The craft cocktail movement is going strong in Wilmington. Several new establishments offer original cocktails featuring high quality spirits and bitters. Yet these creative drinks run the risk of outshining the food if not paired with the right dish.
Recently, my husband and I explored the cocktails at three new Wilmington restaurants. Of course, we went beyond the drink menus to find just the right classic menu items — from burger to burrito — to pair with each libation.
Torbert Street Social — Downtown Wilmington
If you venture beyond the longstanding restaurants on Washington Street, you will discover an over 130-year-old livery stable boasting exposed brick and wooden beams juxtaposed with crystal chandeliers. This atmosphere creates the ideal mystique for Big Fish Group’s new speakeasy.
Torbert Street Social bar and restaurant serves up classy cocktails along with reasonably priced snacks, stone hearth pizzas, and sliders.
Hallmarks of Torbert Street Social’s bar are its small-batch liquors and house-made garnishes, such as dehydrated citrus fruits. My cocktail recommendation is the Bird and the Bees, consisting of lavender-infused Aviation Gin, honey, and lemon. While I’m a lavender person, I understand that some find it overpowering. This is not the case here. The lavender infusion adds just enough floral and earthy notes to balance the sweetness of the honey.
For the classic pairing, the Twice Cooked Duck Wings are a must. These are not your ordinary wings, rather they are white pekin duck drumettes, slowly braised with lemongrass and kaffir lime, flash-fried, and then rolled in a tangy chili glaze. The flavors pop. Speaking of pop, the Blistered Shishito Peppers with Garlic-Chimichurri Sauce provide a sweet heat to enhance the tanginess of the wings.
My last word on Torbert Street Social is a special note: the bartenders are eager to customize. When I mentioned that I enjoy the herbaceous Green Chartreuse liqueur, I was given a refreshing Last Word featuring Aviation Gin with Green Chartreuse, Maraschino Liqueur, and lime.
Torbert Street is open Wednesday through Saturday from 4:00 pm.
Crow Bar — Trolly Square
If Trolley Square is your destination for Happy Hour or dinner, then Crow Bar should be your gathering spot.
The former WSFS Bank is now Chef Bryan Sikora’s newest venture. Whether you are seated at the high top tables near the bar or at a quieter dining table in the back, Crow Bar’s unique art pieces make for interesting conversation.
The standouts on Crow Bar’s cocktail menu are the original creations featuring citrus and herbs. For example, The Velvet Rope showcases blood orange while the Pop the Clutch includes a basil-infused vermouth.
My recommendation, the Superfly, is a superb vodka-based drink blending St. Germain, lemon, blackberry, black pepper, and sage. A strikingly vivid purple, the Superfly is the perfect balance of sweet, tart, and earthy. No need for bitters as the sage shares its notes of pine and citrus.
For the classic pairing, keep things simple with the Fresh Ground Burger. Mine was cooked to perfection and topped with cheddar, smoked bacon, and onion jam. The brioche bun stood up to the toppings, and the matchstick fries were fresh and crisp.
Crow Bar now has expanded hours – Saturday and Sunday the restaurant will open at 11 am for brunch. Hours Monday through Friday from 4:00 pm.
El Camino — North Wilmington
If it’s the fresh flavors of Mexico you crave, head to El Camino on Silverside Road. Platinum Dining Group’s most recent addition launched its new and improved menu last fall and is open for both lunch and dinner. The wrap-around bar and airy seating create a fun vibe, and the service is excellent.
Offering a selection of 111 tequilas and nine mezcals, agave is the star of the bar. Servers are poised to share their knowledge about each brand’s aging, flavor, and price. My cocktail recommendation is a tie. Mezcal fans must try the Up in Smoke, consisting of a delightfully smoky El Buho Mezcal, fresh lime, grapefruit jarritos, and a chili salt rim.
If you seek more heat, opt for the Jalapeño Cucumber of jalapeño infused tequila, cucumber, fresh lime, agave nectar, and a chili salt rim. Both are flavorful and fresh. What distinguishes El Camino’s cocktails are the variety of sizes offered (the regular 13-ounce drink is a very reasonable $10). In addition, the tequila flights are designed so that guests can explore El Camino’s carefully curated liquor offerings.
For the classic pairing, the Chimichanga is an ideal comfort food. The tortilla is filled with 16 spice chicken and topped with pickled chilis, house queso, and pico. The rice and bean accompaniments were also nicely done. Take note not to overlook the sides. The cornbread with jalapeño butter is dessert-like in its creaminess — a standout among cornbread I’ve prepared at home or enjoyed out.
With a cocktail as the centerpiece and a classic dish as its complement, take the opportunity to explore some of Wilmington’s newest dining options.