Taste West Chester - Winter 2022

Page 1

Produced & Published by The WC Press


FEB/MAR 2022

Save room for


Local foodies all know that


is so much more than pastas and pizzas

We set out to sample

SAVORY SOUPS Break the routine with


suggestions for every age or budget


good food news HOT SAUCE

locally crafted concoctions that’ll make you sweat





Letter from the Editor

Back of House

Kate Chadwick introduces the issue

PUBLISHER Dan Mathers dan@thewcpress.com


ust think how rich we’d be if we didn’t have to eat.” –My Mom, circa my entire childhood, usually while unpacking groceries. Suffice it to say that I didn’t quite grasp this concept until I was an adult with a family of my own, often while doing the same thing. My mom was the only girl in her family, and my grandmother didn’t work outside the home. Therefore, by her own admission, although they were a working-class family my mother was “spoiled” and realized with some horror on her wedding day that she had zero “housewife” skills—no cleaning or cooking experience whatsoever. Throw in four kids within five years, returning to full-time work when I was six (and the oldest), and a husband who became fully disabled in his forties, and she got real serious in the art of “self-taught.” Our house was always immaculate, somehow, and by the time she died, my mom was renowned among family, friends, and colleagues for her Martha Stewart-like cooking, baking, and hospitality. Me…not so much. If I have people over, it’s BYO and we’re usually ordering pizza. I can cook, and there are a few things I’m quite good at in the kitchen (my breakfast potatoes are legend, for instance), but I don’t truly love it like she did. I feel like cooking is something you must love to be great at, professionally or personally. I’m a big fan of restaurants. At the same time, I’m fairly low-maintenance, a cheap date, if you will—as happy at a diner as I am at a four-star gourmet eatery. Once in a while, usually in winter, I’ll go on a tear, spending an entire day in the kitchen, cooking and baking my head off and putting things in the freezer for a later date like some kind of grownup. And one of my favorite things to make (and eat) is soup, no matter the time of year. I love cold soups as much as hot ones, although I will admit defeat over gazpacho. I love to eat it but have made it exactly once—way too many moving parts. So how thrilled was I when Danielle Davies pitched a story idea for this issue about the one-pot alchemy that is soup?? Very! She visits several places around town to get the scoop on how they soup. While we’re warming up, let’s talk about hot sauce, baby, one of my—and the rest of the country’s—favorite condiments. Jesse Piersol tracks down four WC-made salsas picantes, if you’re looking to spice things up in the kitchen while keeping it local—win/win. And finally, if you’re looking to spice things up…uh, elsewhere, why not rethink your date night go-to spots? Humans are creatures of habit, but habits quickly become ruts. Becca Boyd gives us the rundown on the romance factors at a few area eateries, no matter what kind of date you’re on. So, fetch yourself some hot chocolate and relax with this warming, delicious issue of Taste. Thank you for reading! —kate@tastewestchester.com

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” -James Beard

STAFF MANAGING EDITOR Kate Chadwick kchadwick@thewcpress.com

ADVERTISING MANAGER Nick Vecchio nick@thewcpress.com

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Jesse Piersol jpiersol@thewcpress.com Danielle Davies ddavies@thewcpress.com


CONTRIBUTORS Becca Boyd bboyd@thewcpress.com Andrea Mason amason@thewcpress.com DJ Romeo romeo@thewcpress.com Published By... The WC PRESS & Mathers productions, LLC 1271 Phoenixville Pk West Chester, PA 19380 mathersproductions.com 610-299-1100

TASTE West Chester is the food-only spinoff of The WC Press. It’s mailed to 3,000+ local readers and dropped off to more than 200 locations in and around the borough. For a free subscription, mailed or digital, visit thewcpress.com/subscribe

Today’s Menu 7

#TASTEWC We’re printing our favorite photos from our fans


SAVOR A SLICE There’s no such thing as bad pizza — some are better than others


BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS The most important meal of the day. @ Mae’s


FORM & FUNCTION The borough’s best kitchens and dining spaces. @ Greystone


SMALL FRY Dining out with the young ones in tow. @ Split Rail


NO SOUP FOR YOU A sampling of the borough’s winter warmers.


ON A ROLL The best foods served between slices of bread. @ Carlino’s


THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT West Chester hot sauces fire up the local palate


DINING OUT Sampling some of the borough’s best meals. @ Sedona Taphouse


DÎNER À DEUX Date night in West Chester


BEHIND THE BAR WITH KARA JOHNSON Discussing a life behind bars with the borough’s best-known faces.


PHOTO HUNT Find the five changes, win a gift card.







Like and follow us on social media, then tag us in your posts for a chance get your work published here. Our favorite image each month () will earn its photographer a gift card to @barnabyswc. 













Savor a Slice There’s no such thing as a bad pizza, but that doesn’t mean some aren’t a cut above. photos ERIK WEBER @westchesterviews

Limoncello Ristorante Caprese Pizza Have you ever had a perfect bite of a caprese salad atop a deliciously crusty piece of bread? Imagine that, but for a whole pizza. This white slice is topped with extra mozzarella, fresh tomato and basil, then drizzled with balsamic.

Pizza West Chester Plain Pizza If you’re a bit of a cynic you might think that this new spot is making a name for themselves by being reclusive and eschewing what most major brands invest in — there’s no phone, no website and they’re cash only — but we bet your cynicism disappears once you’ve sampled your first slice. Our recommendation is to start simple and savor the ingredients on this crispy plain pie.

Tommy’s Original Pizza Pepperoni Slice The world is filling up with artisanal pizzas and pies covered in all kinds of gourmet toppings, but sometimes you just need a classic piece of pep. When you get that urge, Tommy’s gotchu with a thin crust that’s absolutely covered in salty ‘ronis. They don’t ever skimp on the good stuff. PUBLISHED BY THE WC PRESS




Breakfast of Champions The most important meal of the day can also be the most delicious way to start it. This Month: Mae’s Mae’s feels meant to be. It was a long time coming and the culmination of meaningful experiences for a hardworking, talented couple. The best news? We get to eat here. Fresh out of culinary school, a young Josh Taggart learned his trade from the best in Philadelphia—classic French kitchens like Lacroix (you’ll see his training if you order the expertly rolled, French-style omelet), then later well-known local restaurants such as Dilworthtown Inn and Duling Kurtz. Throw in a stint at Mackenzies where he enjoyed a relaxed take on brewhouse cuisine, and you can see how his unique menu of reimagined classics takes shape.

Josh met Erin while working in Philadelphia. When the first of their four children arrived, the pair headed to West Chester, where Erin was raised. Used to working for other people, they dreamt of taking the helm, and a plan started forming. When the time and location were right, they made the move. In January 2020 the lease was signed, and the opening date decided. Obviously, what happened next was a snag they couldn’t possibly have imagined. But they took it in stride, using the time to thoughtfully hammer out every detail. They updated the decor, changing everything but the floors, doing it themselves and inviting family to help paint. Oversized chicken wire pendants, rustic shiplap, and handstamped accent walls combine in a rustic farmhouse aesthetic. Their first meals were sold in takeout boxes, which was not ideal, but it was enough to hook customers. Quarts of homemade soups wouldn’t stay in the case, “family meals” were picked up in droves, and as foot traffic picked up their impressive coffees and prepared sand-

I’ve rarely had a better meal than the Mae’s breakfast sandwich. My notes say, “died and went to heaven.” A perfectly fried easy egg, sriracha aioli, melted cheddar, spinach, bacon jam and pickled red onions on a griddled, tender brioche bun. wiches had regulars lining up at the door. As life trends slowly back towards normal, Josh and Erin’s vision is coming to fruition. Owners and Chef, they grind, working harder than they ever have, but for themselves. They’ve created a spot where families can come with their kids, not sacrificing taste for an inability to find a sitter. Family first, it’s apparent, as is their commitment to their community. Their bread is from La Baguette, their coffee from Rival Brothers in Philly, and they use and sell Nick’s honey, Nutty Novelties, Pure Blend Teas, and Vera Pasta. If they have a niche, it’s people who love good food.





