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Bridge to Somewhere

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PART ONE

Marly’s crispy halloumi cheese salad with roasted asparagus, heirloom tomatoes and reduced balsamic vinegarThere are plenty of reasons to make the drive to Phoenixville (which, by the way, is less than 12 miles from the heart of the Main Line off Route 29 south). But perhaps the best is the diverse and innovative gastronomic repertoire that awaits adventurous diners.

Temptation takes hold just after you cross the Gay Street/Route 113 bridge into town. To your left is Marly’s, one of the newer additions to this upwardly mobile former steel town. Co-owned by Michael Favacchia, Samantha Hall and Anne Zimmerman, this quaint but lively BYO just celebrated its first anniversary. And judging by what chef Rich DeStefano is turning out in the kitchen, Marly’s is sure to have plenty of anniversaries to come.

Its moniker a hybrid of the names of Favacchia and Zimmerman’s children—he has a son named Michael, she a daughter named Carly—Marly’s is the dream come true for both, who used to work for Favacchia’s aunt at the Gypsy Saloon in Conshohocken. (Another aunt owns Island Grill in Cape May, N.J.)

A protégé of City Tavern chef Walter Staib, Favacchia popped around different restaurants before starting a place of his own. Hall is his fiancée, and the two are expecting a child, making this truly a family affair.

Marly’s chef/co-owner Michael Favacchia preps a halloumi cheese salad.If mood cuisine were an actual culinary term, Marly’s would fit the descriptor perfectly. Favacchia likes to throw out “Italian-Asian,” but what he really means is that the quarterly menu and seasonal specials feature whatever sounds good. And here’s what sounded good on this day: sautéed mussels served in a lemongrass and coconut milk lobster broth; grilled romaine hearts topped with a warm pancetta-honey vinaigrette, crumbled goat cheese and caramelized onions; fresh-roasted corn papparadelle pasta with sautéed lobster, fava beans, porcini mushrooms and oven-roasted tomatoes; and apple-cherrywood-smoked scallops with roasted chestnut risotto and caramelized Brussels sprouts.

Lunch is also noteworthy, with soups, salads and sandwiches—plus a half-dozen entrées, including potato gnocchi with fresh mozzarella and roasted long hot peppers in a tomato-basil sauce, and panko-crusted jumbo lump crab cakes with creamed corn, micro-greens, and a chipotle chili mayo and ponzu sauce. The peanut butter bread pudding alone is worth a visit. (One customer actually offered to pay $100 for the recipe.)

Zigzag back across the street and you’ll see happy people kicking back at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, with its local brews and tasty pub grub. On a Saturday afternoon in summer, it’s the perfect spot for soaking up some vitamin D—and B.

Marly’s peanut butter and chocolate bread pudding topped with vanilla ice cream.If your afternoon’s too jammed for a leisurely lunch al fresco, pop into Johnny’s New Orleans Pizza Kitchen, where the notorious John Mims has resurfaced with all kinds of decadent, brick-oven pies. Most unusual is the Sweet Dixie dessert pizza, with brown sugar, praline pecans, ricotta cheese and chocolate sauce. Or try the Johnny’s—double pepperoni, mozzarella, Parmesan, red sauce and Tabasco. Don’t look for the standard shakers of red pepper and Parmesan here; the seasonings of choice are flavored oils and Asiago cheese. You can also pick up a roasted pork or short-rib sandwich, crab bisque, chicken andouille gumbo, or a milkshake.
 
For those in more of a Louisiana state of mind, Mims’ Creole BYO, Daddy Mims, is right next door. Menu items run $6-$24, and Tuesday-Saturday, you can enjoy a four-course tasting menu of contemporary New Orleans Creole cuisine—with Cajun, Caribbean and French accents—for only $30. The new joint is closer to Mims’ original version of Carmine’s in Havertown, which swore by its old-school NOLA eats.

Though Daddy Mims’ menu changes frequently, at some point, the following should make their way onto loyal patrons’ forks: jambalaya duck confit with crawfish and smoked sausage; shrimp and Boursin cheese grits, slow-braised pork shoulder and grilled smoked sausage served over “smothered” collard greens; and the über-rich and creamy wild mushroom and smoked Gouda cheesecake.

Preparing for the dinner crowd at the Epicurean Restaurant and Bar.Pub-crawlers will no doubt find something to fill up on at P.J. Ryan’s Pub and Molly Maguire’s, two Irish bars that know how to whip up a mean fish-and-chips platter. They also know their way around shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, meatloaf, zesty wings, mile-high nachos, hot turkey or beef sandwiches, and the traditional boxty—a potato pancake stuffed with various fillings. But if all that seems a bit much on a summer day, Ryan’s also offers salads and appetizers, mussels and steamers, and flavorful Thai shrimp skewers.

