by Terry Rogers
The oldest of seven children, Bill Clifton says that his mother basically ran a restaurant every day, cooking meals for nine people. Growing up on Clifton Farms near Milford, he also learned the importance of farm-to-table cooking. Recently, Clifton purchased the restaurant portion of The Brick on the Georgetown Circle.
“My career basically chose me,” Clifton said. “When I was young, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I hated getting up early after growing up on the farm. I was kind of the night owl of my family. Not only did I grow up on a farm, my mother ran Fortunata Bakery in Milford, so that required early mornings. When I started working in restaurants, I found out that I could sleep in and that I could show up for work in late afternoon. It is certainly not like that now, but when I first started that was definitely a benefit.”
Clifton spent nine years as the chef at Henlopen City Oyster House and was also involved in the creation of Dewey Beer Company. He and his partner, Miguel Batiz, will operate The Brick for the next year using the same menu as the previous owners. The kitchen will shut down on New Year’s Day for renovations. When the restaurant reopens, a new menu will include local favorites with a modern flair.
“We always knew that we would do something different after the Henlopen Oyster House,” Clifton said. “It was time for me to do my own thing and I wanted to move away from the beach. Everything there has gotten so congested plus everything is so expensive to rent. I wanted to stay in Sussex and when this opportunity came up, I jumped at it. We will do farm fresh ingredients with cuisine historic to this area. Things like chicken and dumplings, soft shell crabs, oysters, all things I grew up on. The bread served in the restaurant will come from my Mom’s bakery.”
Clifton’s biggest challenge in the kitchen is untrained staff. Clifton explained that all the cooking shows on television now make working in a commercial kitchen look easy, yet those chefs have practiced the dishes they make hundreds of times.
“There is a right way to hold a knife and I get so many people who come in after watching those types of shows who cannot even properly hold a knife,” Clifton said. “If you hold it improperly, you risk cutting yourself and the knives are sharp so even a minor cut can be bad. It can also be difficult to explain food costs. Customers expect something to cost a certain price. When there is a shortage of something, like Maryland crabmeat right now, I can’t really raise the prices to match the higher cost or people will simply not order them. Since I will only use Maryland crabmeat, this can be difficult.”
Clifton loves the comradery in the kitchen, commenting that he spends so much time with the kitchen staff, they are more like family to him. He says a good night in the kitchen is like a dance and it can be exhilarating. He loves the satisfaction on the faces of his customers when they are enjoying his food or having a good time.
Clifton will be remodeling other areas of the restaurant as well but does not have a design in mind yet. Now open for business, The Brick will reopen again after the renovations in the New Year , and Clifton does plans to expand the wine and beer list offered as well as the menu.