Mio Fratello brings Italian flavor to the shore

Brothers Richard and Bryan Keith consider themselves commercial developers more than restaurateurs, but it would be hard to tell that from the success of their newest project, Mio Fratello Italian Steakhouse in west Fenwick Island. Only three months old, the restaurant is becoming a popular spot for locals and turning tables at a rate to rival long-established eateries in the area – something the brothers attribute directly to renowned chef Bert Parks, who creates the menu.

Coastal Point • Jesse Pryor: Mio Fratello offers exquisite Italian dishes including this seafood favorite, Chilean Sea Bass encrusted in potatoes, surrounded by a Chianti cream sauce.Coastal Point • Jesse Pryor
Mio Fratello offers exquisite Italian dishes including this seafood favorite, Chilean Sea Bass encrusted in potatoes, surrounded by a Chianti cream sauce.

“We never looked to get into the restaurant business,” said Richard Keith of himself and his brother, “but having Bert come along, it worked out for the best and all fell into place.”

The accomplished head of the kitchen, a New Jersey native who grew up just outside of Philadelphia, specializes in authentic Italian cuisine. Since establishing himself as one of the most sought-after chefs in the state, he has collected a variety of awards and recognitions, including a past Best New Restaurant award from Delaware Today and exclusive write-ups in culinary publications.

“We pride ourselves in putting out good food,” said Keith, “and having Bert here, you never have to worry.”

Described as an Italian steakhouse, Mio Fratello – Italian for “My Brother” – boasts a wide menu selection to whet the appetite, from stuffed filet mignon and marinated London broil to Shrimp Arribiata, Lobster Ravioli and Chicken Genovese. But it’s the specialty dishes that help Mio Fratello stand out, such as Sausage Puttanesca, Fettuccini Carbonara or their Veal Chop – Parks’ signature dish.

“The first thing I noticed when I came down here,” said Parks, “is that we’re situated a little farther from the shore than a lot of big restaurants. There is, however, a large number of retirees and still plenty of locals around here. Knowing this, I can offer a balanced menu, with a little bit for everyone. There’s so much to choose from. If you don’t find it here, you’re not going to find it anywhere.”

Aside from Parks’ knowledge and experience in the kitchen, the freshness of the menu items has helped distinguish the flavors at Mio Fratello among what is already found at the Delaware shore.

“Our lobster is coming in right off the coast,” he said. “I’ve had a customer ask how old the scallops are, and I was honest – it was only a matter of hours. It’s really incredible. People don’t realize how fresh this food is. Even the produce: the peppers, the tomatoes, they’re coming from the local farmers.” Meatballs are made from the Keiths’ mother’s recipe, prepared right in the kitchen.

“Everything here is either homemade or as close as you can get,” said Keith.

Despite his repertoire, Parks remains modest and keeps his focus on pleasing customers and ensuring they will come back for more.

“There’s no ego in front of our menu,” he said. “It’s all about having a good time and feeding people great food.”

The relatively new building, planned to be leased as a restaurant, still needed plenty of work. But with some careful shopping, it was quickly transformed into an establishment with competitive prices.

“Most of the stuff I bought here,” said Keith, “from the furniture to the wall paintings, came from [online shopping]. That’s what really helps us keep our prices affordable. Getting things at a discount can make a big difference on how you price your menu.”

Bar menus start around $4.99, while dinners range from under $10 up to $30.

“When people step inside,” said Parks, “they see that it is kept nicely, but it’s not a fine-dining restaurant. Customers can take their time, enjoy the atmosphere and try some great food.”

Without a kitchen already in the building, Parks had full freedom to build the restaurant’s nerve center the way he wanted.

“I was able to design it my way,” he said. “The kitchen matches the menu. It is ergonomically designed.”

High demand for tables has even pushed the owners to add on a second story to accommodate that demand, and to install an additional kitchen.

The seemingly instant success has been welcome, but Keith admitted he’s still adjusting to the demand.

“We had no idea the local explosion would be so big,” he said. “It’s really the local population that is making this happen. There is definitely a lot involved [in running a restaurant]. It monopolizes your time in a way. I can’t remember the last time I had a day off. But when everyone tells you how wonderful your restaurant is, it makes the bustle and stress of being here non-stop much more palatable.”

Mio Fratello’s customer base has been growing steadily, simply from word-of-mouth. Customers like Marie Minshell are returning for the friendly environment and outstanding menu selection.

“I love the food here,” Minshell said. “No one that I’ve talked to has found anything negative about this place, and the food is always prepared perfectly.”

Friday and Saturday nights are by far the busiest, with diners numbering in the hundreds. Customers can expect up to wait up to an hour for a table if they show up without reservations, so calling ahead is advised.

With a large projection-screen TV inside, Sundays have been a great success during the football season, too, but it’s not only the customers enjoying their time.

“I definitely have to credit our staff,” said Keith. “Our servers and bartenders do a great job making our diners feel comfortable and welcomed. They’re a big reason people keep coming back.

“We’ve been rolling since we opened in July,” Keith added. “The food here is, bar none, the best you’ll find, and our customers know it. I have no idea what to expect by next summer, but as long as people keep coming, we’ll be here.”

For more information, including menus, reviews and reservation options, check out the Web site at www.miofratello.com or call (302) 436-6400. Mio Fratello Italian Steakhouse is located at 38016 Fenwick Shoals Boulevard (Route 54), beside Jammin’ Jon’s Caribbean Barbeque.