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best of the burbs?

my wife and i have lived in center city for a few years and are eager to try to the dining scene in the suburbs. what two or three restaurants get your vote for the best places for dinner outside of downtown philadelphia? what about brunch?

we're hoping to combine this with spending a casual day outdoors, so bonus points awarded if any of these places are within shooting distance of a park or a garden.

i don't know all of the names of the different areas, which has made searching difficult, and i tried searching for "suburbs" which didn't turn up anything terribly useful.

thanks!

edit: per suggestion, i'm re-categorizing suburbs by region. what are you favorites in any or all of the following:

- south (towards kennett square/delaware)
- western (KOP out to phoenixville)
- main line
- northern (bucks county)
- south jersey (collingswood, cherry hill etc)

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  1. Cookie that is a great topic. I might suggest that you could break it up into:

    South (towards Kennett Square/Delaware)

    Western (KOP out to Phoenixville)

    Main Line

    Northern (Bucks County)

    and South Jersey (Collingswood Cherry Hill etc).

    I would begin with saying one of the destination sushi restaurants outside of the city has to be Matt Ito's Fuji in Haddonfield. Does not meet your criteria in terms of having a bucolic place close by.. but truly is a great eating experience, on par with or better than Morimoto in Center City.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cwdonald

      power rankings by region - great suggestion! i'll edit my post.

    2. This may be to obvious but the Restaurant at Longwood Gardens servers interesting food, good drinks with good service in a lovely venue which can be explored on either side of dining. Reservations should be made.

      1. In the Kennett Square area -- I'll cast a second vote for 1906 in Longwood Gardens. Also, less than 2 miles west of Longwood, Sovana Bistro http://www.sovanabistro.com is one of my local favorites. A bonus -- they have a nice, 3-season outdoor patio. I'd call for reservations regardless of the day of the week. Then, just a short, beautiful drive further west, amid the rolling hills of Chester County's "horsey country," is Foxfire at the Stone Barn. http://thestonebarn.com/foxfire.htm Their dinners are creative and delicious and they do a really wonderful Sunday brunch -- great food, lots of ambiance and very reasonable prices. Both restaurants place heavy emphasis on locally sourced, farm-to-table ingredients. In fact, Foxfire's vegetable and herb gardens are right outside the entrance to the kitchen. Sovana Bistro has a liquor license but permits BYO with an $8/bottle corkage fee; Foxfire has no liquor license and charges no corkage fees for BYO.

        Here's one more recommendation -- and this gem is one of my most recent local discoveries -- stop into Talula's Table (no, THAT'S not the new discovery) in Kennett Square for gourmet goodies to go -- a cheese platter with accompaniments, or salads, sandwiches, or any of the freshly-made gourmet creations in the counter at the back of the store. Then drive a short distance to the Galer Estate, http://www.galerestate.com a winery situated just in back of Longwood Gardens (not IN the gardens, though). Grab a table on the outdoor deck overlooking the vineyards, buy a bottle of their wine to enjoy with your food, and ahhhh... life is good! (And, if you hit it just right, there might even be live music.)

        6 Replies
        1. re: CindyJ

          OMG, Cindy..you have done it again and knocked my sox offs!......I never knew about Galerestate, even though i travel that way several times a month.....definitely worth a try. TY!

          1. re: FriedClamFanatic

            I drive past the Galer Estate regularly on my way to/from Kennett, but hadn't really paid much attention to it. From time to time I'd notice an "OPEN" banner hanging at the entrance to their driveway and still didn't think twice about it. The property was formerly the Folly Hill Vineyards, and after having tried a sample of Folly Hill's wines several years ago, felt no need to return. But one day I happened to notice umbrella-covered tables on the deck, and LOTS of cars in their parking lot, so I went home and Googled them. First off, I was impressed by the content of their website. I was curious about whether they served food with their wine, so I sent an email inquiry. Almost immediately I heard back from someone named Mary Beth, who told me that they do serve bread and cheese (the bread, by the way, comes from the Bakers at Red Lion, which is just across Doe Run Road, adjacent to the winery -- another unique local find http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rc... ), and said that visitors are welcome to bring their own food. She also mentioned that there'd be live music from 6:00 until 9:00 that coming Saturday. So my husband and I went over that Saturday and I have to say, we felt as though we'd been transported to some lovely vacation spot in wine country. The deck -- not all that large -- had several large groups of folks who had all brought coolers of food along, and a few tables of 2 and 4. There was a jazz duet playing, the night was cool but comfortable, and it was SO enjoyable.

