Location: 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern.
Contact: (610) 647-8060, thefarmhousebistro.com.
Cost: Appetizers $4-$13, entrées, $9-$23.
Atmosphere: Minimalist, intimate and pretty.
Hours: Wednesday-Thursday 4-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 4-11 p.m., Sunday 4-9:30 p.m.
Extras: Discount for People’s Light subscribers; wedding and events space.
When Places! Bistro at People’s Light & Theatre Company reopened as the Farmhouse Bistro last September, it had everything necessary for a seamless transition to an exciting new place: a beautiful setting, lush gardens with tables lining the terrace, and cuisine that was seasonal and inspired. Three chefs later, the kitchen seems to be struggling with its identity, seemingly unsure of how to juggle its roles as an event space, a casual-yet-classy restaurant and a post-theater martini bar.
A menu that once featured familiar yet interesting fare is now a disjointed mix of French charcuterie, burgers, cheesesteaks and Mexican wraps, plus more expensive classic entrées like crab cakes, shrimp scampi and New York strip steak. Right now, the restaurant caters mostly to locals and the pre- and post-performance crowd, where a quick sandwich is often preferred over an elaborate entrée. But the Farmhouse’s utterly charming environs could make for a desirable destination spot—if only the hiccups in the food and service could be remedied.
The historic farmhouse contains three small dining rooms, each with its own fireplace. Admittedly, the minimalist digs would’ve felt cozier had there been other patrons around, but a server explained that, at 7:30 p.m., the dinner rush was over. Chef Joe Maguire says attracting non-theater diners is a big focus right now.
The restaurant’s wine list offers a decent selection of American and international reds and whites at reasonable price points, though beer drinkers will be less than impressed by the limited bottle and draft choices. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a signature cocktail.
The appetizers and light fare are pretty standard issue, save for the bistro-inspired pâté selections, which Maguire makes from scratch. A heaping plate of field greens dressed in a caramelized-shallot balsamic vinaigrette, the Farmhouse Salad was topped with slightly mushy Burgundy-poached pears that were nicely cinnamon-infused and spicy. Alas, the Gorgonzola—a perfect match for fruit—was rock hard.
The flash-fried calamari were a tad salty, but tasty enough with the tangy lemon-caper aioli. Apps would fare better overall with more seasonal ingredients.
Entrées arrived just minutes after the starters, our server explaining that they could be held. We opted not to wait. Though Maguire contends that a sandwich can be as great as a plated entrée, the ultimate cheesesteak (shaved beef tenderloin with melted Brie and caramelized shallots) didn’t exactly support his theory. The pulled-pork sandwich’s fairly dry hunks of meat didn’t appear to be “pulled” at all.
Better was the organic chicken marsala, sautéed with local mushrooms. Although a bit tough, the meat was flavorful enough, thanks to a rich, velvety demi-glace. The potato gratin was heavy but satisfying, and the sautéed peppers and zucchini were a fresh and snappy accompaniment.
Among the other entrées, a rather ordinary salmon with steamed asparagus, filet with potato gratin, and mushroom penne in a creamy sauce are nothing to get excited about. Apparently, there seems to be some confusion in the kitchen over what
constitutes true bistro fare, and how deliciously simple it can be if executed well.
For dessert, the Farmhouse falls back on favorites like cheesecake and chocolate mousse. Typically sweet and buttery, the Honeycrisp apple tart tatin tasted more like a dry slice of pie, with no gooey caramelization to speak of. And our warm brownie sundae’s massive square of near-flavorless cake was served with vanilla ice cream and candied cashews. Not the best way to end a meal.
THE SKINNY: Playing mostly to the theater crowd, the Farmhouse Bistro can be eerily vacant during the week or after the pre-show rush. It is a beautiful setting for a wedding or private party, and light bites and drinks are a real pleasure when enjoyed on the garden terrace. Given that the space has such potential, here’s hoping the kitchen works out its glitches.