Finding the right spot to have lunch out in the summer is often a matter of pleasant contrasts.
On the one hand, there’s the attraction of the sidewalk café in the middle of a crowded, bustling city. It’s a place to sit with old friends or even make a few new ones, sunglasses on and a bottle of wine chilling in the ice bucket as people pass by a few feet from your table, some stopping to say hello.
On the other, there’s the lure of the countryside, driving down quiet roads you scarcely know or have forgotten about, top down in a vintage convertible no matter your age. In the passenger seat is someone you care about, the two of you looking for an exciting spot in the middle of nowhere, or perhaps nestled in a small town that time has graciously opted to forget a bit longer.
Even if you live in the country, there are places a half hour or so away that you can finally decide to visit for the first time—or revisit after you’ve stayed away too long. To get you started, here are five of our favorites to consider.
This venerable roadhouse on the western edge of Marshallton is as close as you can find in southern Pennsylvania to the type of small country restaurant you might stumble across in some upland village in Provence away from the ocean—both in its atmosphere and its food.
It has plenty of American comfort foods on the menu, including sandwiches, soups, salads and flatbreads. But the menu also gives a nod to Gallic comfort food— Burgundy snails, duck terrine, rare cheeses and charcuterie, and lots of fondue options. In fact, the downside of eating at the Dogs is that there are more good choices than you can try.
The inside has a great atmosphere, bolstered by a fireplace. But in summer, you’ll want to dine outside on the dappled patio, either finding your place in the sun or retreating to a spot in the shade. Choose from a selection of wines by the bottle or glass, beer, and cocktails.
1300 W. Strasburg Road, West Chester, Pa.
If Four Dogs is reminiscent of a French country inn, The Whip will remind you of an English backcountry pub. A few miles west of the Dog, at the intersection of North Chatham (Route 841) and Springdel roads near Coatesville, it’s nestled among the biggest and most lavish horse farms that Chester County Hunt Country has to offer.
With a plethora of beers and ales on tap, the menu is a delight for first-timers who’ve never experienced rural English or Irish cookery—think bubble and squeak, Welsh rarebit, ploughman’s lunch, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips. For the more temperate palate, there’s house-cured gravlax, grilled quail, Runnymede watercress and, in a nod to the English love of curries, Thai curry mussels.
The inside is spare, with silent TV screens tuned to horse races and rugby matches. Outside, there’s a lovely small patio beside a brook that’s been known to babble. Fair warning: Go early, as demand is high and parking is limited. Closed on Tuesdays; no reservations.
1383 N. Chatham Road, Coatesville, Pa.
West Grove is one of a half dozen towns in southern Chester County joined together by old U.S. Route 1. But unlike Avondale and booming Jennersville, which bookend it, West Grove has remained pretty much the same over the past half century.
The one thing that did change 10 years ago was its dining scene, after chef Tim Smith decided to locate his Twelves Grill & Café inside the old Sovereign Bank Building. True to West Grove tradition, however, little has changed on Smith’s menu since. Not that anyone’s complaining, as the choices provide something for most tastes and diets. Why disturb a pat hand?
Twelves is BYOB, so put a bottle of wine in your tote and head on down (or up) Route 1. Note: The corkage fee is waived if the wine is locally produced.
10 Exchange Place, West Grove, Pa.
Though northern Delaware may be suffering from McMansion fever, with larger houses going up on shrinking lots, Montchanin remains an oasis just off the western bank of the Brandywine Creek. Located along bucolic Delaware Route 1, it’s a quaint country village hidden in plain sight.
Krazy Kat’s restaurant is part of the Inn at Montchanin, which itself incorporates the restored houses of this 19th-century hamlet. There are 28 rooms and suites in all, in case your romantic lunch turns into a romantic weekend. Krazy Kat’s is a serious but comfortable restaurant with a great menu and a decent wine collection. Its Bloody Mary is also one of the best in the Wilmington area.
528 Montchanin Road, Montchanin, Del.
Many people don’t realize that there’s a trilogy of small towns that constitute the epicenter of local Hunt Country, whether one rides to the hounds or breeds and trains thoroughbred horses. They may know about Unionville and Fair Hill, but few realize that the area around Chesapeake City is also rich in horse farms and green agricultural acres.
So you should feel right at home at the Bayard House, which sits on the southern edge of the scenic Chesapeake & Delaware Canal in Chesapeake City. The Bayard has outside seating downstairs in the bar area. Instead, sit upstairs and breathe in the atmosphere of the historic building itself, which dates back to the 1780s. Plus, you get a better view whenever one of those huge ocean-going vessels passes through from one bay to the other.
Of course, we should mention that the food is great, as the Bayard is one of the best primarily seafood restaurants in the area, and the bar service is also quite good.
Where else to go? Pick a small town you haven’t been to recently and try exploring. Oxford? Delaware City? Port Deposit? Maybe you’ll uncover something exciting, perhaps not. If nothing else, the drive itself may prove to be as enjoyable as the destination.
11 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City, Md.