I’ve been on this breakfast beat for a while and can confidently say I’ve rarely had a better meal than the Mae’s breakfast sandwich. My notes say, “died and went to heaven.” A perfectly fried easy egg, sriracha aioli, melted cheddar, spinach, bacon jam, and pickled red onions on a griddled, tender brioche bun. I honestly lost my head, sidetracked only long enough to sample the home fries, which were amazing. Yukon potatoes, steamed to soften and then deep fried to golden perfection, tossed with fried onions and sliced scallions, It’s the sort of meal you want to eat in front of someone who won’t judge you when you cease speaking and your eyes glaze over.

The future is bright for this duo, and it’s devoid of pretention. Josh wants to make it a great meal for every single diner; if they’re not happy, he wants to know why and he wants to fix it. Also sampled: the aforementioned omelet, professionally rolled and tender, and a chorizo, Swiss, and green onion pancake with fermented garlic honey. Josh nails that sweet, salty, savory balance every chef works towards. Elevated classics, farm to table, honest-to-goodness simple food is the goal and he’s knocking it out of the park. Have a sweet tooth? Try the griddled brioche au chocolate with toasted almonds along with a house made chai latte—perfectly frothed milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon; it’s like a mug filled with holiday spirit. The future is bright for this duo, and it’s devoid of pretention. Josh wants to make it a great meal for every single diner; if they’re not happy, he wants to know why and he wants to fix it. Accommodating is the name of the game. He knows every possible allergy and diet out there, and if you explain your need, he will compose a dish that’s satisfying and delicious. A global pandemic is something no one could have seen coming, but Josh was forced to be flexible and pursue (and perfect) every viable option. Whether eaten inside, outside, or in a takeout box, good food speaks for itself, and I see no reason why Mae’s won’t be a West Chester fixture for years to come. “It’s a place you could bring your parents, your grandparents, your kids, or a first date, and they’d feel comfortable and find something they’d love to eat,” explains Josh. Sometimes, lucky for us, it’s just that simple. photos & story BECCA @homebeccanomics






Form & Function Exploring the design concepts of our borough’s best kitchens and dining spaces. This Month: Greystone Oyster Bar Greystone Oyster Bar opened its doors in March 2021, and since then has garnered praise for its upscale atmosphere, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and delicious food. Situated on Church Street, Greystone Oyster Bar is difficult to miss with its sleek, contemporary black and white building front and eye-catching string lights made of—what else—real oyster shells. Greystone is known for its fresh, locally sourced seafood coming in daily. When you step through the doors, the first thing you’ll notice is a delicious display of glistening oysters at their bar-top seating area. Here you can watch firsthand as manager Christopher Jones or any of the staff members shuck them for their patrons.

While the menu is full of tasty seafood, it also has a popular land menu, and above all, they’ve got oysters. Your eyes will pop with their Greystone seafood platter, a feast-for-the-eyes presentation of lobster, seafood salad, oysters, shrimp, and clams. Deserts are made in-house, with a few favorites being the chocolate espresso cake and crème brûlée. Pair your meal with a notable selection of drinks and custom craft cocktails. Their Bloody Mary at brunch is a meal unto itself, with shrimp cocktail, bacon, lobster, pickles, and pepperoncini. Every wine, beer, and liquor proudly displayed at the bar is sourced from the great state of Pennsylvania. The wonderful food aside, you cannot beat the ambiance here. Owner Alfredo thoughtfully and deliberately designed this space as friendly and casual, and used upscale materials and fixtures to achieve the effect of a big city restaurant plopped right into our borough. Originally, the venue was two narrow office spaces, now transformed into an open and bright dining destination. The walls are covered in high gloss subway tiles; the flooring echoes

that with its beautiful hexagon tile, creating an industrial look and feel. It’s the details that warm the space, like its live greenery accent wall and the gorgeous wood ceilings, mimicking the curved vintage wood mirrors adorning the walls. Patrons can sit at two- or four-person tables, and larger groups can gather at the private adjoining room. There is both modern and vintage lighting with various wall sconces, pendants, and chandeliers, ensuring every table is appropriately lit and to help create the perfect urban dining experience. The aesthetically pleasing mix of brick, wood, and tile make the entire space inviting, attractive, and lively—a perfect destination whether going out with friends, family, or a special date night. If you haven’t already, please treat both your eyes and your palate to this gem in downtown West Chester. They’re open daily for lunch and dinner, brunch is served on the weekends, and there’s a not-to-bemissed happy hour from 4-6 on weekdays. story ANDREA MASON @andreamasondesign photo ERIK WEBER @westchesterviews





Small Fry Some suggestions on the best destinations when dining out with the young ones in tow. This Month: Split Rail Tavern Regardless of all the obstacles, my little family attempts to dine out at least once a week. My wife Shannon and I believe that learning how to behave in different situations is important for kids—it improves their confidence and helps them develop social skills—and proper restaurant behavior got our 3 1/2 year old Olivia off to a great start. Since my wife Shannon and I recently welcomed our little boy Zachary Michael Vecchio to the world, we’ve needed to be even more strategic about getting out of the house. One of the most important things we have to consider now when venturing out for a meal is space, and Split Rail has plenty of it. With a stroller, car seat, diaper bag, Olivia’s bag of distractions and whatever else we decide to bring that day, we need as much room as possible. Time is another matter we always consider before going out to eat. We have found 5:30pm dinner also means staying on track with evening routines. Plus, early-bird-special hours means fewer people — we now refer to these as the kid-friendly hours. Split Rail Tavern is definitely one of the coolest looking bars in WC with the wood finishes and lighting. It’s crazy to think you’re standing in the same building that used to be 15 North and Alibis, where... let’s just say there’s a lot of memories that I do not remember. The menu here is on the smaller side but everything is delicious and unique. Add to that an amazing beer list and some of the best craft cocktails in town, plus an awesome, friendly staff who genuinely enjoy Olivia and engage with her, and you’ve got one of our favorite spots in town. All of the food is made from scratch at Split Rail, and you can tell by its freshness. I always have to order their wings. I find myself craving them sometimes on Sunday mornings (hello, brunch). The wings start with a Cajun dry rub, and while the sauce recipe is a secret, it’s Buffalo style made with a combina-

tion of hot sauces, chiles and butter. It pairs perfectly with a hoppy IPA. Shannon’s go-to is the Commonwealth Burger. Cooked to perfection every time, it comes with Bibb Lettuce, tomato, red onion, choice of cheese and is served on a Marty’s sesame seed bun with Russian dressing on the side. Pro Tip: be like Shannon and add bacon. Olivia may only be three, but she knows what she wants, and that’s chicken fingers... every time. The kids’ menu also includes some classics like grilled cheese, pasta and pizza, and I have a feeling she will dabble into something new sometime soon. For now we’re sticking with what we know works. Overall, our experience was what we expected…fantastic. Not only did our lit-

tle girl get to fill up on one of her favorite meals, but Daddy got to indulge in one of his favorite cocktails, the Rye Rye Birdie. There is plenty of space, especially in the booth areas. No one around us cared that they were next to children. In fact, Zac is so darn cute people were actually coming over to see him like he was a celebrity. If we needed even more room, there’s always upstairs. Spending time with our kids is a priority, and when we can do that at a place like Split Rail — one with great food and drinks that’s also welcoming of our family and helps make space available for all of us and all of our things — it makes those memories all the sweeter. story & photo @djromeo24








A sampling of the borough’s winter warmers

for you

Mushroom Bisque Roots Café uses umami mushrooms, white truffles and porcinis. PUBLISHED BY THE WC PRESS





hange may be a constant, but these past two years have been a doozy. In addition to normal changes—which are often difficult enough—we’ve contended with a worldwide pandemic and the subsequent illness, death, denial, and political upheaval that have accompanied it. It’s a wonder we haven’t all stuck our heads in the sand. Like any catastrophe, Coronavirus has us counting our blessings, from the biggest to the smallest. One such item worth counting? Soup. We admit that soup might not be the equivalent of other potential blessings, like “healthy family” or “wild financial success,” but stay with us here because soup isn’t just soup. It’s comfort. It’s familiarity. It fills you up, warms your tummy, and in some cases, tastes like home. In a world full of changes, soup is a constant. According to NPR, the “tradition of making soup is probably at

Tomato Bisque A completely blended elixir, the bisque includes a little bit of coconut milk to make it delightfully creamy. least 25,000 years old,” making it truly a food that has stood the test of time. And though it’s been around for millennia, our devotion to it hasn’t waned. For those of us in the borough, we’ve got plenty of mouth-watering soups to keep us warm and thankful all winter long.

