A November chill was knifing through Kennett Square one day last week, so it was a comfort to duck into Talula's Table on State Street for a hot bowl of posole.
Talula's is the homey gourmet market that serves one dinner a night at a farm table famously booked a year in advance. But lunch is a different story.
In the afternoon, you can plunk right down, at least at the end that's not been pressed into service as work space; on this particular day, as a staging area to fill jars with Talula's homemade lemon curd.
It was also graced with a photocopied picture of a small flock of heritage Bourbon Red turkeys that customers could select from - by the actual bird! (One had an ominous arrow drawn right at it.)
They'd have their final meal two days before Thanksgiving (the birds, that is), and then be trucked in fresh from Broody's Hen Farm in Ephrata.
Of course, there was the option to let Talula's roast a local bird for you; the "Truffle Turkeys" with slow-roasted truffles were going for $12 a pound.
Aimee Olexy, who owns Talula's with her husband Bryan Sikora, the chef, said she had a surprise after lunch - a tour of the couple's sort-of-under-wraps new venture, a 60-seat cafe a few doors away at 116 E. State St., just past Union.
Since selling the beloved Django, their original cafe in Society Hill, three years ago, the two have been feeling pressure to get back into the full-scale dinner business: Old regulars have vowed to drive 45 minutes down to Kennett Square. Chester County's landed gentry have been lobbying for an "adult" wine bar.
There's consensus that waiting a
for a bite of Sikora's prized local seasonal cooking is no longer acceptable. So no talk of cutbacks here: "We're still growing," Olexy said.
The posole was a satisfying bowl, the starchy hominy under a sliver of lime and cilantro in a spicy stew of shrimp and Sikora's own smoked Mexican-style chorizo.
Kennett Square is the heart of mushroom country, and Talula's has picked up flavors and influence from the Mexicans who work in the nearby mushroom sheds.
Just days before, in fact, Sikora taped a segment for
The Martha Stewart Show
in New York, cooking mushroom and Camembert crepes, and a griddled flatbread with "autumnal vegetables" (sauteed mushrooms and brussels sprouts).
Olexy pulled a jacket on over her long apron and grabbed a flashlight before she and Sikora led the way to what had been, until it closed a few years ago, a notorious watering hole called the Kennett Cafe.
It was in a handsome sandblasted brick building (circa 1810) with a peak-roofed second-story porch that gives it the aspect of something far more Southern: "Were you thinking New Orleans?" Sikora asked, clearly thinking that himself.
It was gutted inside, the subflooring dotted with pigeon droppings, burly, rough-hewn rafters exposed, windows covered with flimsy plywood. But in Olexy's rendering, there was a wall of wine bottles at one end, a whirl of tables and counter seating looking in at Sikora sweating it out in the open kitchen.
In the basement, the concrete floor would be broken out and lowered six inches for a cozy wine bar.
Then Olexy shined her light into the farthest dark corner. There behind drooping cobwebs was an arched alcove that opened on a tunnel (now sealed) that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, connecting to the basement of the Kennett Inn, about a block away.
Here on East State Street, you could almost feel it in your bones: The page was about to turn once again.