Author Archive | Estelle Tracy


An insider’s guide for food lovers

A customer relaxes at Green Engine Coffee


Heading west from Philadelphia on Lancaster Avenue, you’ll drive by an eclectic mix of large stone buildings, luxury car dealerships and global restaurants. Known as the Main Line, the area historically welcomed wealthy families from Philadelphia eager to escape the scorching summer heat.

Today, its connections to the city remain strong; several Philadelphia institutions, like La Colombe Coffee and White Dog Café, have outposts on Route 30. But working for more than a decade in the Malvern area gave me the opportunity to discover that the Main Line is home to its own bustling food scene. So grab some quarters for the parking meters and an empty growler, and discover my favorite eateries in the area.

Traffic can be heavy on Lancaster Avenue, so plan your excursion on a Friday or Saturday. With a few exceptions, most of these places are accessible by rail from Philadelphia.

9am: Malvern Buttery

Soak in the sunlight with a cup of Counter Culture Coffee at Malvern Buttery, a hip but unpretentious eatery located in the heart of Malvern. Depending on my mood, I sip my flat white at one of the large communal tables or on one of the couches. Malvern Buttery is best known for its artisan breads and pastries; the clever toast bar lets you sample the delicious organic bread without committing to buying a whole loaf.

10am: The Classic Diner, Malvern

Ten years after I first tried the peanut-butter- and-banana stuffed French toast, I still return to the Classic Diner for its generous breakfast menu. This Chester County institution serves elevated versions of breakfast classics in a sleek but relaxed setting. Try the buttermilk pancakes with thick sliced bacon or one of the many variations on eggs Benedict. If the line gets too long, check out the French pastries at Strawberry Bakery across the street.

Noon: Cornerstone, Wayne

Next, hit the road to Wayne, a small town with a European flair and plenty of shops, including an old movie theater and an independent bookstore. A block away from Lancaster Avenue, Cornerstone offers a quiet setting for an elegant lunch (or dinner). The menu features salads and sandwiches, but I recommend trying its carefully curated cheese and charcuterie boards. Sit by the counter and listen to the staff share the stories behind your food.

2pm: Chanticleer Garden, Wayne

If Chanticleer has been on your must-see list, now is the time to check it out. When it reopens for the season in April, the garden is home to blooms in every color and brand-new tree foliage. I like to think of it as a real-life fairy-tale garden. With 5,000 plants, more than 35 acres and over a dozen gardeners on staff, you’ll find plenty of inspiration to bring to your very own garden.

Left: Malvern Buttery Executive Chef Kevin LaForest
Right: Eggs Benedict at The Classic Diner

Cornerstone’s Charcuterie Board

A sample of cheeses at Carlino’s market

A cappuccino at Green Engine Coffee

Chris Novak filling growlers at the
Tired Hands Fermentaria bar

Kitsune Udon at the MAIDO! counter

4pm: Carlino’s Specialty Food, Ardmore

For a glimpse of local Ardmore life, push open the door of Carlino’s, the Italian specialty food store that’s been serving the area for more than three decades. You’ll be greeted with large smiles. As you browse the shelves for olive oil, vinegar and Carlino’s famous tomato sauce, you might catch some of the regulars ordering a birthday cake or a takeout lasagna tray for dinner. A slice of tomato pie makes a great afternoon snack.

5pm: Green Engine Coffee, Haverford

With a show-stopping living wall, gorgeous lighting, and plenty of space to cozy up, Green Engine Coffee is worth the drive to Haverford. As a sommelier, owner Zach Morris takes pride in the drinks served at his shop, so trust the baristas to brew your cup of Rival Brothers coffee with care. Don’t miss the children’s bookstore across the street and the nature trails of the neighboring Haverford College grounds.

7pm: MAIDO!, Ardmore

Part grocery store, part cafeteria, MAIDO! is a Japanese-food lover’s heaven. You’ll find a dizzying array of Japanese pantry essentials, such as soba and udon noodles, seaweeds and rices, as well as bento boxes imported from Japan. The uncomplicated menu draws Japanese immigrants and locals alike; they dine next to a life-size teddy bear. Beat the chill with a hot bowl of udon soup before heading out.

