When it comes to stories of survival in the restaurant industry, none can quite match the devastation and rebirth of Nick Farrell’s Sovana Bistro, one of southern Chester County’s most beloved dining establishments. On a frigid January morning in 2020, Farrell was awakened by a phone call at 3 a.m. His bistro was in flames. “Actually, half of the strip mall lit up the sky that morning,” he says. “I immediately went to the restaurant, and my heart sank. The place was gutted, and very little was salvageable. Fortunately, there were no injuries.”
Later that day, news of the tragic news traveled “like wildfire” across the area. “I had over 100 text messages and phone calls from people wanting to know how they could help,” says Farrell, adding that many shared stories of birthdays, anniversaries and first dates at the bistro. “I was overwhelmed by the support of this community and other local restaurants coming to our aid.”
Within a few days, Go Fund Me accounts were set up to support Farrell’s staff. “I’m not the face of this restaurant— my staff is,” he says.
A dozen employees began a series of meetings to discuss demolition and plans to rebuild. Farrell was adamant that every voice be heard. Everyone worked as a team, finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Three months later, COVID regulations shut everything down. “The soul of this place was really put to the test,” Farrell says.
Unwilling to sit idle, they switched to Zoom meetings, continuing discussions about the layout and design of the new space. As state regulations eased, Sovana Bistro slowly came back to life, reopening in May of this year. And while the entrance looks similar, the interior has a more open concept, with an aluminum-topped S-shaped bar, brightly colored banquettes and a wooden pub wall. Dining rooms to the left offer views of an open kitchen, which more than doubles the space of the original, with a wood-burning oven for roasting and smoking. The enclosed patio has been converted to a cozy year-round dining experience.
From a menu standpoint, the changes aren’t drastic. The pasta, bread, pizza dough and ice cream are all made on site. “A seasonal menu allows flexibility, and our guests understand and crave the adventure of that,” says Farrell.
On a packed Friday night, a savory amuse-bouche of pureed butternut squash, pumpkin and ginger arrived at every table. Our dishes spotlighted such local purveyors as Barnard’s Orchard, Pete’s Produce and Gadaleto’s Seafood. The tuna tartare (over preserved orange-and-basil aioli) was fresh and creative, and our farro and white bean salad was spiked with a crisp prosciutto. A bowl of pappardelle with wild boar bolognese and Locatelli cheese had just a tinge of heat, and we relished our wood-fired pizza topped with slow-roasted pork. Honestly, the liquid-center butterscotch cake should have its own holiday.
For the cocktail program, the mixologists actually do their own local foraging to create seasonal housemade bitters, infused syrups and such. We recommend the classic barrel-aged Jackalopier, the slightly sweet Old Fashioned and the autumnal Apple Sidecar (with a partial sugar rim). On the wine side, general manager and local sommelier Adam Junkins has been with Sovana Bistro for almost 20 years. “For me, it’s really about the art and beauty of the process, and translating the experience to our guests in a way that makes it approachable,” he says.
That, in a nutshell, speaks to the overall experience at the newly revived Savona Bistro, which continues to be an exceptional dining destination well worth the drive.
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