Love Again Local

At Love Again Local, customers can dig into vegan deli sandwiches like Reubens and turkey clubs, cheesesteaks, and BLTs, as well as piping hot bowls of soup, without worrying about dairy, eggs, or animal by-products in their comfort food. “Our customers—especially our vegan customers who have more lim-

ited choices—like to come here and get the comfort foods that they miss, like their deli sandwiches and their soup they can’t really find anywhere because every place you go there’s cream or chicken broth in there,” says Love Again Local owner, Elena Masherino. “They know they can come here, and they can get their good old-fashioned comfort foods, and they’re all going to be vegan.” Though soups do rotate, the most frequent soup customers will find at Love Again Local is the tomato bisque. A completely blended elixir, the bisque includes a little bit of coconut milk to make it delightfully creamy. “It’s our standard, we almost always have the tomato bisque,” says Masherino. “I have to say, our grilled cheese and tomato soup? Getting them together and dipping that grilled cheese in the soup, it’s so good.” In addition to the tomato bisque, some of their special soups include chili, corn chowder, and potato leek. “With the special soups, we get a little bit creative.





And that’s what’s nice about soup—you can do anything,” says Masherino. “We tend to have creamier soups, blended soups that are more hearty—our corn chowder is really good. That one has corn pieces and potatoes. It’s thicker. The clear broths don’t do as well for us. People tend to like the creamier ones, ones that are a little more comforting.” And though winter sees a prevalence of hearty soups, come spring, customers can find things like the super popular Green Goddess Soup. “It’s a blended spinach soup, but it’s not a creamy blend. It’s just broth, sautéed spinach, onions, seasonings, and it’s got a little pepperiness in there,” says Masherino. “It’s really nice.”

Stove & Tap

“For me, soup is more of a subjective thing,” says Stove & Tap owner and restaurateur Joe Monnich, who oversees all the culinary aspects of multiple kitchens. “People seem to love things that trigger a memory of comfort. Things like French Onion Soup. It’s more than ‘I’m going to eat something.’ It’s comfort, in

Mushroom Soup Made with Kennett Square mushrooms, this concoction is a multi-process endeavor—it’s about as far from just opening a can as you can get. my mind. It’s not just fulfilling your hunger; it’s fulfilling your soul.” Monnich, who can remember his own mom making him steaming bowls of chicken noodle soup when he was sick as a kid, considers soup to be good for both your physical and mental health. “It’s a happy thing. Eating soup triggers a warmth. It’s a positive experience. They say that soup is soulful, and it is.” At Stove & Tap, the menu is ever changing. Currently, guests can find all sorts of delicious rustic American options from squash and goat cheese flatbread to brisket dip and fried Brussels sprouts—perfect winter fare. They can also find a particularly tasty mushroom soup.

Made with Kennett Square mushrooms, this concoction is a multi-process endeavor—it’s about as far from opening a can as you can get. Monnich creates a mushroom stock made with mushroom trimmings and scraps, carrots, onions, celery, black peppercorn, bay leaves, water, and oil. The soup starts with a hot skillet full of butter-sautéed shallots and garlic and continues with adding mushrooms, a sachet full of herbs, and a deglazing wine. Only then is the mushroom stock—as well as chicken stock, cream, roux, and seasoning—added before the whole thing is simmered and pureed. The soup is served with sautéed mushrooms, a drizzle of white truffle oil, and topped with truffle Brioche croutons. If you’re drooling, count yourself among many others—this soup has been wildly popular. “This is our first winter with it on the menu,” says Monnich. “It’s been very successful. It will probably make another menu.” Available on both lunch and dinner menus, in a cup or in a bowl, this mushroom soup is just what we need this winter.





The Mediterranean

Katrina Lehr, a full-time server at The Mediterranean, agrees that soup is a comforting meal, but is most impressed with the creativity that Chef and Owner Joseph Andraos utilizes while making it. “Something specific with The Mediterranean is that we get all local fruits and vegetables. So, when it comes down to him making a soup, he adds in what he has available to him,” says Lehr. “Creating with what’s available and making it an awesome flavor in different ways. I think it’s a creative thing as well as a comfort thing.” At The Mediterranean, a BYOB that specializes in the infusion of Lebanese and Italian cuisines, the focus is on local, seasonal produce, much of which comes from the Amish and other local farms. Additionally, The Mediterranean includes lots of vegan and vegetarian options on their menu. “Joe normally always tries to make a soup that is vegan, where there’s no cream, there’s a vegetable base, and there’s no meat in it, because we have a lot of people who come into our restaurant with dietary restrictions,” says Lehr. “He also tries to make things gluten free. So, when Joe makes a minestrone soup, normally that has a pasta in it, but instead, Joe will do it with a Napa cabbage to create that extra texture, that extra crunch, and will also keep it gluten free.” The results have been both creative and delicious, including things like a carrot ginger soup made with coconut cream; Mediterranean Minestrone with Napa Cabbage; and a French Onion made with the leavened sourdough bread from Mediterranean Bakery as the crostini, then topped with fresh mozzarella. In the summer, customers may find a vegetable gazpacho, made with a bunch of veggies simmered just long enough to maintain a little crunch, as well as a cucumber and yogurt gazpacho that Lehr describes as similar to a tzatziki. “A lot of the soups are like, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t expect those things to be paired together’, says Lehr. “I feel like when I explain the specials to people, you can see their eyes light up in the sense that the flavors and the differences are not your regular soups.”

Rams Head Bar & Grill

French Onion

‘Personally, I always love soup in the winter, as a comfort meal,” says Tonni Hill, General Manager of Rams Head Bar & Grill. “For me, it’s nice to have something warm, sort of hearty and filling. So, I always look forward to when the season changes and soups start coming around a little bit more.” For Hill, that perfect soup is French Onion. Whether she’s dreaming about the French Onion her mom used to make or grabbing a bowl of the Rams Head French Onion before a shift at the bar, it’s her favorite. It’s also a customer favorite at Ram’s Head, where they see a huge uptick in soup sales from December through February. In addition to the French Onion and vegan chili that are always on the menu, Ram’s Head rotates out seasonal and creative concoctions, from a Pot Pie Soup to a Farmer’s Soup made with ham, carrots, corn, and a cream chicken stock that was originally made simply to make use of good leftover ingredients. “Right now, we have a vegan butternut squash soup that he did that uses

Ram's Head's take on this classic doesn't skimp on the good parts (you know, the bread and the cheese). some of our seasonal vegetables,” says Hill about Chef James Jones. “I think for our chef, he enjoys free-styling, utilizing different ingredients—the creative aspect of soup.”

