Food & Drink

Odessa’s New Gastropub

British culinary tradition fits into historic property

The Historic Odessa Foundation’s 188-year-old Brick Hotel resumes its role as the social center of town, when it opens its doors in early December as Cantwell’s Tavern, a farm-to-table gastropub, operated by noted Delaware restaurateur Robert E. Ashby.

What began six years ago, as part of a strategic plan for growth of the Historic Odessa Foundation, today is a reality of sociohistorical, gastronomic and economic proportions. A mouthful to be sure, but Cantwell’s Tavern will not only serve as the Odessa-Middletown-Townsend communities’ upscale restaurant and event venue, but it has the added bonus of offering the historic setting and ambiance of a National Historic Landmark site.

The project helps solidify the foundation’s future as a living history museum, as a community resource for education and entertainment, and as a tourist destination for visitors traveling through Delaware.

“We are thrilled to be working with Bob Ashby on this project,” says Debbie Buckson, executive director of the Historic Odessa Foundation. “We see his vision and operation of Cantwell’s Tavern as helping to raise our nonprofit foundation’s profile, enhance the properties as a destination, and provide the foundation with long-term sustainable support.”

Inspired by the provenance of the historic Federal-style building itself, Ashby’s plans for Cantwell’s Tavern include a farm-to-table gastropub fare that will meld small plates, period dishes, a raw bar, and brick oven period breads and pizza.

The concept of the gastropub originated in Britain in the early ’90s by some of its star chefs who took their fine dining expertise and infused new life into historic pubs and taverns by introducing great food and craft beer.

“The foundation’s building, within the little town of Odessa with its rich historic and cultural past, lends itself perfectly to the concept of the gastropub,” says Ashby. “I feel strongly that it is a concept that is going to work well for the community of Odessa, because it’s going to be their place. My hope is the local community takes ownership of Cantwell’s Tavern as it would have done with such an establishment in the past.”

The Historic Odessa Foundation broke ground on extensive structural renovations to Cantwell’s Tavern nearly a year ago, raising in excess of $1 million to fund the project that included a new kitchen wing and handicap accessibility. Much of the historic restoration of the building’s interior had been accomplished through an earlier campaign that included restoration of several of the foundation’s properties, notably the National Historic Landmark Corbit-Sharp House.

Currently, Ashby’s group is completing the furnishing plan of Cantwell’s Tavern, the cost of which is expected to be more than $500,000. Ashby is also in the process of hiring staff for the restaurant and anticipates filling 40 positions for the 8,000 square-foot, 140-seat farm-to-table gastropub by early December, when the tavern is set to open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring to life what was a bustling hub of colonial activity and commerce, which was once the lifeblood of Odessa’s historic center,” says Buckson. “For our small foundation, this has been an enormous undertaking and we are proud of how far we’ve come and what we’ve accomplished in these six years. We are grateful to the support and vision of our board and our members and the Odessa community who united behind this project.”

For more information, go to www.historicodessa.org