Summer Food 2005: BYOBs

In the beginning, there was a trendlet of little neighborhood joints. Now, ambitious, stylish bring-your-own spots open on a seemingly daily basis, from Kennett Square to Rittenhouse Square. Our guide to which ones merit a $9 syrah, and which beg for a Super Tuscan in your wine tote

In the beginning, there was a trendlet of little neighborhood joints. Now, ambitious, stylish bring-your-own spots open on a seemingly daily basis, from Kennett Square to Rittenhouse Square. Our guide to which ones merit a $9 syrah, and which beg for a Super Tuscan in
your wine tote

I confess: I’m a vino voyeur. At bring-your-own-wine restaurants, I’m always peeking at other people’s bottles. Not out of envy, but because I enjoy watching those wines set the tone for someone else’s meal.
I stifle a giggle when could-be millionaires unsheathe a 1.5-liter of Mondavi Woodbridge. I turn instinctively when a cork pops: prosecco, or Pol Roger? I scrutinize the group with the magnum — are they getting better service? I snicker when grape geeks arrive with stemware and enough Opus One to float a boat.

I’m a big fan of BYOBs, for the reasons that have made them the area’s hottest restaurant trend over the past few years. I’m partial to small, casual restaurants with distinct personalities, which most BYOBs are. They also allow me to drink a wine I like without having to bear triple and quadruple markups. I don’t mind paying slightly more for a meal, if it’s good, because BYOBs must earn their profits from food.

BYOBs can be quirky about reservations, credit cards, and posted hours of business. They close for vacation or private parties when you least expect it. This guide walks you through their eccentricities as well as their rewards.

Über BYOBs

ALISON AT BLUE BELL
721 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell, 215-641-2660;
alisonatbluebell.com
Worth noting: No credit cards.
Dinner for two: About $85. (We averaged the most and least expensive appetizers, entrées and desserts, multiplied that by two, and added in tax, an 18 percent tip, and the price of two coffees.)

Alison Barshak’s all-over-the-map cooking is astonishingly ambitious for its strip-retail setting. Take a table on the outdoor patio, and choose your destination: Mexico (chili-dusted soft-shell crab tostada with tomato, bacon and scallion salsa); Greece (grilled lamb, fresh fig pancake, minted yogurt); Italy (deep-fried fresh mozzarella and eggplant sandwiches with arugula and roasted pepper sauce); France-by-way-of-Asia (ginger and mango-glazed duck confit salad), or seafood in various translations (halibut with summer squash and pesto lasagna, or grilled swordfish with goat cheese grits). Amelia Dietrich’s nostalgic, all-American peach dumplings with whipped cream are as delectable as her international flights of fancy, such as blueberry polenta cake with corn crème brûlée.

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