Photographs by Moonloop Photography
Restaurateur Megan Kee has returned to her roots with Bramble & Brine at the Buttery in Lewes, which also revives a beloved legacy.
Things have a way of coming full circle for Megan Kee. In 2014, the restaurateur lost Bramble & Brine in Rehoboth Beach after a divorce. She’d put her soul into the establishment, which she’d decorated with eclectic vintage items. On her last day in the restaurant, she recalls listening to “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic.
Although broken, Kee’s heart did just that. Since losing the first Bramble & Brine, she’s launched the Megan Collective restaurant group and opened three eateries in downtown Rehoboth. In December 2021, she opened the much-anticipated Bramble & Brine at The Buttery, her first restaurant in Lewes, her hometown.
The new restaurant’s lengthy name resurrects her dream along with one of the city’s most beloved landmarks. The Buttery, founded by John Donato and Twain Gonzales in 1994, occupied the Victorian mansion for decades. The new establishment, however, has a distinct identity. “It’s definitely the same whimsical concept [as the original Bramble & Brine],” Kee says, “but it’s much more elegant because I’ve grown quite a bit.”
An Apt Reflection
Kee’s restaurants are indeed influenced by her personality and upbringing. The Beebe baby—born in the Lewes hospital—grew up spending time in her grandparents’ Henlopen Acres home. With its scrubby trees and shady streets, this area of Rehoboth was once billed as the place where “Pine Meets the Brine.”
Kee’s grandfather Jacob Reese White Jr. was president of Houston-White Co. in Millsboro, a family business that purchased lumber land and made building materials. Kee resurrected the corporate name for her Rehoboth restaurant Houston White Co., which she opened in 2018 in the same building that the first Bramble & Brine had occupied.
Her grandmother, a consummate hostess, set an impressive table with china and silver. At Bramble & Brine at The Buttery, Kee uses her extensive collection of vintage china for dishes. There are delicate plates with floral edges and white cups with sailboats. Salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like animals came from a closeout sale. “My grandparents’ house is still very much the muse,” she says.
The antiques lover filled the first Bramble with a hodgepodge of items, including a red velvet crown worthy of the queen. At the time, Kee owned a resale shop, Poor Little Rich Girl, and everything in the restaurant, including the chandeliers, was for sale.
That’s not the case now, and the assortment of mirrors, prints and vintage paintings—including one of Princess Diana’s ancestors—are refined and thoughtfully displayed. “It’s very happy and not cluttered,” Kee agrees. “It still has that antique feel, but everything has been curated, and it will stay there.”
An Ambitious Redo
With her long blond hair, dimple and voluminous skirts, Kee has the wide-eyed wonder of a Disney princess. That’s not surprising. She has a lifelong pass to Walt Disney World, and like that attraction, she loves creating themes.
Each room in the circa-1894 mansion now possesses a unique ambiance. Indeed, Kee has lovingly restored the building as if she owned it. (Big Fish Restaurant Group, which also bought Striper Bites, is the landlord.) She even renovated the upstairs bathrooms and two bedrooms for private use.
Longtime Buttery buffs will notice the light paint that significantly lifts the mood of the foyer and the gleaming parquet floors with inlaid trim. They will be happy to see that the hostess stand is still beside the turned staircase. But it now has a new neighbor: a carousel horse that Kee’s mother found in Pennsylvania.
The foyer opens to the formal Wallpaper Room, which boasts custom paper resembling something you’d see in Savannah or Charleston. Green vines and white flowers climb diagonally over the white background. With white linen tablecloths and pink velvet chairs, this space suits The Buttery as Donato and Gonzales viewed it; it’s formal but approachable.
The adjoining Glass Room is the enclosed section of the wraparound porch, and sliders will open in warm weather. This area has the relaxed but refined vibe of a Florida room in an upscale home. Take, for instance, the taupe-and-cream-striped curtains and matching seat upholstery.
Kee calls the bar and lounge area the Pink Pony for the old Rehoboth boardwalk club that welcomed gay clientele. (It was destroyed in the March 1962 storm.) In the new restaurant, the Pink Pony area is punctuated by a trompe l’oeil of a blush pink carnival tent on the ceiling. From the center hangs a regal chandelier.
The previous owners moved the bar to the back of the restaurant, and Kee has adorned it with hundreds of equestrienne ribbons that hang like fringe. (Although she owns a horse, Kee purchased the awards from one accomplished rider.)
Something for Everyone
The Pink Pony will have a separate menu with artisan pizza, a dish that Kee came to love when she opened Dalmata in Rehoboth in 2020. (Dalmata is Italian for Dalmatian, her grandmother’s preferred pet.) Takeout is picked up at the bar. A separate area along Savannah Road will sell coffee and ice cream. She’s calling this concept Mooncoin.
Bramble & Brine has plans for weekend brunches this spring. Once summer arrives, brunch will be offered daily.
Even without advertising or, initially, a website, it was hard to get a reservation in January or February. From the start, the tea-brined scallops were a hit. Served with Earl Grey beurre blanc, they were plump and tender on one visit. Gallo plans to change the accompaniments to reflect the season. “We will always do it; it’s special,” Kee says.
A seasoned veteran of the Southern Delaware dining scene, Gallo honed his skills at Nage, Abbott’s Grill and Brick Works Brewing and Eats alongside visionary restaurateur Kevin Reading. In winter, Gallo offered a chicken-and-dumplings dish that fans of the other restaurants might recognize. Instead of shredded chicken, it features a European-cut roasted chicken breast.
The Wellington also bucks the norm. It’s made with meatloaf and served with a pile of fluffy mashed potatoes. This is no ordinary meatloaf: It contains the same high-quality meat that Houston White uses. A cherry demiglace is the bright finishing touch.
Trout amandine is an homage to Kee’s fourth restaurant, La Fable in Rehoboth. The classic French bistro fare is dressed with beurre blanc and chopped marcona almonds and served with haricot verts.
Undoubtedly, the menu will evolve as Kee and Gallo prepare for the summer season. “He’s killing it,” Kee says of her chef. “He has so much knowledge under his belt.” With neighboring Heirloom and Raas—also located in old Victorian homes—Bramble & Brine creates a triumvirate of fine dining.
And Kee isn’t done yet. She has at least one more concept she’d like to bring to life. Perhaps sushi? Given her track record, there’s little doubt that she can succeed.
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