            Galer Estate doesn't advertise -- they're not affiliated with the "Brandywine Wine Trail" and I don't know how people found out about the place. I do know that they provided all or some of the wine for Longwood's recent wine and jazz festival, so maybe the word was spread there.

            Let me know if you'd like to head there some Friday or Saturday -- we can share tips about other local treasures.

            1. re: CindyJ

              Well written, comprehensive reviews from an area you obviously know well. Thanks very much. Lots of places new to me to experience.

              1. re: Bacchus101

                Thanks! It's been my neighborhood for 35+ years, and it just keeps getting better and better.

              2. re: CindyJ

                in a word....................WOW! We have friends that live right near there (possibly next door!)...their son went to High School withour daughter.....and I being the simpleton that I am, never realized it was there!....We will definitely check it out.........Thank you for the lovely write-up.

                1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                  Don't be so hard on yourself. Although they've owned the property for a few years, the deck was only opened a few months ago.

          2. Here is my vote for the best of the best in the Ambler/Blue Bell area, I guess that would be "western burbs". There are a lot of good places in the area, but I would consider these the best.

            Mina Cucina in Springhouse has the best homemade italian food, hands down. Homemade pastas, highest quality ingredients. It's in a tiny shopping center in Springhouse and very unassuming looking, but food on par or better than any of the Italian spots in the city.

            Cantina Feliz in Fort Washington is best Mexican food, great atmosphere, great service. The menu is inventive and always evolving and it is a really fun scene.

            I am going to add this to the list based on word of mouth alone (I have not personally been there yet but can't wait to try it), Forest and Main Brewpub in Ambler. I heard thy have great beers, good burgers, and bar food. Also the atmosphere is unique in a restored Victorian home.

            Arpeggio has the best wood fired pizza, perfect for take out or a casual dinner.
            Bridget's in Ambler has a great atmosphere, huge bar, a thoughtful wine list and great steaks.

            If you are looking for good casual/take out for a picnic try Bounnissimo in Blue Bell. They have great homemade breads, pastas, salads, sweets. Very reasonable price an family owned. A favorite is their porchetta sandwich with grilled eggplant. Also head to Toto's in Ambler for te absolute best gelato around (plus cappuccino, biscotti, sandwiches, etc.)

            8 Replies
            1. re: AmblerGirl

              AG, Do you mean Radicce or is there a new place called Toto's? I just hope the gelato is better than reviews on the arrogant, negligent service. Unless out for frozen desserts, coookie, I wouldn't bother with Radicce.

              For a true French bistro experience, how about the Spring Mill Cafe in Conshy? I rarely see this little gem mentioned here.
              CP

              1. re: Chefpaulo

                Toto's is in Ambler, right on Main Street. It's a little cafe and gelato shop, with the absolute best gelato around. I have not tried Radice, honestly I have not heard good things so I have avoided it.

                I second the Spring Mill Cafe, their baked goods and desserts are amazing. Their daffodils cake may be one of the top ten things I have ever eaten!

                1. re: Chefpaulo

                  Arrogant service at Radice is exactly right. It seemed that if you weren't a friend of the owner or someone who was there two or three times a week, you weren't worth the effort of decent service.

                  1. re: Jdbc

                    On our two visits to Radice it was the poster child for how NOT to treat customers. Poor service, way too much attitude and pricy, mediocre food. I see more gray areas in the restaurants AG's votes as " Bests". Recent visits to Mina and F&M have been a disappointment in some areas of the experience.

                      1. re: AmblerGirl

                        AG, never said you did. Note re. Jdbc. The second sentence, AG's votes, was regarding your comments not the first. New paragraph rather than new sentence would have been better. Sorry for the confusion.

                    1. re: Jdbc

                      Avoid Radice. Bad service, mediocre food and often don't your order correct.

                      1. re: Jdbc

                        We went early on and the way the owner treated us made us vow never to return.

                  2. Blackfish in Conshohocken is a fabulous BOYB with amazing food.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: crazyspice

                      The other BYOs that should be added is Gilmore's in West Chester. French style food in an elegant atmosphere.

