At first glance, little has changed in the decade since I last drove deep into the heart of Chester County to visit the Birchrunville Store Cafe. Perched at the country crossroads of Hollow and Flowing Springs Roads, ringed by misty cornfields, stone walls, and steepled churches, this old general store turned idyllic BYOB with a chef-owner from Aix-en-Provence running the kitchen remains one of the single most charming dining experiences in the region. No wonder weekends are booked months ahead for the cash-only dinners. There's almost always stuffed roast pheasant, fresh fish with wild mushrooms, rack of lamb with minted risotto, stewed beef cheeks over homemade pasta, and warm butterscotch cake for dessert. The bathrooms are still in the tiny post office next door.
But so much here has, in fact, continued to evolve in the very best way. The chef changed his name to Francis Pascal (from Trzeciak) when he became an American citizen four years ago. Now 54, and wiser, he finally hired some help on the kitchen line, and begun expanding the menu – and even opened a pastry shop and cafe, ButterScotch (1406 Hollow Rd.) across the street to feature Jane Urban's croissants and desserts. Most significant, though, he has gotten happily married to another restaurateur, Nui Kullana of Thai L'Elephant, and the cross-cultural influences have begun to appear elegantly in his cooking. The excellent duck comes with a Sichuan crust. Fish sauce and rice vinegar lighten the sauces. And then there are the gorgeous summer rolls whose supple rice paper wrappers are stuffed with delicately poached lobster marinated in Korean chilies and honey, topped with yuzu tobiko, and then posed over a creamy lobster bisque enriched with port and saffron. It's a decidedly Gallic flourish for an Asian inspiration, but in this bucolic corner of Chester County, it's the genuine taste of a talented chef embracing the latest chapter in his life.
– Craig LaBan
Lobster summer rolls, $11, Birchrunville Store Café, 1403 Hollow Rd, Birchrunville, PA 19421, 610-827-9002; birchrunvillestorecafe.com