The historic county seat boasts quaint downtown charm, but also a sophisticated bistro, inventive small plates and bustling BYOBs.
The soapstone bar in the downstairs dining room is the lively scene where most regulars convene at this French brasserie that has become Doylestown’s best restaurant. Set in the historic bones of a Civil War-era livery attached to the Agricultural Works, this is exactly where I sipped an afternoon away over a chilly glass of vermentino, good conversation, and a half-dozen Maine oysters perfectly baked beneath a crust of bread crumbs scented with Pernod and Piave cheese. Bar manager Jared Davis expertly crafted a perfect Corpse Reviver and paired wines with our plates. It was clear, as the meal unfolded, how much this restaurant has settled in to excellence over the past 11 years.
Owner-chef Mark Matyas brought a classically trained French pedigree from New York’s La Grenouille along with some silky quenelles in creamy crawfish sauce, textbook trout meunière, steak au poivre, and stuffed loin of lamb. A decade later, son Eric works alongside him in the kitchen while his daughter Siena works the dining room alongside his wife, Susan, bringing a genuine family warmth to the space. And while the menu format has shifted with the times from the traditional appetizer-entrée format to “bistro plates” (Matyas calls them “largish small plates”), the food is better than ever for sharing. Finely minced salmon tartare sparks with capers and preserved lemon. Seared scallops nestle into frothy lemon butter and mushroom risotto dusted with porcini powder. An unusual corn crepe studded with chicken livers and sherry vinegared shallots is one of the oddball sleeper hits.
And Slate Bleu doesn’t ease up when it comes to dessert, with colorful favorites like the pistachio soufflé and a seasonal whim like the corn-infused panna cotta with blueberries. But the array of homemade ice creams is not to be missed, especially sandwiched inside the classic choux pastry puffs of profiteroles. Caramel, vanilla, and espresso are the favored flavors, but I was wowed by the berry dark cassis sorbet. And nothing beat the boozy Argmanac-prune — basically rum-raisin for grown-ups, and the perfect finale to a memorable meal.
The napkins are black at Honey because the crowd is just as chic as the menu and inventive cocktails at this sexy Doylestown destination, where small-plates roam the globe with a creative verve, and the service has a pro polish that’s uncommon in the ‘burbs. Roast duck samosas? Mini-quesadillas stuffed with wild mushrooms and huitlacoche crema? There are no borders to stifle self-taught chef Joe McAtee’s palate, who opened this 42-seat, booth-lined hive of culinary ambition with wife Amy McAtee a decade ago.
There’s a somewhat retro quality now to the unbridled fusion that melds continents here on a plate. But when it works, which it usually does, it’s a thrill. Watermelon gazpacho tingles with the smoky warmth of paprika oil on top. Dumplings stuffed with slow-braised oxtail come over kohlrabi puree and a mysterious dark “J-1 sauce” infused with black garlic, stout beer, and truffles. The braised spare ribs glazed in cardamom-scented black tea sauce are so good, they don’t need the gimmicky distraction of ginger ice cream. The frozen garnish works wonders, though, with “Fire & Ice,” a cone-shaped glass of king crab cocktail tossed in zesty miso mayo that takes on a layer of complexity with a savory sorbet made from spiced carrots.
It may look like just a five-seat counter inside a market place gallery of stores in the downtown. But grab one of those stools and watch the Carollo brothers, Roberto and Salvatore, work their 900-degree wood-fired oven to turn-out some of the best Neapolitan-style pies—heat-blistered and puffy-crusted—in 90 seconds flat. Of course, their slow-rise 72-hour fermentation process is a big part of what makes their pizzas so flavorful, but so are the toppings, like a “Capricciosa” version of a Quattro Stagione that blends cooked ham, artichoke hearts and mushrooms, or the crowd favorite Carbonara white pie topped with Pecorino, sliced pancetta, mozzarella and a cracked egg. There are simple fresh salads (try the shaved fennel) to compliment the minimalist menu, plus a dining room annex for more seating. But now I’m motivated to try their larger location in Northern Liberties, where they churn their own pistachio and basil gelati.
Doylestowners don’t seem to mind the cramped quarters and noise at this popular 35-seat BYOB, largely because the rustic Italian cuisine is steady and affordable, if not always a picture of finesse (witness the less-than-tender veal Saffron and a gummy lasagna.) But there are still some distinctive specialties that are worth the trip, including an excellent polenta cake sauced in rich Gorgonzola rosemary cream, the crisply fried veal-beef meatballs, and the handkerchief-thin ribbons of fresh fazzoletti pasta tossed with a hearty braise of short ribs and vegetables with Parmesan melted into the sauce. A new neighboring dining room called Sorella has added seating for 12.
