After more than 125 years as a dry borough, Swarthmore finally has a new wine bar and bistro that makes the long-fought battle to allow alcohol sales in this college town worthwhile. And if the hungry crowds basking in the fiery glow of heat lamps in the landscaped parklet with 20 seats in front of its downtown storefront are any indication, the locals are grateful.

A mushroom struedel dish is shown at the Village Vines restaurant in Swarthmore, Pa. Friday, October 31, 2020. The wine bar and bistro in downtown Swarthmore obtained the first liquor license since its founding as a dry Quaker town in the 19th century.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
A mushroom struedel dish is shown at the Village Vines restaurant in Swarthmore, Pa. Friday, October 31, 2020. The wine bar and bistro in downtown Swarthmore obtained the first liquor license since its founding as a dry Quaker town in the 19th century.

“I grew up here and I’ve been waiting 49 years for this,” said my friend and dinner companion, David Haase, 50. The lifelong Swarthmorean proved his enthusiasm by devouring his raclette-gratinéed fingerling potatoes, crispy-skinned ocean trout in lobster nage, and a slow-braised pork cheek with glasses of Txakoli, Turkish rosé, and Lebanese Merwah.

Restaurant owners, Jill Bennett Gaieski, left, and Lori Knauer pose for a photograph at the Village Vines restaurant in Swarthmore, Pa. Friday, October 31, 2020. The wine bar and bistro in downtown Swarthmore obtained the first liquor license since its founding as a dry Quaker town in the 19th century.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Restaurant owners, Jill Bennett Gaieski, left, and Lori Knauer pose for a photograph at the Village Vines restaurant in Swarthmore, Pa. Friday, October 31, 2020. The wine bar and bistro in downtown Swarthmore obtained the first liquor license since its founding as a dry Quaker town in the 19th century.

The intriguing collection of wines, with smart international selections ranging from Austrian Blaufrankisch (Hopler Pannonica) to Portuguese Alentejo (Azamor) and Seneca Lake dry Riesling (Empire Estate), is a reflection of the second-career passion of the co-owners. Jill Bennett Gaieski, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, and Lori Knauer, a retired attorney with DuPont, decided to make the most of their studies at the Wine School of Philadelphia and snap up the downtown district’s first liquor license. (The Swarthmore Inn’s Broad Table Tavern landed the first license on campus.)

Chef, Chris Galbraith is photographed at the Village Vines restaurant in Swarthmore, Pa. Friday, October 31, 2020. The wine bar and bistro in downtown Swarthmore obtained the first liquor license since its founding as a dry Quaker town in the 19th century.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Chef, Chris Galbraith is photographed at the Village Vines restaurant in Swarthmore, Pa. Friday, October 31, 2020. The wine bar and bistro in downtown Swarthmore obtained the first liquor license since its founding as a dry Quaker town in the 19th century.

And they lucked-out in landing another Swarthmorean, chef Chris Galbraith, 36, an alum of Bar Hygge who’s made a fine comeback in the kitchen after replacing two hips. His largely Euro-style plates are wine-friendly, from the Village board with cheeses, house charcuterie, and a fresh-baked loaf of olive oil bread to the irresistible phyllo-wrapped comfort of mushroom strudel and a creamy celery root soup sparked with tart apple and crab salad.

A lamb meatball special of duck jus farro ringed by cucumber labne sauce is an upscale riff on the Halal cart lamb-rice classic at Village Vine in Swarthmore.
Craig LaBan
A lamb meatball special of duck jus farro ringed by cucumber labne sauce is an upscale riff on the Halal cart lamb-rice classic at Village Vine in Swarthmore.

I especially loved the slow-stewed tenderness of those pork cheeks, which nestled over spaetzle sautéed in duck fat with smoky nuggets of bacon. But it was the nightly special that most reassured me Galbraith was having fun: a pair of juicy lamb meatballs over farro in duck stock ringed by a labne sauce paled green with cucumber and avocado was … the kitchen’s haute-riff on Halal cart lamb over rice? If you know that $5 lunch cart special, you’ll see it if you squint. But I was eating it heartily on its virtues too fast to realize. So let me zip back in time for a moment to that dinner in pay proper respects: I tip my glass of raisiny Venetian Ripasso (Ca' del Laito) in a toast — to the good taste of clever specials, and the welcome arrival of Village Vine.

— Craig LaBan

Village Vine, 6 Park Ave., Swarthmore, 484-471-3997; villagevineswarthmore.com

A pork cheeks dish is shown at the Village Vines restaurant in Swarthmore, Pa. Friday, October 31, 2020. The wine bar and bistro in downtown Swarthmore obtained the first liquor license since its founding as a dry Quaker town in the 19th century.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
A pork cheeks dish is shown at the Village Vines restaurant in Swarthmore, Pa. Friday, October 31, 2020. The wine bar and bistro in downtown Swarthmore obtained the first liquor license since its founding as a dry Quaker town in the 19th century.