8pm: Tired Hands Brewery Fermentaria, Ardmore

Finish the night at Tired Hands Fermentaria, Ardmore’s award-winning brewpub, and sit down to share some tacos, split a dessert or sip one of the many saisons and IPAs on tap. The food is crafted with the same care as the beer, so linger around a plate of churros and a fresh pint. With its “notes of spring days,” Helles Other People is the perfect lager to celebrate the warm days ahead.


233 East King Street, Malvern

352 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern

1 West Avenue, Wayne

786 Church Road, Wayne

2616 East County Line Road, Ardmore

16 Haverford Station Road, Haverford
(no phone)

5 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore

35 Ticket Terrace, Ardmore




Whether you live in the area or are
visiting for the day, here are a few of our
favorite restaurants in Delaware,
Montgomery and Chester counties

BLACK POWDER TAVERN | Located just outside Valley Forge National Historical Park, Black Powder Tavern combines local flavors with American history in a pub-like setting. The menu features a variety of small and entrée-sized plates, which complement the 24 brews on tap. Stop in for lunch, dinner, happy hour or Sunday Brunch!

1164 Valley Forge Road, Wayne

BROAD TABLE TAVERN | Inspired by the seasons, Broad Table Tavern showcases locally sourced ingredients and regional artisan products. The Inn at Swarthmore’s signature restaurant was created to celebrate the partnership with local farms, vineyards, breweries and purveyors who share the same vision for the finest flavors and quality possible.

10 South Chester Road, Swarthmore

CORNERSTONE | An inviting 22-seat restaurant with a chef’s counter and open kitchen that create an elegant dining experience. The restaurant utilizes high-caliber ingredients highlighting the ever-changing flavors of each season. The perfect marriage of California wine country, coastal New England, and the rustic charm of Europe’s best kept secrets.

1 West Avenue, Wayne

SILVERSPOON | At the Silverspoon, seasonal produce is delivered daily. Fish, exceedingly fresh, arrive from sustainable, best-practice fisheries. Humanely farm-raised meats and poultry are made ready for your enjoyment. Classically trained chefs create dishes that weave this daily bounty into contemporary American tastes, textures and aromas to delight your senses.

503 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne

THE WHIP TAVERN | This inviting English Pub radiates at the heart of Chester County horse country and serves up traditional pub fare and American favorites such as fish & chips and braised short ribs daily.… Read More

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My foray into the world of American craft chocolate

Goat Maple chocolate in process at Sazon


The words left my mouth on Halloween of 2013. “It does not feel like a birthday,” I lamented to my mom. She had flown from France to spend the next couple of months in Chester County with me, and her presence should have been reason enough to celebrate.

“Jonathan got you a cake, Estelle, and I’m here. What more do you want?”

Staring at the candy bowl from the living room couch, I pondered that question. She was right: I had everything I could possibly want. A roof over my head. A loving husband. A sweet daughter and a long-awaited, brand-new baby.

Yet I could not shake the feeling that something was missing. At 35, I was still looking for a purpose that neither my job nor my French food blog was providing anymore. On my next birthday, things would be different, I thought to myself. I would feel accomplished.

This impulse is something of a pattern with me. The following year, 2014, in an attempt to become more virtuous, I decided to perform 36 good deeds by my 36th birthday. Sadly, I did not get past three.

In March 2015, I resigned from a 10-year position in the corporate world. Up in Canada, my friend Nicole and her childhood friend committed to run a 50K race on their shared 50th birthday. The run received national coverage and the two friends crossed the finish line with the support of their family and friends. Now that was an accomplishment. Soon, Nicole was looking for a challenge for her 51st birthday.

“You worked hard,” I said. “Now it’s time to play hard! Why not eat 51 chocolates?”

She dismissed the idea. I thought it was awesome.

It was right before Memorial Day and, after publishing a food survival guide for French expats in the United States, I was looking for a new project. I had witnessed the rise of the US bean-to-bar chocolate movement—that is, bars made from scratch from actual cacao beans, instead of melted and remolded industrial chocolate. Curious to learn more, I gave the idea some consideration.

I loved chocolate. I had time. I needed a purpose.

“Fine, Nicole. I’ll do it.”

That was how, in June 2015, I committed to sampling 37 chocolate bars by my 37th birthday, that Halloween.