Roots Café

For JT Hearn, chef and partner along with co-owner Dan Merola of Roots Café, soup is more than just comfort. “To me, a soup is a great outlet for creativity,” says Hearn. Indeed, creativity is a big part of the menu at Roots Café. In addition to using as much local produce and meat as possible, they are hyper focused on flavor and texture, creating everything from hot sauce to butter to jams and chutneys from scratch. And when they get a new product, it often drives the type of soup they make.





“Two weeks ago, we got in some beautiful butternut squash, so we did a candied butternut squash soup,” says Hearn. “If we get some beautiful farm raised whole chickens, we’ll make a chicken noodle soup. If we get some beef from a local Pennsylvania farm, we’ll do a beef barley or a mushroom beef stew or something along those lines.” Because product drives so much of the inspiration at Roots Café, in the warmer months customers can expect to see crisp, cold gazpachos that utilize seasonal produce like mixed berry; roasted beet; chipotle tomato; and white grape, cucumber and basil. “In the summertime, you have a cold gazpacho—it’s 100 degrees outside. You want something that’s going to be cool, crisp,” says Hearn. “It’s not going to lay on your palate. In the wintertime, a hot soup should keep you nice and toasty. It should be a rib sticker, bringing you back to that wrapped-in-a-blanket feeling,” “ In addition to utilizing fresh ingredients, Hearn strives to make a serious flavor impact, something he does especially well with their wild mushroom soup, where customers are hit with the flavors of Umami mushrooms at first bite, before getting the essence of white truffles and then a deep porcini powder. Roots Café is currently working on a merchandise shop above the restaurant—with hopes for a spring opening—where customers will be able to purchase house made hot sauces, seasoning blends, hats, shirts, and of course, Roots Café soups.

Market Street Grill

Market Street Grill may have some knockout breakfasts, including (but hardly limited to) omelets, French Toast, and pancakes—as well as signature breakfasts like the Willow Breakfast Burrito, the Christian and Waffles, and Camacho’s Nachos—but the rest of their menu is just as mind-blowing, and just as creative. Even the soups. “The chef is crazy,” says Market Street Grill owner Kerry Greco about Chef Darla Riccetti. “She’ll throw bread pudding in a soup, mac and cheese, whatever is literally left over, she will throw in a soup.” And luckily—at least most of the time—that creativity of Riccetti’s really pays off.

Turkey, Barley & Risotto The soup of the day, like their specials board, is ever rotating at Market Street grill, but the one constant is quality. “The beer cheese soup, we did that for a while. It was crazy. I don’t know how she did that, but it was incredible,” says Market Street Grill Manager, Kerry’s son, Christian. “People loved the mushroom bisque so much that we put it on the menu. She did escarole. She’s done gumbo. We recently did a New England clam chowder. And we do a Thanksgiving stew that’s amazing.” And about that aforementioned bread pudding in a soup? A very successful chicken dumpling bread pudding soup it was. Though creativity seems to be the driving force for soups, there are some standards that have remained on the Market Street Grill menu since its inception 19 years ago. Those include both the chili and the French Onion soups. And

until a few months ago, it also included a lobster bisque that will still show up as a rotating special. For the Grecos, soup is as much creativity as it is comfort. “There was a soup that my mother made, and we would wait for it. It had a little pastina in it, a little corn, a little shredded beef in a beef broth, smothered with Pecorino Romano cheese,” says Kerry. “We all crushed that soup. And that’s gone. My mom’s gone. That soup’s gone. So, we’ll never get that soup again.” And while there’s nothing like the soup that mom used to make, both the Grecos have other favorites. For Christian, it’s French Onion. And though it seemed like a toss up between New England and Manhattan Clam Chowders for Kerry, ultimately, it came down to snapper. “Anywhere I see it, of course I get it,” he says. “And never let go of that little sherry bottle on your left.” photos ERIK WEBER @westchesterviews story DANIELLE DAVIES @DANIELLEDAVIESWRITES





On a Roll Sampling all of the borough’s best foods served between slices of bread. This Month: Carlino's It can be easy to overlook a sandwich with a name like “veggie hoagie” at a purveyor of gourmet foods such as Carlino’s. After all, vegetarian options at many sandwich shops are often a disappointment at best, with a deli roll simply overloaded with what goes on a regular hoagie, minus the meat. In a dietary pinch, I once ate a sandwich from a chain that I will not mention here which contained nothing but iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and several long pickle spears. Any feelings of validation about healthy eating choices were instantly erased by the first bite of not-so-crispy pickle and sad bread. Given this history, it may seem odd to choose a vegetarian offering at a food establishment so proficient at,

well, everything. But when I rolled into Carlino’s dusted with the first few snowflakes of the new year, the line at the deli counter was long, and so I allowed the experts to guide me: I ordered the same thing as the burly guy in line in front of me. And the guy ahead of him, too. I could not have made a better choice. Toothsome, savory, and unexpected, the veggie hoagie already has me planning when I will order the next one, and I haven’t even finished the last bite of this one yet. The Roll A slightly crusty exterior encases a dense, chewy body, which absorbs a bit of the marinade without getting soggy and offers a heartiness that perfectly suits the flavorful filling. While I ate mine at room temperature, the veggie hoagie would be excellent as a grinder as well. How fresh is that roll? Along with all Carlino’s breads, rolls are baked in house at their flagship Ardmore location. The Filling Thinly sliced breaded eggplant, roasted red peppers, and sauteed broccoli rabe form a savory trifecta, while

fresh basil in the bruschetta offers a bright counterpoint. Everything is joined together by a generous drizzle of Carlino’s house made balsamic vinaigrette. Several layers of thinly sliced, pucker-worthy sharp provolone cheese really makes this sandwich sing, leading the chorus of low, savory notes that harmonize brilliantly with the spirited tones of tomato, basil, and balsamic vinegar. Linzer Cookies are Required Any time a raspberry Linzer cookie is offered at a bakery counter as illustrious as Carlino’s, it is essential to cast aside all alimentary considerations and indulge in one. The zing of lemon and raspberry, with a dusting of powdered sugar as fine and magical as the snow flurries just beyond the door, perfectly complement the rich, intense flavors of the sandwich. And besides, we’ve already proven our virtue by choosing the veggie hoagie, right? photo ERIK WEBER @westchesterviews story JESSE PIERSOL @JESSEPIERSOL




Faunbrook B&B

An 1860s grand manor estate on the south side of West Chester

Weddings d shoWers d rehearsal dinners guest stays d events d 2 to 100 guests 699 West Rosedale Avenue • West Chester, PA 19382 610-436-5788 • 800-505-3233 • www.faunbrook.com




HEAT of the moment West Chester Hot Sauces Fire Up The Local Palate




tune article. Businesswire of June 28, 2021 assessed a value of $4.5 billion for the global hot sauce market in 2020. Today, Sriracha claims 10% of all sales in the U.S. Given our billion-dollar obsession with the condiment, are there any options to shop locally? Yep. Craft hot sauce is experiencing a moment, a trend that’s evident right here in town.


“We’re deep in flavor and frankly the best,” proclaims Frankly-Deep hot sauce co-founder Pradeep Kulkarni. “We focus on flavor, not heat. Anyone can burn you out.” His interest in spice derives from his Jamaican Indian background. “We love hot foods.” Pradeep and his business partner, Frank Schweitzer, met at Penn State Brandywine 10 years ago. The friends loved to cook, and began experimenting with hot sauces, packing their freezers with peppers. “We tried maybe 20 different recipes and gave them away,” Pradeep recalls. “People would say ‘you should sell this.’”