                      Majolica in Phoenixville deserves mention. Even though the menu is more casual than when it first opened it is worth the visit. The chef's tasting is worth it there.

                      1. re: cwdonald

                        Ditto Gilmore's. I think Majolica is closed.

                        1. re: JanR

                          Well Opentable has them open... are they closed for vacation? Or are you remembering when they closed and reopened?

                          1. re: cwdonald

                            No, I've been there since they've reopened. Sorry, my mistake. I thought I'd read they had closed again. Glad you caught that. It's a good place.

                          2. re: JanR

                            As the sous chef of Majolica... i assure you we are opened for business :)

                      2. Styer's Garden Cafe at Terrain in Glen Mills. Beautiful setting in a greenhouse. Very good food and excellent service. BYOB. Charming atmosphere which includes outbuildings, gardens and a Martha Stewartish store. Just went for the first time last week and really liked it. Full review at legoutfriand (add dot com).

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: JanR

                          Inn at Saint Peters Village serves a nice mediteranean menu, light pizzas and apps to very nice pastas and chicken and veal dishes. And it is gorgeous area out there by Pottstown.

                          I am a fan of the Whip Tavern near Coatesville, english pub food in the countryside. People do actually ride their horses to the tavern.

                          1. re: cwdonald

                            + 1 on the Whip Tavern, shhh too busy already! The light menu at St. Peters is fine and the venue by the babbling stream is quite special indeed.

                            1. re: cwdonald

                              I love the ambiance of the Whip. And they make one of the best burgers in the area.

                              1. re: CindyJ

                                As one who lived in the UK for 5 years, the Whip has all the ambiance of a Good British Pub.....and much better cuisine!

                          2. LOVE LOVE Blackfish. Never had anything less than outstanding there. Service & food, it's the complete package. Save room for dessert, even if it means opting out of the appetizers, so worth it. Parking is less than fun, but you'll have this in Conshohocken. Also with crappy parking but amazing food and service is Marly's in Phoenixville, they have the best outdoor seating behind the restaurant. I love this place during the week, it's bustling, but not crowded. Obviously the fish at Blackfish is perfection, and the "Cheesesteak" (filet) at Marly's, is ridiculous, also try their shrimp & grits. Both are byo's, and there are 2 local wineries with stores down the street from Marly's.
                            If you are willing to go a little further than Phoenixville to Royersford and you like spicy, try French Quarter Bistro on Main st. Also in Royersford is the BEST breakfast place in America., Annamarie's. Their pancakes are bigger than the plate and their specials are crazy.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: winemedineme

                              Ok so we haven't talked North - bucks county yet. I can put forth three of my favorites in Doylestown- Honey (small plates new american cuisine) which is a small restaurant with a great cocktail program, locally sourced food, and real creative flavor combinations. IMNSHO best restaurant in Bucks County.

                              Slate Bleu - in the Doylestown Agworks, its a french style bistro. I love the setting and the simple french food. They also do a great brunch. If you are going to head up to Doylestown to see the Tileworks, or the Michner Museum (the Uffizzi exhibit is not to be missed.. ) these are both dining destinations.

                              Il Melograno - Great italian food. Simple ambience in a strip mall but the food is standout. BYO during the week. They serve lunch as well.

                              Honorable mentions in Doylestown include M.O.M's which is doing creole inspired food and has a great craft beer list, and Domani Star which is a BYO Italian restaurant in Doylestown. Domani Star is doing a nice brunch on both Saturday and Sundays.

                              Just down 611 you do have Villa Barrollo. Former chef from Marco Polo in Elkins Park. Best dishes there are the whole filets of fish which are carved tableside.

                              Would love to hear folks suggestions for lower Bucks, Newtown/Yardley, New Hope/Lambertville.

                              1. re: cwdonald

                                In Lambertville there is El Tulé. It is a BYOB and I strongly suggest bringing an extra bottle of wine because the service is SLOOOWWW if you order from the Peruvian menu (which you should, not the Mexican menu). Their ceviches are excellent. All the Peruvian apps and entrees are awesome. I love the cold potato cakes and the snapper in yellow pepper and vinegar sauce. They are very nice there but like I said it can be very slow, I think they have some control-freak issues with the Peruvian chef. I hope they figure it out soon because i want them to continue to be successful. They do take reservations.

