The Little Black Book: Hidden Gems
BY KEN ALAN
For every guest who asks me to score an A-table at the hottest restaurant around, I also have a growing contingent of clients who look to dine at much less-buzzed-about eateries. Here, my favorite hidden but always reliable gems.
From the Boot
Why: The aroma of roasting garlic serves as the main décor at this generally no-rez, wait-your-turn BYOB trattoria, located in a small strip center along G-town Pike. (They do take reservations for parties of five or more.) Clued-in locals hate seeing their beloved Boot put into print, and who could blame them?
Order: Devout eaters have their favorites, but you can’t go wrong with the lasagna and tasty veal.
Pssst: A second FtB opened recently in Ambler, but the locals out that way aren’t nearly as covetous over this new Boot.
517 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill, 610-834-8680, and 110 East Butler Avenue, Ambler, 215-646-0123; fromtheboot.com.
Why: This market is an utter throwback; guys with crewcuts and horned-rim glasses and girls in Amish garb with frilly bonnets abound. Go off-hour — hungry locals tend to quickly glom up seating.
Order: Pull up a stool at one of the booths at Booths: Chamberlain’s serves a serious roast beef sandwich, Andi & Sam’s offers a great hot dog, and at Cajun Kate’s you’ll find what is possibly the best N’Awlins food in the region.
1362 Naamans Creek Road, Garnet Valley, 610-485-0774; boothscorner.com.
Why: For more than 80 years, this off-the-beaten-path Jersey roadhouse on the edge of the Pineys has been a haven for simple fare. Roll up your sleeves and bring on the wet naps; this is finger foodery at its finest.
Order: Worth the trek into the sticks when you’ve got a jones for something slathered à la Buffalo — chicken wings, chicken cutlets, chicken breasts, shrimp, scallops, and onion rings all get a bath in the spicy sauce.
866 Route 206, Shamong, 609-268-2066; www.picalilli.com.
Highlander Pub & Grille
Why: A warm and relaxing duffer’s delight that’s close to/far enough from the Cherry Hill hustle ’n’ bustle.
Order: Enjoy a cocktail (there’s a good scotch selection, natch), some well-prepared regional fare (veal & ricotta stuffed Jersey Long Hots are a terrific starter), and friendly service. A nice spot to dine after hitting the links, or, on its own, sans irons.
Scotland Run Golf Club, 2626 Fries Mill Road, Williamstown, 856-863-3737; scotlandrun.com.
Sweet Bytes Internet Café
Why: Mother-daughter duo Lorraine and Donna run this quirky Montco eatery — an authentic taste of the South within a bright and cheery café. They’ve also gone cyber for the college locals.
Order: At breakfast go for the yummy Belgium waffles. At lunch, the three-bean vegetarian chili has an incendiary kick, On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, an early dinner means chicken stew and biscuits and Lorraine’s meat loaf. Don’t miss the homemade red velvet cake and house-baked chocolate chip cookies, both obscenely delicious.
28 North Main Street, Ambler, 215-643-6760; sweetbytescafe.com.
Why: Serving tasty, light, and healthy lunches, this esoteric eatery/ homespun gift shop is a button-cute daytime respite within workaday Bridgeport. (During off hours, this adorable little cottage has great private party/baby shower potential.)
Order: Satisfying soups and co-owner Bob’s “soon to be famous” turkey chili.
1053 Dekalb Pike, Bridgeport, 610-275-2330; caferende.com.
Angelina’s Italian Kitchen
Why: This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it neighborhood fave has 24 seats and a solid following. Despite its BYOB status, reservations are accepted and credit cards are taken.
Order: Outstanding Italian pork sandwiches, Buffalo tails (sweet and zesty chicken tenderloins), and full Italian dinners.
864 High Street, Pottstown, 610-705-1833; www.angelinaspottstown.com.
Craft Ale House
Why: Out along the Western ’burbs, pub fare usually means cold pizza and soggy hoagies. Not so at Craft — the 16 taps and 350-plus bottles pair well with the simple yet satisfying selection of tavern classics. Can’t decide on a brew? Bartenders are happy to let you sample.
Order: Try the mussels, a rib-eye sandwich, or the light, tender (and nearly greaseless) fish and chips.
708 West Ridge Pike, Limerick, 484-932-8180; craftalehouse.com.
Why: The Saloon is hardly surreptitious, but when’s the last time you were there? With our local dinerati clambering to get into the Restaurants of the Moment, Saloon remains a reliable, yet overlooked friend. Plus, where else in town are you offered free parking?! (Just don’t forget to slip the lot attendant a couple of bills.)
Order: A velodrome-sized martini glass in hand, dig through a bowl of still-some-of-the-best langostino in town and pay attention to specials.
750 South 7th Street, 215-627-1811; saloonrestaurant.net.
Why: Simple, unassuming, and red-bricked on the outside, quaint, tidy, and friendly within, North Trenton’s Rozmaryn sates that craving for true Polish fare.
Order: Anything from the white borsht and tripe soup to pierogies.
925 North Olden Avenue, Trenton, 609-656-1600; rozmarynrestaurant.com.
Ken Alan is a corporate concierge for BPG Properties and is the founding member and president of the Philadelphia Concierge Association. His motto is “Nothing is impossible — impossible simply takes a few more phone calls.”