Location: 214 Sugartown Road, Wayne; (610) 964-3552, ellasamericanbistro.com.
Cuisine: Seasonal, classic American fare with Southern and French influences.
Cost: Appetizers $6-$15, entrées $13-$28.
Attire: Upscale casual.
Atmosphere: Charming and warm, with a homey elegance.
Hours: Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday 5-9 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 5-10 p.m. Brunch: Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Extras: Private dining room, off-site catering and staff available for in-home events.
With Ella’s American Bistro, Devon Hill BMW’s Cortright Wetherill Jr. can now add “restaurateur” to his business cards. He’s even named the casually sophisticated eatery after his mother, Ella Anne Widener Wetherill, a local gal who loved to entertain. Her unmatched elegance and grace was a source of inspiration throughout the Wayne restaurant.
From the sophisticated yet comfortable environs to the equestrian memorabilia on the walls, Ella’s successfully marries the classic and the contemporary. An eye-catching sycamore bartop designed and constructed by a Lancaster woodworker contrasts the modern, Kelly green chairs in the bar area. In the dining room, the mix of white tablecloths, floor-to-ceiling windows and old and new seating options is elegant, though hardly stuffy.
Like the carefully considered architecture and décor, the food follows suit in a thoughtful manner. Most recently, executive chef Matt Schuler was an instructor at the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts in Lancaster and Viking Cooking School in Bryn Mawr. For Ella’s he’s created a seasonal menu he describes as classic American bistro fare with Southern and French influences. Schuler supports local farmers, choosing organic, sustainable products whenever he can. You might even find him in the kitchen making his own sausage or charcuterie, or canning pear butter and jams for future use. “We’re just trying to find the best things possible to make the dishes we love—no cutting corners,” says Schuler. “Knowing that the chickens and eggs came from a certain farmer whose hand you shook is well worth it.”
The cheeses on his artisanal cheese board come mostly from Chester County farms, and the selection changes on a whim depending on availability. The night we were there, a buttery Birchrun blue and an incredibly creamy chèvre—both from West Chester’s Shellbark Hollow Farm—were paired impeccably with a not-too-sweet, homemade pomegranate jam flecked with curls of orange zest. (A description of the cheeses presented would’ve been nice.)
Our caramelized-onion-and-apple pizza with rosemary and cheddar begged for some crispness, but it was earthy and satisfying, nonetheless. The tart apples were the perfect complement to the sweet, slow-cooked onions.
Bistro fare is typically characterized by dishes that are homey and simply prepared. Fittingly, Ella’s menu is big on no-fuss, soul-satisfying comfort food like buttermilk-fried chicken, lobster mac-and-cheese, and a bone-in pork chop. The specials are the way to go if you’re looking for something a little more, well, special—like homemade ramen with pork shank, chicken, green onions and cilantro, or buffalo osso bucco with barley and cranberries.
As for our entrées, the herb-roasted filet of salmon was a bit dry. On the plus side, a nice pan sear gave the hearty portion a caramelly crust before it was finished in the oven. A delightfully unexpected tatin accompaniment layered with sliced russet potatoes and a decadent blend of butter, Birchrun blue cheese and cream. And while a tangy sauce made of yogurt, cucumber and dill provided a cool splash, it seemed a somewhat odd pairing with the tatin.
Made with grass-fed beef from Lancaster’s Ironstone Spring Farm, the sirloin burger was juicy, flavorful, and stacked with hickory-smoked bacon, farmhouse cheddar and all the fixings. The pretzel roll was a unique touch, but a bit too doughy for meat that good.
For dessert lovers, several pastry chefs and assistants provide a steady rotation of about five made-from-scratch desserts—plus two or three specials. Favorites include the carrot cake, peanut butter pie, and a brownie-and-ice-cream-loaded chocolate indulgence.
THE SKINNY: Casual and familiar enough for parents with young kids, and upscale enough for date night, Ella’s balances bistro comfort and classic refinement with a menu that’s small and uncomplicated. Those looking for something even easier can skip the dining room altogether and head to the lively bar for an order of Palm Beach pickle fries or sweet potato chips with blue cheese dipping sauce.