Some maintain that Milton is like Lewes before the tourists arrived. Both are small towns with centuries-old buildings and rich histories.
Heavy tourism only came to Lewes in mid-1960s, when the fish factories—and the aroma of menhaden—departed.
A Friday stroll through Milton’s historic section gave credibility to the claim.
Located on the Broadkill River, the former shipbuilding town was favored by sea captains, who selected an inland homesite because it was safe from enemy attacks by sea.
Some of the Victorians and old buildings that still stand once belonged to the captains and the four governors’ families who lived here.
But that Friday, the destination was not the riverside Governor’s Walk.
It was Zava Café, a new coffee shop at 102 Federal St. that now serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday.
The slim space previously housed Cantina Ultima and Kristen Latham’s Fox Hole restaurant.
(Latham still has the Dough Bar on the Broadkill River, which specializes in pizza.)
Zava Café moved in late last year.
Zava’s impressive pedigree
The Milton location is the second for Zava Café. Danio Somoza and Thaina Bittencourt opened in the first in downtown Rehoboth Beach in 2022.
They were inspired by the coffee shops serving healthy fare in the Washington, D.C., area.
The Rehoboth café is only open until 3 p.m., but adding dinner to the Milton restaurant is smart. The town needs more restaurants, and the café is within walking distance of the Milton Theatre.
On that Friday night, Somoza was in the kitchen, which was a treat. The well-known area chef and family own Coastline Restaurant Group, which includes Harvest Tide Steakhouse in Lewes, Bethany Beach and D.C., and Zoca Modern Mexican Restaurant in Bethany Beach and D.C.
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Somoza, a native of El Salvador who came to the U.S. at 19, started his culinary career as a line cook at Big Fish Grill and worked his way up to the opening chef at 99 Sea Level in Bethany Beach.
He has described his style as French-inspired farm-to-table, which was on full display that evening.
Starting at the top
For instance, the meat-and-cheese board was a work of art. Tissue thin pieces of dry-aged prosciutto nuzzled DeLallo black pepper salami coins with glistening flecks of fat.
The plate also included Goat Rodeo Bamboozle Cheese, truffle honey, whiskey pear chutney and Birchrun blue cheese.
The blue cheese made another appearance on a refreshing iceberg lettuce salad with red pickled onion, bacon bites, heirloom tomato and cucumber.
Given Somoza’s tenure at Big Fish, it’s unsurprising that the starters include middle-neck clams — a meatier size more available at the beach than up north — Prince Edward Island mussels and Blue Point oysters.
Thick slices of meaty ruby red tuna got a coating of espresso and a topping of whipped goat cheese and diced mango.
Works of art
Somoza’s love of French cuisine shows in such sauces, which often cover the plate.
Espresso-rubbed pork tenderloin, for instance, came with an oyster mushroom gravy.
A perfectly cooked pepper-crusted prime ribeye (what else would you expect from Harvest Tide’s sibling?) lolled in a jus flecked with black pepper.
Even striped bass came with a fennel cream sauce.
While the classically inspired sauces added to the impeccable presentation, they did make for some rich food. It would be interesting to see if the kitchen will serve them on the side, given the menu note asking guests not to make substitutions.
Before and after
A bar runs along most of one wall, and the cocktail menu is creative, with plenty of Latin-infused flavors.
Consider Mexican espresso martini made with tequila, Kahlua and cinnamon, white sangria, mojitos (passion fruit or blackberry) and caipirinha, also available with passion fruit.
The wine list is respectable with by-the-glass prices, with most in the $10-$12 range.
Desserts, meanwhile, are made in-house, and the chocolate layer cake with a fresh strawberry crown was swoon-worthy.
Expect Lewes and Rehoboth prices. Zava’s dinner entrees run from $30 for salmon to $45 for the ribeye.
Generally, Milton’s restaurant prices are lower, but Zava Café combines a comfortable atmosphere with an innovative menu that will undoubtedly appeal to theatergoers and locals alike.
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