"I'd like to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over."
Robert Frost's poem "Birches" offers a lovely inspiration for a restaurant, an oasis for refreshment and rejuvenation just like the idealized trees in the poem.
Owners Jamie Foy and Scott Carlbon have created just such a refuge in the historic Mechanics National Bank at the corner of Broad and High Streets in Burlington City, only a block from the town's RiverLine light-rail stop.
About a dozen birches imported from the Midwest have been potted, pressure-preserved and re-leafed with silk to remain evergreen. They tower over white-clothed cherry tables toward the bank's high ceilings, creating intimate dining clusters.
Remnants of the 1839 bank remain, as well. Giant arched, wooden doors greet diners' arrival. The marble tellers' counter divides the dining room from the well-stocked bar, and the huge, round, open vault hosts a private table.
This is a restaurant as pretty as any in Center City Philadelphia, and a prime candidate for special events.
However, the food at a recent lunch didn't live up to the lovely decor. The "American fusion" menu certainly has potential, offering an interesting mixture of meat and fish dishes without being overly ambitious. But the execution the day of our visit was weak - poor ingredients, overcooked meat, lukewarm food.
We began with lobster bisque ($6) and spinach salad ($7). The creamy soup, infused with tarragon and brandy, was bland and contained little lobster. The good-sized salad was the better starter - smoky with bacon and tart with vinaigrette, but the button mushrooms were past their prime.
A nice cut of beef in the sliced steak sandwich ($9) arrived well done instead of medium rare, as requested. However, onions were perfectly caramelized; the roll was crusty and fresh, and the fries spicy.
The pot pie ($10) combined the traditional peas, carrots, onions and chunk chicken under a flaky puff pastry. But overall, it was too dry to satisfy.
Desserts prepared in-house were creme brulee and cheesecake, but we opted for the imported five-layered chocolate cake ($10). Moist and sinfully sweet, it proved the best choice of the day.
While we were in no hurry, service was excruciatingly slow. Three RiverLine trains, which stop every half-hour, passed in the course of our soup-and-sandwich meal.
Enchanted on first sight, I had hoped to become a regular swinger of Burlington City's Birches. But it will need better consistency to persuade me.
354 High St., Burlington City.
Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. The bar stays open later.
On street; municipal lot two blocks away.
On the Web:
» READ MORE: www.birchesburlington.com