The storied Green Room at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, reopens September 1 as Le Cavalier at the Green Room, a slightly less formal French restaurant led by Philly chef Tyler Akin. This is a homecoming for Akin, who grew up in Wilmington.
The restaurant originally opened when the hotel did in 1913. After the Buccini/Pollin Group and PM Hotel Group bought the property from the du Ponts — the famed Delaware family behind the chemical fortune — they brought in Akin as the chef-partner and closed the restaurant at the very end of 2019 for a renovation. The pandemic delayed the reopening until next month, when the restaurant will debut with an entirely new menu and a refreshed look from the team at Philly-based Stokes Architecture & Design, who researched the history of the building extensively before updating it for 2020.
“This has been the most anticipated restaurant opening of my career,” Akin said in a press release.
Akin cooked at notable spots in Washington, D.C., before landing in Philly to work at Zahav. In 2014, the chef, who is white, went out on his own with Stock, a Southeast Asian BYOB in Fishtown, and a few years later opened a fast-casual version of Stock in Rittenhouse. He also co-owns the currently closed Res Ipsa Cafe.
For “Le Cav,” Akin is going for a French brassiere feel with a menu that pulls from the South of France, North Africa, and the Middle East: steak tartare with citrus, Calabrian chile, white endive, and tzatziki; poulet frites with meunière sauce and Castelvetrano olives; trout amandine with Tunisian eggplant. The chef says this is his chance to connect with his French heritage through food.
Unlike in Philly, indoor dining is permitted in Delaware, with restaurants limited to 60 percent capacity and 6 feet between diners seated at different tables. That occupancy limit does not include employees. Delaware has 16,643 positive cases of coronavirus, or 175.6 cases per 10,000 people. On June 1 there were 9,889 cases.
Without any coronavirus-related restrictions, Le Cavalier can fit 131 seats (118 at tables and 13 at the bar). The restaurant said it will be using 60 percent of the overall seat count, so that’s almost 80 customers in the space, not counting servers, hosts, runners, bartenders, and cooks. The 217-room hotel is also in operation. There is no cap on the number of hotel rooms that can be occupied.
Those who opt to eat inside Le Cavalier now will find velvet and leather banquettes, fumed oak paneling, an ornate plaster ceiling, and a mosaic tile floor that dates back to the hotel’s opening and was uncovered during the renovation.
“We believe the gilded chandeliers and sconces are from Spain and were added in the 1950s. A modest swap of their faux candlesticks for globes had the biggest impact on the room from my perspective,” says Lance Saunders, director of design at Stokes. “In my research, I was inspired by archived photos of previous window treatments, which included fabric valances and wood screens. To replace the heavy drapery and respect this past design, we created fitted stained glass screens.”
Saunders adds that finding the mosaic floor brought the whole thing together: “[I]n a stroke of final luck, the central banquettes lined up nearly perfectly with the inset mosaic Italian marble that was uncovered beneath the wall-to-wall carpet, something rumored to have existed but not confirmed until we pulled it up a few months ago.“
Along with the indoor dining, the restaurant offers outdoor seating on a patio, as well as takeout. To start, it will serve dinner only, Tuesdays through Saturdays. Breakfast, lunch, brunch, and afternoon tea, and Sunday and Monday hours, will be added. Hotel guests can order room service.