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Michelin-starred chef gets social in Rehoboth

December 8, 2018

Chef Nate Leonard and his wife Lisa are quietly making a name for themselves at 208 Social where the Stoney Lonen used to be. That Second and Wilmington corner has an interesting past. On May 24, 2000, John Rishko and Nelia Dolan replaced Steve Taylor’s Ann Marie’s restaurant (which moved to Coastal Highway and eventually morphed into Saketumi) with an Irish eatery named after Dolan’s family farm in Ireland. In fact, Nelia waited tables at Ann Marie’s long before she helped create Stoney Lonen. She is now the head office guru for SoDel Concepts restaurant group. 

Fellow restaurateurs circled the wagons to help John and Nelia get started. Their wine list was assembled by oenophile Tom Wayson (former bartender at Chez la Mer). Norman Sugrue at Big Fish Grill donated items from chef and current Cape Gazette wine columnist John McDonald’s Garden Gourmet (where the Schell Bros. offices are now). Some cooking equipment came from Greg Talcott’s Third Edition (where Stingray is now) and Stoney Lonen’s barstools were provided by Arena’s. That sort of camaraderie was not unusual here in Rehoboth Beach, and some restaurants still honor that tradition. 

In 2007, Bryan and Rita Lookup took over the facility, keeping the Irish theme and the bright yellow and green exterior that became a beacon to beachgoers who love Guinness at a cozy bar with Irish fare. Fast-forward to May 8, 2015, when Nate and Lisa Leonard applied a fresh coat of paint inside and out to make it their own. 

Leonard brings an impressive resume to Rehoboth Beach. He worked as sous chef at Philadelphia’s Striped Bass; with Christopher Lee at Gilt in NYC, and at Petite Passion in Philadelphia under Chef Guillermo Pernot (author of the book ¡Ceviche!). Nate attributes his restauranting skills to his friend and mentor, Chef Lee Chizmar, James Beard semifinalist and co-owner of the celebrated Bolete restaurant in Salisbury Township, Pa. Nate celebrates his military background (Army Airborne, Ft. Bragg) by offering a discount to any customer presenting a military ID showing current military service.

Nate’s creativity shines through the menu, with tavern fare like his amazing confit sticky ribs adorned with 12-spice agrodolce (a traditional Chinese sweet/sour sauce). These are a Rehoboth Foodie pick hit and must not be missed. Earlier this fall I had the pleasure of encountering Nate’s poached Winesap apple with robiola cheese and pumpkin. We washed it down with Chesapeake blue catfish over Anson Mill parmesan grits resting in a little lake of red-eye gravy. A rollercoaster of tastes! 

Another don’t-miss at 208 Social is the tender, cut-it-with-a-fork Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Leg & Liver. When I think of 208 Social I think of upscale cooking, but Nate assured me that burgers can be just as upscale. Don’t miss the short rib and chuck Double Patty crowned with smoked bacon, arugula, pickled shallots, a choice of three cheeses and Leonard’s secret sauce. Oh, go ahead and add the sunny-side-up egg; in for a dime, in for a dollar, I say. Don’t expect to eat again for a couple of days. 

Nate and Lisa not only kept the basic look of the interior with refinished floors and brighter dining rooms, but they recently brought another 208 fan into the world: their first child (and 208 Social brand ambassador), Grayson! Regulars at 208 Social have gotten to know him well. 

I don’t want to divulge all the secrets lurking inside 208 Social - but I’ll give you a hint: The cocktails put together by barkeeps Sierra West and Andy Fabriziani are delicious, creative and certainly one of a kind. And Nate’s penchant for fine bourbons is deliciously apparent. Give ‘em a try. Be sure to call for winter hours. Reservations may be made at 302-227-6700.

  • 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.