                                In New Hope, Sprig & Vine is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant opened but a chef formerly at Horizons. It's excellent, maybe not a destination restaurant but if you find yourself in New Hope, worth checking out. Most of the restaurants down on the main drag of New Hope aren't that great and are overpriced.

                                In Yardley (right on the river) is Charcoal BYOB -- this place is a breakfast/lunch diner-type restaurant during the day, but turns into a very inventive dinner venue at night. Two young brothers are the chefs here. The menu changes often but the octopus dishes are always excellent.

                                For dessert, Owowcow is an awesome local ice cream shop in Wrightstown. And now there is a place in New Hope called Nina's Waffles and Cream that is also carrying their ice cream. They use local ingredients and have unique flavors such as Sweet Potato Wasabi, Honey Lavender, Rosewater Cardamom, and three different kinds of vanilla.

                                In Yardley, there is Yardley Ice House for unique flavors of water ice and cream ices that knock the socks off Rita's any day.

                                These are all good suggestions if you plan on spending the day in the New Hope/Lambertville area. Lambertville is a very pleasant place to walk around with better shops than New Hope.

                              2. re: winemedineme

                                Huh? Parking at Blackfish is super easy! Don't waste your time trying to park in that cramped upper level of the city lot where everyone tries to park. Just park on the street within 2 blocks. I've been to Blackfish a couple of dozen times in the past 2 years (I think it is easily the best restaurant outside the city, and one of the best anywhere), and I have rarely spent more than 1 minute searching for a parking space (my reservations are usually between 6-7:30PM, any day of the week).

                              3. The only places mentioned so far that I'd agree are worth traveling outside the city to go to are Fuji and Talula's.

                                Blackfish, Bridget's, Cantina Feliz, Honey, Toto's, Radice, Majolica, Spring Mill Cafe, Gilmore's, and Terrain at Styer's all have better (usually much better) analogues in the city. Cantina Feliz and Majolica are the best of those places but Tim Spinner's newer place, La Calaca Feliz, is better than Cantina Feliz, and I had an otherwise very good meal with one really bad dish at Majolica. I haven't been to the rest of the places mentioned so far.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Buckethead

                                  Buckethead- when did you last dine at Majolica. Its been quite some time for me. Were you there after they closed and re-opened?

                                  1. re: Buckethead

                                    I went to Gilmore's once several years ago & have no interest in going back, despite it having a good reputation in West Chester. I ordered lobster, the most expensive thing on the menu, after asking the server if it was a good-sized portion. She assured me it was; however, it was TINY, served on a huge bed of unexceptional rice. I really felt ripped off.

                                    1. re: thymeoz

                                      As much as I hate to say it, Gilmore's has dropped off my "must-visit" list these days. My last two visits there were truly disappointing -- certainly not up to the bar they'd set so high several years ago. Maybe that's why they've been offering mid-week incentives.

                                      1. re: thymeoz

                                        Yes, Gilmore's has changed a bit (and I miss Richard and Stephanie). We had one disappointing dinner there a couple years back when we had the late sitting on a Saturday night and were not seated until 9pm. We have been back several times since and had good experiences. It may not be exactly as it was in the old days when we started going but it still very nice, with great food and atmosphere. It is unusual to find a byob like this (with no corkage fee to boot). We were there last night and had a wonderful experience. The special lobster tempura second course was incredibly good. I wouldn't write off Gilmore's.

                                    2. In Strafford/Wayne is George's (of Pierre fame). In downtown Wayne, Theresa's next door is a fine choice for Belgian food and beer. An interesting sidebar trip would be to Chanticleer, a great house and garden about 2-3 miles down Conestoga Rd.

                                      1. Concerning eastern Montgomery county, I think that there are two places that are as good as anything in the city. Both of the following are excellent in their categories:

                                        Toto’s Gelato in Ambler (not in any way associated with Toto the owner of Radice) makes excellent gelato as good as Capogiro or any other gelateria in the city.

                                        Alice’s Bakery in North Wales has as good a baguette and croissant as any bakery in the city (either Philadelphia or Paris).

                                        It is not worth driving an hour for an ice cream cone or loaf of bread but if you are in the area both of the above are killer!!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Unkle Al

                                          Yes, Alice's has great baguettes. They alone are worth a visit. But as far as "as good as any in either Philadelphia or PARIS: seem a bit over-the-top IMHO.