26 hot restaurants in the Philly suburbs
Marc Vetri's Fiore Rosso steakhouse is among the newcomers on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides. Wilmington, Del., has a new destination, too.
If the pandemic taught Philadelphia-area restaurateurs one thing, it’s the strength of the suburbs as a place to do business.
Occupancy restrictions were less severe outside of Philadelphia, on both sides of the Delaware River, through most of 2020 and 2021. The dining scenes in some towns, like Phoenixville and West Chester, flourished due to local governments’ embrace of outdoor dining. Suburbanites tended to hang close to home. A recent report by the Center City District/Central Philadelphia Development Corp. said restaurant sales were at 74% of 2019 levels.
As we enter the second half of 2022, more than two dozen noteworthy restaurants have opened in Philadelphia’s suburbs, including a steakhouse from Marc Vetri and Jeff Benjamin on the Main Line and another from the founders of Bardea Food & Drink in Wilmington; beer in the Brandywine Valley; two upscale Indian BYOBs; and five new spots in Ardmore.
Recent months have also seen new owners at the venerable La Collina in Bala Cynwyd (the partners from Bryn Mawr’s Otto by Polpo) and a major renovation of Charlie Brown’s steakhouse in Woodbury, which reopened recently after nearly two years.
After selling Venezuelan food out of Ardmore Station Cafe as a pop-up restaurant and ghost kitchen, chef Levi Hernández (a Four Seasons alum) and his daughter María José have taken over the cozy coffee bar in the same building with a BYOB. There are three menus: coffee and lunch (with tequeños, empanadas, and arepas), and now reservation-only dinner Thursday to Sunday with entrees such as costillitas, salmon skewers, and patacon (there’s a $55 tasting menu).
Irish-born James Mullally and French-born Loïc Barnieu (of Media’s Sterling Pig Brewery) are in their early weeks of their chill, rustic beer hall in the old Stables at Yellow House in the Glen Mills-Concordville area. “Bierhaul sounds Germanesque, but ‘European’ is the angle I’m pushing,” Mullally said. “We have  Belgian, French, Irish, German beers on tap, plus a great cocktail list. But it’s more the sensibility, the vibe. That’s what we do in Europe: Drink fashionable lagers and coexist.” He calls the cuisine “new American,” and it’s made from scratch.
Jared Adkins of Phoenixville’s Bluebird Distilling celebrates coffee and cocktails in his comfy, morning-till-late-night room in downtown Ardmore. He and head distiller Scott Gilbert roast their own coffee and age it in the barrels used for Bluebird’s whiskeys and bourbons. You can get traditional brewed coffee and espresso, as well as coffee cocktails and conventional cocktails using Bluebird spirits and a line of nonalcoholic drinks. There’s a light food menu, too.
When Steve and Jenna DeVito decided to go into the restaurant business two years ago, they already had the name: Dom & Mia’s, to hold the memories of their children Domenico James and Mia Isabella, both of whom died as infants due to complications of premature birth. The bistro, in a former bank building, has a full bar and something-for-everyone menu — and it’s open most of the week from lunch through date night.
Seasoned restaurateur Peter Dissin has traded Philly (Pinefish at 12th and Pine Streets) for downtown Conshy with a seafood restaurant using much of the polished-fieldstone bar-restaurant atmosphere from previous occupant Tierra Caliente. You’ll see much of Pinefish’s menu (raw items, crab cakes, pan-seared scallops, seared tuna with foie gras, and whole branzino), with a few steaks. As he did at Pinefish, Lê from Hop Sing Laundromat lent a few cocktail recipes to Fayette Street’s list, including the Summer Time (peach vodka, cucumber syrup, and lemon juice with strawberries). Eight beers are on tap, 13 wines by the bottle and glass.
Marc Vetri and Jeff Benjamin have gone to the Main Line with a high-style, high-ceilinged, high-decibel Italian steakhouse, featuring high-end art and a high, tower-style meat-aging case. Tabs are, as you’d imagine, on the high side. Full bar, plenty of pastas and plates to complement the cuts.
