The Wagon Wheel Restaurant, in Smyrna, De, holds fond memories for me. Back in the 70’s after going out to a dance at the local fire hall, everyone went to either the Wagon Wheel or to the Smyrna Diner for a late night breakfast. Back then people were lined up at the door at both places waiting for a table. Today times have changed. Both establishments are still open. The Smyrna Dinner moved down the road to a new location http://voices.com/the-smyrna-diner-symrna-delaware-7700846.html?cat=22 and the Wagon Wheel is close on the verge of closing its doors.
Wagon Wheel Decline
Back in its heyday the Wagon Wheel was owned by “Miss” Kitty Budd who personally over saw the entire operation, from kitchen to the front end, from her barstool at the counter. The food was made from scratch and service was fast and efficient. The current owner Patty Gallegos took over the reins in 1989, keeping the décor and tradition of serving muskrat during the trapping season. The Wagon Wheel saw a decline in customers with the opening of Delaware RT 1, diverting traffic traveling to the beach resorts from Northern Delaware by passing Smyrna altogether .
The Wagon Wheel has always been known for two things; breakfast served from opening until closing and Fried Muskrat. Muskrat or Marsh rabbit is trapped in the marsh areas of Delaware and Maryland and at one time was served in many restaurants and firehouse dinners in and around the Delmarva region. A traditional Muskrat Dinner is fried Muskrat, fried potatoes, stewed tomatoes and corn bread. The Muskrat is par boiled first and then pan fried with onions. The meat is dark like cooked beef and eaten with the fingers to pick out the bones. Today the Wagon Wheel and maybe your grandmother’s kitchen are among the few places to find this Delmarva specialty.
Restaurant Impossible & Robert Irvine to the Rescue
Owner Gallegos was given a ‘Hail Mary Pass’, when her granddaughter living in California, submitted the Wagon Wheel for a makeover to the Food Network Show, “Restaurant Impossible”. In March 2013 the host and television crew descended upon the tiny town of Smyrna to try and save the dying eatery. Irvine has mellowed dramatically since I wrote about another Delaware Makeover http://voices.com/restaurant-impossible-bbq-crabs-7776178.html?cat=8 and he even put on his ‘Dr. Phil’ hat as he tried to resolve family conflict between the three generations working at the Wagon Wheel. Gallegos was willing to do almost anything Irvine suggested to save her business except give up the beloved muskrat.
Savior or Kiss of Death?
It’s always fun to check back after “Restaurant Impossible ” has completed a make-over to see how things are going. Now viewers can go to the Food Network Blog directly for the latest scoop http://blog.Foodnetwork.com/fn-dish/2013/05/restaurant-revisited-muskrat-mayhem-at-wagon-wheel-family-restaurant/