Few chefs in the Delaware River Towns have leaned into the relentless setbacks and restrictions brought on by the pandemic the way that Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer have. They bypassed outdoor dining at their new restaurant in Milford, Canal House Station, in favor of five-course, takeout Sunday dinners (more on them in a moment) and the occasional pop-up special.
Early in the summer, when the 2020 James Beard Award semifinalists for best Mid-Atlantic chef happened into a bounty of avocados, they served avocado toast from the restaurant’s back porch. Lately, they’ve been doing fried chicken sandwiches with potato salad or a deviled egg.
It may sound like simple fare, but Hamilton and Hirsheimer, if you aren’t already the owner of a severely dog-eared copy of one of their bestselling cookbooks, are the queens of under-promising and over-delivering. The fried chicken sandwich, for one, has quickly become a quintessential summertime indulgence—during a historically-forgettable summer.
The sandwich is merely fried chicken and a secret sauce on a brioche bun. You’ll look at it and think, I can make that! But then you’ll bite into it and realize, with a resounding thud, that, no, you absolutely cannot make that. Even worse, another few bites and it’ll be gone.
The Sunday dinners, thankfully, are longer-lasting. Before COVID-19 flipped our world upside down, Hamilton and Hirsheimer envisioned the Sunday dinner as the centerpiece of their new venture. Not the stale, drawn-out version you’re probably familiar with. Theirs would feature an evolving, seasonal menu, the kind of thing that was already generating a large, loyal following until … well, you know.
“It used to be that families gathered together on Sunday afternoon, the grandparents, aunts, and uncles,” Hirsheimer told Food & Wine this time last year. “Maybe people could come and do that here—enjoy themselves, and sit for a while. We could create that kind of vibe.”
With their weekly take-home offerings during the pandemic, we’ve gained a glimpse of what that experience may have tasted like had the spring and summer proceeded uninterrupted. It’s also provided hope for a day when the “new normal” is just normal again.
A recent sampling:
TO WHET YOUR APPETITE
Melon Water (A refreshing apéritif—just add sparkling water or your choice of booze.)
Cold Poached Shrimp and Avocado Cocktail with Citrus Vinaigrette
Crisp Duck Leg (posing as fried chicken)
Cornbread with Jalapeño Butter
A SWEET TO FINISH
Graham Cracker Crumb Chocolate Hazelnut Tartlet
The prospect of grilling yet another steak this weekend probably seems significantly less appetizing now. We’re sorry about that. But it’s also kinda the point. Hang up the tongs for a weekend, grill master, and live a little.