We try to source as locally as possible. We have PA-preferred branding and are super Chester County-based. -Pradeep Kulkarni



n the fall of 2013, residents of Irwindale, California had had enough. Enough of the headaches, the burning eyes, and the heartburn due to spicy vapors wafting throughout their close-knit community of 1400. They filed a complaint, which escalated into lawsuits between the originator of the fumes and the city of Irwindale. The culprit was not a chemical plant or hazardous materials producer, but rather the nearby Sriracha manufacturing facility. Whenever it came time to process the seasonally harvested chilies comprising their signature hot sauce, fumes would emanate for miles, flaring up far more than just the taste buds of everyone around. The lawsuits (somewhat) resolved in 2018, with residents dealing with the occasional teary eye and cough. Meanwhile, Huy Fuong Foods, Sriracha’s parent company, continued to churn out one of the most beloved hot sauces in the U.S., using 100 million pounds of chilies a year and amassing sales of $150 million in 2019, according to an October 2019 For-

So they sat down and thought about it. At the time, Frank was waiting tables at McKenzie’s Brew House. The duo made a sauce for McKenzie’s to put on their wings. It was a hit. They received their FDA certification four years ago, and in 2019, joined Artisan Exchange to scale up their operation. They pulled in $17,000 that year, largely from street fairs and local events. Then, the pandemic brought everything to a halt. The business survived through online sales for the next two years, partly due to the nature of their product. “It’s a hot sauce, so there’s not a ton of overhead,” Pradeep explains. “We try to source as locally as possible,” he says. “We have PA-preferred

Frankly-Deep Five Pack Frankly-Deep offers a variety of flavors and uses some ingredients you may not find in many other hot sauces, like butternut squash or guava. branding and are super Chester County-based.” Frank grows the organic peppers used in their sauces at his farm in Chadds Ford. Frankly-Deep offers five sauces of varying intensity, all of which combine unexpected flavors and a little whimsy. The mildest is “The Floor is Hot Guava,” which features a sweetness from guava puree and no added sugar. Pradeep cites his Caribbean, Latino, and Spanish friends as the inspiration for this flavor. “Malicious Mango” evokes Caribbean flavors, with Scotch Bonnets and mango. Pradeep likes to sauté it with a little olive oil and garlic and use it to marinate chicken, which he then grills over high heat. “Habanero Heaven,” which he characterizes as a “very approachable habanero,” contains four different varieties of Habanero pep-

pers: Red, Orange, Maya, and Chocolate. On the higher end of medium is “Welcome to Scoville.” Despite its eight-pepper, vinegar-forward profile that includes Carolina Reapers, Naga Vipers, and Scorpions, Pradeep insists that it is a jack-ofall-trades. “When you add it to a Bloody Mary, or to soup, it gives people that vinegar tang they like.” Lastly, there is “Belligerent Butternut.” “It gives you a creamy experience. As the creaminess creeps across your palate, you get the ghost pepper,” Pradeep describes. He drizzles it on eggs and mixes it with ketchup as a topping for fries. The pair work as a team on everything, including branding. Characters are their inspiration for the fanciful motifs that adorn their glass screw-top bottles. “For Belligerent Butternut, initial sketches had some very angry butternut squashes,” he laughs. As their company has grown, they’ve handed off some of the responsibilities, such as outsourcing their graphics. They pride themselves on names. “I’m a sucker for puns and words,” Pradeep admits. Indeed, Frankly-Deep is

a play on their names. Looking ahead, he envisions expanding their footprint, distributing locally, and getting their product in warehouses to increase their presence. Resurrecting the routine of seeing customers face to face includes a booth at the Kennett Winter Fest in February. There’s a bigger vision for the future, too, that encompasses his original passion. “The dream is to start a small café featuring foods that pair with our hot sauce,” he rhapsodizes. “Jamaican jerk chicken. Latin-inspired pulled pork. Fourcheese mac and cheese. I’ve been cooking my whole life.” WHERE TO FIND IT Online: frankly-deep.com Find it locally:  Weavers Way Co-op, Ambler and Chestnut Hill  Ace Hardware, Pocopson  Frolic Glassware, Exton  Artisan Exchange market





“Like anything you'd eat, it has to have depth and it has to be seasoned properly. Ours is spicy, sweet, smoky, citrusy, and flavorful,” Roots Café Chef and Co-owner Dan Merola waxes poetic about their hot sauce. “We feel like we've perfected the ideal, all-purpose hot sauce.” Fellow Chef and Co-owner JT Hearn developed the recipe while working at another restaurant in 2016. When the duo first took over as owners of Roots in 2018, they initially only offered the sauce as a side upon request. Its popularity skyrocketed, however, inspiring them to create a dish around it: the hot chicken sandwich, which became Roots’ most popular lunch item (and made the cover of this publication in spring 2020). Their approach to the sauce fits in with their overall philosophy. “We believe that every component of every dish should taste great on its own, and that makes for a really amazing meal,” says Dan. “We did not skimp on the efforts in really nailing the recipe for this hot sauce. It's almost guaranteed that guests ask for a side when we bring their food to them.”

Freshness is a hallmark, so every two to three days, there is another new batch simmering away in a large stockpot in the kitchen. “We reduce it on medium heat until the flavors are concentrated, and the texture is where it needs to be,” he explains. “Then, when it is cooled, we blend it until smooth.”


We did not skimp on the efforts in really nailing the recipe for this hot sauce. It's almost guaranteed that guests ask for a side when we bring their food to them. -Dan Merola


Roots Hot Sauce

Unlike most of the others featured in this article, the Roots sauce does not espouse a “less is more” credo. “We have a ton of ingredients in our hot sauce,” he explains. “Let's just say that every ingredient serves a purpose, whether it's for viscosity, sweetness, saltiness, emulsification, tanginess, heat, color and texture.” Dan notes that their sauce is very versatile, pairing with most things on their

The Roots Crew Chefs and co-owners JT Hearn and Dan Merola put their all into every element of every dish, so it's no surprise their house hot sauce has become so popular it's difficult to keep it stocked. menu. He likes to top his eggs or a breakfast sandwich with it. Demand currently outpaces supply. “There are times where we don't have enough in house to sell an 8- or 16-ounce jar,” he laments. “JT and I have been brainstorming the logistics of bottling our sauce and selling it in stores and markets, which includes permits and licenses from the health department and finding a partner that can handle the bottling/packaging aspects of it.” WHERE TO FIND IT Available at Roots (133 E. Gay St.) in 8and 16-ounce containers and in the hot chicken sandwich





Satan’s Spit

Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. In Sidney Joseph’s case, a bunch of local peppers were about to go bad in his fridge back in 2014. Not wanting to waste them, he turned them into his very first batch of hot sauce. It might have been his first foray into hot sauce, but Sidney was no stranger to cooking. “I'd been cooking for a while, so instinctively I know what it takes to make something tasty,” he says. I think a great hot sauce has to be more than just hot. It needs flavor.”


I'm thinking of investing in a gas mask. The fumes can get pretty serious. -Sidney Joseph


His approach to flavor is balance. “I think what makes Satan's Spit unique is the balance of heat and sweet,” he says. “The secret weapon is strawberries.” He uses local peppers as much as possible. All his ingredients are natural and organic, and Satan’s Spit is gluten free. Sidney’s roots in West Chester run deep. “I've been connected to West Chester for over 20 years now. It started with the local music scene in the early 2000s,” he recalls. He works at The Mediterranean on Gay Street when he’s not performing music. There is as much fire in his branding as there is within the glass bottle. “The name ‘Satan Spit’ is sort of a cheeky dig at proper marketing practices,” he laughs. “I mean, who in their right mind would use the word ‘spit’ on something that they would want other people to try?” The label features Sidney’s face with devil horns peering out from amidst flames. His plans for Satan’s Spit include expanding into more local eateries, as well as procuring some safety equipment. “Making the hot sauce can be painful! I'm thinking of investing in a gas mask. The fumes can get pretty serious.” WHERE TO FIND IT Online: Connect with Sidney on Instagram: @thetasteofsidney Find it locally:  The Mediterranean