My first taste of
an eight-dollar
bar had made one
thing clear: the
term “bean-to-bar”
is not a guarantee
of quality.

The First Bite

Before this challenge, the chocolate I ate came straight from the grocery store. For the past several years, I had resorted to chocolate to help me cope with my deadline-driven job. I would buy several bars on sale at the grocery store, but never spent more than $3.50 on chocolate. I ate chocolate for stress relief, and, yes, I ate it mindlessly.

I had been curious about the concept of bean-to-bar chocolate, but felt guilty at the idea of spending the equivalent of an hour of minimum wage on a three-ounce piece of indulgence. Besides, my first taste of an eight-dollar bar had made one thing clear: the term “bean-to-bar” is not a guarantee of quality. I had decided to stick with mass-produced, reliable and inexpensive bars.

After I left my job, I started wondering what awaited me outside of my chocolate comfort zone. Eating disappointing bars felt like going on bad dates. I wanted “the one,” so I took a leap of faith, grabbed my wallet and headed out to Philter Coffee in Kennett Square. Philter features a small selection of American craft chocolate. Waiting in line, I had many times picked a bar to study its wrapper, looking for a reason to splurge. On the front, next to an illustration, would be the name of a faraway country, along with a high cacao percentage. On the back, there was generally a short list of ingredients—typically cacao beans and cane sugar— and a batch number, stamped or written by hand. There were sometimes tasting notes that made me roll my eyes.

Hibiscus? Really?

It was the kind of scant information that left me with more questions than answers: What was so special about cacao from Trinidad? I would return the bar to its shelf before ordering a croissant with my latte. The only way to explore the world of craft chocolate, it seemed, was to eat my way through a lot of it. To kick-start the challenge, I chose a half-ounce bar of Twenty-Four Blackbirds Chocolate. Handcrafted in California, the single-origin bar stood out for its light color, subtle citrus notes and complete lack of bitterness—all of which, I would later learn, are noted characteristics of Madagascar cacao beans. This did not taste like my typical dark chocolate at all. I was confused: Did I actually like it?

At home, I jotted my impressions in a small notebook. When I announced my challenge on Instagram, I realized I wanted to share more than tasting notes, and video seemed like a better medium. A quick YouTube search only revealed a handful of bean-to-bar chocolate reviews. I knew what that meant: Sooner or later, my voice would be heard. I had five months and 37 bars to make it matter.

With more than a hundred bean-to-bar chocolate makers operating in the United States, a few orders from chocolate sites could easily have provided enough material for my challenge. However, chocolate felt like such a mysterious food—it relies on a crop you can’t find in a grocery store and requires equipment you can’t pick up in a kitchen shop—that I craved a physical connection with each bar.

I hunted down chocolate at local coffee shops and independent food stores. Who knew that Carlino’s, an Italian-inspired gourmet shop in West Chester, carried so many bars? I accepted my friend Teresa’s offer to bring me bars from Atlanta. Laura, a chocolate-loving barista at Philter, recommended two dark milk chocolates, which I spotted at Gryphon Coffee in Wayne: Nathan Miller’s 55% Buttermilk Chocolate and my very fi rst craft-chocolate crush, the boldly flavored, slightly crunchy 65% Milk & Nibs bar by Acalli. By early July, I had gathered a large enough stash to last through the end of the summer.

In early fall, my not-so-secret wish
to meet a chocolate maker was granted
when an Instagram user named
@chocolatealchemist informed me he was
“Philly’s only bean-to-bar chocolate maker.”

Estelle Tracy, left, with Philter owner Chris Thompson and barista Laura Czarnecki

The Many Flavors of Chocolate

Bar by bar, I was discovering the complex world of chocolate through the lens of American craft makers. It soon became evident that not all cacaos or bars were created equal, and that chocolate was not one single fl avor but a myriad. I began to understand why so many people compared chocolate to wine. I was so glad I hadn’t let one bad bar stop me from exploring this hidden world. Cacao, it seemed, was a magical food. I became grateful for the bean-to-bar makers who made us appreciate its power. With its acidity and long, spicy fi nish, a bar that Potomac Chocolate had crafted from Venezuelan Cuyagua cacao filled me with awe.… Read More

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