When people think of fine dining in America, New York and Los Angeles generally come to mind first, perhaps followed by Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans. As far as Greg Vassos is concerned, however, the Main Line region is the up-and-coming place for foodies — and he’s ready to prove it.
Vassos is the new executive chef at Lola’s Garden in Ardmore, and he’s bringing Michelin Star experience and a fresh concept to Suburban Square.
If the name Greg Vassos rings a bell, you might remember him for one of his old Main Line projects in Pottstown called Racine. It was a 30-seat farm-to-table BYOB that shut its doors in 2012. Since then, Vassos has bounced around across a number of eateries and initiatives, including Brick Farm Tavern in Hopewell, NJ, which he ran for three years in the mid-2010s, and Logan Inn in New Hope, PA.
Now, he’s ready to channel his years of experience into the kitchen at Lola’s Garden. Opened in 2021 by Avram Hornik and FCM Hospitality, Lola’s Garden was initially operated by Chef Andrew Wood before Vassos took over in the spring. Vassos brings new ideas to the location, updates the menu and knocks down walls — quite literally.
Regular customers will notice that the back wall has been demolished and moved in ever so slightly to make more space in the kitchen for higher concept dishes.
“We’re going from something that was a bit more casual to something that is much more refined,” Vasso explains.
The changes are immediately evident on the menu, too. Case in point: whereas the old Lola’s Garden served braised beef short rib with green beans, the new Lola’s Garden features an 18-hour-braised short rib in carrot emulsion. The old Lola’s Garden made seared NJ scallops with mushrooms and onion, while Vassos’ Lola’s Garden presents scallops a la plancha with a caramelized cauliflower puree.
Vassos has a clear image of how he wants the restaurant to function, and that means just like the restaurant walls themselves, the staff has some changing to do. They’ve undergone training to keep up with the more refined atmosphere and dishes the restaurant serves.
Central to Vassos’ vision is the farm-to-table concept. Local farms are the inspiration for much of his menu. Naturally the freshest ingredients will taste the best and so, for him, it only makes sense to model dishes around the best ingredients.
“When I’m going to change something because something’s going out of season, the first thing I’m doing is looking at the farms and seeing what they have and what’s the best right now,” Vassos notes.
The key for Vassos is to build the menu and individual items out from that idea. The seasonal menu at Lola’s Garden is a prime example of that concept meeting reality. Few dishes remain on the menu year-round, and that means each day diners can enjoy the best that Main Line region farms have to offer.
Lola’s Garden and these farms have a somewhat symbiotic relationship. For obvious reasons, every restaurant prospers off farms and farms prosper by selling to restaurants, but Vassos takes things a step further.
“Sometimes it’s also looking at what they’re not selling and [asking], ‘Can we help them by taking those ingredients?’” Vassos observes. “[It’s] us being creative with it.”
Creativity is often fostered by limitations, and Vassos seems to thrive on that idea. By limiting himself to local farms and sometimes less popular ingredients, he’s forced to use all his intuition and experience to craft the best dishes.
That wisdom was built through his time working in kitchens all across the globe. Vassos’ journey took him from Barcelona, where he worked with two-star Michelin Chef Sergi Arola at the Ritz Carlton, to Blue in Grand Cayman, where he served as sous chef under Eric Ripert.
View this post on Instagram
While in Spain, Vassos got a chance to visit the El Bulli laboratory, formerly the top world’s top restaurant. At Blue in the Bahamas, Vassos learned what Ripert dubbed “perfect simplicity.” It entailed serving the “perfect product” as fresh as possible from the sea and then keeping that product perfect.
Vassos attempts to keep that idea of simplicity alive at Lola’s by buying the aforementioned farm-fresh ingredients. It may not be quite the same as getting seafood fresh from the ocean, but he’s making the most of the limitations and benefits that come from being on the Main Line.
The way Vassos sees it, he’s “taking [Lola’s Garden] and making it what it should be.”
Summer flash sale ... subscribe and save 50%
Limited time offer. New subscribers only.