Chanterelle mushrooms//All photos by Steve Legato.
He was the executive chef at the acclaimed Golden Inn. She was a successful realtor. And in 2010, when Sandra Morris walked into that Avalon, N.J., resort, where countless weddings have taken place, fate quickly brought this couple together, as well. Not long after that, their shared vision was born.
“We would sit on the beach, dreaming of having an intimate BYOB of our own,” Brett Hulbert recalls of those initial seaside moments with Morris. “A restaurant that would be like dining in someone’s home.”
A year later, they found it in the heart of Kennett Square—a cozy, 60-seat, parlor-like abode they’ve decorated with an eclectic assortment of paintings and several mushroom-related prints and tiles. Here, the open kitchen is a bustling hub.
From Left: A Portabello’s heirloom tomato salad with Meyer lemon olive oil atop a focaccia; Portabello’s offers quaint outdoor dining along Kennett Square’s State Street
Portabello’s has kept a somewhat low profile outside the borough, so I arrived possessing few preconceived notions. In fact, if I hadn’t checked the website’s menu beforehand, I might have otherwise assumed it was an Italian restaurant. “We call it ‘New American with international overtones,’” Hulbert says of his mushroom-centric eatery.
With classic dishes like mustard-crusted salmon, chicken Parmesan, steak au poivre and beef stroganoff, the menu reads like an index to a James Beard cookbook from the 1960s. Hearty starters include a savory mushroom crêpe, gingery Canton duck wings, and meaty portobello fries jacketed in herbed panko bread crumbs. Among the entrées highlights: pounded veal in a deep Madeira sauce, and organic Coleman Natural Foods chicken with tarragon and lemon-scented oyster mushrooms.
Seared ahi tuna with hot-and-sour oyster mushrooms
As for me, I couldn’t resist ordering the stroganoff. Hulbert uses slow-cooked short rib that’s so impossibly tender it’s almost spreadable, along with plump cremini mushrooms, black truffles, frizzled shallots and a requisite dollop of sour cream. A most gratifying dish.
My flourless chocolate torte—a perfect final bite—was deliciously dense. We also split a dish of cappuccino-crunch ice cream from local favorite Woodside Farm Creamery while discussing our return. Next time, it’ll be for lunch, with its creative assortment of soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps and a notable house-ground burger on a brioche roll.
Peking duck breast with forbidden rice, topped with a Montmorency-cherry-and-Cointreau reduction.
THE SKINNY: With its classic dishes and homey setting, Portabello’s takes a refreshingly old-school approach to cookery. Be prepared for filling dinner fare, much of it complemented by chef Hulbert’s finesse with sauces.
Chef Brett Hulbert prepares a seared ahi tuna entrée
115 W. State St., Kennett Square, (610) 925-4984.
Cuisine: American and international, circa 1960.
Cost: Appetizers $6-$14, entrées $19-$36.
Attire: Nice casual.
Atmosphere: An intimate storefront setting.
Hours: Lunch: Wednesday-Sunday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m., Sunday 4-9 p.m. Extras: BYOB; seasonal sidewalk seating.