Reborn restaurant rates a 26 in coastal cuisine

In 2006 – when Jerry Richard first opened Steakhouse 26 in the Millville Town Center – the establishment quickly became a favorite for beachgoers and locals alike. The dimly lit restaurant reflected the look of an urban, fine-dining steakhouse. But, a struggling economy and inflation in the beef industry now has the place singing a different tune. Now, simply known as “twenty-six,” Richard’s restaurant blends a fresh, coastal menu, raw bar and a newly hired chef with a local staple, while retaining some of the aspects that customers have grown to love.

Coastal Point • Jesse Pryor: At twenty-six, the revamped Millville dining experience now offers a coastal menu that retains some steakhouse favorites. A new pub, raw bar and head chef have also worked their way into the establishment.Coastal Point • Jesse Pryor
At twenty-six, the revamped Millville dining experience now offers a coastal menu that retains some steakhouse favorites. A new pub, raw bar and head chef have also worked their way into the establishment.

“We want to be more suitable where we are,” said Richard, “right here on the shore. With Steakhouse twenty-six, we went for something bold, dark and rich. As twenty-six, we’d like to bring a lighter, Cayman Islands atmosphere. We’re a coastal American pub and raw bar that brings influences from Maine to the Eastern Shore, as well as flavors from New Orleans and parts of the west coast.”

The raw bar at twenty-six, which opened this past weekend, is available every day, starting at 4 p.m., and includes shucked oysters, clams, jumbo steamed shrimp and ceviche – citrus-marinated seafood dish that incorporates fresh fish and shellfish.

To help bring a new atmosphere to twenty-six, Richard sought assistance from Nino Mancari, executive chef at Rehoboth Beach’s Salt Air restaurant. In addition to running Salt Air’s kitchen, Mancari has acted as a consulting chef at twenty-six, helping to assemble the new coastal menu.

One of the other changes to the staff at twenty-six is executive chef Brian “Fennel-Head” Carson, whose experience in Corpus Christi, Texas, is reflected in his work.

“I come from the Third Coast,” he said. “You’ve got the East Coast and the West Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico makes up the third. I like to bring some of that Tex-Mex style and influence to my cooking.”

Carson worked for decades as the opening chef for a major hotel chain, and he has run kitchens across the country – but few of those places could boast the fresh produce and seafood available in lower Delaware.

“I’m really pleased to be in this area,” Carson added. “In South Texas, there’s a lack of fresh and organic produce. Moving up here, I saw all the corn, squash, tomatoes – a plethora of fresh vegetables that weren’t available in Texas. It’s like a chef’s playground here. And, of course, you’ve got fresh seafood right outside your front door.”

Once more produce is harvested this upcoming season, Carson noted that he is looking forward to visiting farmers’ markets to find just the right products for twenty-six’s menu.

“I’ve done the same thing throughout the country,” he said. “Not are you only getting great quality out of what you purchase, but you’re establishing relationships with the farmers.”

While Carson has found ways to bring some Latin flavor to his plates, he has also tried to replicate some of popular styles found across the Atlantic.

“I really enjoy the rustic, fresh concept of the Mediterranean,” he said. “It’s very earthy. They use a few simple ingredients that help enhance the flavor. That works well with the fresh and local products you can find here.”

Even though Richard has created a beach-minded restaurant in place of the former steakhouse, he hasn’t steered far from the success that came around with his previous establishment.

“I’ve made a concerted effort to keep some of the menu items that were very popular and made us who we are,” said Richard. “At twenty-six, you would find more steaks on our menu than any other seafood restaurant in the area. The filet mignon is still one of our best sellers, and the buffalo oysters are still a big hit.”

Fresh fish dishes are not scarce, either, as customers can choose from a seared fennel coriander-crusted tuna, fire-roasted mahi mahi or hand-battered cod. Other popular dishes include an open-faced Carolina-style pork barbecue, smothered in twenty-six’s homemade barbecue sauce, and pan-roasted dayboat scallops.

“Our main goal here at twenty-six is to serve better and more consistent food than we ever have before,” said Richard, “and it’s more affordable.”

The majority of the dinner’s menu items at twenty-six fall around $20 or less, while other picks, such as the pork barbecue, are priced at an affordable $9.99.

“You can’t find quality like this for less than $10,” Richard added. “With the fresh and local ingredients we use, you can really taste the difference. Vegetables are cooked for that specific meal. Our cooks understand great food, and that really shows in our dishes.”

The restaurant will be hosting a fundraiser event on Thursday, April 29, too, celebrating the grand opening of twenty-six, as well as giving back to the community. From 5 to 11 p.m., 50 percent of all sales will be given back to the Justin W. Jennings Foundation and to the charity of the late Elizabeth Shoemaker and Team E-Shoe – a running group devoted to raise money and awareness for leukemia-lymphoma.

“Half of all the money we make is going back to a good cause,” said Richard, “not 10 percent or 15 percent, but 50 percent. It’s a great way to check out our new menu while helping out great members of our community.”

For more information, stop into twenty-six, located in the Millville Town Center, just down from Giant, or call (302) 539-0626. The reborn restaurant is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m.