Molly’s has similar lighter fare, plus a veggie burger and a protein-rich, crispy-crunchy Cobb salad, along with three floors worth of space for public and private revelry. Both P.J. Ryan’s and Molly Maguire’s keep a solid selection of suds behind the bar to wash it all down.

Things take a decidedly more urbane spin at The Fenix, owned by the Molly Maguire’s team. More nightclub than restaurant, with the sleek looks to go with it, this contemporary spot plays up its tapas and martinis, along with a well-rounded selection of spirits (try the blueberry-infused gin).

When fall rolls around, look for a sophisticated dessert menu at The Fenix. So you can have your cake and eat it, too—after nibbling on lobster nachos with cheddar, tomatoes, fresh garlic and homemade salsa; shrimp lejon, a classic bacon-wrapped duo served with fresh horseradish; black-and-tan hummus with veggies and pita; and a tangy crostini of filet and bleu cheese. On Saturday nights, live entertainment includes a DJ and local solo—or duo—acts.

The Epicurean’s trio of tapas includes beef carpaccio with paper-thin filet mignon and horseradish gremolata, seared sesame-crusted tuna with cucumber jicama salad and wasabi drizzle, and crab-and-avocado salad with Roma tomatoes, cilantro, lime and Dijon mustard.Just outside of town off Route 113 is the Epicurean Restaurant and Bar. This Phoenixville mainstay has been around for almost 20 years in one form or another, and it prides itself on being unique without ever seeming out-of-touch. Both its kitchen and dining room have evolved into something far more refined than their original incarnations. The staff has a hand in creating dishes for the menu’s growing list of contemporary American tapas offerings. A swift and thorough revamp completed in late spring has resulted in the addition of more items that reflect chef/owner Lee Krazely’s penchant for seasonality and keeping it local—and fresh.

The Epicurean’s “Liquid Library” stocks 37 by-the-glass offerings, upward of 250-plus labels, and an impressive selection of draught and bottled beer from around the world. The house-made sangria is a summer favorite—and the perfect complement to its savory tapas.

Live entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays includes everything from jazz and rock bands to acoustic strummers and open-mic nights. Brunch is available Saturdays and Sundays.
 

PART TWO on page 2 …
 

PART TWO

Black Lab is one sleeping dog any lover of adventurous bistro fare shouldn’t let lie.In the middle of Bridge Street, you’ll find one of Phoenixville’s longest running BYOs, Black Lab Bistro. This time of year, its sidewalk is dotted with cheerful, bright-red market umbrellas and wrought iron tables. Stroll by, and the competing scents of char-grilled, seared, pan-fried and sautéed fish—the house specialty— and Southern-style barbecue buffalo spare ribs will have you swooning.

Considered a pioneer in Phoenixville’s culinary revival, this petite, elegant, wholly adventurous bistro dishes out crazy-good upscale comfort food made from various combinations of local and not-so-local ingredients. Its vast menu is chock full of panache. The burgers alone should induce a state of lust, as will the decadent dessert offerings.

Black Lab chef Guy Clausen is known for his “colossal” lump crab cakes. Or try one of the nightly specials—like the jerk-seared grouper with a pineapple mojo, verde rice and broccolini, or the trio of pepper-seared venison loin, quail and buffalo ribeye in a pomegranate demi-glace. The pan-fried rainbow trout with pancetta, sage-browned butter, carrot mousse and asparagus had our taste buds singing, as did the dessert menu’s chocolate ravioli.

An equally brave menu can be found at Majolica—which, despite a serious revamp of its concept, still offers plenty of innovative creations and some of the most outrageous to-die-for desserts in the region. A notable tweak involves more affordable pricing—and without sacrificing flair. Bring a bottle of wine, and nibble on chef Andrew Deery’s $25 three-course prix fixe menu, available nightly.

Becca’s heirloom tomato and fresh mozzarella Napoleon with micro-arugula, a balsamic triple reduction and basil-infused olive oilThe French-inspired Becca’s has replaced popular BYO Twin Bays. Housed in one of Phoenixville’s oldest buildings, Becca’s is the creation of chef/owner Robert Bahm, who spent 10 years under the tutelage of François Taquet at his namesake restaurant in Wayne and another eight as a Wynnewood-based caterer. He named the restaurant after his 10-year-old daughter.

