Wine and mushrooms, perfect together
Photographs: courtesy of featured establishments and chester county conference & visitors bureau
They don’t call the Brandywine Valley “America’s Garden Capital” for nothing. Much of its natural beauty vis-à-vis its famed gardens (Hagley, Nemours, Winterthur) isn’t currently in bloom, but we can thank the horticulture-loving du Pont family for the moniker. Winter offers opportunities to wander antiquesfilled mansions and art museums (Brandywine was home to artist Andrew Wyeth). No holiday season is complete without a trip to Longwood Gardens, a spot that sparks the spirit with its captivating indoor displays and organ-accompanied Christmas carol sing-alongs.
Nestled between Philadelphia and the Amish country and brushing up against Delaware, the Brandywine Valley is named for the river that travels southeast right through Chester County. Its charming main hubs include Phoenixville, West Chester and Kennett Square, the latter known for harvesting a million pounds of mushrooms a week. The region’s tourism bureau describes itself as “the South of France, a little west of Philly.” It’s not entirely off the mark, as six wineries and vineyards comprise the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail—and there are ten more that aren’t part of the official tour. The region’s proximity to Philadelphia means it’s commonplace for nationally recognized restaurateurs and chefs seeking a change of pace—and a close proximity to their vendors—to set up shop here.
WHERE TO STAY
Relax at the romantic countryside chateau known as Hamanassett Bed & Breakfast in Chester Heights, and enjoy indulgent seasonal breakfasts served on china. (Think baked pears and banana-walnut upside-down pancakes). Food lovers sign up for all-day cooking classes themed around seasons and holidays. Another bucolic retreat is Sweetwater Farm Bed & Breakfast in Glen Mills, a classic stone Colonial inn from 1734 set on 50 acres—it’s also home to Grace Winery. Or enjoy a similarly elegant stay at stately Faunbrook Bed and Breakfast in West Chester, known for its heated porch, fireplaces and claw-foot tubs.
For sheer convenience, you can’t beat the Brandywine River Hotel in Chadds Ford, which mixes country charm with modern amenities; ask for a room with a fireplace and Jacuzzi. In West Chester, Hotel Warner is a straightforward choice right downtown.
WHERE TO EAT
Better book now, because Aimee Olexy’s revered Talula’s Table reserves a year in advance: It’s one seating at one table of up to a dozen people dining on fresh, local ingredients. Another intimate spot, the shabby-chic greenhouse-like BYO Terrain Garden Café in Glen Mills, is especially popular for brunch with a similar farm-to-table ethos. (You’ll find it attached to the whimsical haute gardening store Terrain.) The former Chadds Ford Inn is home to a classic steakhouse experience at Brandywine Prime, albeit Pennsylvania-style, in a dining room with exposed stone walls. The snug Italian BYOB Portabello’s (Kennett Square) prioritizes local ingredients, mixing up its specialties such as its lobster ravioli (served with the lobster tail) with seasonal specials. Try the portabello fries, paired with a horseradish- chive dipping sauce. Majolica in Phoenixville pays homage to the town’s earthenware company of yore with its name, and to upscale, progressive American cooking with its execution. A tasting menu is the way to get behind the mind of its chef-owner Andrew Deery.
For a total change of pace, The Whip Tavern (Coatesville) features beers, ciders and twists on British pub standards. Warm yourself by the fire in the winter and watch whatever UK sport is on the telly; Wednesday nights are devoted to horse racing broadcasts, in season. (Its name is a cheeky riff on its location in horse and hunting country.)
WHERE TO DRINK
Beer and wine lovers can sip easily and frequently here. The commonwealth’s largest and perhaps best-known wine producer is Chaddsford Winery. Established in 1982 in Chadds Ford, it’s developed a reputation for its free-spirited, fruit-forward, approachable wines, culling grapes from as close as ten miles away and as far as Erie and New York. Stop in for a wine-and-cheese pairing and ask to taste their cider, which launched in 2014; the apples come from Zeigler’s in Lansdale.
