Do you have a chef in your life? If so, you know that most culinary professionals have an opposite schedule from nine-to-fivers, and weekends are the busiest part of their work week. Because perfecting the food at work takes so much time and energy, it’s rare that chefs have an opportunity to go out and have someone else prepare them a gourmet meal. So, for this Chef Q and A, I decided to ask some West Chester chefs where and what they like to eat when they have time to enjoy someone else’s food.
Chef Paris Roldan, formerly of Ram’s Head Bar and Grill, is now cooking up his culinary creations at Spence Cafe (29 E. Gay St., West Chester, 610-738-8844). In his free time, he catches up with his family and plans new menu ideas but he also sneaks in some time for his favorite Chester County food. What is his go-to? “I love Nooddi Thai’s pad thai. It’s hard to find a place that makes it well, and their pad thai is consistently good. When I try to make it at home I manage to never get it quite right.”
Chef Blaise Labik, from the popular Side Bar & Restaurant (10 E. Gay St., West Chester, 610-429-8297), admits he has very little time to enjoy dining out because he spends so much time whipping up tempting creations in the kitchen along Chef Dave Young. But when he goes out, he wants authentic Mexican cuisine from Don Gabriel Restaurant (611 W. Strasburg Road, West Chester, 610-431-3212). His favorite dish? The beef tongue burrito, of course.
Chef John Brandt-Lee, owner of Avalon Restaurant, revamped to feature rustic Italian fare, gets his favorite eats at two Chester County spots. His top pick is The Birchrunville Store Cafe (1403 Hollow Road, Birchrunville, 610-827-9002), which serves contemporary French-Italian cuisine, including one of John’s favorite dishes, the Skate wing. “Their skate wing is fresh and cooked perfectly with a simple, nutty flavor from brown butter.” His other favorite item is “The grilled octopus from Alba (7 W. King St., Malvern, 610-644-4009). It is so tender and has a fragrance from the wood-fire grill. It’s done perfectly. I really love what Alba’s chef, Sean Weinberg, is doing with local products and ingredients.”
Chris Curtin, master chocolatier and owner of Eclat Chocolate (24 S. High St., West Chester, 610-692-5206), surrounds himself with sweets all day so when he needs something savory he either heads to the city or to his favorite spots in Chester County. “I love Sovana Bistro (696 Unionville Wawaset Road, Kennett Square, 610- 444-5600), the Whip Tavern (1383 N. Chatham Road, West Marlborough, 610-383-0600) and Iron Hill (multiple locations, www.ironbrewery.com). I also had a really nice meal recently with my friend David McDuff at Avalon (312 S. High St., West Chester, 610-436-4100.) Of course, there is always Wally’s Weiner World (on the corner of Market and High Streets in West Chester) for a quick lunch, and La Rancherita (Ste 12, 323 E. Gay St., West Chester, 610-918-6200) for some authentic Mexican grub.
Andy Gadaleto, owner of Gadaleto Seafood (929 S. High St., West Chester, 610-430-7777) works with filets and shellfish all day so, when he gets a chance to out out, he goes for red meat. “My favorite spot has to be Brandywine Prime (1617 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, 610-388-8088); they have the best burger. I eat fish five times a week and occasionally I need a big, juicy burger loaded with mushrooms without having to make it myself. And on Fridays their burgers are half off.”
Husband and wife team, Sean and Marissa Powell, that own the upscale neighborhood spots Pietro’s Prime (125 W. Market St., West Chester, 484-760-6100) and Nonna’s (116 E. Gay St., West Chester, 610-430-0203) are huge fans of the food from one of their two restaurants, but when the stars align for them to have an evening out together they head to High Street Caffe (322 S. High St., West Chester, PA, 610-696-7435.) “We love spending time together at work but look forward to the times we can have a nice meal out,” Marissa said. “Sean really enjoys cajun and creole and we always have a great dining experience there.”
The “breakfast queen” of West Chester, Darla Riccetti, chef at Market Street Grill (6 W. Market St. West Chester, 610-429-5328) is known for her unique and delicious breakfast and lunch specials, so when she is dining out she looks for something equally unique and delicious. “I have a favorite chef and I will go where he goes.” And what chef does she love so much? Paris Roldan, now at Spence Cafe. “His appetizers are awesome and I love his Japanese Pizza (a spiced dough with a cream sauce topped with cheese, mushrooms, asparagus and shrimp.) He does a bit of everything, Mexican empanadas, French croque Monsieurs, even his nachos are incredible.”
And there you go, folks. It all comes full circle. What a testament to their craft that these skilled culinary superstars have such an appreciation of each others’ strengths to create a very solid food chain, if you ask me.