The stakes might be high, but the steaks are worth it

July 6, 2018

Somebody's watching you at 1776 Steakhouse. Of course, your server and bartender keep an eye on you, but ... there's someone else. He's been there for about 27 years, and he (well, not him exactly, but his painting) hangs on a wall by the kitchen door. Nobody can figure out who he is, but he's been gazing into 1776 Steakhouse since the day they opened. He seems benign enough, and has in fact brought the restaurant much good fortune. And no, it's not Alexander Hamilton. And it's not Elton John.

At first, 1776 specialized in colonial "period" cuisine. The servers were dressed up in Revolutionary-style garb, not unlike the puzzling painting. Rumor has it that the original owners priced all the entrees at $17.76. Good thing the Declaration of Independence wasn't signed in 895. They'd have gone broke. 

Around 1992 the establishment was sold to Kenny Butler, formerly the general manager of Kings Creek Country Club. Back then, Irish-born chef Phil Lambert ruled the kitchen at 1776, and it's through that relationship that he eventually assumed the executive chef position at Kings Creek. 

As Kenny's success in racehorse ownership increased, his interest in the restaurant decreased, which brings us to that fall morning in '07 (I was there) when the contents were to be auctioned off in the parking lot. About two minutes before the gavel was raised, Tom Holmes and Bob Mitchell swooped down and snapped up the whole kit and kaboodle. (I was hoping to bid on the kaboodle. Always wanted one.) 

Inside, our colonial chap on the wall was certainly smiling, because it would have been hard to find two more qualified guys to bring the old eatery back to life. Tom had been the clubhouse manager at Rehoboth Beach Country Club, having honed his ownership skills at his own restaurant in New Jersey. Bob was a Sussex County boy and a retired state trooper. As former owner of the original Rose & Crown in Lewes, he was no stranger to food service. 

The 1776 brand had seen its ups and downs, but Tom and Bob felt that they could restore the name to its former standing. To that end, they recruited executive chef Tammy Mozingo to oversee kitchen operations. Tammy had been sous chef and one of the original "seafood princesses" at Tom and Terry's restaurant in Fenwick Island. After a stint at the Shark's Cove and Bear Trap Dunes, Tammy hit the ground running at 1776. 

She, Tom and Bob started from scratch with the menu, but some former favorites such as the escargot simply had to remain. Butler's to-die-for pumpkin bisque was more of a challenge. The new owners didn't want to serve it unless it was exactly the same - a daunting task in the absence of a recipe. Tammy came to the rescue with her velvety crab and lobster bisque. 

Though the massive, custom-cut steaks are certainly the center of attention, Tammy's seafood skills aren't wasted at 1776. Not a carnivore? Try her pan-seared dayboat scallops or 1776's signature black ravioli stuffed with lobster. 

Bob eventually moved on, leaving room for a new business partner, longtime 1776 mixologist Johnny Farquhar. His signature Chocolate Martini and Red Pear have become the stuff of happy-hour legend. In revolutionary times, ales were a staple with dinner, and 1776 stocks some unforgettable brews. With names like Stone Arrogant Bastard, He'Brew R.I.P.A. and Wychwood Hobgoblin, it's hard not to quaff a pint or two with your sizzling steak. 

Tom, Tammy and Johnny are particularly proud of their lineup of Trappist Beers. The nonprofit Belgian breweries have been doing their foamy thing for hundreds of years, with the entire process supervised by real live Trappist monks. The Rochefort No. 8 hails from the year 1595, and the Orval Ale has been being served since 1628. 

Our ruffle-shirted friend hanging around 1776 Steakhouse has witnessed a lot of change. Everyone there feels a special affection for him as his eyes follow you benevolently across the room. Too bad they don't know who the heck he is.

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