Two restaurants, two kinds of cuisine

Megan Kee is the 34-year-old owner of two of Rehoboth Beach’s most acclaimed restaurants, La Fable and Houston White Co. La Fable opened in fall 2016. Houston White Co. opened in April 2018, in the former Bramble & Brine.

How did you get into the restaurant business?

I always wanted a restaurant, ever since I was 15.

I cooked for a long time before I served, at La La Land (formerly of 22 Wilmington Avenue) in the summers. Then I started serving and I stayed in the front.

How many people do your restaurants employ?

In the summer, about 50 between the two.

Do you have any formal training?

I actually left Cape Henlopen High School a year early to do a program at Johnson & Wales in Providence, where I finished my high school degree and started my freshman year at culinary school at the same time.

I completed a year and a half out of two. I didn’t stay because, although I knew I loved food and the process of how it was made, I didn’t know that I actually loved running the front of the house. I switched to international business at the same school, then I went to art school for a little bit, then I ended up going to Harvard for anthropology.

I ended up coming home and opening a restaurant after that. I was very lucky I was able to try all these things out, all these things I got to experience. Even though I don’t have a degree, it all melted into being able to create these experiences for people, which I’m really proud of.

What happened with Bramble & Brine?

I was looking for opportunity to open a restaurant, so I opened Bramble & Brine (at 315 Rehoboth Avenue in Rehoboth Beach) with my then-husband. We took over the building in 2012 and opened in fall 2013. It was a really special time for the town, I think. We’ve always had a really stellar dining town, but nobody had taken a risk with that level of dining on that side of town since I was a kid, with Potpourri. I think it did open up a lot of opportunities, and now we see a lot of development happening there. My marriage didn’t work out; I left the business at the end of 2014 and it closed in the fall of 2016.

How would you describe La Fable?

This will be our third summer.

It’s four steps down, like something you’d find in SoHo in New York or in Paris. In Paris especially you have that experience, where you immediately step down. That is 100 percent a French bistro.

We have some modifications. We have larger portions, a piano bar, marble table tops. It’s a really intimate space, like Chez Paul in Paris, I’d say, would be the most similar.

This year and last year, Open Table ranked La Fable as one of the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America, the only one from Delaware.

What are some of the menu staples?

At Fable, half the menu rotates each season, while the other half stays the same. We always have truite amandine, very traditional pan-fried trout with Marcona almonds and haricots verts, and beef bourguignon, which is a braised beef in a very rich reduced wine for the stew.

We always have coquilles St.-Jacques, but we do modify that a little bit. Traditionally it’s minced up and served in a shell, but being at the beach, we love our beautiful scallops so we bake a whole scallop in a dish.

For our steak frites, we rotate prime and Wagyu products for an elevated steak frites experience, whereas in France they usually do a hangar or flank steak.

How would you describe Houston White Co.?

I’m from Delaware, my family has been here since before the state was established. Houston White was actually a lumber company established in 1905 in Millsboro and owned by my grandfather. He closed operations but kept the business alive for real estate, so I actually took the original company over from my mom, which means it’s officially 114 years old this July.

It’s a steakhouse, a traditional New York steakhouse. We have leather everywhere, and older, seasoned staff who have been in the steak business a long time. We’re trying to evoke what you would feel if you were at, say, Keens or Peter Luger’s in New York, which are some of the oldest steakhouses in the world.

We get the top prime steaks in. The prime accounts are a very small margin of the steak experience, and we have access to the top ten percent of that margin. So we source our beef from some of the same places as the big names in the city.

What’s the menu like at Houston White Co.?

Houston White Co. is mostly an a la carte steak menu with table-share sides. We bring in some of the Delmarva influence, like we start your experience with a biscuit instead of a roll or a popover. We do everything in cast iron, which is the hardest way to do it, and then we finish the steak in the oven.

My personal favorite is the Delmonico, but that’s a fattier steak, very rich. I’d say the bone-in filet is one of our signatures. We have it cut for us in Chicago and shipped down; there’s only two or three per cow.

We do a $10.95 petite prime filet on Thursdays, which is actually less than what we pay for it. So people who might not want a giant steak or a special occasion steak can come in and try it, because we know they’re going to get a glass of wine or something, and then they can see what we’re doing and maybe come back for a birthday or anniversary. We’d love to have them come every week but we know that’s not necessarily sustainable.

Has anyone in particular helped you establish yourself?

I have a partner in life, Nick Pawson, and he helped me build Fable with his own hands. We squeezed every drop out of our budget, literally laying floor, hanging drywall, putting in the ceiling. The people who come in – they know him. They know he’s the other me.

Do you have anything special coming up?

Champagne dinners. We’re looking to do a Dom Perignon dinner as a super special experience, and a Veuve dinner. Each restaurant will have one before the summer starts so we can sort of toast the season.

Find more at bonjourfable.com and houstonwhite.com.