchful eye of Chef Paul Gallo, the Milford Abbott’s cranks out delicious lunches and dinners (including their now-reinstated Sunday brunch buffet). For the past several years, Kevin’s golden boy Ryan Cunningham has walked a middle path between Abbott’s and Bonz, but he now has a brand-new home in Laurel: the fledgling Abbott’s Grill on Broad Creek, at 300 Delaware Ave., smack in the middle of the old town.
The new Abbott’s Grill on Broad Creek (you have to pronounce it “krik”) is sunny and uncluttered, sporting a huge elevated deck with a great view of the krik. The affable Manager Wes Books keeps front-of-house running smoothly while the lanky, ever-smiling Cunningham has the kitchen well in hand.
His new menu is typical Reading/Cunningham magic: family friendly, unintimidating, down-home cooking with just the slightest pinch of upscale (thanks to clever designer Steve McLerran). They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and if history is any indication, the new Abbott’s in Laurel (only about 40 minutes from Lewes) will be another in a long line of Kevin Reading successes. Abbott’s opens officially next week. Call 302-280-6172 to make sure.