Like its former inhabitant, Becca’s takes its decorating cues from the Victorian building’s natural charm. But now, in lieu of garden-party patterns, the walls sport solid, contemporary colors that better accentuate the entryway’s large staircase, wide moldings and decorative trim. An antique grandfather clock and carefully chosen artwork lend a familiar feel (think Main Line mansion).

Becca’s chef/owner Robert BahmAt first glance, Becca’s menu leans toward dressy, with classic French terminology and techniques. But don’t expect heavy sauces with lots of flour, cream and butter. Bahm favors healthier, lighter fare made with locally grown, organic produce and all-natural reductions. Each dish is eclectic in its own way, with tantalizing combinations like a brunoise of oven-roasted beets with mâche lettuce, goat cheese and a peppercorn Dijon emulsion; watermelon gazpacho with cilantro pesto; and sautéed tuna filet mignon with wasabi risotto and a hoisin demi-glace.

Lunch entrées include chimmichurri-marinated flank steak, pico de gallo and chipotle mayo on a baguette; and a hefty grilled Caesar salad with baby romaine hearts, thyme-marinated, grilled chicken, Caesar dressing, crunchy baguette croutons and Parmesan fuillettes. You can even add fresh, oregano-marinated grilled shrimp.

Desserts are made in-house and prepared last-minute, as Bahm doesn’t relish cooking in advance (the crème brûlée notwithstanding). And while much of the menu sounds fancy, when you get right down to it, it’s simply dolled-up comfort food—the best of both worlds.

Sunday brunch at Becca’s is a pretty good deal at $20, with seasonal sliced fruit, a basket of pastries, fresh-squeezed orange juice and a choice of entrée. Options include the grilled vegetable and goat cheese, or ham and Gruyère, omelet; crab eggs Benedict with a fresh herb cream sauce; challah bread French toast; or chocolate chip pancakes topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

Good times, good food and your favorite wines combine for a tasty and memorable night at Black Lab.Other popular Phoenixville restaurants include the historic Columbia Hotel Bar and Grille—cozy and sophisticated in ambiance and cuisine, and sporting a luscious martini list. Or how about one of the hotel’s eight single-malt scotches (all priced under $14) or a spicy Bloody Mary? The latter is the perfect complement to a sizable Columbia Burger—made with ground tenderloin, a zesty garlic aioli, hand-cut fries and your choice of cheese.

For reasonably priced eats, there’s the Bridgeside Deli & Grille. The menu is packed with specialty sandwiches and deli classics—savory combinations like roast pork with broccoli rabe and sharp Provolone; Italian sausage with fried onions and sweet peppers; roasted red peppers, eggplant and sharp Provolone; corned-beef brisket on rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing; and Mediterranean chicken with spinach, olive oil and feta cheese.

To counter indulgences like Cheez Whiz fries (plus bacon), chicken fingers, chili cheese or gravy fries, and fried seafood platters, there are a few salads—and you can customize any club sandwich to your dietary specifications.

Located in Phoenixville Plaza on Nutt Road, the recession-friendly Thai Place Restaurant is the perfect place to go if you’re toting the posse. It doles out tasty global fare in a time-sensitive manner. Plus, it’s BYO, which also keeps costs down. Pay attention to the kitschy artwork on the walls—you may even amp up your knowledge of Thai culture.
 

Phoenixville Dining

Becca’s: 19 S. Whitehorse Road, (484) 924-8502, beccasrestaurant.com
Black Lab Bistro: 248 Bridge St., (610) 935-5988, blacklabbistro.net
Bridgeside Deli & Grille: 402 W. High St., (610) 933-7737
Columbia Hotel Bar and Grille: 148 Bridge St., (610) 983-0300, columbiabarandgrille.com
Daddy Mims: 154 Bridge St., (610) 935-1800
Epicurean Restaurant & Bar: 902 Village at Eland, (610) 933-1336, epicureanrestaurant.com
The Fenix: 305 Bridge St., (610) 933-9550, thefenixbar.com
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant: 130 Bridge St., (610) 983-9333, ironhillbrewery.com
Johnny’s New Orleans Pizza Kitchen: 150 Bridge St., (610) 935-1800
Majolica: 258 Bridge St., (610) 917-0962, majolicarestaurant.com
Marly’s: 108 Bridge St., (610) 933-7471
Molly Maguire’s Irish Restaurant: 195 Bridge St., (610) 933-9550, mollymaguirespubs.com
P.J. Ryan’s Pub: 231 Bridge St., (610) 933-5600, pjryanspub.com
Thai Place Restaurant: 700 Nutt Road, (610) 917-9943, eatatthaiplace.com
 

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