On a road trip to Texas, friends Jamie Gaffney and Rocco DiPasquale stopped to eat at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville. “That’s all we talked about the rest of the trip,” said Gaffney, a chef who had career-changed into loss prevention for a more stable life. The two men — DiPasquale owns a construction company — decided right then to open a hot chicken restaurant. “‘I have a culinary degree,’ I was saying,’ Gaffney said. ‘It can’t be that hard.’” They made several return visits to Nashville, followed by a year-plus of R&D. Finally satisfied, they opened recently in downtown West Chester, where they love the “melting pot” diversity of the clientele — and Gaffney has returned to kitchen life.
Identical twin sisters Kala and Maya Johnstone, food-lovers and travel enthusiasts, traded life as school principals in Philly for the just-as-hectic restaurant life on a corner in Elkins Park’s commercial district. The Johnstone sisters, backed by their brothers, think big. Patrons flock for enormous, lavishly sauced plates of breakfast and lunch food: shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, French toast, fried chicken. Everything can be put on a roll and turned into a “steak sandwich,” including chicken, beef, mushrooms, and salmon.
One of the Bucks County pandemic success stories has been La Voglia, a casually elegant Italian BYOB tucked into a shopping center in Warminster, which opened May 2020. Owners Ermir Madani and Arber Mullai, with chef David Marques, recently branched out with a second BYOB location only 10 minutes away in Huntingdon Valley, Montgomery County. It’s the former Piero’s, off Byberry Road.
The menu at the new location is billed as Mediterranean. Big sellers include the ossobuco over mushroom risotto, a grilled seafood board, and black ink linguine with seafood.
Sam Li, who grew up in the restaurant biz (his grandparents opened Oriental Palace in Lawnside back in the 1970s), has extended his sushi empire from Marlton (which opened in 2016) to the former Mount Fuji in Ardmore. The new spot is stylish and moody, with lighted bamboo along one wall and a sushi bar tucked in the back.
This Middle Eastern quick-service restaurant debuted at Temple University in 2015 and expanded near Drexel University in 2018. Its first suburban location, which opened in the spring in Oxford Oaks Shopping Center in Yardley, is intended as the flagship for further expansion. The tight menu includes: salad bowls, rice bowls, and pita wraps filled with falafel, chicken or beef shawarma, and roasted vegetables, plus hummus and sides.
New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse got a dash of makeup and a new costume in the spring, rebranding its on-site restaurant from The Deck to Playhouse Deck. In the process, chef Michael O’Halloran was brought in from Stella next door to oversee a Mediterranean menu with a 180-degree view of the Delaware from wall-to-wall garage door windows; there’s also al fresco dining on the river promenade and front courtyard of the Playhouse.
Ghost kitchens — where many food concepts commingle in one kitchen for takeout and delivery — became all the rage in 2020, especially in the city, where population density is greater.
Yohann Zinier and chef Andrew Masciangelo of Gulph Mills’ posh Savona are banking on the burbs. They balance their fine-dining world with a massive kitchen feeding eight concepts in Discovery Labs, a one million-square-foot life-sciences hub in King of Prussia that is home to thousands of workers. Pure Roots, which is not a sit-down restaurant, uses its own drivers for delivery within five miles.
Signed in 2021 to replace pandemic casualty Besito in Ardmore’s Suburban Square, this growing, upmarket Mexican chain out of New York City opened in May. It is massive, boasting 300 seats inside and out, including a 17-seat bar offering about 100 varieties of tequila and agave-based spirits.
Haverford now has the second area location (following Cherry Hill) of the popular, Paris Baguette-ish South Korean bakery/coffee shop. It has a small lounge area and counter seat but is mostly takeout.
Chef Brad Daniels, who was a key part of the Vetri orbit a decade ago, has turned up in Spring House (just outside of Ambler) with a handsome, dramatic redo of the longtime Ristorante San Marco into an Italian date-nighter serving handmade everything. He and partners have maintained the thick stone walls, fashioning two dining rooms, private dining, and a popular bar.
