Jimmy’s BBQ, Malvern (Frazer)

Westgate Plaza
309 Lancaster Avenue
Malvern Pa 19355
610.879.8805

Overview: Authentic Southern barbecue. Eat in or take-out. BYOB. What more do you need to know???

Food: Jimmy’s is the real deal, with pork, ribs, chicken, brisket and more slow smoked on the premesis over hickory and cherry wood.

Three sauces are offered — Traditional (sweet), which is what you get if you just ask for sauce, Carolina Vinegar (which is more like a vinegary ketchup & sugar-based sauce you find in Texas than what you’ll get in NC), and Hot, which we have not tried but looks like a spicy version of the traditional. The standard sauce is way to thick and sweet for our tastes, but the vinegar sauce is quite good.

The pulled pork platter is served in torn chunks (not chopped), just the way we like it, and has a great smoke flavor. Our serving was hearty and even included quite a bit of the “bark”, or the highly seasoned outside of the shoulder. The pulled pork sandwich wasn’t quite as good, as the meat was chopped more finely and seemed a bit slim on the bun. It’s ok for bread to control a sandwich with a great french or italian artisinal loaf, but this is barbecue bread. Pile on the meat!

Ribs were dry-rubbed, just the way we like ’em, with more great smoky taste. Though they weren’t the most tender ribs we’ve had, they mostly fell off the bone and tasted great with a dip of the vinegar sauce.

Though we don’t typically advocate ordering chicken at a BBQ pit, Jimmy’s unique chicken could just steal the show here. It’s rubbed with rosemary and lemon, which matches greatly with the cherry smoke flavors infused during cooking. Again the sandwiches could use a bit more meat, but the flavor here is all good.

Now, let’s talk sides. Jimmy’s mashed sweet potatoes are some of the best we’ve had at a barbecue joint, because they aren’t overloaded with sugar. He lets the natural flavor of the veggie shine through, and the mashed-but-lumpy texture is just right. Another winner is the mac & cheese, something we typically don’t get excited about, yet somehow kept reaching for more of Jimmy’s. The smoked beans were solid, but unspectacular, and perhaps a tad sweet. The coleslaw was the one disappointment from a side perspective; it was somewhat bland and underwhelming. Though slaw is an absolute requirement with barbecue, we’ll likely skip it next time for sweets or mac n cheese.

Ambiance: There really isn’t much — bright, open room with a big pig graphic on the wall, and, well, that’s about it. Casual, comfortable, great for families. Hey — this is a barbecue joint — the ambiance is the people and their messy fingers, not the decor.

Service: Friendly and helpful. The staff has seemed a bit overwhelemed at the response, but that seems to be getting better as they get more experience. Again, a casual, friendly spot.

Value: As is typical with barbecue joints, they give you a ton of food for a decent price. As mentioned above, we felt the sandwiches were a bit thin, but the platters pack more than enough food to fill your belly.

Details:
# of visits:2
reservations: not needed (counter service)
bar: BYOB
website: jimmysbbq.com

Royal Thai Orchid, Frazer

309 Lancaster Ave. (Westgate Plaza)
Frazer (Malvern), PA
(610) 240-9930

Rating: 3 Silver Spoons out of 5

Overall: Excellent Thai cuisine in an elegant but casual setting. Also offers take-out.

Food: Traditional Thai dishes with a touch of innovative flair makes Royal Thai Orchid one of the best destinations for Thai in the area. Start with the succulent “Thai Dumplings”, pan fried with ground pork, bamboo shoots and black mushrooms, or the “Corn Cakes”, pan-fried with fresh corn, both a tad sinful but totally delicious. We’re suckers for Thai curry dishes, and there are plenty of excellent choices here: “Evil Jungle Princess” is chicken & veggies in a light but spicy curry sauce and “Mussaman Curry” is standard (but great) red curry with veggies and a choice of chicken or beef. The “Chu Chee Duck” is a brilliantly prepared crispy duck with plenty of red curry and pineapple, and our favorite of the curry dishes thus far. If you’re looking for something a little different, try the “Love & Passion”, roasted juicy Cornish hen marinated in traditional seasonings “with tender loving care”, filled with pineapple, raisins, and wild rice served in a mellow orange sauce flavored with Grand Marnier. (We haven’t tried this one yet.) One visit offered a seared tuna special that paired luscious pink tuna with Japanese sticky rice which left us more than satisfied.

Click here to view the take-out menu (pdf).

Service: Prompt and friendly.

