A glimpse inside Abbott’s Grill at Paynter’s Mill, featuring Kevin Reading’s innovative dishes.

Set to Sizzle

Kevin Reading brings the much-loved Abbott’s Grill brand to Milton

Returning to a Resort Town

When Kevin Reading announced that he was opening a new Milton restaurant, longtime foodies and chefs rejoiced. “Kevin,” they said, “is returning to the beach!” It had been years since he opened—and sold— Espuma in downtown Rehoboth and Nage on Coastal Highway. But Reading has long had a home in the Millsboro area, even after opening Abbott’s Grill in Milford and Laurel, and Brick Works Brewing in Smyrna and Long Neck. He just wasn’t as visible in the resort towns where he’d helped launch the careers of respected chefs and restaurateurs such as Hari Cameron, Ted Deptula, Josh Grapski and Sean Corea. The new Abbott’s Grill at Paynter’s Mill, located just off Route 1 and Cave Neck Road, isn’t beachfront, but it’s more accessible to coastal fans. Many came to the friends-and-family run-through event before the June 7 opening, and it was akin to a welcome-home party, complete with warm hugs for the veteran restaurateur.

Breaking Boundaries

If you’re new to the coast, here’s a recap. Reading started his hospitality career at age 12 in Gainesville, Florida and worked his way up the ranks. In 1995, after graduating from The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Reading opened the Fox Point Grill in Wilmington, known for familiar fare with flair. Unfortunately, a kitchen stove fire put an end to that venture. In 1999, Reading opened Espuma in downtown Rehoboth, which dared to stay open all year, and Nage, which bucked the norm when it opened on Route 1. (Most fine-dining restaurants were in downtown districts.) He sold both and opened Abbott’s Grill locations in Milford and Laurel, followed by Brick Works Brewery in Smyrna.

Spotting opportunities

Reading closed the Milford Abbott’s. However, the concept retained name recognition in Milton, where Reading had participated in the farmers’ market. “We were in Milford for 11 years, and people wanted to know when we were coming south,” he says. Sydney’s Restaurant & Lounge’s closing on Jan. 1 allowed him to bring the brand to Milton and its growing population. “The beaches are moving west,” he says. “And we love the facility.” Admittedly, it’s not an easy space, which might be why it’s had three previous occupants. The two-story ceiling over the main dining room and balcony can trap noise. When bands performed at Sydney’s, the conversation came to a halt. Reading’s designers installed distressed-looking wood on the two-story wall to absorb sound and create a coastal vibe, a theme reinforced by a lighthouse and bright coral and teal colors.

Approachable Cuisine

Over the years, Reading has perfected his menu of comfort food with a twist, and that’s apparent at Abbott’s Grill. For instance, the lobster bisque is kissed with red curry and served with a lobster Rangoon. The Caesar salad has tangy fried capers, and the pan-seared scallops come with a sweet corn puree and black garlic romesco sauce. Sandwiches are a large part of the menu, and The Big Sussex is a nod toward Reading’s adopted home. Sesame studded rolls are packed with finely diced chicken salad and crispy fried oysters. Entrees include Cajun meatloaf, the bestselling shrimp and grits, and the equally popular short rib pot roast with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and sweet-and-spicy Brussels sprouts. “If I take it off of any menu, it’s going to be a problem,” Reading says of the roast. Chef Paul Gallo joined Reading in the new Abbott’s kitchen to pump out delectable dish after dish. Not surprisingly, the service on the pre-opening night was a well-oiled machine, even though the team was using the night to work out any kinks. Although Reading was battling a cold, he made time to greet customers and see old friends—and there was no shortage of compliments. The boss was indeed back.  

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