Twelves Grill & Café
10 Exchange St., West Grove, Pa.
Grilled flat iron steak
When Tim and Kristin Smith decided to open a restaurant, they took their idea to the bank. Their restaurant, Twelves Grill & Café, a BYO in West Grove, is housed in a former Sovereign branch.
Built in 1883, the three-story stone structure has also been home to the West Grove Independent, the post office, the Temperance Lodge, the West Grove Library and the offices of the West Grove Borough.
The Smiths gutted the landmark. But there is little doubt as to its former use. The 17-foot-thick vault, with its ornate brass door, still stands front and center. It’s used as a coat room, and its safety deposit boxes make nifty receptacles for the wine bottles of frequent customers.
“We talked about taking it out, but there’s 32 inches of concrete and 7 inches of steel,” Tim Smith says. “It was not an option.”
The giant safe squeezes the dining room into a slender space along a wall punctuated by large windows with deep sills. A smaller room is tucked away on the opposite side of the building. Yet despite the divided spaces, diners are never overlooked. Our server was attentive, funny, warm and informative—though she hedged at recommending any dish as her favorite. No wonder. The food is that good.
Seasonal, often local ingredients are intriguing, yet they stop short of being trendy. The same is true of the technique. Smith, a graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia’s culinary program, previously worked at The Back Burner, the Farmhouse, The Gables and Dilworthtown Inn, all known for solid offerings.
Smith has been a longtime supporter of the localvore and organic movements. Now that his neighbors are Amish—he lives close to Lancaster County, in Cochranville—he’s more devoted to supporting local agriculture. Bacon and some cheeses, for instance, come from Green Meadow Farm in Gap. Smith shops at farmer’s markets and orchards up to five times a week in season.
The restaurant is decorated in shades of copper, gold and bronze—the color of money. But dollars and cents did not inspire G’s Cheese Bread. It is named for Smith’s sister, Gretchen. When Smith lived with her, she would make him a nosh with goat cheese, tomatoes, honey and sourdough bread.
Though Smith plays with the combination, there is always a G’s Cheese Bread on the menu. On our visit, it was a toothsome combination of blue cheese, salty shaved prosciutto and figs drunk with Port wine, all piled on grilled sourdough.
A wedge of lemon lent bright flavor to four panko-crusted oysters, whose textured coats were wonderfully gold and crunchy. We swirled them in the black pepper aïoli, which was made with sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice and shallots.
Prince Edward Island mussels were small but nevertheless sweet—spicy, too, thanks to the chunks of homemade andouille sausage. My favorite part, however, were the tender ribbons of pale fennel that bobbed in the white wine broth alongside slivered garlic and shallots.
You would expect the mushrooms that crowned the croustade to be silky and full of earthy-nutty flavor, and the mélange of shiitake, portobello and crimini lived up to expectations. Crumbles of biting blue cheese and pancetta added a full, rounded taste that filled the mouth. We would have loved more mushrooms.
Page 2: Another Perfect 10–Plus Two continues…
A meaty pork chop was divinely tender. Airy whipped sweet potatoes were such a treat, I could have had them for dessert. And I was in awe of the baby Brussels sprouts, presented like jade-green gems on a pillow of orange potatoes. A scattering of golden raisins cooked in apple cider was a nice cold weather touch.
Parmesan-laced butter spilled over a thick flat iron steak, which was served atop porcini mushrooms accented with a touch of balsamic vinegar. I admire anyone who can use balsamic with restraint, who lets the distinct yet mellow flavor accent rather than overwhelm the dish. And that was the case at Twelves. Though we ordered the steak medium-rare, it came bloody. My dining companion, however, wouldn’t part with it long enough to let the kitchen rectify the problem. It was that good.
The 8-ounce burger also came pinker than we would have liked, but there was no mistaking the quality of the grass-fed beef. The fixings—tomato, red onion and lettuce—were prettily scattered across the plate so you could assemble then however you wished. I loved the hot hand-cut bistro fries, and the crisp local bacon was a treat in itself.
But bacon turned Swiss chard into a salt lick. Fortunately, the stars on the plate—four day boat scallops—were unaffected. Shining on a background of honey-brown butter, the bronzed medallions were cooked perfectly.
In contrast, the Parmesan-panko-crusted chicken was under-seasoned, despite the piquant capers. The chicken itself, however, was right on the mark, moist and fresh.
Every dish was a vivid contrast of colors on gleaming alabaster plates. Even ketchup came in a tiny white dish. A latte demonstrated why the specialty coffee trend started. A swirl of brown and white foam, sprinkled with cinnamon, gave me a mustache I was happy to wear.
Three of the specialty coffees—apple pie latte, caramel apple latte and candy apple latte—were unavailable because the restaurant was out of the apple flavoring. A disappointed dining partner opted instead for cinnamon toast, made with vanilla tea, steamed milk and cinnamon syrup.
Twelves offers decent house-made ice cream. Wedges of grilled brown sugar pound cake, accompanied by thinly sliced Bartlett pears and crème Anglaise, made more of an impression.
So what is up with the restaurant’s name? Tim and Kristen Smith’s first date was on November 12, 1999. They married on November 12, 2004. Tim was born on a January 12, and Kristen was born on a February 12.
When it comes to BYO restaurants that showcase local fare, I give this one very high fives.
Page 3: But Cereally, Folks
The Cereal Bowl (181 E. Main St., Newark, 737-4001) is a study in perfect unions: milk and cereal, peanut butter and jelly, college kids and all of the above.
Built around sugary cereals, plasma TVs, free Wi-Fi connection and cushy couches, the Main Street hotspot seems to have all its bases covered.
Linda Busacca is owner of the first official Cereal Bowl franchise. She saw the college town as a perfect location.
“There are stats out there that say something like 90 percent of college students will eat cereal any time of the day,” she says. “So what better place for a cereal bar than Main Street?”
In addition to a full supply of breakfast cereals, the Cereal Bowl offers creations such as The Sweetest Thing, a sugary mix of Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, Vanilla Wafers and rainbow sprinkles. For those who prefer their sugar coma induced more subtly, there’s Let It Fly, a combo of Life cereal, Wheaties, dried berries and granola. Busacca’s favorite, Mom Knows More, is a hot bowl of oatmeal, apple pie filling, caramel and graham bites.
Busacca anticipates the college crowd hanging out to study and grab a quick bite—or plunk down in front of a TV and watch some cartoons. “We’re going for Saturday morning every day,” she says. —Matt Amis