Locals find a new favorite spot at Perucci’s

At the old Millville post office, a new Italian restaurant has caused a flurry of attention from locals and visitors alike. Perucci’s is a little bistro owned by Lynn and Jim Rickards, the former owners of Bethany Beach Diner.

Coastal Point • Chris Clark: Perucci’s offers classic Italian dining, with a quaint atmosphere. The restaurant is named after Joe Perucci, a family friend of the owners, Lynn and Jim Rickards.Coastal Point • Chris Clark
Perucci’s offers classic Italian dining, with a quaint atmosphere. The restaurant is named after Joe Perucci, a family friend of the owners, Lynn and Jim Rickards.

Lynn Rickards said she has wanted to have a restaurant in the old post office for years.

“I’ve loved this building since we moved here. It’s so cute and quaint and it sits off by itself. When you drive by, no matter which way you go, your head just kind of turns naturally towards this building,” she said.

“We wanted something where we would have our own parking, wouldn’t have to worry about meters and all that,” she added. “And we wanted something that would draw more from locals because we’re local and we know what it’s like in the winter not to have anything. So we wanted something that would be centered for a lot of the local people because a lot of them say, ‘Oh, I never get to the beach.’”

The restaurant is open seven days a week, from 5 to 9 p.m., year round, with extended hours to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer months. The main dining room, which requires reservations, can seat up to 40 people. There is also seating available at bistro counters on a first-come, first-served basis.

When the Rickardses first acquired the property to rent, they wanted to retain some of its character and to create an eatery that would complement the building they love so much.

“We wanted to do something a little different. We were looking at the character of the building, and we were debating between Tex-Mex and Italian, because the building just lent itself to that. With Italian, there’re more varieties, plus with Italian I had more experience myself.”

The interior of the restaurant has the warm feeling of the Mediterranean. The dark stained wood of the beadboard ceiling and the cozy tables with bench seating can make diners feel instantly transported to Italy. And the interior decorating proved a rewarding project for the Rickards.

“My husband and I did it all together. We didn’t have this grand scheme in the beginning; one thing fell into another. The brick [inside] was painted white. Everything was white cinderblock when we moved in here. There was no ceiling; there was nothing in here.

“The first thing we did was get rid of the white paint on the brick, and we thought that would be perfect. The green shelves were actually rafters running along the roofline on top. We loved their color, so we kept them, and we loved the orange in the brick. Then I found the light fixtures, which led to finding the wall color. It just worked out.”

The family decided to pay homage to a good family friend and name the restaurant Perucci’s, after Lynn Rickards’ godfather Joe.

“He was the best man at my father’s wedding. He gave my mother the recipe for the Sunday sauce and the meatballs. So we’ve been cooking them for years, and we thought, ‘What about Italian?’ Everybody loves that sauce, and it’s so unique. We started putting the menu together, and so many of the menu items included the Sunday sauce, we decided to honor him and name it after him,” she said.

The menu is “classic Italian” and has everything from bruschetta to pork Milanese to spaghetti and meatballs.

“The way we set the menu up, it is exactly the reason why we call it classic Italian. The idea that we have is, whether you come today, six months from now, one year, three years, I know I’m going to have the same lasagna that I had then. I know I’m going to have the fettuccini Alfredo or carbonara. The menu items are just classic dishes that we want to keep the same and make memorable,” said Rickards.

Rickards also wanted to ensure that guests with special dietary needs would be able to come in and have an enjoyable meal. So they offer gluten-free pasta on request and will cater to any patron with food allergies.

The restaurant has a full liquor license but currently offers only beer and wine. The Rickardses handpicked their wine list, selecting only wines they like and enjoy. They also offer coffee with a fresh press that she said is out-of-this-world good.

“Our coffee comes from Notting Hill (Coffee Roastery). This is a blend that she (Amy Felker) came up with just for us. She now stocks it at her store. I can call her up and say I’m running out and we’ll have fresh beans the next day. All of our beans are fresh roasted and that’s what makes the coffee taste so well.”

The desserts are made in house by Rickards herself, who has been making them for years. The menu offers tiramisu, flourless chocolate torte, almond cake and a dense, creamy cheesecake made with a cookie crust.

“I’m going to make canolis, but I’m trying to work it out so that I don’t have to fry the shells. I’m working on a recipe where I could bake them in the oven. I’m working on a panacotta. We are getting ready to put on our summer bread pudding, which is made with the Italian Christmas bread.”

The Rickardses have no plans on moving from their little spot, which took them two years to open. After the busy summer season is over they hope to expand the restaurant.

“The people who own this own this whole 4-acre property. So in the fall we want to open a bakery here. Where the wine bar is, we’re going to put some sneeze guards up, more like a patisserie. We’ll have muffins, scones, croissants, cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, cakes, and pies, that sort of thing.”

If the bakery grows to be popular enough, the Rickardses will look into constructing another building on the property that will duplicate the exterior of their current building and maintain the same charm and character. They have plans to enlarge outward from the back of the restaurant, as well.

“In the spring we’re hoping to put in French doors and a deck [off the back wall of the restaurant] and plant an organic herb garden. So this gave us a lot of opportunity for growth. … We do a lot of natural and some organic now, but our aim down the road is to go 100 percent organic.”

Menu items range from $9 for spaghetti up to the mid-$20s for one of the nightly specials. Lynn Rickards said she hopes Perucci’s becomes a staple for the local community — a place that people will want to return to again and again.

“We like for people to say, ‘Oh, you know what – I ate there for prom and now I’m getting married, I want to go there for our engagement dinner,’ or for an anniversary dinner. Everyone feels special and is in a special atmosphere. We want to make a really nice dining experience, and we want to make it affordable.

“We know what it’s like in this area. If you want to pay a lot of money, you can go down there [Bethany] and pay a lot of money, but we don’t want to do that,” she explained. “We want to make it affordable to everybody, because the local people who are going to be here during the winter, they’re going to be with us all the time. We really want to make it their experience.”

Perucci’s is located at 35507 Atlantic Avenue in Millville, just west of the Millville Town Center (Giant). For more information or to make reservations, call (302) 829-8727.