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Ryan Christopher's Review: Phyllis and Mike Klaumenzer's Narberth BYO Has Some of Montco's Best Comfort Food

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Ryan Christopher’s eggplant Napoleon layers breaded eggplant with grilled tomatoes, smoked mozzarella and pesto, all topped with roasted peppers and a balsamic glaze. (See more photos below.)Ever wonder where Charles Barkley eats when he’s in town? Chances are, he’s at Ryan Christopher’s, the neighborhood eatery situated on a quaint residential street in the heart of Narberth.

“He gets the same thing every time: the cheesesteak egg rolls and a hot turkey sandwich,” says Phyllis Klaumenzer, who owns the two-year-old neighborhood BYO with her chef husband, Michael.

If you’re not a Narb, you may not even know that the Woodbine Avenue restaurant exists. Barkley and his wife stumbled upon the place one night as they were driving by. Now, he’s a regular. Whether you happen upon Ryan Christopher’s accidentally or intentionally, you will, no doubt, be charmed.

On any given night, you’ll find Mike and Phyllis working the kitchen (she’s in charge of the baking). Daughter Kim works the small, 12-table dining room, helps dad and shops for fresh ingredients. Her son—the restaurant’s namesake—takes orders from behind the counter. You get a sense of closeness and family when you walk in the door, and that’s exactly what the owners were after.

Michael’s background includes stints at the old Marbles in Bryn Mawr, Twenty One West in Chestnut Hill and the Rose Tattoo Café in Fairmount. He was close to renting a space in Center City, when he fell in love with the vacant spot that most recently housed Caviston’s. Seeing a hole in Narberth’s bar-filled dining scene, the Klaumenzers created a menu that’s great for kids, those with gluten-free diets, and everyone in between. If you can’t find something you like here, you’re in the wrong place.

In the warmer months, customers have been known to station themselves on the patio with a few bottles of wine for hours, chatting it up with friends and enjoying the local sights. If you choose to dine inside, you’ll find simple, unpretentious digs that, honestly, could use some updating. The couple didn’t change much after Caviston’s closed, but a few unspecified projects are in the works.
 

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With a dinner menu this lengthy, you’d have to spend a lot of time at Ryan Christopher’s to see if the chef can actually pull off every one of its 20-some entrées, plus sandwiches, salads, soups and appetizers. But judging by the crowd on a recent Thursday night and its booked-solid weekends, the neighborhood seems to be happy.

The menu changes frequently, and local ingredients are used whenever possible. Prices are reasonable, with appetizers hovering in the $8 range and entrées topping out at $20.99. A steady group of regulars return again and again for the $9 Black Angus burger (on a pillowy LeBus roll) and the jumbo lump crab cakes.

Michael favors Italian offerings like shrimp pomodoro, veal Florentine, chicken and shrimp piccata over capellini, and chicken or eggplant parmigiana. Conventional, homey comfort fare includes steaks, pork chops and meatloaf, along with sandwiches and hearty salads.

Intrigued by the Barkley factor, the cheesesteak egg rolls were a no-brainer to start our meal. We also chose the toasted goat cheese and roasted beet salad to balance out the heaviness of the chipped steak, fried onions and Jack cheese. The rolls were tasty and not too greasy. The salad was delicious, its field-greens mix the perfect foundation for goat-cheese rounds (dipped in panko and lightly pan-seared), walnuts and locally grown roasted red beets—all covered in balsamic vinaigrette. Also tempting was the eggplant Napoleon, layered with grilled tomatoes, smoked mozzarella and pesto, and topped with roasted peppers and a balsamic glaze.

For one entrée, we opted for another customer favorite: the jumbo lump crab cakes—and we’re glad we did. Plump, packed with luscious white meat, and lightly seared in a panko coating, they were so good, in fact, that the accompanying cole slaw and french fries were basically an afterthought.

Served with sweet-potato hash and crisp green beans, the cranberry-encrusted salmon was made for one colorful—and filling—plate of food. The fish was cooked perfectly, the cranberry relish adding a welcome tart-sweet zing. A hint of wasabi (used in the mashed potatoes from another salmon entrée) put a slight damper on the dish, but I’m guessing it was unintentional.
 

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Don’t miss the opportunity to order one (or several) of Phyllis’ homemade desserts. They’re worth the trip on their own. With no formal pastry chef training, she’s been baking for years. At one point, she supplied desserts for 12 restaurants in the area, including Stella Blu and Gypsy Saloon in Conshohocken. She’s even made the desserts for the Merion Cricket Club’s Christmas Ball.

Now, Phyllis focuses solely on Ryan Christopher’s, much to the benefit of its patrons. Her Snickers pie—with its cookie crust, creamy interior and milk-chocolate “top crust”—was, in a word, heavenly. Served with vanilla ice cream, the apple custard tart stood out for its buttery shell and silky-smooth center. We’ve been told that Phyllis also makes a delicious gluten-free chocolate torte and fresh pineapple-and-coconut cheesecake.

THE SKINNY: Falling somewhere between a foodie relative’s dining room and your favorite local haunt, this inconspicuous BYOB pretty much nails its hearty comfort food and classic fare. The menu could probably be scaled down a bit, but if variety and consistency are what you’re looking for, you could do far worse than Ryan Christopher’s—even if you’re not from the neighborhood.

RYAN CHRISTOPHER’S
Location: 245 Woodbine Ave., Narberth; (610) 664-9282, ryanchristophersbyob.com.
Cuisine: American.
Cost: Appetizers $3.75-$8.99, entrées $8.50-$20.99.
Attire: Casual.
Atmosphere: Relaxed and warm, like you’re dining in someone’s home.
Hours: Lunch: Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday noon-3 p.m. Dinner: Tuesday-Sunday 5-9 p.m. Brunch: Saturday 8 a.m.-noon, Sunday 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Extras: BYO; outdoor patio in the warmer months; gluten-free selections.
 
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