In some respects, Torbert Street Social doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It wants to be a secret, tucked in behind other restaurants in Wilmington’s Business District. But its name is its location, so it isn’t quite the mystery its website wants you to believe it is. It wants to be a dark and edgy speak-easy, but it’s got a boisterous outdoor beer garden vibe happening, too. (If you sit near the giant Connect 4 game, be warned that you will jump every time someone releases the clattering game pieces to start a new round.) It wants you to adhere to a dress code, but if you sit in the sandy outdoor seating, know that you are going to have to knock the dust off your good shoes after you leave. Here is the thing—if Torbert Street Social doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be—it can be the perfect place on which to imprint your evening. By this I mean, if you want a place to kick off a romantic evening, this can be your date spot. If you want somewhere to celebrate a birthday with a whole outdoor picnic table full of friends, this can serve as your whole evening’s outing. And if you want a place to wind-down after a night on the town, Tobert Street Social Club can be the place to end the night with a righteous nightcap.
First, the housekeeping. There is a dress code, and it is strictly enforced. The following are prohibited: athletic wear, sports wear, ball caps, graphic tees, white tee shirts, tank tops, sleeveless shirts, slides, workboots and scrubs. Plan ahead when you are going there. Make sure everyone in your party adheres to the code. Next, you need to know that this is a cocktail bar first and a restaurant second. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get good food here. You will have a wishlist of dishes to order after glancing around to see what the waitstaff is delivering to other tables. The real point here is that though the food offerings are Insta-braggable, cocktails reign supreme. They care. The bar at Torbert Street Social offers up almost any kind of liquor, at varying price points. The bartenders can make you custom drinks, classic cocktails, or they can tempt you with their own crafted-to-perfection house creations ($11-$14). Make no substitutions in this section of the menu, though; Torbert Street’s mixologists worked hard to select and marry the elements that go into each crafted cocktail. They also offer a wide selection of wines (by the bottle or glass) and beers (draught, bottles and cans).
I came to Torbert Street Social with the aforementioned large table’s worth of close friends and we stuck to the house cocktails section of the libation menu which means that I got to taste many of the custom offerings. They were all on point. I was especially enamored with the Amaro You Tomorrow, a bourbon-based drink with amaro lucano, cardamom-infused vermouth and egg white and the Wallbreaker, a spicy take on the margarita. For a little theater, try the Senorita Rosella, a tequilla concoction that includes a sprig of rosemary that is lit on fire to lend the drink some smoky herbal notes. We had several undecided people in our group, and our waitress, Taren, was able to steer each person to a great drink choice based on personal preferences.
Torbert Street Social is part of Big Fish Restaurant Group, known for bringing diverse culinary offerings as Mikimotos, Trolley Square Oyster House and Harvest House to Wilmington. They are on top of their food game. Torbert Street Social doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Its select menu of bar snacks ($8-12), sharable plates ($10-19), sliders ($13-16) and stone-hearth pizzas ($13-16) does not spare the decadence. Brown butter Lobster Grilled Cheese Squares anyone? Our table ordered two of those right out of the gate. My poor husband with his shellfish allergy had to make do with the Kobe Beef Sliders and a platter of thick-cut feta fries that was so big it circled the table three times before we polished it off. Yeah, nobody was feeling sorry for my husband. We also collectively ordered Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sliders (perfection) and that newish old standby, Crispy Parmesan Brussels. (Seriously, what kind of dark age existed before humankind learned to deep-fry Brussels Sprouts?) Though these dishes were both crowd-pleasers in every way, the prize for the best presentation of the evening had to go to the Bourbon Praline Bacon Crisps, which were served hanging from tiny clothespins on a miniature washline. If you are keeping track, that is one miniature washline, one giant game of Connect 4, a whole lot of “Eat Me” and “Drink Me” moments and me grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I’m pretty sure I imprinted Alice and Wonderland on this, my premier Torbert Street Social experience.
We closed the evening with one final treat. Desserts, here, are all drinkable in the form of spiked shakes ($13). At our table, we ordered several, and I got to try all three offerings: It’s Mint to Be, Orange You Glad You Came to Torbert and Foster the Banana. The right proportion of creamy goodness to boozy naughtiness. Don’t ask me which one was my favorite. I need to leave this place with at least one secret.
Torbert Street Social is located at 305 Torbert Street, Wilmington. Hours of Operation: Thursday to Sunday 4PM-1AM; Patio hours Thursday and Sunday 4PM-10PM, Friday and Saturday 4-11pm. Must be 21 or older to enter after 9pm.