Tyler Akin is coming home—in a manner of speaking, that is.
The Tower Hill graduate, who found culinary fame in Philly, will open Le Cavalier at the Green Room Sept. 1, in the Hotel du Pont.
The debut will end months of speculation about the transformation of Delaware’s most famous restaurant from fine-dining destination to comfortable brasserie.
“It will be the type of place that you will want to go once a week instead of once a year,” vowed Akin, who will be in the kitchen running the show.
Many locals can’t wait to have their curiosity—as well as their appetite—satiated. Delays due to COVID-19 have only increased the anticipation.
Climbing the culinary ladder
When Akin was a Tower Hill student, he made headlines for his athletic ability, not his culinary aspirations.
No doubt, sports helped fuel his sense of determination. Although a spinal fusion halted his tennis career, he was back on the soccer field after rehab. (His doctor’s son, Alex Mackenzie, is now one of his business partners in Akin’s Philly restaurants).
As a child, Akin loved to watch his maternal grandmother cook. With a dull paring knife, the Virginia native made what her grandson later learned were “brunoise” cuts—and she did it well even with arthritis.
Family feasts included fried chicken, macaroni salad, cornbread and green beans simmered with smoked ham until they turned into a puree.
“I grew up watching her put all of this effort into these huge family meals for us,” he said.
Akin worked in his father’s law firm in summers, but it wasn’t until he was in law school that he realized a career as an attorney wasn’t for him. He moved to Washington, D.C., apprenticed at the Bread Ovens at Quail Creek Farms and enrolled at L’Academie de Cuisine.
“There was a rising tide of interest in cooking at that time,” he recalled. “I was super into food but had never considered it as a career path. But then there was ‘Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,’ [which premiered in 2005], and I think, honestly, Anthony Bourdain inspired a lot of chefs my age. I am an example of that.”
Akin was seemingly on a fast track to success. He staged at José Andrés’ award-winning Minibar and later worked at the Michelin-starred, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Komi. He was also on the opening team of its sister restaurant, Little Serow, which specializes in northeastern Thai cuisine.
A job at the award-winning Zahav, working under Michael Solomonov, brought him to Philadelphia.
Akin opened his first location of Stock, a pho restaurant, in Fishtown in 2014 and Res Ipsa Café in 2016. Another Stock opened in 2018.
Taking on a legend
Akin, who grew up near Westover Hills, recalls celebrations in the Green Room, including birthdays and holiday meals. But like many people, he only went on special occasions.
Since its birth in 1913, the restaurant had been draped in opulence like a set from “Downton Abbey.” Floral centerpieces graced white table linens, and servers had impeccable manners.
Ornate crystal and gold chandeliers, weighing 2,500 pounds each, dominated the two-and-a-half-story ceiling and matching baroque-style sconces accented artwork that would look at home in a country estate.
The Hotel du Pont and its restaurant were touchstones for the DuPont culture that built many Wilmington landmarks. In fact, the Green Room was likely named for Helena Springer Green, the wife of DuPont Co. executive John J. Raskob, who kept a suite in the hotel.
So, it was big news in Delaware when the Buccini/Pollin Group in 2017 purchased the DuPont Building, in which the hotel resides. PM Hotel Group now manages it.
Thankfully, some things have not changed.
“We haven’t touched any of the essential bones,” Akin said of the Green Room.
For instance, the chandeliers still dangle from the ornate ceiling and gently illuminate the gleaming fumed-oak paneling.
Workers expected to find a concrete slab under the carpet. But if the Instagram teaser photos are any indication, they uncovered an intricate mosaic. Akin, who wants guests to be surprised, has only shared a small image of it.
Other things have changed. Stokes Architecture + Design has handled the renovations, which include a 13-seat marble bar in the 118-seat dining room, which has velvet and leather banquettes and contemporary French artwork.
There is also a delineated and landscaped patio area, which will come in handy during COVID-19 restrictions. Admittedly, the dining room is so large that guests can easily social distance.
The old Green Room’s menu leaned decidedly toward French cuisine, but it was more about classic sauces, precise technique and formal presentations.
Le Cavalier, which salutes the Brandywine Valley’s equestrian roots, also puts the accent on French food. But the menu showcases the more comforting brasserie dishes you might find at Parc in Philly or Balthazar in New York.
Akin will be on site, supervising the kitchen. Expect a twist or two, including culinary influences from countries that the French colonized.
Steak tartare, for instance, gets a boost from white endive and tzatziki. Tunisian eggplant accompanies the trout amandine, and hen of the woods mushrooms get a dusting of shabazi spice.
Want the familiar? Order onion soup, salade Lyonnaise and roast chicken.
You can even get a cheeseburger.
“I love a good cheeseburger,” said Akin, who noted that there was one on the old Green Room menu.
Admittedly, French fare did not go over well at nearby Margaux. Restaurants fail, however, for a variety of reasons.
Said Akin: “Our food is going to speak for itself.”
“Le Cav” will be open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Limited indoor seating will be available per the CDC, state and local guidelines. Online ordering for pick-up and delivery will also be available on lecavalierde.com during operating hours.
In-room dining will be offered for all Hotel du Pont guests. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and weekend brunch will begin in the weeks to follow.
To make a reservation and learn more, go to lecavalierde.com and follow on Instagram @lecavalierde.