This tourist town on the Delaware has no shortage of great restaurants, from vegan to burgers.
Earl’s New American
Take a break from shopping at Peddler’s Village in Lahaska and step into the sophisticated yet casual ambience of this wood-trimmed restaurant (or its gracious patio) for a martini and an ambitious meal. This is a second incarnation of Earl’s an appealing “New American” revamp of the steak house formerly known as Earl’s Prime. And while you can still get a hefty cut of New York strip, the house-made pastas and seafood dishes — like the Asian-scented lobster dumplings, the she-crab soup and seared scallops over wild mushroom risotto — were the highlights of our meal. A few off details — a mostly macro beer list, par-baked food service bread, cheap cheese on the gratinées and inconsistent seasoning — show this venue’s limitations.
Reimagine the burger-and-shake shop for the 21st century with a go-local, grass-fed twist and you’ll have Moo, a hip food truck-turned-storefront on New Hope’s Main Street whose sleekly tiled little dining room with communal tables feels like a fresh indie take on Shake Shack. Top your excellent LaFrieda patty with an organic egg, a summer ripe tomato or crispy bacon from a Pennsylvania farm. And definitely do not miss the shakes made from Trickling Springs Creamery ice cream whirred up with local blueberries and crumbled cookies.
Blue Moose Restaurant And Café
What began as a supper club in 2006 run by a precocious 14-year-old chef named Skylar Bird has evolved into full-scale American BYOB that’s become a hard-to-book local favorite for intimate, affordable dinners just off New Hope’s tourist strip. The prix-fixe menu format delivers well-cooked renditions of familiar dishes with smart little tweaks — maple-glazed salmon, sweet lump crab cakes with mango salsa, soulful cider-glazed pork shank over carrot puree — that are a solid bargain as part of a three-course menu for $34. Pro tip: go early (or stay late) and grab a seat across the street overlooking the canal at Nektar Wine Bar (8 W. Mechanic St., 267-743-2109; nektarnewhope.com) and sample international flights from their 28 bottle cruvinet, an extensive whiskey list and dozens of artisan cheeses and charcuterie.
Sprig & Vine
Former Horizons chef de cuisine Ross Olchvary has created one the area’s most interesting vegan kitchens in a strip mall BYOB just beyond New Hope’s main drag. The menu relies on sustainable local ingredients and international ideas for plates that feel fresh and inventive. Highlights of our meal included satay-glazed Brussels sprouts, green onion pancakes stuffed with maitakes, and crisply fried kabocha squash soba noodles in nori-miso butter.
This charming river town is suddenly home to one of the suburbs most innovative kitchens - and hot doughnuts.
Bucks County diners are often divided into two camps when it comes to Charcoal. Conservative eaters love it by day, when the Plescha family’s riverside haunt has a long track record as an unpretentious destination for pancakes and eggs, house-ground burgers (patties infused with butter!) and the slow-fermented, hand-rolled “extra fat” brioche doughnuts rolled hot in sugar that are worthy of the trip itself.
Adventure eaters, meanwhile, relish Charcoal at night, when the next generation of Plescha cooks, brothers Mark and Eric Anton, turns down the lights and transforms the crisp gray room into airy perch over the Delaware River serving some of the most inventive, avant-garde fare anywhere in the suburbs. The siblings have matured by leaps and bounds since launching their dinners in 2008, mastering their high-tech toys (immersion circulators, pasta extruders, Cvap ovens) for dishes that are irrepressibly creative but also accessible, from the exceptional house sourdough to the five-step grilled octo with savory caramel. The must-order whimsical pastas are often tinted with unusual ingredients in the doughs — A-1 sauce (for the meatloaf Bolognese), Worcestershire (for the chicken marsala fusilli) — that give a haute-wink to the restaurant’s diner DNA. Then there are odes to great local ingredients, like the fried Griggstown Farm chickens, glossed Korean-style sauce at my last visit, or a juicy slab of prime-grade rib-eye. Topped with minced broccoli gremolata, this steak was a carnivore’s delight, and the kind of classic idea touched with a modern twist that just might unite the two camps of Charcoal fans into one.
