Quirky Charm Shines at Historic Institution
Krazy Kat’s Restaurant – Wilmington, Delaware
By Barbara Booras
Soon after emigrating from France in the early 1800s, the Du Pont family established a riverside gunpowder mill on the fringe of Wilmington, Delaware. Comprised of eleven homes built from 1790 to the early 1900s, the tightly nestled buildings housed mill workers. Today, Montchanin Village, where the mill was situated, is home to an inn, spa, and restaurant.
Owners, Nancy (Missy) and Dan Lickle, live on the grounds of Montchanin Village. Missy, a seventh generation descendent of Anne Alexandrine de Montchanin, for whom the village was originally named, is still actively involved in operations.
What was once a former blacksmith shop on the property has evolved into a fine dining restaurant run by Executive Chef Joe Johnson. “When they first opened this place it was mobbed all the time,” explained the chef, on board for six years. The owners typically advertise minimally, if at all. “Everything is word of mouth here and after over 20 years, we’re still busy. That’s pretty impressive,” Johnson proudly shared.
The restaurant, whose doors first opened in 1996, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, an astounding 365 days a year. Their busiest times of year undeniably surround the holidays and the clientele consists mostly of locals and inn guests.
The unconventional name of the restaurant derives its origins from a peculiar previous tenant of the blacksmith shop. Missy Lickle’s grandmother would refer to the resident as “one crazy cat.”
As Krazy Kat’s patrons pass through the gas-lit foyer, they are greeted by a portrait of the restaurant’s mascot, Le Chat Lunatique (The Crazy Cat). This gilded portrait of a feline draped in military regalia, is one of many that can be found adorning the restaurants walls. Accent pillows accompanying animal print furniture further add to the kitschy scheme. The quirky mascot sets the tone for an establishment that somehow straddles a line between both formal and befuddlingly charming.
Beyond the restaurant’s decorative eccentricities, the rich history is palpable. Seemingly arbitrary metal rings along the dining room walls, beckon to a bygone era, where horses awaiting shoes, were once tethered. What was the original blazing blacksmith forge, is now the focal point of the main dining room, and is used as a fireplace during winter months. The hearth only adds to charm and warmth of the historic space. “Krazy Kat’s is almost an extension of [the Lickle’s] living room,” Johnson explained. “It’s a place where they can have friends and family and be able to offer that to everybody else out there.”
During breakfast, Chef Johnson whips up a small selection of morning classics along with an eclectic and ever-rotating twist on traditional biscuits and gravy. “I love working here because they actually let me have fun with the menu. You don’t get that everywhere.”
To make the biscuits, Chef Johnson uses what is referred to as a “laminating technique.” This preparation, more traditionally used for croissants, danishes and puff pastry, results in a light, flaky layered dough. The biscuit dough is carefully rolled out on floured surface, then folded into quarters and rolled again. This process is repeated multiple times to create voluminous layers.
This special “lamination” of the biscuit dough was, so the story goes, a trick pioneered by tahe former brunch chef at Krazy Kat’s that was later taught to Johnson. “I learned the process in culinary school but she helped me perfect it.” Although the previous chef would not share her original recipe with Johnson, the current version has become a creation of his own. Also unique to Johnson’s recipe is his addition of a personally crafted seasoning blend. “I feel like people are scared to add flavor [to biscuits]. I throw garlic and onion powder in there. If you want a biscuit that’s going to be really good, put some more flavor in it,” he stated matter-of-factly.
Currently, Krazy Kat’s biscuits and gravy incorporates both pork and duck sausage, wilted spinach, and crispy onion straws, atop a cheddar chive biscuit ($13). Distinct striations, a testament to the “lamination” process, mark each layer of the golden-puffed finished product flecked with chives. “Any place can serve biscuits and gravy. We add that little extra; something a little different but not so far out there where somebody won’t try it.” Johnson went on to describe his next concept, a New Orleans-inspired biscuits and gravy with hallmark ingredients of the creole cuisine, including alligator andouille sausage, shrimp, and crayfish.
When it comes to the menu, Chef Johnson executes his craft upon the foundation of a simple philosophy. “I always try and make sure that things are approachable. I could go wild but no one will order it.” While biscuits and gravy with alligator andouille sausage might not be wild by this chef’s standards it just might be a bit “krazy” for the less adventurous among us.
Cheddar Chive Biscuits
by Chef Joe Johnson
Krazy Kat’s Restaurant
Makes 12 Biscuits
What you need:
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for rolling out dough
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 lb (16 ounces) unsalted butter, frozen and shredded
1 ½ cup buttermilk
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup (2 oz) fresh chives, sliced
1 teaspoon powdered garlic
1 teaspoon powdered onion
How to make it:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Add frozen butter and cheddar cheese and mix throughout using a light hand to not melt butter.
Add cold buttermilk and mix by hand until all flour is incorporated.
Cover dough in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Flour your table and rolling pin. Roll out dough to ¼ inch thick then fold dough in half and half again. Roll out again and repeat process five times to laminate the dough.
For your final roll, roll the dough to about 3/8 inch thickness and cut with 2 inch circle cutter.
Beat egg and brush egg wash on biscuits.
Bake for 12 minutes, rotate pan, and continue to bake for 4 additional minutes until golden brown.
Tips: Mix gently by hand. If while folding and laminating the biscuit dough it becomes difficult to roll out, set aside and let the dough rest for a five minutes, then continue.
Visit Krazy Kats’s Restaurant:
The Inn at Montchanin Village
528 Montchanin Rd
Montchanin, DE 19710
Barbara Booras is a Boston native and freelance writer based in New York City. She works full-time in Sales for an all-natural Mediterranean-inspired importer and producer. In addition to being a lover of all things gastronomy, Barbara is an avid runner and recently completed her second NYC Marathon running with City Harvest, a local food rescue charity.