Matt Hendricks is playing the long game, all right, taking his board-game/bar concept (Thirsty Dice in the city’s Francisville section) out to a big, new space in Ardmore.
Twenty One Pips, named after the number of dots or “pips” on a die, opens about July 18 with 170 seats and 600 low-tech games plus two vintage Skee-Ball machines and a 3-D Pong table. Menu includes locally sourced cheeses, charcuterie, and crudité, plus pub-style dishes and a bar full of cocktails, wines, and beers.
Tony and Shelly Li’s stylish BYOBs, which started in Royersford (2003) and added a second location in Berwyn (2014), arrived in June in Bryn Mawr with pan-Asian menus that hit the basics of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine.
When the pandemic shut the Route 202 office parks and ruined the happy-hour business at the Berwyn location of their McKenzie Brew House, father-son restaurateurs Bill and Will Mangan made a move. They converted it into what Will Mangan calls “a neighborhood hangout but with an elevated experience.” The 200-seater, whose walls are lined with photos of famous Wills and Bills, offers 12 house beers on tap.
Blue Fig Garden
Osama “Sam” Jadalla, who founded Blue Fig Cafe in Moorestown in 2011, has brought Turkish-influenced Mediterranean cuisine to Cherry Hill Mall this spring with partners Muhammet Geyikoglu and Fatih Karatas. Their BYOB has a big-bellied oven for flatbreads and an open kitchen turning out kebabs. Pay special attention to the kuymak (a corn meal-and-melted cheese situation) and hot sand Turkish coffee served on the breakfast menu.
Chef Dane DeMarco made a name specializing in terrific, over-the-top burgers and hot dogs at Philadelphia bars such as American Sardine Bar, South Philly Tap Room, and Second District before joining the group that owns Hawthornes, Sonnys Cocktail Bar, and Wine Dive. Now they’ve opened their own restaurant with help from sister Dannette Monoyios. It’s an old-fashioned counter setup in the cute South Jersey town of Audubon.
Mike and Chèrie Gillespie wanted to create a tribute to the aunt who raised them. The restaurant/lounge/music venue they built in Clementon with their son, Michael, only took 4½ years. The Creole American menu features wings, sweet-and-spicy shrimp, and tacos as appetizers; entrees include blackened lamb chops over fried rice, a 16-ounce rib-eye with compound butter, seafood gumbo, blackened salmon, and chicken and shrimp étouffée. Music is a big part of the programming; Mike counts Dizzy Gillespie as a distant relative.
Dan Goldberg has gone the ghost-kitchen route in Cherry Hill, with 10 restaurants operating under one 4,000-square-foot kitchen under the direction of culinary director Georgeann Leaming, a former Food Network Chopped champion and executive chef at Gordon Ramsay Steak and Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Atlantic City. Under its Meal4Meal program, the business donates a meal to Feeding America for every meal ordered. Pickup and delivery (through third-party services) are permitted; there is no on-site dining.
Let’s get a bit dizzy following Rakesh and Heather Ramola back and forth over the Ben Franklin Bridge. They founded Indeblue, their upscale Indian restaurant, in Collingswood in 2009. They opened a second location in Center City Philadelphia in 2013. Then Collingswood closed in 2018, and Philly shut down this April. Now, they’re back, as a BYOB in lovely surroundings, in Barclay Farms Shopping Center on Route 70 in Cherry Hill.
The team from Coriander in Voorhees, Veda Modern Indian Bistro in Center City Philadelphia, and Indiya in Collingswood has gone into Moorestown Mall with a slick, upscale BYOB next to Planet Fitness, replacing a Chipotle.
Scott Stein and chef Antimo DiMeo of the hit Bardea Food & Drink in downtown Wilmington and Bardea Pizza in the Hotel Du Pont, recently spun off this steakhouse next door. DiMeo cooks many dishes in a custom open hearth. They’re selling many steaks priced by the ounce from its explanatory and descriptive steak menus.
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