KO MODERN KOREAN CUISINE
This contemporary strip-mall space is a stylish Korean-fusion sibling to the popular nearby Japanese-themed Oishi. I loved the array of homemade dumplings, especially the doughnut-shaped rounds stuffed with kimchi that came bobbing in soup (also on the dumpling sampler). There are plenty of trendy street foods on the small plate menu that owner John Im says are stepping-stone dishes intended to ease his mainstream audience into the flavors of Korean cuisine — bao buns stuffed with pork belly, Korean tacos, good Korean fried chicken. But my favorite items were the meaty grill classics like the galbi short rib platter or bulgogi, served on a clever porcelain bento plate and a great value for $20. The sushi also is very good.
Pretty Bird Coffee Roasters
Is Yardley now the doughnut capital of the suburbs? First came Charcoal’s artisan brioche wonders; now comes the doughnut robot behind the counter at this hip new coffee shop from the owners of Vault Brewing Co. just across the street. Vault is roasting its own high-end beans, all the better for those beautiful macchiatos and single-origin pour-overs. But it’s the glorious carbs to go with the caffeine that should draw the morning crowds from the nearby Starbucks, with fancy flavors (maple-blueberry; caramel-drizzled turtle; strawberry sugar) and a simple vanilla glazed that is sublime.
Vault Brewing Co.
The safe door is swung wide open at this converted 19th-century bank. But the gleaming brewery behind the bar (not to mention the wood-fired pizza oven) cue the space’s current incarnation as one of the most well-rounded entries in the brewpub field. The beers excel with twists on familiar styles like local malt and hops for the Penn Harvest ale, sweet potatoes (instead of pumpkin) for a creamy seasonal brew on nitro draft, a little smoke in the Robust Porter. Vault’s hearth-driven kitchen delivers with nouveau takes on pizza (duck confit with caramelized onions, bacon, and apples), cauliflower roasted in vivid orange Buffalo glaze, big salads (couscous, kale, and goat cheese), and oven-roasted s’mores with oozing beer-infused marshmallows.
Innovative vegetarian cuisine, Uzbek kebabs and a farm-to-table BYOB channel the bounty of Bucks County produce.
Blue Sage was one of the region’s true pioneers of serious vegetarian cooking when I first reviewed its globe-hopping menu in 2001. But a lot has changed in the past 16 years, as mainstream audiences learned to embrace their veggies and vegan cooking became the new meat-free dining norm. So I was delighted on my recent revisit to discover that not only had Blue Sage moved from its original strip-mall storefront into an impressive new contemporary space across Second Street Pike, but that chef-owner Michael Jackson’s cooking feels as fresh as ever.
Jackson, a one-time rocker turned self-taught chef, has always eschewed fake meats in favor of hearty vegetable and grain-based riffs on international favorites. That remains the case, but the dishes seemed more refined than ever, with more layers of flavor and a greater sense of balance that felt a little less heavy than before. They also brimmed with creativity that sometimes surprised me. Arancini rice fritters took on the unexpected fall tone of pumpkin and green apples in their moist fillings, with toasty almonds instead bread crumbs for crust. Some “Buddha” tacos over soft yellow tortillas (blue corn Johnny cakes are a gluten-free option) were stuffed with a sweet potato hash, toasty peanuts, a snappy tangle of greens, and chile-flared crème fraîche. The Korean Fried Chicken trend, meanwhile, appears here with fried cauliflower subbing for the bird, its crispy nuggets glossed in spicy-sweet sauce over rich popcorn grits and roasted baby roots. How could I possibly eat dessert, too? Well, there was a white chocolate cashew tart filled with whipped banana cream, caramel and brûléed bananas I just couldn’t say no to. After all these years of meat-free dining progress, a meal at Blue Sage is still a definite yes.
Dinner at Maize is so slow that the first time we traveled up to Perkasie for dinner, we barely made it to the welcome biscuits before we realized we had to go. But those drop biscuits were so good — baked to order and warm upon guests’ arrival with fresh-ground sprouted wheat and corn from Castle Valley Mills — they lingered in my family’s imagination for a year. When we finally returned with more time to relax, we waited some more, munching on bowls of olive oil-chive popcorn, and soon realized why people put up with Maize’s maddeningly meticulous approach to cook for its 28-seat dining room just a couple tables at a time. The food is simply delicious. And there just aren’t many restaurants in Upper Bucks county that have embraced the local farm bounty and micro-seasonal approach to cooking as much as this warm little BYOB from Lacroix-alum Matt McPhelin, who also worked at Savona and Slate Bleu.
