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West Chester’s Spence 312 Gets an Appealing Do-Over

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With the determination of a prizefighter, chef Andrew Patten has gotten back on his feet after life’s rough-and-tumble middle rounds. A second big blow, the 2010 closure of his well-regarded Spence Café, came quickly after the first: the shuttering of his aquatically themed Butterfish the year before. 

After that double-pummeling in West Chester, it was time to reflect. “The bad economy took its toll,” says Patten. “Running two places during those lean times simply stretched me way too thin.”

Down but far from out, Patten is back. Five months ago, he opened Spence 312, a dinner-only BYOB that’s satisfying longtime fans as it makes new ones. The “312” reflects the restaurant’s address along South High Street—the cozy brownstone where Avalon resided for years prior to its own self-imposed redistricting last spring.    

Spence 312’s grilled lamb chops with celery-root mashed potatoes//photos by steve legato

from left: chef-owner Andrew Patten in the kitchen; flourless chocolate cake with blackberry puree

The old Gay Street Spence has been reincarnated as a bright, seductive French-style bistro with vibrantly abstract original paintings (on loan from local artist James Lee Burke) adorning cantaloupe-colored walls. Sturdy flagstone flooring covers the open 70-seat space. Just 30 seats await upstairs, where muted gray allows the artwork to pop. Spence also offers a delightfully secluded, 50-seat back patio, set to open later this month.

For a man who once thought he’d never return to the restaurant business, Patten is back in fine form. With help from sous chef John Banes, plus a small cadre of additional talent and an affable front-of-house team, Patten is succeeding in resurrecting what made his original Spence so likable all along. He remains dedicated to locally sourced, seasonal produce, sustainable meats, and a heightened focus on seafood. There’s also a direct commitment to affordability, with no entrée topping the $24 mark.

from left: Anthony Larocca preps a salad; the dining room

The “small” in the small-plates section of the menu is actually a misnomer. Portions are generous. My heaping strips of fried buttermilk calamari, with a chili-flecked dipping sauce, were a bargain at $9. So was the $8 baked, phyllo-wrapped, local goat cheese, drizzled with truffle honey and dotted by toasted sesame seeds and a fresh-fruit chutney.   

Two signature entrées—the bacon-dusted sea scallops and the long-braised short ribs—were hits at our table. Both proteins were accompanied by what Patten calls “five veg,” an abundant seasonal medley that, on our visit, included roasted beets, carrots, spaghetti squash, and a cauliflower-parsnip puree.

All of the desserts, except for the ice creams, are made in-house, including a graham-cracker key lime pie and a delightful take on tiramisu served parfait-style in a wine glass.

Prior to a visit, I suggest mapping out the neighborhood, as street parking can be challenging, especially on weekend nights. Within, the tables toward the back and those upstairs are more desirable. Patrons seated near the front door risk drafts and somewhat higher noise levels.

 Spence 312’s grilled wild striped bass with sautéed black kale and fennel sunchoke salad

THE SKINNY: Quality, affordable fare served in a convivial environment makes the new Spence a contender in West Chester’s booming BYOB scene. 

 

Details 

Spence 312: 312 S. High St., West Chester, (610) 738-8844. 

Cuisine: New American. 

Cost: Small plates $8-$14, entrées $18-$24. 

Attire: Stylishly casual. 

Atmosphere: Romantic European bistro downstairs, more intimate space upstairs; patio dining in warmer months. 

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. 

Extras: Live music on the patio in summer.