Turk’s Head Sauce

Satan's Spit

“Our sauce is the hot sauce for anything and everything. Goes on top of breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” declares Turk’s Head Sauce Founder Bryan Rogers. “It’s not smack-you-in-the-face heat. It is great flavor complemented by the heat. So many out there all heat, and your mouth is ruined for the next six or seven hours. Our sauce just gives your food an extra lift.” In 2018, Bryan left the family mechanical contracting business to strike out on his own in the food industry. And Campus Chicken Food Truck was born. “I was a Chick-fil-A on wheels. We’d go out to local breweries,” he says. “What goes better with beer than a fried chicken sandwich?” He crafted custom sauce for his chicken to make it stand apart, and

Some sauces are packaged to sound appetizing — others offer a deliberate challenge. Sidney Joseph's creation is firmly in the latter category. from the beginning, the sauce had an appeal that would eventually lead it to take on a life of its own. Things were going great until the first few months of 2020, when not much was open, including the food truck. Bryan started cooking at a local restaurant, where he was meeting people and growing his culinary skills, and at the same time, working on rebranding his business. “We wanted to come up with a product





that could be bought on shelves to grow our business,” he recalls, so they focused on the hot sauce. Bryan handed out small bottles of it to friends and to shoppers at the farmers’ market, soliciting their feedback. Penn’s Table and Market Street Grill both placed bottles of it on their tables, which helped them gain a following. “Breakfast places in the borough gave us positive feedback on that,” he says. In the spring of 2021, they started selling it for real. “Here’s our bottles, here’s our brand,” he says. On weekends, the food truck returned to festivals in Chester County, but today, the heart and soul of the business is the sauce. Bryan describes the texture as thicker than Tabasco but thinner than Sriracha, leading to the choice of a slender plastic bottle with a twist top for packaging. “The plastic bottle with a twist top allows you to really control the amount that comes out,” he explains. Turk’s Head Sauce uses a 0 to 5 scale to characterize the heat level. The original Roasted Red Fresno flavor scores a 2 out of 5. This past December, they released a

Campus Chicken Food Truck This kitchen on meals was the inspiration for Bryan Roger's Turks Head hot sauce. He started selling with dishes out of the truck, but it's popularity has exploded recently. . second flavor, Roasted Habanero, which heats things up to a 4 out of 5. Flavor is always key. “You get the heat, but you get more of the flavor. It’s not just the heat right off the bat.” All their sauces are fully plant-based with no additives. “I love it with breakfast, and most photos taken for sharing on social are of breakfast,” he says. “People love it with their eggs. Or on avocado toast or a breakfast sandwich. Sunny side up eggs.” Born and raised in West Chester, along with his wife, the name—Turk’s Head—is a nod to the original name of the town, along with the venerable old tavern of the same moniker that so many locals claim as part of their early memories. “My wife and I went to WCU,” he says. “We have

a daughter and another child on the way. We’ve grown to really love this town and wanted to pay homage to where we grew up.” For 2022, Bryan is in the planning process with a co-packer to scale up production this year. WHERE TO FIND IT Online: turksheadsauce.com Find it locally:  Penn’s Table  Market Street Grille  Ace Hardware West Chester  Beer Mill  Brandywine Ace Pet & Farm  Mae’s West Chester  Northbrook Marketplace  Pete’s Produce  Peter Clark Kitchen  West Chester Cooperative  Check the website for locations beyond West Chester photos ERIK WEBER @westchesterviews story JESSE PIERSOL @JESSEPIERSOL





Crab cake and pulled pork sliders

Dining Out Sampling some of the borough’s best meals in West Chester’s premier dinner destinations. This Month: Sedona Taphouse Vapor trails unfurl across a cloudless blue sky, aglow in the late afternoon sun that highlights the brick rooflines of North Church Street. Strings of white twinkle lights from the holidays provide some leftover magic stretched along Gay Street. Pedestrians stroll past on the sidewalk, engrossed in their phones. Two guys in beanie hats ride skateboards down the street. Floor to ceiling windows, a rarity in the borough, frame the northwest corner of Sedona Taphouse’s dining room, allowing guests to enjoy this unique vantage point on the best of downtown West Chester’s charm. The interior dining room can accommodate up to 112 patrons at a mix of generously spaced tables and booths, along with a rectangular bar in the center. In warmer weather, an additional 60 can sit outside. The open and brightly illuminated kitchen facing the dining

area bustles, showcasing the tableau of production behind Sedona’s culinary offerings. “Some people call the kitchen the back of the house,” says Managing Partner Steve Jordan, “but it’s really the heart of the house.” The music is upbeat and prominent but not loud, and the vibe is young professionals after work, along with a mix of families at the tables. Rustic wood accent walls and natural stone columns lend warmth that balances the spacious and modern lines of the interior and its furnishings. Joey is my server. It’s a bit early in the day for me for a boozy cocktail, so I choose one of Sedona’s “Spirit Free” options, the Grapefruit Refresher, at Joey’s recommendation. It’s a combination of grapefruit juice, lime juice, blood orange, and soda, served over ice. The blood orange is muddled in the bottom, tapering up to the clear top layer, with a wedge of pink grapefruit on the rim. It’s delicious and refreshing, as the name suggests, and not too sweet, served with a lime green paper straw for a touch of whimsy. Sedona has an expansive menu, one that Joey navigates deftly, telling me about features and options, asking me questions, and making suggestions.

“Servers go through an intensive training process, including hours of paid online training about the various menu items. It’s one of the things that sets our servers apart,” Steve explains. “They are knowledgeable about what goes into each dish and how it can be customized before they ever hit the floor.” I start off with an assortment of sliders, which appear on the main menu and as a happy hour special. Spencer, the managing chef today, brings out four sliders for me. His favorite is the Kobe beef, which features Wagyu beef, Vermont cheddar, house-made sauce, and caramelized onions. “When it’s busy, there’s never time to eat a whole burger,” he says. “You eat a couple of beef sliders at the beginning of the shift and you’re good to go.” The burger patty is tiny and adorable (and really, isn’t that part of the appeal of sliders?), as well as juicy and tender, with a wonderful smoke flavor. The pulled pork slider has a bit of house-made barbecue sauce tossed in with the meat that adds a delicious smokiness, and is topped with coleslaw, also made in house with jicama for a unique crunch and sweetness. Little details, such as the addition of the versatile tuber, set Sedona’s food apart—





jicama also lends its appeal as a counterpoint to the heat in the Desert Fire Jalapenos. Spoiler alert: I love crabcakes, so my favorite of the bunch is the…crab cake. All meat with no filler, it has a bold crab flavor with minimal other flavors to detract from it. The last slider is grilled salmon, tender and delicious for anyone who loves salmon.