Telford tomatoes are simmered down with leeks and mussels for a refined Mediterranean sauce to pair with swordfish. Castle Valley’s Bloody Butcher corn is milled into grits for seared shrimp and house-cured bacon ringed by grain mustard and chive sauce. One of the most luxurious lump crab cakes I’ve eaten all year arrives towering over a bed of corn — the ears picked that day — since, after all, this restaurant is called Maize — whose summer sweetness is nudged with a hint of vanilla bean. Blooming Glen pork cheeks are braised to a rustic softness alongside black-eyed peas. Tender duck breast fanned over silky sweet potatoes and snappy wax beans. By the meal’s end, we had run out of our budgeted time for dessert. But … Wait! Wait! Wait! The kitchen still had one more final treat baking for us in the oven before we left — a plate of still-hot mini-cookies traced with a chocolate smiley face. They were mirrored by our own.
Leonardo’s Italian Bakery (And Da Vinci’s Brick Oven Pizzeria)
183 Bustleton Pike, Feasterville-Trevose, 215-357-0357, visit website
There’s a lot of good bread in this region, but few are as distinctive — and as excellent — as the flour-dusted rustic Italian loaves that come in multiple shaves from this classic Feasterville bakery. They’re a favorite in restaurants (and Produce Junctions) around the region. But a visit to the bakery itself (and the Da Vinci’s pizzeria next door) will give an opportunity to also taste what is also one of the better tomato pies around.
1135 Bustleton Pike #2, Feasterville-Trevose, 267-288-5077, visit website
A taste of Central Asian adventure awaits at this hidden suburban strip-mall gem, where a vast, blue-lighted banquet hall showcases the exotic flavors of Uzbekistan. Charcoal-grilled skewers of lamb in all its forms (whole chops, chunks of leg, ground and seasoned, flavorful ribs), soulful soups, meaty samsa pastries and manti dumplings, and lamb-scented pilafs are prepared by native chefs for large tables of expats who come toting their own vodka and Cognac ready to dance their kebabs off to live music.
Mountain Laurel Spirits (Dad’s Hat)
The producers of Dad's Hat have been pioneers in reclaiming Pennsylvania's heritage as a center for rye, which dates back to the Whiskey Rebellion in the 18th century. But it's more than just a story. Dad's Hat has grown into one of the most celebrated rye distilleries in America; its flagship bottle was named 2016 Craft Whiskey of the year by the influential Malt Advocate. These whiskeys get more complex and exciting with every year, however, and the special series finished in port and vermouth barrels are exceptional.
There's no kitchen at this brewery deep in the heart of thirsty Bucks County - just a lively food truck scene. But the crowds of beer tourists are impressive, toasting with cloudy "New England-style" IPAs, malty brown ales on nitro, and frothy mango-wheat brews at community tables amid shiny fermentation tanks on the production floor. Most of the excitement, though, unfolds in the basement where founder and brewmaster John Stemler has 1,500 barrels aging, lambic-style, to mouth-puckering sour beer perfection. If you can, get a taste of Olly, a rare curiosity that takes three years to age, or one of the younger sours with seasonal fruit and local grains like Provisional Funk w/Cherries. A perfect first stop to pick up something for a BYOB dinner nearby called Maize.
TV personality Sean Tracy draws on his business as a barn restorer to source unusual woods - like ancient hickory, chestnut and oak - to age whiskeys like Reclamation single malt and Red Barn rye. Not cheap. But my taste of the early bottles impressed me.
Moish & Itzy’s Deli
“Get the whitefish salad,” whispered a longtime regular customer beside me at the counter of Moish & Itzy’s. And while the other standards I sampled at this bustling Langhorne strip-mall hub proved to be well above average — a very natural tasting broth for the matzo ball soup; a well-built stack of thinly sliced corn beef on vividly fresh rye for the special — it was absolutely that whitefish, a perfectly whipped balance of smoke and creamy mayo sweetness, that lingers in my mind. Easily some of the region’s best.
Tower Hill Brewery
This humble nano-brewery is a strip-mall surprise amid the slim pickings and pizza shops in the far Bucks County 'burbs. The 50-gallon system at the former Crabby Larry's is tiny, and lately has featured some British styles - a malty Welsh ale, a special bitter and a porter homage to Colonial Philly's Robert Hare. Chef Stanley Kreft's pub-plus menu, built around pierogies made with his mom's recipe, a LaFrieda short rib burger, and a kielbasa twist on a corn dog.