Lansdowne’s Victorian buildings and tree-lined streets feel farther removed from City Hall than a mere six miles. Loyal Lansdowners love that about their little town. So when the big-box businesses began their invasion a few years back, longtime residents fought hard to preserve the town’s character. And now Lansdowne boasts an independent coffeehouse, a farmers’ market, and Sycamore, a cozy bistro run by a Lansdowne native and her husband.
Sycamore owners and Lansdowne residents Jennifer and Stephen Wagner were part of a coalition that brought the weekly farmers’ market to town. That was a start, but they longed for a non-chain restaurant, with food like you find in Philadelphia. Through the farmers’ market, they’d met chef Meg Votta, formerly of the Joseph Ambler Inn, and the three started planning Sycamore, a BYOB they hoped would keep people in town on a Saturday night.
The restaurant is far more elegant than most neighborhood BYOBs. Pressed-copper ceilings and black and white floor tiles recall the past, but the bare-bulb lighting fixtures feel modern. Votta’s menu melds the modern and classic, too, in a familiar-looking bill of fare. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the cooking is consistent. But some of the least complex offerings had problems: Crabcakes had a fishy flavor and no discernible pieces of lump crabmeat; the roast chicken was dry; cauliflower florets were mushy; a roasted beet salad was firm enough to chip a tooth.
Other dishes were surprisingly sophisticated and well executed. A cold carrot soup, shot through with the zing of orange, made me lick my plate clean. A thick, moist piece of cod was complemented by a succotash highlighting the late-summer harvest. Stephen makes the hearty tagliatelle that’s served with the Sunday gravy they’ve been stirring up in Jennifer’s family for 100 years. The rustic desserts, such as the lavender biscuit shortbread, should not be skipped. The highlights do soar, but you can’t build a successful restaurant on erratically cooked food. Attentive service, a sleek setting, and a handful of winning dishes will keep the neighbors coming back. With some practice, Sycamore could draw diners from beyond Lansdowne’s borders as well.