Birchrunville Store Café
1403 Hollow Road
When a restaurant is TOO highly praised, as a somewhat jaded professional “hired belly,” I freely confess that I almost immediately find myself suffering from an exaggerated incredulity. “I mean, nothing can be that good…” Or maybe I’m just a hopeless skeptic.
I just know that the longer one rides the culinary trail – and, after almost fifteen years, saddle sores are not at all that uncommon – the more difficult it becomes to impress the palate. But the Birchrunville Store Café succeeded – so very quietly – in doing just that.
And this was no mean feat, as the gastronomic romance got off to a decidedly rocky start… We’d been wanting to try Birchrunville for some time, so we thought that Wednesday, March 2nd, my wife’s birthday, would be the perfect time (due to its diminutive size and continuing popularity, weekend bookings must be made months in advance, whereas weekday reservations are infinitely easier to come by). So I phoned, secured the date & time and all was well… that is, until the restaurant called back a few days later to inform us that the chef would be out of town on Wednesday and we’d have to settle for Thursday evening, March 3rd. Expletive deleted! Tough enough getting into this joint, I was fuming, without having the date you’ve chosen well in advance kicked out from under you at the last possible moment.
So when March 3rd rolled around, I wasn’t feeling terribly kindly disposed… But it didn’t take long for the restaurant to win me over. The setting, of course – pure bucolic bliss – is a big draw. Twelve wooden tables, lace trimmings, and a plethoric variety of melting candles set off the cozy dining area. Restrooms are located in the attached tiny post office just out the front door and to your left.
The service is also a plus. Skilled restaurant help is hard enough to find… but out here in the boonies you’d think it would be nigh on impossible. Ah, but not so. The servers are young, enthusiastic, and totally without pretension. They are all very familiar with menu nuances and their casual, down-to-earth explications immediately put diners at ease. Your enjoyment is, refreshingly, their primary concern.
Ambient pleasures and first-rate service notwithstanding, it is chef/proprietor Francis Trzeciak’s impeccable cuisine that continues to draw patrons over the meadow and through the woods into the hinterlands. Mr. Trzeciak’s credentials – including Philly’s Monte Carlo Living Room and Wayne’s Taquet – are impressive; however, over a decade ago he decided to chuck the urban/suburban rat race for the idyllic life of rural Chester County… and those of us living within easy commuting distance of his restaurant are that much richer for his decision.
Mr. Trzeciak’s culinary offerings are innovative blends of French and Italian traditions… but not so over-the-top as to be intimidating. They are contemporary of character without being cutesy. And the menu, which changes daily, is certain to appeal to a wide spectrum of diners. As an added plus, all meat served in the restaurant is free range and free of growth hormones, steroids, and antibiotics.
To start things off, when it is available, the seafood triptych presented in the form of a Japanese bento is a treat for both eye and palate. Moving from left to right, you have a firm & tender skate wing kissed by a langoustine emulsion… a dense and delectable portion of white tuna splashed with sweet/tart balsamic syrup… and, finally, three pristinely crisp & crunchy prawns paired with a lemon confit emulsion. An incomparable beginning to any meal.
Then again, there is always the house favorite, a light and fluffy French goat cheese soufflé embellished with a seductive sun-dried tomato vinaigrette and companioned by a tangle of baby greens… Or, for a more substantial prelude, it is difficult to resist the considerable charms of the inordinately sensual veal cheek presented on a pillow of beluga lentils and spiked with lemongrass.
As you move on to the entrées, numerous possibilities present themselves. The confirmed carnivore, for example, will find it difficult to resist either the Black Angus strip steak or the roasted rack of lamb. The former is presented with a roasted garlic crust and rosemary-Shiraz reduction; the latter is encrusted with fresh herbs and served with roasted cherry tomatoes and a creamy goat cheese polenta.
Among the piscatorial pleasures, the branzino (Mediterranean sea bass), a special of the evening, was absolutely benchmark. The perfectly prepared filet was accompanied by rich, meaty scallops, crunchy haricots verts, and finished with an extraordinarily subtle lemon beurre blanc.
On the other hand, I found it difficult to resist the not inconsiderable charms of the veal tenderloin involtini. The tenderloin was pounded wafer thin, stuffed with pancetta and fontina cheese, then rolled in panko breadcrumbs and pan sautéed. The roll is then cut on the bias and presented in five vertical towers anointed with an assertively addictive sage reduction.
Desserts run the gamut… from the ubiquitous Grand Marnier crème brûlée to chocolate hazelnut croissant bread pudding to banana walnut toffee semifreddo. However, on this particular occasion, several old favorites proved the perfect denouements to our special celebration: a marvelously flaky apple tart with vanilla gelato; and a superb chocolate tart garnished with coconut gelato.
An evening at the Birchrunville Store Café is a dining experience well worth seeking out – and savoring. And, while prices are certainly not inexpensive (appetizers peak at around $12.00; entrées at about $30.00; and desserts top out at $9.00), given the quality of the cuisine, service, and the ambiance, they are a relative bargain.
Just be advised… the restaurant serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday only; and the restaurant has two seatings: 6:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. and 8:00 – 8:30 p.m. As noted at the outset, Friday & Saturday evening bookings must be made months in advance; reservations on Wednesday & Thursday evenings, on the other hand, are infinitely easier to snare. The establishment accepts cash or check only. NO CREDIT CARDS.
BYOB (and a superior vintage is certainly called for).
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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