Milton celebrates great food and Delaware history for a worthy cause

October 5, 2018

Last week I had the pleasure of joining the Milton Historical Society, a bunch of amazing chefs and a sell-out crowd for the third annual King Cole Cannery Celebrity Chef Cookoff. It was an informative and delicious evening!

In the late 1800s, entrepreneur George Draper founded the Draper-King Cole Cannery in the same area where Sam and Mariah’s Dogfish Head Brewery now stands. The Milton Historical Society holds the cannery and its legacy in high regard, and the proceeds from this event are funneled into the society’s programs for kids, educational tours and other events that center in and around the town.

The Milton Historical Society began in 1970, and the current location serves as home to the Lydia B. Cannon Museum, named for the generous Milton resident who donated the space back in 1972. And there’s a lot of history in the space! It started out in 1857 as a Methodist church, and after several renovations it now houses well over 2,000 artifacts donated to the organization for posterity.

As one of the celebrity judges (“celebrity” is their word, not mine…), I was joined by longtime Cape Gazette food columnist and author Denise Clemons, and Delaware native Eban Brittingham who currently manages Irish Eyes in Milton. The true stars of the evening, however, were the restaurants and chefs who donated product, time and talent to the event. Bethany Blues Lewes was well-represented by Executive Chef Drew Boyle. Drew acquired his culinary skills in the U.S. Marine Corps, and now dishes up a lot more than just tasty barbecue at Bethany Blues.

One of my favorite people in our foodie community is Mary Gaffney. She shares the cheffing duties - and her life - with longtime food guy Roy Fowler. Mary has a long history here at the beach, with names like Back Porch Café and Yum Yum gracing her resume. She and Roy are now making diners smile at A Different Kitchen restaurant in Paynter’s Mill.

I will admit it: I am in a support group for addiction to Mike Clampitt’s amazing gumbo. As a Johnson & Wales University Culinary Program graduate, Mike’s Po’Boys Creole Restaurant on Route 16 has garnered award after award for his food that people simply love to eat. And yes, a side of cornbread with the gumbo is required!

One of SoDel Concepts’ shining stars is none other than Executive Chef Chris Parks. In 2014 he and his team singlehandedly put a brand new face on Lupo Italian Kitchen with an upbeat menu and popular year-round specials. This is SoDel Concepts’ only Italian joint and is comfortably tucked away in the Hotel Rehoboth.

No discussion of food and restaurants here at the beach would be complete without mention of Kevin Reading. After collecting multiple awards at his Fox Point Grill in Wilmington, Kevin brought his wire whisks and spatulas to the beach, creating Espuma restaurant where Vineyard Wine Bar now stands. He moved on from downtown Rehoboth to Nage, which he, Hari Cameron, future business partner Josh Grapski and a talented cast of employees proceeded to put on the Cape Region map. Reading is now the boss at Abbott’s Grill in Milford and in Laurel. He is also a partner with Mispillion River Brewing Company in Smyrna’s Brick Works Brewing & Eats. Many restaurateurs and chefs here at the beach cite Reading as their inspiration to work in the food industry. One of the ProStart high school culinary program success stories is none other than Nate Griffith, who will be heading up the kitchen at Milton’s soon-to-open Gilligan’s restaurant. After he and his team earned various cheffing accolades with ProStart, Nate graduated from The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College to return to his Sussex roots.

Carnivores up and down the Delaware Coast instantly recognize Vinnie Modesto as the manager and chef for Butcher Block meat market in Milton, a part of Rehoboth’s revered Hickman’s Meat Market. Vinnie’s multiple degrees in the culinary arts took him to Ireland where he expanded his horizons in cooking, baking and culinary management. And now his talents grace Union Street in downtown Milton.

I have the honor of being asked to judge lots of local cooking competitions, but this one was one of the most difficult! Each and every one of these toques is a consummate professional and well-known for his or her signature cuisine. It was all Denise, Eban and I could do to pick a winner, and even then we ended up costing the historical society a bit more money (for a second winner’s plaque!) by naming a tie. And the point difference among the participants was never more than one or two. I hope they’re all still speaking to us….

We who have the pleasure of living here in the Cape Region are lucky to have organizations like the Milton Historical Society to keep Delaware’s past in the spotlight - especially when that spotlight includes seven of our best cooks at the beach.

  • 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