Inhale deeply, dining public: Pennsylvania has finally caught up with neighboring states to enact a law that bans smoking in restaurants. Now we can savor the wonderful aromas wafting from area kitchens without choking on cigarette fumes. Starting with this column, all restaurants listed are smoke-free (indoors, at least; if patios and terraces allow smoking, I’ll alert you).
There are a couple of eateries you should try, starting with The Lincoln Room (28 W. Market St. at Wilmont Mews, West Chester, 610.696.2102, www.lincolnroomwestchester.com). Proprietor Susan Johnstone has created a cozy tea parlor on the ground floor of an 1833 Federal-style structure known as West Chester’s first office building. It’s the ideal spot to come in out of the cold for some soup, sandwiches, quiche, or pastries, and a freshly brewed steaming pot of tea.
My lunchtime sampler had crustless mini-sandwiches (artichoke and brie on wheat, cream cheese and chives on pumpernickel, chicken salad on white, and mango chutney on cinnamon bread) that looked delicate but were pleasingly filling. A plate of desserts, including The Lincoln Room’s signature bread pudding, concluded the meal.
The room is intimate, with about two dozen seats. White wainscoting, an embossed white metal ceiling, and a large front window enlarge the space. Spring through fall, additional seating is available outdoors in the shaded courtyard.
As you sip and sup, let the historic significance of the setting soak in. In the 1850s and 1860s, the brick building housed the offices of The Chester County Times, a weekly anti-slavery newspaper. A biographical sketch of Abraham Lincoln that ran in the Times and was republished in leading East Coast newspapers is credited with securing his 1860 presidential nomination and eventual win.
Susan is an energetic booster of West Chester—no surprise, since she’s married to Malcolm Johnstone, Executive Director of West Chester’s Business Improvement District. Malcolm is also a classical guitarist who graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; he’ll perform occasionally at The Lincoln Room as part of the abundant schedule of events Susan has arranged. Her hospitality and his talent combine for a don’t-miss occasion. Consult the Web site for dates, then make reservations.
“Murray’s” has been synonymous with “deli” in the Philadelphia area since 1945. With the Bryn Mawr original now closed, and a West Chester branch short-lived, heirs to the pastrami institution Bob and Gayle Teti continue—and enhance—the tradition with Murray’s Main Line and bistro M (575 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn, 610.644.1010, www.bistromberwyn.com; BYOB).
Hard-core traditionalists needn’t worry. Murray’s signature sandwiches, smoked fish platters, cheeses, salads, and Dr. Brown’s sodas are available for eat-in or takeout. But it’s time for you to meet Murray’s younger, cooler brother, bistro M, housed in the former Berwyn Ice House next door to (and sharing an entrance with) the deli. No pickle barrels on this side of the wall! Gayle, an interior designer, fashioned an urban chic dining room that mixes hard and soft, bright and subdued, for a comfortable, lively space. Tables have more-than-adequate separation, and an upholstered wall helps absorb sound. The fleur-de-lis stenciled on each chair reminds me of a bow on a special present—it’s a touch of whimsy that keeps the sophisticated space from feeling pretentious.
Chef Chad Wilkoff trained at Johnson & Wales, and has cooked at El Vez and Susanna Foo, among others, so he’s not afraid to venture beyond corned beef. The cuisine is global, accented with Asian, Mexican, and European flavors.
Creative starters on the dinner menu include stir-fried basil pork with chile, lime, and oyster sauces in an endive cup, and mini kobe burgers on onion buns. Several seafood selections are available for entrees (so hard to decide between seared ahi tuna and almond-dusted sea scallops!) along with the more familiar fare like steak frites and rack of lamb. Wilkoff scores consistently with his choice of vegetables and side dishes, balancing a butternut squash puree with simple micro-greens alongside the scallop entree, for example, or pairing German sweet potato salad with slow-roasted baby back ribs.
The lunch menu at bistro M is extensive, with wraps, burgers, salads, smoked fish, and just about any sandwich you can think of, including Murray’s classics. You and your tablemates can choose old or new, an apt metaphor for the place where deli case meets bistro space.