7 W. King St., Malvern, Pennsylvania
(610) 644-4009, restaurantalba.com
Thanks to the wood-burning grills, a trip to Alba starts pleasing the senses long before you enter. “You can smell it all the way down the street,” co-owner Kelly Weinberg says. “It gets peoples’ taste buds going before they even get inside.” Once over the initial surprise, the olfactory sensations quickly descend to the taste buds, as the mesquite lump charcoal and hickory and oak wood chips impart an Old World flavor to the fare. But the grill is just a small glimpse into the organic and simplistic style Kelly and her husband, Sean, the executive chef, prefer for their BYO restaurant. The secret is fresh ingredients, so the Weinbergs travel no farther than the state line to buy. “A lot of the food people get has traveled thousands of miles, and the food just isn’t fresh,” she says. By keeping the ingredients as fresh as possible, the flavor speaks for itself, which has been able to persuade many diners to return for the house-made pasta, wood-fire hanger steak and grilled duck, which range between $15 and $25. As the seasons change, so do the fresh ingredients, so the menu is adjusted accordingly. “It’s a simple thing to offer people these organic and local foods,” Kelly says. “It isn’t our biggest concern, but it’s a big, underlying philosophy here.”
The Bayard House
11 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City, Maryland
(410) 885-5040, bayardhouse.com
Typical questions to ask after walking into a restaurant usually range from, where is your bathroom to what is the soup du jour? “Where did that guy hang himself?” is rarely on the checklist, but The Bayard House is anything but typical. The oldest house in the city, has been around since the 1780s, so it has seen its fair share, most memorably a stint with former owner William Harriott that ended with his 1929 death during the Great Depression. But the eerie stories surrounding the restaurant seem to draw more people, says assistant general manager Natalie Gentry. “It adds a little bit of excitement to their dining experience.” There is nothing regular about the food at Bayard either, especially the crab soup. The chunks of fresh crabs and the extra kick have separated the soup from the rest in the area, allowing executive chef Jeff Bennett to walk away with seven top-two performances in the past nine years at the Maryland Seafood Festival. Says Gentry, “It’s not like going to a regular restaurant.”
24 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, (610) 519-0999
St. Tropez native Dominique Filoni put in a classical French apprenticeship in some of the country’s finest establishments before hopping the pond to put the exquisite Savona in Gulph Mills on the map. When he stepped out with his own place three years ago, the much-acclaimed Bianca, it was a move that earned him recognition as one of Food and Wine’s best new chefs. You won’t find any Gallic haute-ness at this casual gem, however, just truly outstanding fare. Now executive chef Michael Fiorello follows Filoni’s legacy with such dishes as an appetizer of dumplings of roasted butternut squash and ricotta with sliced shiitakes in a light sage emulsion and entrées such as smoked duck breast served over barley-apple pilaf with braised red cabbage and duck confit with pink peppercorn duck jus.
Birchrunville Store Café
1403 Hollow Road, Birchrunville, Pennsylvania
(610) 827-9002, www.birchrunvillestorecafe.com
If you carried a package down Hollow Road in the old-fashioned village of Birchrunville a few years ago, chances were your destination was the historic post office. Nowadays, you are probably headed right next door to the old general store, the current Birchrunville Store Café—provided that package is a nice bottle of wine. Transformed by chef and owner Francis Trzeciak, the BYO café has emerged as one of the area’s most interesting dining locations, thanks to its cozy country feeling and outstanding French-Italian cuisine. Trzeciak’s food ranges from rack of lamb with rosemary sauce; to lobster ragout with rock shrimp, diver scallop and champagne-wasabi emulsion; to a black Angus filet with wild mushrooms and the ever-elusive truffle. Trzeciak has so much respect for the truffle that he has organized trips to France so others may learn its secrets. And despite the outrageous cost of truffles, Trzeciak has been able to keep the price of his entrées to less than $30. The number of wine corks sitting in the windowsill hint at how many customers have already been through. Reserve early—you’ll have to—and take your very best bottle.
605 Second St., Chesapeake City, Maryland
(410) 885-2040, chesapeakeinn.com
Whether you take the trip down the C&D Canal by boat or over land, one thing is for sure at the Chesapeake Inn: It’s all about the view. Sure, the jumbo lump crab cakes and scallops Alaska are loved by the diners. Yes, the casual atmosphere lends itself to a night of relaxation. But nothing tops being able to watch the sun set on the water from each of the 185 seats in the house. During its summertime peak, the restaurant’s 65-slip marina is so packed with visitors that other boaters anchor in the Back Creek Basin to catch a water taxi to the restaurant. But after the boaters go home for the season, the birds and animals return for the amusement of diners. There is no denying the food is great, but the atmosphere is what makes the meal. There’s a reason Chesapeake Inn has won a Best of Delaware award for the past three years.
at Normandy Farms Hotel
1401 Morris Road, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania
(215) 616-8300, normandyfarm.com
Despite being born and raised in Dallas, star chef Jim Coleman has a firm grasp on regional tastes. Since the debut of his “Flavors of Philadelphia” broadcast on WHYY in 1996, Coleman has gone on to host two series on PBS, a discussion with other food personalities across the country on NPR and pen a weekly column in the Philadelphia Daily News. For Coleman, the times are a’changin, but at the Coleman Restaurant, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And for fans of Coleman’s award-winning cuisine, that’s a very good thing. As Coleman continues his travels around the country for his television show, he tweaks his cuisine, but he always sticks to organic and locally grown ingredients, which interacts well with the 130-year history of Normandy Farms. Dishes like the pork chop with mustard and herb reduction and the ahi tuna steak with Riesling-shallot reduction are simple, yet elegant, much like the exposed beams and brick walls of the restaurant, which only serve to enhance the atmosphere.
