Fire and Ice

Firecreek’s no-hitch, no-glitch gathering. PLUS: Spring has sprung, and Rita’s is giving it away.

OK, so I needed a little more recovery time than I anticipated after my oh-so-fun Tuesday night at Firecreek Restaurant and Bar. Not that I misbehaved or anything, but all that driving, chatting, tasting and, well, OK, some sipping, got the best of me. (Plus, it’s allergy season, and we’re on deadline: the perfect storm.)

My belly is still full from the divine bites that came off Carlo deMarco’s grill. (Alas, every time I went to take a photo, either one of the two line guys stepped in front of the grill or doused it with a shot of water, and I got more smoke than flame—a photography class is long overdue.)

Firecreek's grilled salmonI’ve been to press previews before, but never a “family and friends” night, which is a little different. Instead of being served a select menu that represents the chef’s style and agility, guests dine as if they were going to the restaurant on their own. The idea is to generate a real experience, so that both the front and back of the house can hone in on strengths and weaknesses.

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One of the things that hit me while observing the open kitchen was, “Wow, this place employs a lot of people.” I think I counted nearly a dozen guys on the line. Some diners speculated that Firecreek’s management staffed up with a few extras for the big night. But while watching the action, I was left with the impression that all of those chefs were needed to keep things running smoothly—and from being overly charred.

I was elated to see deMarco’s signature calamari done with a twist: cilantro lime aioli instead of pumpkinseed aioli (and a smattering of pumpkinseeds made a showing as garnish). This dish is popular at 333 Belrose, his Main Line digs. (That, with a Caesar salad, has been one of my staple meals for years.)

Spying a gorgeous serving of ginger soy tuna with mango salsa and bok choy expedited by deMarco, I instantly knew what I was ordering. Three whopping angus Delmonico steaks hit the table, all topped with crispy fried onions and served with creamed spinach, warm onion jam and herb-roasted red-skinned potatoes. A less hopped-up mahogany filet mignon also made its debut, perfectly cooked to medium-rare, juicy and robust, paired with buttermilk mashed potatoes and a traditional béarnaisea great option for us female carnivores who can’t rustle any cow over 8 ounces.

An overlooked dish at most restaurants, the Lancaster County organic half-chicken should get more respect with Firecreek’s touch. Appropriately served with creamy mac and cheese and green beans, it’s great comfort fare—maybe a bit heavy come summer, but I’m sure deMarco is 10 steps ahead of me. Plus, what doesn’t go with grilled chicken?

I’m a sucker for salmon in all forms, but Firecreek’s version—red chili salmon with poblano cream sauce and spicy black beans—is wonderful, cooked exactly as I’d make it at home: lightly crisp and drier on the outside, but just a touch medium-rare inside so to not squelch the fish’s buttery essence.

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My tuna was as supple and rich tasting as anticipated, and the ginger soy did not overpower or come off as cloying. It sounds crazy, but we all found the entrées to be quite good. The only disappointment was the Caesar salad, which had little panache and paled in comparison to the one served at Belrose. The dressing had no spunk; surely an easy fix for the kitchen. I did, however, like the cornbread croutons.

Service was spot-on—which, I guess, one should expect in this scenario. Everyone who was part of Firecreek’s team was excited and thrilled to see things coming alive. It was definitely all business, though; at the end of the night, the entire waitstaff was pulled into the private dining space to review the evening’s performance. And I’m sure the kitchen went through a similar debriefing.

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Falling under Firecreek’s spell is pretty easy to do. The place is just cool. And I have no doubt it will be a popular summertime spot: the patio overlooking the Brandywine is hot property. I also don’t expect things to always run so smoothly. Tuesday night was much more of a controlled environment than what’s coming—beautiful weather and larger, al fresco-minded crowds, not to mention the happy hour gang. It’ll be interesting to see when their more casual Doghouse Burgers will open next door, and how having two different concepts will play out. Personally, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into one of the virtual-for-now burgers, so come on, bring it on.

Thanks to Carrollton Development Group for all the fabulous images and giving us a sneak peek at what surely will become Downingtown’s hottest hang.

Firecreek Restaurant & Bar, 20 E. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown; (610) 269-6000,


Spring Free-ver

The view from my window (actually, my editor’s window) is pretty gray, but it’s not suppressing my spring fever. Now that I’ve just received an e-mail blast reminding me of Rita’s First Day of Spring Italian Ice Giveaway on March 20 (a 17-year-old tradition), I’m even more antsy.

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Here comes a whole new season of Rita’s Water Ice, one of the best culinary deals in town. I can see my mango gelato spilling over the sides of that familiar cup now. Nothing cures a bunch of whooped, grumpy, “I’m hot,” “I’m tired” kids on a summer’s afternoon than a trip to Rita’s. (Trust me, I speak from experience.)

You can score your free 10-ounce cup of frozen bliss—and get a taste of its new Mystery Flavor Italian Ice—at your nearest Rita’s. You’ll also have a chance to suggest a name for the mystery flavor or vote for your favorite name submission at The winner of the Mystery Ice Flavor Naming Contest will receive free Rita’s for one year—woo hoo! The contest runs March 20-April 17, with the winner announced April 27 online.

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!