Feast in the First State: What to Eat in Delaware
Ocean access, fertile farmland and abundant orchards mean there's plenty to devour in Delaware.
Photo By: Keith Mosher
Photo By: hillwoman2
Photo By: VisitDelaware.com
Photo By: Lauren Todd, Grotto Pizza
Photo By: Delaware Tourism Board
Photo By: VisitDelaware.com
Sea and Savories
For millions, the state of Delaware stands in their memories as a momentary blur along I-95, or perhaps some mysterious land populated by credit card banks and Amtrak-loving vice presidents. Yet past the interstate exits, slender Delaware quietly treasures an oversized food culture, especially those treasures that have evolved organically from its proximity to oceans and bays, its rich farm land and its remarkable overabundance of poultry. High-end dining also thrives in the edgier kitchens of Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, but the born-and-bred citizenry unapologetically cherish simpler joys, and more humble homemade satisfactions. Combined with Delaware’s lack of sales tax, the First State’s home-grown delicacies give travelers a remarkable opportunity to eat affordably and well.
Illustration by Hello Neighbor Designs
Once appreciated only within Delaware’s relatively meager 2,941 square miles, Capriotti's beloved, Thanksgiving-inspired submarine sandwich has been spreading its turkey-stuffing-and-cranberry sauce love throughout the country in recent years. Now, desperate expatriate Delawareans (along with much of the nation) can enjoy this Wilmington-born treat in 16 states, from coast to stuffing-stuffed coast. Tip: Pick up an oniony cheesesteak or an oil-drenched Italian sub while you’re there.
Chicken and Slippery Dumplings
Blue Claw Crabs
Fries with Vinegar
From deep in their consciousness, lifelong Delawareans can summon the sensations of summer with just one bite of a ripe and juicy peach — so sweet, and somehow stuffed with sunshine. A Delaware treat for more than 500 years, peaches pop up at the roadside produce stands that add sweet pause to the back-country roads around the ocean resorts of Sussex County, and are available in abundance (or pick-your-own) starting in mid-summer at such orchards as Bennett’s (which has a Peach Festival on the first Saturday in August); Fifer (32 varieties), and T.S. Smith & Sons (15 varieties).
In a state where poultry outnumber humans by a factor of about 250-to-1 in any given year, Delaware shows a certain kind of reverential treatment to its fowl overlords. Walt’s Flavor Crisp’s soulful and deeply flavorful rendition of fried chicken is a connoisseur’s choice for those near Wilmington. Minor fried-chicken miracles also occur around the clock at Royal Farms convenience stores statewide, and insiders rave about the fried magic at Johnnie’s Dog House & Chicken Shack (pictured), Spence’s Bazaar, Lettie’s Kitchen and Kick n’ Chicken.
Italian Water Ice
In roadside huts and city shops throughout Wilmington’s Little Italy neighborhood, a cooling summer moments are courtesy of fruity, slushy, all-natural cups of slurpy Italian water ice. At Fusco’s, you can get any flavor you’d like, so long as it’s lemon, and at nearby Yatz’s, the lemony nirvana is fortified by the promise of another Delaware favorite: oniony, beefy, best-in-town cheesesteaks.
Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA
Next to vinegary french fries, drippy homemade ice cream is an oceanside favorite, and at The Ice Cream Store in Rehoboth is traditionally flavored in decidedly non-traditional ways, from “Booger” (green-tinted vanilla ice cream with green caramel swirl and marshmallow bits) to “Better than Sex” (devil’s food cake mix, vanilla extract, Heath Bar crumbles and fudge) to “Bacon De Leche” (dulce de leche ice cream with candied pecans, a caramel swirl, and of course, bacon). Farther from the sea, the cow-to-cone creations of UDairy Creamery and Woodside Farm Creamery have also encouraged many a deliciously chill moment.
Tatanka Hot Sauce
Delaware-style Hot Dogs
Southern Delaware Roadside Chicken BBQs
Not quite a stromboli, yet clearly a distant relative of the calzone, this only-in-Delaware ground beef-and-pizza dough pocket has given unfussy satisfaction to thousands of Rehoboth beachgoers, inspiring generations of memories at Nicola Pizza. Paradoxically, such simplicity seems to inspire celebrity adoration: Former President George H.W. Bush and wife, Barbara, had Nic-o-bolis shipped to the White House; Jim Cramer of CNBC's Mad Money has raved about them on-air; and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters has admitted a soft spot for the sweet pepper Nic-o-boli.