3116 Main St., Grasonville, Maryland
(410) 827-8807, fishermansinn.com
It’s hard to tell if the Fisherman’s Inn is actually run by fishermen or an avid hobbyist. The first thing the eye catches are the more than 400 oyster plates that owner Andy Schulz’s mother, Betty, started collecting years ago. Next come the model ships scattered throughout the inn. (The largest is a replica boat that is used as a bar.) Then there’s every child’s favorite part of the place: the train. Suspended from the ceiling, a model train runs along 280 feet of tracks over the two dining rooms, which everyone loves. “People always tell me that whenever they drive by, their kids always shout, ‘The train, mommy. That’s where the train is,’” Schulz says. The quirky and familial atmosphere would be nothing if the food wasn’t there to back it up. Like most places in the area, Fisherman’s Inn focuses on regional cuisine (a.k.a. seafood). The chefs keep it simple, letting the fresh crabs, oysters, shrimp and flounder speak for themselves, and, with most plates costing less than $22, they speak in volumes. So what’s the secret to the fun atmosphere and the reasonably priced meals? Schulz says it’s all about family. “This has been family owned for three generations since 1930, so that tells you something.”
The Fountain Room
at the Four Seasons Hotel
One Logan Square, Philadelphia
(215) 963-1500, fourseasons.com/philadelphia
There is no way to sugarcoat this one: The Fountain Room at the upscale Four Seasons Hotel is expensive. But it’s worth it. At the moment you enter, you can see why the Zagat Survey named it the best restaurant in Philadelphia, thanks to the beautiful Swann Fountain outside the window, the open layout of the 107-seat dining room, and the exquisite woods and fabrics of the room. Meals such as sautéed American foie gras with grilled black mission figs and glazed quince, the rocket arugula and panzanella salad with prosciutto and heirloom tomatoes, and slow-cooked organic Lancaster chicken with herbed country dumplings not only highlight the Fountain Room’s use of local ingredients, but also hint at the various techniques used in the kitchen. Entrées start around $30 and can escalate to around $200 for a full-course experience, but sometimes you just have to splurge. Reservations are highly recommended, and a jacket is required for dinner.
Four Dogs Tavern
1300 W. Strasburg Road, West Chester Pennsylvania, (610) 692-4367
When the Four Dogs Tavern at the Marshalton Inn reopened in 1996, it quickly became a hot spot for local diners. More recently it has turned heads for another reason—executive chef David Cox. For 10 years Cox commuted to Manhattan to help make places like Picholine stars of the dining scene. But when Cox got the opportunity to slash his two-hour commute to a three-minute walk, he jumped at it. Now he teams with his wife, Wendy, who focuses on the desserts, to create some of the area’s finest cuisine. The new menu at the Four Dogs features Americanized food with a French twist, especially with fondue and expansive cheese selection that Cox perfected while at Artisanal, one of the premier fromageries in New York City. The menu changes almost daily to take best advantage of fresh ingredients, but there is always something for everyone, especially with most entrées costing less than $20 a plate.
503 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne
Pennsylvania, (610) 964-2588
Georges Perrier is a legend in Philadelphia. Whereas Perrier’s Le Bec-Fin is a perfect example of a classic French establishment, his Main Line spin-off, Georges’, captures the overall essence of Perrier’s cuisine. But it wasn’t always so. It wasn’t until Perrier changed the restaurant from Le Mas Perrier and installed Joseph Frost as executive chef that Georges’ became known as a relaxed environment that was suitable for a quick dinner or a nice night out with friends. Frost served in the kitchen at another Perrier restaurant, Brasserie Perrier, so you know typical French dishes such as swordfish au poivre and bouillabaisse, which come in just below $30 a plate, are prepared well. But there are also various pizzas and sandwiches, ranging from $9 to $13, that give Georges’ a unique feel. If that isn’t enough, the on-site bakery produces baguettes, croissants, danish and 10 types of bread. Like all of Perrier’s places, the wine list at Georges’ is extensive, with a wide variety of shades, regions, vintages and prices.
133 E. Gay St., West Chester
Pennsylvania, (610) 431-2800
Peter Gilmore knew he wanted a restaurant to call his own after working under guru Georges Perrier for years at Le Bec-Fin. He just didn’t know where. Gilmore scoured the Philadelphia area for a locale that would fit his idea for a French restaurant, but none of the places he toured called out to him. When he spotted an 18th-century townhouse on West Chester’s main street, he knew immediately it was his place. “I just walked into it,” he says. “It wasn’t something we were looking for. It reminded me so much of the original Le Bec-Fin.” The townhouse was cozy without being small, which was important for creating the kind of intimacy Gilmore wanted. If you are lucky enough to grab one of 11 tables at “Le Bec-Fin of the burbs,” you’ll get to experience a sauce master at work, and it’s the sauces that give each restaurant its distinct taste. “Everybody has their own touch to them,” Gilmore says.
100 George St., Georgetown,
Maryland, (410) 275-1603