“Servers go through an intensive training process, including hours of paid online training about the various menu items....They are knowledgeable about what goes into each dish and how it can be customized before they ever hit the floor.” When I was on my way to the Taphouse, I ran into my friend Jim, who raved about their Canyon Nachos, so I had to try them too. They arrive topped with a dollop of fresh guacamole, one of my all-time favorite food items. Made fresh daily, there is a little lime juice and a little jalapeno for a mild kick. The cheese is a fresh queso sauce with cheddar sprinkled over the top. The same pulled pork used in the sliders also sits atop the nachos. Before moving on from appetizers, Steve says, I’ve got to try the truffle fries, thin and crispy and drizzled in truffle oil right out of the fryer, then topped with fresh parsley and shredded parmesan. They are served with ketchup (solid choice for the classicists) and truffle aioli, which has a hint of lemon and really pops with the fries. For my entrée, it’s a tough choice. I almost get the butterfly shrimp stuffed with crab, because that slider was so good, and because Joey tells me it is his favorite, as well as his grandfather’s, who raved about it to family members after a visit last week. But ultimately, I choose the Chuckawalla Chicken because it just seems a bit unexpected. A generous portion (8 ounces) of chicken breast arrives topped with medallions of goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and a citrus garlic sauce, sprinkled with thin ribbons of fresh basil. A mound of creamy garlic whipped potatoes and grilled asparagus accompany it. The interplay between the tangy citrus and the earthy sundried tomatoes gives this dish a tinge of tropical adventure to fend off cold winter nights. If there is ever anything involving lemon on a dessert menu, I am always going to choose that. Otherwise, I love to be surprised. The choices this evening are homemade brownies (two versions!), an apple tart, or key lime pie as a special. Steve brings me the apple tart, which started its life as a special but was so popular it became part of the regular menu. It is delicate and pretty: A tiny apple blossom, edges folded up like flower petals around a center of luscious, warm apple filling, accompanied by a generous mountain of vanilla bean ice cream. Its mix of warmth and coolness make for the perfect end to a great meal, and the perfect nightcap on a cold January evening. photos ERIK WEBER @westchesterviews story JESSE PIERSOL @JESSEPIERSOL





Dîner à Deux date night in west chester

Four Dog’s duck tarrine, served with a crusty baguette, olives, gerkins and mustard.




ate night in West Chester has evolved over the years for me and my husband. As newly married borough dwellers we would walk up to Limoncello after work, sit at the high tops at the bar, and enjoy our “West Chester Pours” while fighting over the focaccia in the breadbasket. The only inhibitor to dates was how much money we budgeted into them. When the first baby wouldn’t take the bottle (followed by a second and third who also agreed the rubber tip would not suffice), dates became tricky things that often involved hiding car seats under tables, rocking them with our feet, and praying the pacifier wouldn’t drop. Now with willing babysitters and relaxed bedtimes, dates have become fun again—but alas, some of our old haunts are no longer around. So often we’re frozen in indecision and end up at the same place, at times with a touch of regret and a feeling of missing out. I’m hoping this exploration of date night options will help you as much as it helped me. We are lucky to have ourselves a town full of “industry people,” and the bar is continually being raised. When a place becomes staid, they’re soon overlooked. The three restaurants highlighted below each have a passion for fresh; not just to keep up, but rather because the chefs and owners are folks who followed a calling and now revel in being in the right place at the right time. And we’re happy to partake.

Four Dogs Tavern and Marshalton Inn LOCATION: Outside the borough, parking galore BEST FOR: History buffs, special occasion dates, foodies, and dog lovers. WHAT TO ORDER: Sharing? Grilled octopus, charcuterie and artisanal cheese plate, duck terrine and lemon meringue pie. Married 5+ years? Pomme Frites & Garlic aioli, chicken BLT on pita, Shrimp Lejon. A visit to Marshalton Inn and Four Dogs Tavern is more than a date, it’s an experience. Driving onto the grounds you’ll see several historic buildings in pristine condition, various outdoor seating locations and fields stretching out in the distance, 46

with corn in summer and sunflowers in the fall. Chef and owner David Cox’s menu is “American Brasserie with French Fundamentals,” which, considering his extensive experience in haute cuisine kitchens from Manhattan to San Francisco, makes perfect sense. David started cooking when he was 15 and hasn’t stopped; lucky for us his quest to be the one in charge brought him home to West Chester when he and his wife decided to buy a home in quiet, historical Marshalton. The restaurant and Inn nearby became available and the last 15 years David, along with Wendy (also the pastry chef) have poured their hearts and souls into making this restaurant a place where diners will feel warmly welcomed and eat consistently excellent food.

With this menu, one weekend wouldn’t be nearly enough. The perfect meal to share would start with the charred octopus with paprika, chorizo, balsamic, and lemon that’s served impressively as one, long, tender tentacle, along with the charcuterie and artisanal cheese plate for some divine mixing and matching— try not to fight over the mouthwatering grilled bread. For the French foodies, the duck terrine is a must try, and it even changed my mind on pâté. Though all the desserts are created with sharing in mind, the mile-high lemon meringue ice cream pie will have you momentarily curbing conversation so you can get more bites in than your date.

Though they share the same menu, as far as I’m concerned there are two different dates available at this location. For period post-colonial architecture (circa 1815), linen tablecloths, more privacy, and an elegant, polished atmosphere, Marshalton Inn is the place to make your reservation. Four Dogs only takes reservations for parties of eight or more, but for a date, that’s where the fun begins. Originally the stables, Four Dogs is all dark wood and stone, with cozier seating, blazing fireplaces, and a fun, casual air. You may wait for your table, but they’ll serve you a cocktail anywhere on the grounds; perhaps even a stroll through town (hand in hand) as the nearby shops stay open late. In the summer months you can feel free to bring your dog, and with three AirBnBs now on the property, it’s the ideal place for a mini staycation.

Charred octopus with paprika, chorizo, balsamic, and lemon that’s served impressively as one, long, tender tentacle


And what meal would be complete without a seasonal cocktail? David is strict with his use of seasonal produce and makes all his syrups in house. The Winter White Cosmo is the hit of the season, with Stateside Vodka, St. Germaine, white cranberry, and lime. I plan to return on a Sunday when Chef offers “Buck-a-Shuck” oysters by the dozen and I’ll get to check out some live music (as well as Thursdays nights from 6-9, set up outside for most of the year). No matter when you go, the destination that is Marshalton Inn and Four Dogs is sure to delight.


Slow Hand LOCATION: Church Street BEST FOR: First dates, comfort foodies, DINKs and other young-at-heart folks who enjoy dynamic cocktails. WHAT TO ORDER: Foie Gras and Chicken Nuggets, Smoked Short Rib and Goat Cheese Crème Brulée. So, you graduated from college, are finally earning an income (whether you’re still living with your parents or not—no judgment) and are looking to go out in town. It’s a new relationship and he or she has been thoroughly vetted on social media, but what will they be like in person? You’ll need background music, loud enough that if conversation lapses it’s not awkward. With its exposed brick, vintage light fixtures and high ceilings, Slow Hand will feel like a throwback, but the gleaming stainless bar and bright white subway tile keep it fresh. You’ll need a menu of seemingly familiar foods but with a twist (Foie in chicken nuggets? Intriguing). You’ll

need generously measured cocktails that, according to the general manager, change flavors as you drink (great conversation point). You’ll want to order some small plates, some starters, maybe even avoiding an entree altogether because overly full stomachs lend themselves towards TV binging and not…anything else. If the date is going well and the cocktails are doing their thing, you may want to text friends to meet you—which makes sense, since by 9pm on Friday and Saturday the live music has started, and the restaurant is a vibrant, splashy bar scene. What you won’t find is a college crowd, because although there are 24 tap lines, dollar drafts are not a thing. Perhaps the relationship is in full bloom, and a sitter is needed. You’re sub-forty or still acting like you are. You want a scene, people watching, but know there are booths so you can still hear your conversation. On Thursday the live music starts earlier and is of the smooth jazz variety. You no longer consider sharing your plate to be romantic and maybe even have a clear “I don’t share food” policy like my husband does. There are no TVs on the wall behind the bar, which is purposeful to encourage

No matter what kind of date brings you to Slow Hand, I beg you to order the goat cheese crème brûlée—and not to share; you each need one. After breaking the crisp surface with your spoon (because it’s fun) you’ll encounter the smoothest filling that is as much cheesecake as it is custard. conversation, but watching the bartenders work will be entertaining enough. You can divvy up some small plates but then order the smoked short rib because you’ll want to bathe in the sweet potato puree and make sure every bite of the tender, flavorful smoked meat is dragged through the spiced yogurt. Encourage your date to order the Rye Dumplings because, being vegan, it will offset the short rib environmentally (and because it’s absolutely delicious). If the sitter is older than 16, please order the Sleepless in Suburbia, which is an espresso martini that uses espresso from Dia Dolce (who has, incidentally, created a cupcake of the same name). No matter what kind of date brings you to Slow Hand, I beg you to order the goat cheese crème brûlée—and not to share,





you each need one. After breaking the crisp surface with your spoon (because it’s fun) you’ll encounter the smoothest filling that is as much cheesecake as it is custard. It’s all luscious and sweet but then there’s the unmistakable and totally pleasing tang of goat cheese. You’ll crunch up the streusel and candied walnuts thinking it’s balanced but straightforward and then, right at the end, you’ll taste the black licorice flavor of the fennel that complements it amazingly well. It’s served with a beet meringue that takes you back to the breakfast table as a child, searching for the marshmallows in the Lucky Charms. The menu, as well as the cocktails, “chase the seasons” so no matter how often you come, you’ll always find something new. In short, Slow Hand would be an ideal date for a slightly younger subset, ready to spend on unique cocktails and updated comfort food while enjoying one very, very cool ambiance. When it comes to a date at Mercato remember this: any pair at any age on any budget with any number of children in tow will enjoy the cozy, cool environment as well as the updated Italian menu that is certain to please.