For a boutique experience, Va La Vineyards, a 6.7-acre farm owned by Anthony Vietri in Avondale, produces just four wines from four different soils per year, culled from mostly northern Italian varietals to create unusual, coveted vintages (La Prima Donna has earned raves). The space is intimate, capable of hosting no more than six people at a time. It’s the only way to taste and purchase the wines. In the winter, you may experience either the salvage-aesthetic tasting room of Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery, tucked behind Longwood Gardens, or the cozier room in the older part of the building, with a roaring fireplace. Galer’s only been open since November 2011 but it’s scored multiple medals, including a double gold in 2013 for its Cabernet Franc “icebox” wine. That’s a sweet, super-concentrated dessert wine they trick into behaving like an ice wine by picking the grapes at the best possible moment for sugar concentration and then flash-freezing them. Their reds (Cab Franc and Huntress) are prime for winter drinking, and so is a new mead made from local wildflower honey and their own Chardonnay grapes.
Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford is a top choice for local wine among area sommeliers; a tour of their winery and tasting room is a must on any Brandywine Valley vineyard exploration. This winter, Kennett Square will see its first two brewpubs open a half a mile from each other in the one-square-mile town. The 8,000-square-foot Victory Brewing Company will open Victory at Magnolia on the first floor; luxury apartments will be upstairs. Expect beers made exclusively for the pub, and a scratch-made, locavore menu. Kennett Brewing Company was born from the largesse of Kickstarter donors. It’s a smaller, subterranean operation, with a speakeasy-like side entrance.
In West Chester, you’ll find a brewpub from the ubiquitous Iron Hill Brewery and a tasting room from pet-friendly Kreutz Creek Vineyards, which also invites you to BYOF (bring your own food). In Phoenixville, stop at Black Walnut Winery’s tasting room and the initial flagship spot of pioneering Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery (the first brewery in mid-Atlantic to put in a canning line) for not only the suds but also its expansive menu including French onion soup, pretzel sandwiches and beer-battered things.
Philter, a new café in Kennett Square, serves up handcrafted coffees (from Ceremony in Annapolis), both pour overs and brewed, in a rustic- chic space. Philter devotes the same level of attention to tea, adjusting the water temperature depending on type. (Teas are sourced from neighboring Mrs. Robinson’s Tea Shop—yes, she’s a real person but a poster of The Graduate hangs behind the register for giggles). Hang out long enough to sample its select menu of soups, salads and sandwiches. Phoenixville’s coffee drinkers—and music lovers—know well Steel City Coffeehouse for its all-day breakfast, coffees and teas, plus a full menu of items such as salads, sandwiches and various mac and cheeses.
WHERE TO SHOP
West Chester’s progressive indoor market Artisan Exchange provides a community-minded space for food entrepreneurs to incubate a business with low risk and overhead. Since its inception in December 2012, it’s blossomed to 40-plus vendors, losing none through failure or attrition and selling everything from Welsh cakes to raw fudge to vegan scrapple. A handful have “graduated” from the exchange, says Frank Baldassarre, who started the space with his wife Maryann; it is also home base for their Golden Valley Farms organic coffee company. Every Saturday from 10am to 2pm the warehouse morphs into a festive market complete with food trucks, fresh produce from local farms and kids’ activities.
Another indoor space, Kennett Square’s Market at Liberty Place—a Reading Terminalesque expanse—is 10,000 square feet of vendors such as Nourish Juice Bar & Café’s endless selection of good-foryou green juices, smoothies and (almost) guilt-free treats, Terra Foods (local and organic produce, dairy and grocery items), and George & Sons Seafood. It’s also home to a tasting room for Paradocx—a Landenberg vineyard with 30 acres owned by practicing physicians, known as much for their wine (the Viognier is award-winning) as its presentation in paint cans (which operate like boxed wine), plus their popular wine CSA.
