All over our rich countryside in the quiet glow of autumn days, you’ll find quaint crossroad villages with names like Doe Run, West Grove, Unionville and Marshallton. With no parking meters to feed and no traffic jams at peak hours, each is home to at least one intriguing culinary destination.
Leaving West Chester, Strasburg Road quickly slips into the wooded countryside, downhill and across a branch of the Brandywine and up past the northern edges of Stroud Preserve. Quite suddenly, you’re in the village of Marshallton. Small, neat and quiet today, it was once a stop on the journey from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. A more casual counterpart to the Marshalton Inn, which sits just across a courtyard and parking area, Four Dogs Tavern was once a stable and barn. The name comes from a portrait of four canines discovered during renovation.
In cooler months, the coziest part of the restaurant is next to a fireplace near the bar. The vibe changes in summer and fall with tables outside beneath the trees. Four Dogs’ “new American, brassiere-style” menu is one of the most interesting in the area. It’s one of the few places where you can find Burgundy snails and duck terrine alongside Carolina pulled pork sandwiches, a griddled Reuben and pear salad. There’s also a full bar. 1300 W. Strasburg Road, West Chester, Pennsylvania, (610) 692-4367, thefourdogstavern.com.
Whereas Four Dogs Tavern once served the needs of horses, Twelves Grill & Cafe had a past life as a bank. Located next to the post office just off old Route 1 in West Grove, Twelves was purchased in 2018 by current owners Knute and Bernadette Mellon. The pair recently branched out to open Blondes and Brewnettes Brewing Company nearby.
There’s a certain throwback charm to Twelves, with its small main dining area centered around an open bank vault. The varied, simply prepared menu features favorites like crab cakes, burgers and tasty salads. While continuing its BYOB tradition, it now offers local beers and wines. 10 Exchange Place, West Grove, Pennsylvania, (610) 869-4020, twelvesgrill.com.
Located along Kennett Pike in Centreville, Buckley’s Tavern is one of those rare rural eateries that can mimic the bustling vibe of a city restaurant. The structure dates to 1817, when it was a private dwelling. It’s been an eatery in some form or another for nearly a century. With his many culinary honors, chef and part owner Tom Hannum is a local institution. Even so, his varied menu is more American comfort food than haute cuisine. It’s likely that anyone who’s worked or shopped anywhere north of Wilmington has eaten here at least a few times, either at the bar, in one of its prized booths or in the more sedate main dining area. 5812 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, (302) 656-9776, buckleystavern.com.
Once a 19th-century general store at the intersection of West Doe Run and Embreeville roads in Unionville’s tiny single-intersection downtown, Catherine’s Restaurant has long been a destination restaurant, especially for its mushroom-and-crab soup. Its Sunday brunch selection is broad and imaginative, whether it’s the lemon-blueberry ricotta buttermilk pancakes or the Waygu beef burgers with aged cheddar and roasted poblano ketchup. 1701 W. Doe Run Road, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, (610) 347-2227, catherinesrestaurant.com.
As good as the food is, The Whip Tavern’s prime location may be the real draw. It sits on perhaps the loveliest stretch of country road in Chester County, west of Unionville via Route 82 and along Route 841 north out of Chatham. The scenery is mostly preserved open land, part of the old King Ranch—and don’t be surprised to find traffic stopped to allow passage for red-jacketed riders atop galloping horses in hot pursuit of a furry animal.
As for the food, it’s classic English and Irish pub fare—Welsh rarebit, bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, lots of savory sandwiches and salads, and even a curry. All of it is impeccably prepared. You can BYOB for a $5 corkage fee or opt for one of their draft beers. Eat in or out on the back porch, alongside Doe Run. And though it’s in the middle of nowhere, parking is at a premium (long story). 1383 N. Chatham Road, Coatesville, Pennsylvania, (610) 383-0600, thewhiptavern.com.
After being destroyed by fire in January 2020, Sovana Bistro is back and better than ever. This Kennett Square mainstay has been known for its fresh, well-prepared, meticulously presented food, from pizza to tuna tartare to short-rib tacos. The post-fire Sovana has a spacious feel and a more upbeat vibe.
Tucked away in a small office complex at the intersection of Routes 926 and 82, Sovana is the least rural of our country restaurants setting-wise, though there’s plenty of open fields and farmland on all of its approaches. 696 Unionville Road, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, (610) 444-5600, sovanabistro.com.