Crab cakes with pineapple salsa, chicken quesadillas, barbecue flank steak
From sepia-toned vases inside Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar reach several shiny, golden stalks of decorative faux wheat. The stalks, which separate the dining room from the bar, might be called the restaurant’s centerpiece, which is a little ironic, considering it’s one of the very few things there not made from natural materials. Elsewhere, there’s reclaimed wood flooring, recycled glass bar tops and paperstone dividers, all intended to reduce Harvest’s environmental footprint.
Harvest is the latest of many local upscale-ish restaurants to adopt an eco-friendly, farm-to-table approach to dining. But this place—deep in the heart of Glen Eagle Square in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania—is a much different animal than the small, rustic restaurants we usually associate with the farm-fresh movement. Harvest presents its concept in a much sleeker, much bigger (300 seats) package. Its pleasantly earth-toned dining room, accented by shelves of vases and knickknacks, is hip and modern. Young, attractive servers recite the basics of farm-to-table dining for the uninitiated. Its location and visibility guarantees a large amount of foot traffic.
Harvest then represents the mainstreaming of the farm-to-table ideal. Owner Dave Magrogan—he of Doc Magrogan’s Oyster Bar and Kildare’s Irish Pubs—will tell you as much. He sees Harvest as a natural outlet for the segment of the population that shops at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. And he wants to give Glen Eagle Square shoppers a better dining option than, well, Outback Steakhouse.
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That, in many ways, is a very good thing. Besides being nicer to the earth and a major benefit to local farmers and food producers, this style of eating can be very healthy. All but a meager few of Harvest’s menu items weigh in below 500 calories. (I counted six over this mark, and two of those were burgers.) Some desserts dip below 200 calories. The health conscious seem to already love the place. It was easy to spot diners who had just come from a workout. (They were the ones wearing track suits and sweatbands.)
The wait staff got its cardio, too. Harvest’s open kitchen, led by chef Brian Duffy, turned dishes out with amazing speed. Drinks and appetizers zipped to our table in about five minutes on a busy night. Main dishes didn’t take much longer.
And did I mention that this method of procuring food is nicer to the earth and a major benefit to local farmers and food producers? That’s huge, and can’t be stressed enough. The more restaurants that go this route, the better.
But with such a large number of tables, and with food going out so quickly, Harvest fumbled a few dishes. Still, there was plenty to like, especially in such a bewitching setting that is Harvest’s courtyard patio, a tranquil little refuge with a burbling water fountain.
Take Duffy’s flank steak entrée. In the wrong hands, flank steak can be rendered as chewy as a wool sweater. Not here. The beef, sliced thinly across the grain, was perfectly tender as it clung to tangy, smoky barbecue demiglace.
Duffy, who’s spent most of his career slinging “new-Celtic” boxties at various Irish pubs, showed a surprising kinship with other international flavors. His chicken quesadilla yielded smoky notes that bounced off grilled corn, black beans and fresh-tasting pico de gallo. A scant drizzle of crème fraiche harnessed some of the spice.
Grilled pineapple jerk chicken and five-spice shrimp spring rolls were solid stamps on Harvest’s passport, though I wonder what the busboys do with all the Chinese takeout boxes that housed the spring rolls. (Isn’t Harvest’s mission to cut down on waste? What would the paperstone dividers say?)
As chatty servers delivered the litany of Harvest’s virtues, I ordered another round of cocktails, which were another of its strong suits. Lavender mojitos and John Dalys with fresh-squeezed lemon had a clean, sippable quality, but were knocked dead by Harvest’s peach bourbon cocktail. “I don’t like bourbon, and I don’t like peaches, but I love this,“ our waitress said. Instead of wondering how anyone could dislike peaches (or bourbon), I sipped. And sipped. And sipped. Made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, agave nectar, ginger ale and fresh chunks of peach, the cocktail tightrope-walked between sweet and sour, crisp and concentrated. I ordered a second.
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With alcohol on the brain, I spent one visit cozied up at the bar to enjoy Duffy’s smartest and most concise dish: a plate of soft, crumbly broiled crab cakes. Nestled atop scorched lemon slices, the cakes acquired a kiss of tartness, then strokes of sweetness via a hill of pineapple salsa.
The crab cakes screamed everything that Harvest wants to stand for: fresh, local, simple, with clean and clear flavors. But a few dishes misfired. A heavy hand with the chili powder all but obliterated an artful arrangement of shrimp and crab cocktail, as spice choked the flavor from delicate lumps of crab. Flaccid “Un-fried french fries” were un-crispy and un-appetizing.
Elsewhere, overcooked scallops topped a bland veggie and orzo salad, and a strange fruit-and-pasta dish baffled when chunks of pear clanged off briny, jarred red pepper and a salty cheese-Chardonnay sauce.
But most transgressions were forgotten by dessert, which Harvest saves as its cleverest and most guilt-free trick. Presented tableside in a wooden caddy, an assortment of low-cal, two-ounce treats makes the choice to indulge an easy one. Why not? It’s only 150 calories. Light and tasty apple crisp and ladyfinger-jazzed strawberry shortcake were favorites, with chocolate mousse lagging slightly behind.
For the price, for the calories, for the lack of an impending food coma, desserts are worth a shot, and so is the rest of Harvest. The nitpicky foodie in me bristles a bit at Harvest’s largeness, its overtness, its big-box feel. Magrogan is a businessman, and a damned smart one. (When I last spoke with him, he was building a Kildare’s on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, making it the official Irish pub of the Fighting Irish.) So I wonder: Did Harvest spring from good intentions, or from good market analysis? The gymshort-clad jogger in me takes another sip of peach bourbon and answers, “Why can’t it be both?”