Spontaneous seatings at Talula’s Table are unlikely, but the namesake table is set up smack in the middle of what owner Aimee Olexy calls “a general store with modern provisions.” Stocking fancy cheeses; its own smoked salmon, sausages and bacon; house-baked bread, scones and cookies; and gourmet products, Talula’s makes it easy to get carried away. Head to the fridges in the back for salad dressings in Mason jars and cheddar-beer and mushroom spreads—the latter is a customer fave. “People go nuts when we’re out of it,” she says.
A couple doors down, The Mushroom Cap is all about the fungus. Owner Kathi Lafferty’s (who also heads up their annual festival) Snack N Shrooms are a must-crunch; you can also find an array of fresh and dried mushrooms and related paraphernalia, including tiny wooden mushrooms for just $2.99.
You may already recognize the name Phillips as the third-generation company that stocks so many stores up and down the East Coast with specialty mushrooms. Skip the supermarket shrink-wrap and head to the source at The Woodlands at Phillips in Kennett Square. Housed in a 19th-century brick-and-stone farmhouse, it offers mushrooms fresh, dried, marinated and more, along with cooking classes. Take a break from the mushrooms for a minute at the elite, swoon-worthy Éclat in West Chester—their PHL bar marries Lancaster pretzels with milk chocolate for a sweet-and-salty hometown homage.
For nonfood needs (it happens sometimes), try the sophisticatedly rugged aesthetic of the (mostly) men’s clothier, State & Union (Kennett Square). Proprietor Doug Harris specializes in sustainable brands including United by Blue apparel and accessories. It’s hard to pass up antiques stores—one of the biggest is the Pennsbury—Chadds Ford Antique Mall, a two-story structure with more than 180 vendors. Bet there’s some random mushroom collectible in there somewhere.
WHERE TO STAY:
Brandywine River Hotel
Rte. 1 and Creek Rd., Chadds Ford
Faunbrook Bed and Breakfast
699 Rosedale Ave., West Chester
Hamanassett Bed & Breakfast
115 Indian Springs Dr., Chester Heights
120 N. High St., West Chester
Sweetwater Farm Bed & Breakfast
50 Sweetwater Rd., Glen Mills
WHERE TO EAT:
1617 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford
258 Bridge St., Phoenixville
115 W. State St., Kennett Square
Terrain Garden Café
914 Baltimore Pike, Glen Mills
102 West State St., Kennett Square
The Whip Tavern
1383 N. Chatham Rd., Coatesville
WHERE TO DRINK:
Black Walnut Winery
260 Bridge St., Phoenixville
632 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford
Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery
700 Folly Hill Rd., Kennett Square
Iron Hill Brewery
130 E. Bridge St. , West Chester
Kennett Brewing Company
109 S. Broad St., Kennett Square
Kreutz Creek Vineyards Tasting Room
44 E. Gay St., West Chester
Mrs. Robinson’s Tea Shop
108 N. Union St., Kennett Square
Penns Woods Winery
124 Beaver Valley Rd., Chadds Ford
111 W. State St., Kennett Square
Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery
520 Kimberton Rd., Phoenixville
Va La Vineyards
8820 Newport Pike, Avondale
Victory at Magnolia
650 W. Cypress St., Kennett Square
WHERE TO SHOP:
208 Carter Dr., West Chester
24 S. High St., West Chester
The Market at Liberty Place
148 W. State St., Kennett Square
The Mushroom Cap
114 W. State St., Kennett Square
Pennsbury-Chadds Ford Antique Mall
640 E. Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford
State & Union
103 W. State St., Kennett Square
The Woodlands at Phillips
1020 Kaolin Rd., Kennett Square
WINTERFEST (February 28) marks its third year of gathering craft brewers and their enthusiasts in heated tents on Broad Street in Kennett Square to celebrate beer— especially winter warmers. Expect what organizer Jeff Norman calls a “giant connoisseur tasting,” with about 40 breweries on hand, many of them local/regional.