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Middletown Life

New restaurants attract attention with different approaches

Dec 30, 2020 02:34PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Drewe Phinny
Staff Writer

Two of the latest additions to a growing dining landscape in Middletown both aim to please patrons with good food and unique ambience. La Banca (the bank) has transformed the old Delaware Trust building into a sleek, classy, two-level restaurant that features Italian fare with a twist and an extensive selection of wines. The Crooked Hammock Brewery personifies what it calls the “Hammock state of mind,” an invitation to “hang out, get some comfort food, have a few beers with friends, play some cornhole, just relax.”

La Banca opened on November 1, 2019. The building had been vacant for 14 years, after the bank closed in 2001. Then, in 2015, restoration commenced. Over the past few years, a massive internal renovation was done by Rick Clark and Clark Construction, with additional oversight from Adam Cofield, business manager of RM Hospitality Group.

Although the entire interior was gutted and rebuilt, original bank artifacts are on display as an homage to Delaware Trust, which was built in 1918. “Some of the things we’ve accumulated have been provided by former customers,” Cofield explained. “Postcards, safe deposit box keys, envelopes... We’ve had several people who worked in the bank come in for dinner and we’ll show them what we’ve restored or renovated and it becomes a point of nostalgia for them. It’s a place where memories were created, but it’s good to be renovated and lively again.”

There’s a quiet, sophisticated look to La Banca; although Cofield is quick to squelch any thoughts of stuffiness. “It’s not the place where you need to wear a jacket and tie and all that... It’s more about what you’re comfortable in.”

Not surprisingly, pasta is the biggest seller at La Banca. “We have seven different pastas right now, including capellini and tagliatelle. We do a dish that utilizes the capellini with two different variations; one’s a squid ink with clams and shrimp and oysters. We also have gnocchi, which is a hand-rolled pasta. It’s basically a little dumpling style. Then we have raviolis, which is a filled pasta. We have lobster ravioli, where we create a lobster mousse. We have a multitude of different things from land and sea...Right now, Maryland rockfish is on the menu and salmon, shrimp and mussels as appetizers...Regardless of your likes or dislikes, there is something on the menu you will enjoy.”

There’s a unique connection that unites restaurant workers, and for Cofield, it’s one of the things that endears him to the business. “Despite the difficulties and the challenges, it has to be one of the most rewarding industries to work in. Because you work with people...long hours on nights and weekends and holidays. You spend more time with those folks sometimes than your own family. And it becomes a true family environment. They become family. At Metro (Metro Pub and Grill, also managed by RM Hospitality Group), we close at midnight Fridays and Saturdays, so you get out there about 1:00 or may not be tired, you’re usually going out to have a meal with the people you work with. Waffle House is a great place to go at 1:30 in the morning because you’ll probably see a bunch of people from the industry. So it’s extremely rewarding and it’s not for everyone, but for those folks it is.” Cofield’s mission at La Banca is to share that family warmth with the customers as they enjoy the delicious food.

Brent Chellew is the Executive Chef at La Banca. Chellew, originally from New Castle, was educated in Philadelphia. Most recently, he worked at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington from 2014 to 2017 under Dwain Kalup, who was a James Beard semi-finalist, Best Chef Mid-Atlantic, 2017.

Both Chellew and Kalup traveled to Arizona in 2018, where Chellew accepted the position of Sous Chef at The Fat Ox, under Chefs Rochelle Daniel and Matt Carter. In late 2019, he returned to Delaware and became Chef de Cuisine at La Banca. Soon after that, he was promoted to Executive Chef.

Cofield believes in treating workers well. “A restaurant’s number one asset is the people who work there. You have to take care of the people who work for you in order to take care of the people who patronize your business.”

According to Cofield, future plans include a hotel and possibly a deli. “We’re looking at opening an Italian style deli downtown,” he said, explaining that the offerings would be complimentary to what has been established at La Banca with a great selection of cheeses and cured meats, olive oils and olives, balsamic vinegar, anti-pastas and breads along with raviolis and pastas.

We haven’t finalized it yet but we’re in the process of working it out,” Cofield said.

La Banca
1 West Main Street
Middletown, Delaware 19709

As you drive up to Crooked Hammock Brewery, one thing that comes to mind is the beach. Sand outside, horseshoe pits, comfortable outdoor furniture, shuffleboard, even bocce ball courts. It definitely has a recreational feel to it. The website describes it as “a backyard inspired brewpub and beer garden with a laid- back atmosphere, easy drinkin’ brews and a food menu inspired by your favorite family BBQ.” Of course, there is plenty of indoor activity too. That’s where the food is, along with conversation and comfort food.

Marketing Coordinator Patrick Galloway, is a perfect spokesperson for this indoor-outdoor venue. He engenders an honest enthusiasm for “the Hammock state of mind.” Galloway, 24, explained how the concept starts at the top and works its way through the entire organization. “This is one of the most laid-back, awesome companies I’ve ever worked for,” Galloway said. “From their corporate level, the whole idea is to give people a home away from home where they can go get some comfort food, burgers, nachos, fries, wings, have a few beers, hang out with friends, play some cornhole, just relax [and] find an escape.”

There are lots of other game choices outside, along with a fire pit.

Our corporate motto is, ‘enjoy the ride,’ Galloway explained, “And everything we do stems from that.”

This laid- back (you’ll hear that phrase a lot) atmosphere is reflected in the beverage approach. “As far as our beers, everything we have is meant to be easy-drinking so you can hang out with your friends instead of drinking to get drunk. We very much go for that food-drink experience across the board.”

The Crooked Hammock brand was actually developed before the first Hammock opened its doors in Lewes in 2015.

Galloway pointed out that the owner, Rich Garrahan, developed the idea for The Crooked Hammock brand.

He worked a corporate marketing job and he ended moving to lower Delaware,” Galloway explained. “He kind of just slowed down his whole life. He actually had a hammock in his backyard that he always used to lie in and that was where the idea came from. Our backyard comes from this initial idea. He wanted a place for people to do that. We opened on November13, 2019, and we’re doing really well, but we’re continuing to prepare for the shininess to wear off so we’re very active in marketing.”

Galloway mentioned several of the brews on the Crooked Hammock list. “We have one called the ‘Shoobie.’ I’ve since learned that a Shoobie is a traveler who carries his or her lunch in a shoe box. A lot of our focus is around those kinds of mindsets... free-spirited ideals. We’re working on our year-round recipes now. One of them will be called “Four-Tires.” It’s the concept of a road-tripping beer, one you can drink on the road (not while driving, obviously) but one you can drink while on a road trip, or camping, etc. It’s in testing phase now and is on tap under the name Road Trippin.”

During the summer, Galloway said they will try to drive traffic into the yard area, prior to getting into the restaurant, because you can get food service as well as beer out there. “We really try and push people to the backyard because it’s kind of our waiting area and they can get a table if they choose.”

He also wanted to make it clear that The Crooked Hammock is 100 percent family-friendly (kids are welcome) and dog-friendly.

We’re having a “Beers for Barks” promotion. In January, February and March, we give twenty- five cents of every pint to Brandywine Valley SPCA. So it’s usually about $7,000 to $8,000 at the end of the three-month period. And we do adoption events where we’ll fill this room with puppies and people come out and we try to get some dogs adopted.”

Galloway stressed that they work with many local businesses, focusing on supporting the communities. “In fact, my position was very much developed just for outreach in the community so we can go out and partner with area businesses,” he said.

Crooked Hammock Brewery
316 Auto Park Drive
Middletown, Delaware 19709

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