Shoppes at Longwood Gardens, 847 E. Baltimore Pike, Kennett Square; 484-732-8320; hearthkennettsquare.com
After several years away opening successful restaurants in Wilmington, chef Bryan Sikora has returned to Kennett Square (where he helped create Talula's Table) and opened an intriguing Italian-centric concept in an updated strip-mall space outfitted with a wood-fired oven turning out pizzas, pastas, and cocktails. The service has at times been problematic, ranging from outright confused to adequate. But the food is at times outstanding, especially the pastas and rustic Euro entrees, executed with bold, fresh flavors and local inspirations that provide a fine reminder of why Sikora has long been one of my favorite chefs. A solid bet for a good meal to accompany any trip to Longwood Gardens.
MENU HIGHLIGHTS Truffled foie gras toast; Taleggio grilled cheese; white bean sausage soup; shrimp-pesto salad; pork cheek ravioli with chanterelles; truffled bucatini; mafalde with duck ragu; ricotta gnocchi with sweet corn sauce; stuffed veal loin; grilled swordfish; pork tenderloin, belly and polenta with peach demi; pizzas: prosciutto-peach; Italian sausage; mushroom.
DRINKS The cocktail bar struggled to execute its split list of classics and originals with consistency and polish, though the spicy tequila Mexican Firing Squad was a solid favorite. About 25 wines are available by the glass, with choices that are more interesting sparkling Lambrusco, tart assyrtiko, Touriga Nacional rose, Garnacha than polished. A bottle list focused on Italy and California offer some more upscale options, including bottles from Ojai (misspelled on the list), Pride, Shaver, Andre Bonhomme, as well as the co-owner's White Horse Winery in Hammonton, N.J. The White Horse rosé is better than expected.
WEEKEND NOISE An occasionally deafening noise level, hovering around 97 decibels, is a major flaw Sikora and crew are trying to address. (Ideal is 75 decibels or less.)
IF YOU GO Lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m-3 p.m. Dinner nightly, 5-10 p.m. Mid-day menu Monday through Friday, 3-5 p.m.
Dinner entrees, $15-$30.
All major cards.
Reservations highly suggested, especially weekends.
Free parking lot.