Mercato LOCATION: Market Street BEST FOR: Familiar and updated Italian food, great pizza, happy hour at the bar, every age. WHAT TO ORDER: Meal? Clams Casino, Short Rib Ragu, Sweet potato gnocchi and Chocolate Mousse. Drinks? Winter Pine and Peppermint Mocha Martini. In the five years since Mercato opened their doors they’ve made a name for themselves for one very simple reason: they’re universally pleasing. I mean, haven’t we Americans basically decided Italian cuisine is now ours? At Mercato you’ll find all your old favorites in generous portions, from Chicken Marsala to Fettuccine Alfredo. But you’ll also see a slew of updated options, some healthier (the Mercato Chop salad topped with grilled chicken is a choice I can personally vouch for—a weeknight girl’s night staple for me) and some that are downright tantalizing (the C.A.B burger

Sweet potato gnocchi with zucchini, roasted red pepper, ovalini and crushed walnuts in a Prosecco sage butter sauce to provide the freshest, most complementary produce. If Italian food is something you and your date love, no matter your age or situation, a date at Mercato is ideal. First up, the college student. The welcoming, home-away-from-home atmosphere and dim lighting (think Edison bulbs) creates a romantic environment, and the music trends towards what you’d expect to hear in an Italian restaurant: a lot of Sinatra. College students, notoriously low on cash, can order a Regina Margherita brick oven pizza and a simple Verde salad and show their date a classy time while keeping the damage under $30.00. Just got paid and want to bring home leftovers? You’ll feel right at home with an order of chicken parmigiana or penne vodka, and the two of you can split the chocolate mousse. It’s sweet for sure, but it will suit your palate considering that the concept of a low-sugar diet is still years in your future.





How about the date with kids in tow? Just because sitters aren’t always available doesn’t mean mom and dad can’t enjoy a night out. Mercato is a great option for kids; not only are chicken fingers on the menu (there’s a small but sufficient kids’ section at the bottom), but they have highchairs at the ready and crayons available if you ask. Pizza is your best bet because the kids will like it, but the adults will love it. The wood burning pizza oven was made in Naples and bears the name of the owner (Alfredo Giannaccare). It churns out Neapolitan style pizza with crisp, chewy crusts and a bevy of original toppings. If you can manage a kidless meal but don’t have a lot of time, a weeknight happy hour date at the bar might fit the bill. Order the Winter Pine and suggest your date try the Peppermint Mocha Martini. You can share an order of Clams Casino (two each)—barely any filling, all meat—or

if you’re ravenous, try the short rib ragu, a generous portion of tender short rib drenched in red sauce atop a firm polenta cake that hints of gorgonzola. The wood burning pizza oven was made in Naples and churns out Neapolitan-style pizza with crisp, chewy crusts and a bevy of original toppings. Lastly, the date for the borough dwellers, sophisticated folks who could go anywhere (and are often on foot) but keep coming back to Mercato because consistency matters. You’ve tried it all, alas, but a new menu item was recently added. A sweet potato gnocchi with zucchini, roasted red pepper, ovalini (mini fresh mozzarella) and crushed walnuts in a Prosecco sage butter sauce. It reads like it could be heavy but it’s light, perfectly balanced and totally addicting.

Short rib ragu — tender short rib drenched in red sauce atop a firm polenta cake When it comes to a date at Mercato remember this: any pair at any age on any budget with any number of children in tow will enjoy the cozy, cool environment as well as the updated Italian menu that is certain to please. West Chester is a foodie town, and variety is the spice of life. If something you read intrigued you, my work is done. One thing is for sure—there has been a lot of Netflix and a lot of couch time in the past two years. I’m tired of matching sweatsuits and messy buns. Restaurants are striving to make their spot the place to be—make the date, get the sitter, and go out! photos & story BECCA @homebeccanomics






Behind the Bar with

Kara Johnson

Discussing the details of a life behind bars with one of the borough’s best-known faces. How long have you been with Saloon 151? This is my third year, so I’m kind of newer here. I know the owner because he used to be the General Manager of Barnaby’s, so I’ve known him for 15 years. Are you from the West Chester area? Yes, born and raised. And I’ve been bartending for 20 years in West Chester. Where did you work before Saloon? I opened Barnaby’s—I guess it was 2007. I worked there for almost 10 years. Then I went to Square Bar and was there for five years. I was actually at Saloon and Square together. I quit Square Bar right around COVID, and now I’m just at Saloon. I’ve been around West Chester a long time! So what’s the clientele like here? It’s varied. We’ve got a great Happy Hour crowd, and then there are people coming just to try our new and different whiskeys and Old Fashioneds and stuff like that.

And we have the college crowd later, so it’s great. We kind of get everybody. Tell me a little about the whiskeys. We’re a whiskey bar—that’s what we’re known for—which I honestly knew nothing about before I started, and I was bartending forever! Learning all about the whiskeys was an experience. I’m still learning, honestly. We have a very expansive list of bourbons, whiskeys, and Scotches. It’s crazy. We even have one that goes for $200 a shot. Of the whiskeys—are there certain bestsellers? Yes. There’s Blanton’s Bourbon, which is impossible to get in a liquor store right now. We also have our own saloon barrels, so we have Saloon 151’s Buffalo Trace and Saloon 151’s Knob Creek. Our customers know their stuff. They come to try new things, and we have options you just can’t get at other places. Can people do whiskey flights to sample different selections? Absolutely. We also do whiskey tasting events. How does that work? We have an event space — to the right of the main bar is a smaller room. It holds about 40 people. That’s where I love to work —I work there every Saturday night — because it’s my own bar, basically. We call it the half bar. A lot of people don’t even know

it’s there. They’ll walk back looking for a bathroom and they’re like, ‘Wait, this is a bar?’ It’s more like an intimate room. Anyway, we do private parties there. You can call and schedule a whiskey tasting in there, which I think a lot of people don’t know about. I love working back there because I’m by myself and it’s just a more intimate setting. It’s not as busy as the other bar, so people can sit there and talk to me. I talk to people way more back there. You get more regulars that way, talking to everyone. You mentioned making a lot of Old Fashioneds. Is that your favorite? I do make a ton of Old Fashioneds, but it’s not my favorite drink. We do have our Saloon Old Fashioneds, which are made with our Saloon Knob Creek, and we put a rock candy stirrer in there and people seem to really like it. That’s newer. But what I really like right now, on our seasonal menu, is the Salted Caramel Cold Brew Martini. Oh, that sounds delicious. What’s in it? It’s Caramel vodka, Kahlua, Rumchata, and cold brew with a sea salt caramel rim. It’s really good! photo ERIK WEBER @westchesterviews interview DANIELLE @danielledavieswrites




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