THE SCENE: Under a starry sky on a mild fall evening, the Dilworthtown Inn’s Blue Pear Bistro welcomed us with candlelight and gold-hued walls. Its cozy front porch was dotted with a smattering of two-tops, taking advantage of the perfect al fresco weather. On the other side of the door, the tiny bar was buzzing with a diverse mix of patrons, the chatter and laughter melding with the soft, steady murmur of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Inviting indeed.
Blue Pear’s appealing blend of simple, earthy color schemes pays homage to the building’s 18th-century heritage (with a nod to the Pottery Barn color palette) and is accented with just the right amount of ’30s-inspired Art Deco touches (white cased-glass pendants, slick gold-sparkle wallpaper). Topping it all off: a few modern accoutrements—hand-blown glass lamps dangling over the bar (pictured below), recessed lighting and two appropriately sized flat-panel TVs.
The bar’s cozy-sleek look (pictured below)—accented with crushed gold glass, sharp square edges and a mellow mahogany stain—and up-front placement practically shouts, “Grab a stool!” But on occasion, that might be easier said than done. The convivial atmosphere is persuasive—no doubt dining at the bar is a popular option.
In terms of traffic and decibel level, a table in the back of the room might be best when the house is packed. Speak up, and you might score the four-top in the main dining room, right in front of the retired fireplace and one of the charming, curvaceous windows.
THE FOOD: The short-and-sweet, French-American-with-a-hint-of-the-South menu of chef David Fogelman (pictured above) gets its panache from a variety of lively, locally grown ingredients and a vivid display of contrasts. And what looks good on paper tastes even better. Fogelman’s unfaltering ability to illuminate individual textures and flavors is overshadowed only by what he achieves when combining them. The coquettish dance of flavors brazenly defied our taste buds and kept us guessing the entire meal.
A robust purée of butternut squash and roasted pumpkin intoxicated with its Thanksgiving-like aroma, burnt sienna hue, swirl of crème fraiche, nap of pressed pumpkinseed oil and toasted pumpkin seeds. Even better was its buttery caramel flavor, wholly unencumbered by heavy cream or pasty cornstarch.
Another delectable ensemble was the bacon-and-egg salad (pictured above), an exquisite combination of tastes, texture and simplicity. For someone who cringes at runny eggs, I was undaunted by the panko-crusted, deep-fried egg’s orange-yellow and (very) soft-boiled insides, which sweetened both the tarragon vinaigrette and the pork belly. The greens weren’t as spicy as advertised, but the meaty, al dente combination of black-eyed peas, edamame, and pinto, Great Northern and cranberry beans
rendered that a moot point.
The wild mushroom and Swiss chard crepe’s simple presentation belied its treasure trove of contrasts and flavors. The soft, flaky, barely crisp crepe burst with earthiness and a distinctive sweetness thanks to a pile of pickled mushrooms that
enlivened the mildly salty, more meekly spiced squash purée. A heaping bowl of supple, plump mussels were Belgium worthy. The lightly tart, almost creamy orange-scented tomato broth imparted a mellow, earthy undertone that allowed the flavor of the perfectly cooked shellfish to shine through. A generous ladle of the stuff would’ve helped the mussels on top, which had noticeably less luster than those swimming below sea level.
A firm, succulent, buttery piece of halibut dressed up a bouillabaisse of steamed cockles and mussels over a bed of fingerling potatoes, fennel and tomato confit. Steeped with crushed red pepper flakes, bits of Niçoise olives and olive oil, the fragrant broth infused the taste buds with notable heat.
Fogelman channeled his Southern relatives with a take-me-to-the-hospital combination of barbecued beef short ribs and ultra-creamy grits. (Thankfully, the portion was reasonable—otherwise, I wouldn’t have made it out the door.) The meat was tender and practically shredded on its own as soon as I sunk my fork into it. A bite of peppery watercress countered the silkiness of the grits.
The steak and frites more than satisfied—medium-rare, bio-dynamically raised sirloin fanned out over sweet, sautéed fennel and a perky sauce bordelaise. Firm but tender, the beef had a nice, fresh flavor that complemented the sauce and fennel. Wrapped in parchment and served in a conical iron stand, the frites were skinny in size and light on oil content, retaining their crispiness for the duration of the meal.
In a spontaneous move, the wait staff delivered a side of collard greens, the aroma of ham hocks filling the air. Simple, home-style and cooked to perfection, they had just the right amount of zing, a dizzyingly delicious smokiness and a velvety texture that matched up perfectly with the grits.
For dessert, the poached pear crumb was melt-in-your-mouth soft—served with a wafer-thin slice of candied pear protruding from the frozen crème anglaise. The crème was incredibly rich and smooth, the crumbled, caramelized sugar providing a crunchy-sweet contrast.
The coconut Arborio rice pudding with passion fruit sorbet and basil syrup proved a little too funky. The sorbet was overly tangy, the rice pudding had the texture of cottage cheese, and the basil syrup clashed with the other ingredients.
A warm chocolate brownie put the “d” in decadent with its combination of cocoa, cool, creamy vanilla bean pistachio ice cream, and wine-poached oranges. It was a solid finish emboldened by a round of La Colombe espressos and cappuccino.
At the time of our visit, the bar wasn’t fully up and running in terms of cocktails, but Yuengling, Tröegs HopBack and Dog-fish Head were among the beers on tap, along with a short list of wines. (The Oberon Shiraz was a worthy accompaniment to our meal.) Corkage fee for BYO is $10.
THE EXPERIENCE: Considering the Dilworthtown Inn’s reputation, the pressure is on for the Blue Pear’s front-of-the-house team. But even the most nitpicky restaurant-goers should find it hard to knock the service here. The staff was quick on its feet, and we were never left alone for long.
Of note was the pacing, which was perfect—especially given that we didn’t sit until close to 9:30 p.m. and Blue Pear serves until 10. Not once did we feel pressure to hurry up. It seemed as if they genuinely wanted us to take our time and enjoy the meal, regardless of the hour.
Chef Fogelman’s experience as an intern at Blue Hill (of Dan Barber fame), a sous chef at Blue (in Philly) and Savona, and a gardener at home has instilled a deep appreciation of all things organic, local and seasonal. Luckily for those who live nearby, the menu will be full of surprises. But don’t worry—the grits are staying.
THE SKINNY: Once upon a time in the culinary capital of France, a bistro was defined as an everyday neighborhood eatery that served up low-budget fare with highbrow style. Price points aside, Blue Pear comes pretty close to the real thing. A terrific alternative to its more decadent, special-occasion relative, it achieves a casual flair and simple rustic elegance through smaller portions and a minimalist menu—all without giving up the rich, detailed selections the Dilworthtown has built its reputation on.
While Blue Pear isn’t exactly cheap, two people could manage a few drinks and a nice selection of amazing dishes for about $100. Cozy and chic, it truly is an alluring place to regain your center and swaddle yourself in comfort food.
Location: 275 Brinton’s Bridge Road, West Chester; (610) 399-9812,
Cuisine: Contemporary American with French and Southern influences
Price: $6-$13.50 small plates, $9-$21.50 medium plates
Atmosphere: Gastro-pub meets fine dining—hip but unpretentious
Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Saturday
Extra: Private dining room and lounge on second floor; BYO with corkage fee (there is a bar).