The dining scene in downtown Delaware is set to expand with the addition of two new restaurants in the buildings previously occupied by 12 West and SmOHked on West William Street. Queso Fuego will be open today from 5-10 p.m. for limited testing, while Kelly’s Island Kitchen next door is expected to open in the coming weeks.
Having spent the past five years in Florida and looking to open his own restaurant, owner TD Rider took the opportunity to return to his hometown when he was informed that two buildings had already been furnished as restaurants became available.
“I couldn’t miss it,” Ryder told The Gazette. “I didn’t even blink. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m on my way.’ It was pretty much a turnkey. We bought minimal equipment.”
Conjoined restaurants will certainly carry different menus, but most dishes will be uniquely prepared by Ryder, himself, who has a true passion for the dishes he serves.
“All of my recipes are on both sides,” Ryder said. There are a few different flavors that people might not have heard of or heard of before. I will actually do most of the cooking…I love cooking and I love teaching it.”
Ryder said Queso Fuego will offer a menu of “fun dishes” to traditional Tex-Mex dishes, while his hope for Kelly’s Island Kitchen is to bring “tropical seafood” to central Ohio. “I kind of brought Florida with me,” Ryder joked about the tropical themes featured in both Kelly’s Island Kitchen menu and decor.
The opening of Rider’s first seafood restaurant will bear even more significance due to the name it bears. His mother, Kelly, was a longtime teacher at Carlisle Elementary School in Delaware, and she died in May after four different bouts of brain cancer over a 14-year period. Portraits of Kelly adorn one of the corner walls of the restaurant, known as “Kelly’s Corner,” in honor of his late mother.
“A lot of people will assume it’s Kelly Island from Lake Erie, but people will come in and see the corner, and maybe we’ll put something in the back of the list as well,” said Ryder.
An avid deep-sea fisherman, Ryder plans to make a regular menu of some of the tastiest fish found in the ocean, including grouper, tuna, red snapper and wahoo, which he intends to use in his tacos. For those really looking for a full seafood experience—and willing to pay for it—a seafood tower will be offered that will include fresh oysters that will be transported overnight, according to Rider, as well as crab legs, shrimp, and a. A bottle of champagne to wash everything down.
While the seafood tower will land at the higher end of the list in terms of cost, Ryder said he doesn’t want to scare people into stepping into the restaurant. “I want people to feel like they are on vacation. I don’t want anything to be overly fancy,” he said.
Those who are not fond of seafood will still have creative options. Ryder said there will be other items on the menu such as teriyaki pineapple roast chicken, piña colada coleslaw, and more. But he added that while many people think they don’t like fish, he encourages people to give it a chance to change their minds.
“I might be wrong, but I don’t think you’ve ever eaten a fish like I’ve been preparing,” said Ryder. “Seafood in general is kind of like dessert. There are a lot of different tastes and textures, but there’s something you’ll love. People say, ‘Well, it tastes like fish.’ If it tastes like fish, run away from it.”
Both restaurants are equipped with a full bar and bar seating, each with six taps featuring local favorites. Rider intends to partner with the Land-Grant Brewing Company to have custom beer for both restaurants in the spring.
The attraction of both buildings – each side seats about 40 people – creates an intimate ambiance that also simplifies things for Ryder and the restaurant staff. When the weather begins to turn, Kelly’s Island Kitchen will benefit from additional outdoor seating. Ryder said he aims to transform the outdoor space in front of the restaurant into something not unlike a “Vegas day pool,” with faux green grass, outdoor sofas, sails, and real palm trees.
In addition to the limited number of customers at any one time, Ryder said both menus will also be relatively short, with a few dishes served year-round while others rotate through the seasons. By staying away from the extensive menu, Ryder said he can also ensure dishes are prepared with the same texture and appeal that he expects to provide for a dining experience.
Given that today’s test run coincides with Friday’s first event, Ryder hopes that the additional presence of the community in downtown Delaware will lead to a good turnout as Queso Fuego prepares for its full launch. Reservations are not necessary, but there are waiting times.
Ryder said he will likely take the weekend to evaluate the test run and make any minor changes necessary before fully opening on Monday. Once open, Queso Fuego will be open Monday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and until 10:30 p.m. on weekends.
Once the weather warms up, Ryder added, he hopes to keep Kelly’s Island Kitchen open later in the evening.
Adjacent to Queso Fuego, Kelly’s Island Kitchen has tropical flair on the walls and on the menu.
New restaurateur TD Rider stands behind the Queso Fuego Bar, located at 12 W. William St. In downtown Delaware.
Reach out to Dillon Davis at 0904-413-740. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.