Location: 10 Exchange Place, West Grove
Contact: (610) 869-4020, twelvesgrill.com.
Cuisine: Seasonally inspired, (mostly) locally sourced New American fare.
Cost: Lunch: $7-$10. Dinner: $9-$30.
Attire: Stylishly casual.
Atmosphere: Beautiful, old bank building with tasteful interior appointments.
Hours: Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday 5-9 p.m.
Extras: BYOB; $5 corkage fee waived for diners who bring wines produced in Pennsylvania or Delaware. Three-course lunch for $12 on the 12th of every month. Three-course prix-fixe dinner for $25 Tuesday-Thursday.
West Grove is a postage stamp of a rectangle with fewer than 3,000 people—a real sleeper of a Chester County town. There’s a notary, a gas station, a diner and a post office, along with late-19th-century stone-and-brick buildings and scores of quaint Victorian dwellings along old Baltimore Pike and enticing side streets.
Within its sedate, single-traffic-light business district is Twelves Grill & Café, residing comfortably inside the former National Bank of West Grove, a venerable stone monolith erected in 1883. By all indications, executive chef Tim Smith and his wife, Kristin, have found their dream restaurant. They opened Twelves in 2008, naming it in recognition of their birth dates, their first date and their wedding, all of which occurred on the 12th of the month. It’s been one lucky number for the Smiths—and a fortunate one for West Grovers, too.
Still, Twelves’ reputation for artful, affordable meals has remained relatively clandestine—not unlike its low-key civic surroundings. Indeed, the welcoming 72-seat BYOB has been largely over
shadowed by other notable dining options in the region, including Kennett Square’s Sovana Bistro and Catherine’s in Unionville. Slowly, though, the secret is getting out, and the Smiths are seeing a lot of new faces.
The former bank’s high ceilings, tall, deep-set windows, and subtle gold and bronze paint tones combine to create a serene atmosphere, even on a fairly busy Friday night.
Our evening began with a rich butternut squash soup, topped with cinnamon-flecked croutons—savory thanks to the tart sweetness of diced Granny Smith apples. The seasonal bounty continued in the form of a deeply satisfying, perfectly woodsy mushroom soup. A shared cheese board offered slices of goaty Humboldt Fog, an elegant cheddar-style Double Gloucester, and a creamy (though conventional) dab of herbed Alouette spread.
Smith’s impressive visual presentations reflect his roots, which include prior fine-dining experience at West Chester’s Dilworthtown Inn and the Farmhouse Restaurant in Avondale. I could both see and taste the finesse in his grilled filet medallions, accompanied by creamy mushroom risotto, buttermilk bleu cheese, and a red-wine pan reduction. Also excellent was an ample cut of rockfish under a ladling of tangy romesco sauce.
Especially outstanding was the pan-fried, Parmesan-crusted free-range chicken, with a side of wilted spinach and garlic smashed potatoes. The top-quality breast yielded a delightful lemony crunch and a piquant caper pop with each bite.
Minor quibbles did arise. The risotto was toothsome but overly aromatic with truffle oil. And while the aforementioned rockfish was light and fresh, the accompanying cauliflower was, alas, undercooked—a fibrous yang to the fish fillet’s delicate yin.
On a second, less formal visit, I enjoyed a perfectly cooked cheeseburger with thick, smoky bacon, nestled in a pillowy LeBus Bakery brioche. The crispy hand-cut fries were most tasty—as are Twelves’ buttermilk-battered onion rings, for that matter. Apparently, this kitchen’s fryer basket produces some serious finger foods.
For dessert, Smith makes yummy ice cream and crème brûlée. He also works with Sweet Somethings gourmet bakery in Wilmington, Del. Its indulgent chocolate-peanut-butter mousse cake, pumpkin cheesecake, and authentic pecan pie are worthy culinary complements to the rest of the items on the dessert menu.
As adept as the staff can be, they had brief moments of slippage. In particular, I noticed a lack of ongoing attention to wine service that just didn’t jibe with the $5 corkage fee. More surprisingly, when asked about the lusty Le Bus rolls that had been served at the outset of the first meal, our server commented, “It’s a hearty whole grain,” but then added quizzically, “It may also contain nuts, but we’re not sure.”
When dealing with potential food-borne allergens, there should be no second-guessing. (For the record, Smith reports that the bread is made with seeds, not nuts.) Regardless, the minor food glitches and service faux pas were mere trifles in the overall scope of two otherwise great meals. They illustrate that, while Twelves may not be perfect in every way, it offers an experience that’s as hospitable and unassuming as the borough it’s in.
The skinny: Twelves surreptitiously (and deliciously) provides an outstanding dining possibility in workaday West Grove. It’s seemingly far removed from the nearby, attractions-filled portion of southern Chester County, though really just around the corner.