Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The BYOs of Delaware County

This article is about restaurants in Delaware County (the towns South and West of Philadelphia) that allow you to bring your own (BYO) bottles of whatever alcoholic beverages you desire.  I should probably begin by describing the unusual circumstances that led me, a Massachusetts resident, to write an article about this subject:
  1. Joni (my wife) is from Philadelphia, as was my father and most of my mother's family.  As such, I have had multiple occasions, over the years, to visit the area.
  2. Recently, we have made several trips to the Springfield, PA area to tend to Joni's aging (and ailing) aunt and uncle.
  3. I love wine, but I am not so wealthy nor inclined to pay thrice the money I would normally spend to buy generally average wine that was just released and has not had time to properly age.  However, that's what tends to be available and affordable at most restaurants that serve alcohol.
  4. The liquor laws in Massachusetts are such that you can buy good wine in liquor stores but don't have any place to drink it, outside of the home.  There are some BYOs worth visiting, but they are few and far between.
  5. Pennsylvania is the opposite.  Most wine is sold only at state-owned stores, and while those stores have begun to offer some better wines (at generally high cost), they don't compare with the privately owned options in other states.  It is also very hard for an establishment to get a liquor license, which has led many restaurants to open as BYOs.  It stands to reason that if a restaurant can't serve alcohol, they have to attract diners based on the quality of their food.
As a result of these circumstances, I now bring a few bottles of (ready to drink) wine with us every time we drive to the Philadelphia area.  We have found that most of the area's BYOs are quite good, but there are a few dogs (which I will not list here).   

I want to point out that I don't do this professionally, and I pay for my meals, just like everyone else, so I don't benefit from these recommendations.  What follows is my list (and a few words about) the BYOs of the Southwest Philly area that I feel comfortable recommending.  The restaurants are listed alphabetically:
  • A La Maison (Ardmore):  Both the food and the service at this place are outstanding.  Each dish has superb, distinctive flavors, without being  overwhelming, as some French food tends to be.  I recommended bringing a subtle red and a white (if possible, from Bordeaux or Burgundy), but a Southern Rhone or a Champagne would also go well. Web site:
  • Antica (Chadds Ford) and Il Granaio (Glen Mills):  I list these two restaurants together because they are owned by the same people and their menus are similar, although not identical.  They both offer really good (mostly Southern) Italian food and excellent service.  The primary differences are that Il Granaio has a somewhat nicer ambiance, but its location is slightly less convenient and harder to find.  Antica (the newer of the two) tends to be louder and more bustling, but it's right on the Baltimore Pike.  I recommend bringing a hearty red wine, such as Nebbiolo (Barolo or Barbaresca), Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot, but you may also want to bring a hearty Chardonnay if you plan on eating any of their shrimp dishes.  Web sites: and
  • Carmine's Act II (Narberth):  A lot of people think that Creole and Cajun food are the same, but they are not.  While similar, Creole food tends to be less spicy and more flavorful, as exhibited by this little place in a Narberth neighborhood, which makes some of the best food North of New Orleans.  Five stars isn't enough for their gumbo, jambalaya, and amazing use of the best spices.  This food goes really well with a Spanish red wine or a Zinfandel.  Web site:
  • Cerise (Bryn Mawr):  If you think about dining at Cerise, here's what might happen.  You go to the website, and see normal-looking dishes like salmon, or scallops, or hanger steak, and you say, "I can get this anywhere."  You are wrong.  These people really know how to cook, and everything is among the best you've ever had of whatever it is.  The wine pairing depends on what you plan to order, but a nice Pinot Noir or Champagne would go well with most of their options.  Web site:
  • Desert Rose (Media):  This is a small, laid-back, Israeli restaurant known for its shawarma and falafel.  The food is clean, tasty, and served with a smile.  The wine pairing is a little tricky, but I'd bring a Syrah/Shiraz and/or a hearty Chardonnay.  Web site:
  • Edgewood Café & BYOB (Havertown): Located in a lovely neighborhood, this place serves excellent, new American food that combines interesting ingreadients into delicious appetizers like Crab/Corn Fritters and Southwestern Chicken Egg Rolls and main courses like Eggplant Napoleon and the surprisingly excellent Southern Fried Chicken. We drank an excellent Napa Cab and a Chardonnay.  Web Site:
  • Heng's Thai Cuisine (Springfield): If you want a chance to drink some white or lighter red wines, Asian food is an excellent option, and Heng's delivers tasty dishes made of fresh, healthy ingredients.  Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc go well with Asian food, but so, surprisingly, does Grenache.  Web site:
  • Hidalgo (Clifton Heights):  This tiny place serves some of the best Mexican food I've ever had...real Mexican (not Tex Mex) made with incredibly fresh ingredients and not overly spicy (unless you want more spice, which they will do).  The place is nice and clean, and the service is outstanding...they may even sing for you, which believe me, is a real treat.  Bring a Spanish red (preferably Tempranillo) or a Malbec.  They don't have a web site.
  • New American Bistro (Folsom): With a menu that is strong on unusual seafood preparations, this understated restaurant offers such items as Blackened Scallops with Cheese Raviolis and Lobster Sauce (that's one item) and Sauteed Maryland Crab Cakes with Lobster or Chipotle Sauce.  Goes well with Sauvignon Bland or even a Pinot Noir.  Web Site:
  • PortoBello Café (Eddystone): Excellent Italian food, served by people who seem to really care about the quality of the food and your experience.  They offer a lot of seafood options in addition to the classic Southern Italian specialties.  Don't let the neighborhood put you off; this place is very nice and very good.  By the time you leave, you feel like part of the family.  Web site:
  • Sola (Bryn Mawr): The place is small and unassuming, but the food is outstanding in every way.  Each dish has its own flavor and interesting combination of sauce and sides.  In addition, the servers are pleasant and informative.  As with Cerise, the wine pairing depends on what you plan to order, but a nice Pinot Noir or Champagne would go well with most of their options.  Web site:
So, those are my recommendations so far.  If I find more, I will add them to this article.  If you know of any BYOs that you've visited and really like, please let me know.  In the meantime, bon appetit!

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