Atmosphere: Although RTO lives in a strip mall, the interior is quite elegant, with soft wood overtones and a slighly dark lighting scheme. Appropriate for a casual meal or perhaps something more romantic.

Value: Excellent. Most entrees live in the low-mid teens, a downright bargain for the quality and quantity of food. (Only the “Lamb of Siam” is more than $20.) Plus, it’s BYOB.

Details:
Times visited: 3
Bar: BYOB
Cards: Yes

Fellini Cafe, Paoli

19 E. Lancaster Ave.
Paoli, PA 19301
610.644.6767

NOTE: The Paoli location has closed. There are several other Fellini Cafes in the area, though not all are the same ownership group.

Rating: 2 spoons out of 5

Overview: A micro-chain also located in Berwyn and Ardmore, Fellini is a wildly popular Italian BYOB. The buzz about Fellini in the general population is great, and the wait on a weekend night would seem to confirm this fact. Those who truly appreciate fine food, however, will quickly understand that Fellini’s success comes from offering a wide variety and huge portions (creating the semblance of value), not necessarily from putting excellent food on the table.

Food: The vast menu offers 119 different Italian dishes, 50 of which are pasta and 20 of which are pizza. Unfortunately, the best dishes on Fellini’s menu also tend to be the most unhealthy; cream sauces, cheese and butter abound. The portions are HUGE (almost every table takes home a doggy bag), meaning that not only is the food unhealthy, but most diners will eat far more than normal.

There are, of course, some lighter options, but from experience these are pretty uninteresting. At a recent visit, I tried the Penne dello Chef (Sausage, broccoli & sundried tomatoes in an olive oil garlic sauce… $11.95), but it was on of the blandest pasta dishes I’ve ever had (except for the sausage which was excellent). On the otherhand, the potato gnocchi in a creamy pesto sauce was absolutely delicious, but it left us with lead stomachs.

There are daily fish specials, a couple salmon dishes on the regular menu and plenty of salads, and while it would take years to try everything here, after one visit I feel confident saying that the fat-laden dishes are where the flavor is at, creating a difficult dilemma for any Fellini diner concerned with their health.

Ambiance: Over the top tuscan decor, but kitchy and casual.

Service: A lot of young kids serving tables here, but our waiter was well-trained and earnest, appropriate for this type of establishment.

Value: Many Americans equate value with the amount of food served — from this standpoint, Fellini is an astonishing value — two people can stuff themselves for less than $30. On the other hand, those of us who put more emphasis on the quality of food will find Fellini’s cost to be about appropriate for what it is — a cheap, casual meal.

Details:

#of times we’ve eaten there: 1
Reservations: Yes, although be prepared to wait
Bar: BYOB
Cards: Yes
Takeout: Yes
Site: http://fellini-cafe.com

TJ’s Everyday, Paoli

35 Paoli Plaza
Paoli, PA
(Next to the Paoli Post Office)
610-725-0100

Overview: Great neighborhood bar and restaurant in the heart of Paoli. Also offers takeout. TJ’s menu has recently (Spring ’07) undergone a major transformation and now focuses on cooking with beer and beer/food pairings.

Food: We’ve only had the “Belgian Blonde” burgers from the new menu, but they were a definite improvement over the old burgers (nice and charred on the outside, pink within). The fries, which used to be the standard, crunchy, bland bar type, are now thick, old fashioned steak fries that might be the best in the area. There is also a nice variety of toppings — the “TJ’s Burger” comes with fried onions, provolone and horseradish mayo, and the “Black & Blue” is cajun-spiced with bleu cheese. TJ’s also offers more complex food specials such as Chipotle-Framboise Chicken, Bass Ale Braised Salmon, and Guinness-Glazed Beef Tenderloin Tips, which all have suggested beer pairings. This is no typical bar food!

Beer: TJ’s competes only with the Flying Pig for the area’s Best Beer Bar title (pre-Teresa’s Next Door of course), with a 25 beer, seasonal draft list (includes Spaten Optimator, Warsteiner Dunkel, Leffe Brun and more) and close to 200 bottles (including a cellar-aged selection). This place is an absolute MUST for beer lovers.

Ambiance: There are two distinct sides to TJ’s — the bar side, which is fun and energetic, yet comfortable as a neighborhood bar should be, and the dining side, which is a bit more subdued but good for a family meal. The bar has a number of tables, a decent-sized bar area and even a plush couch and chairs. It can get crowded at happy hour (especially on Friday), where people come to check out the game on a big-screen plasma or play a few rounds of Golden Tee. The restaurant side is quiet but nicely designed, and also smoke free, another plus. There is a pool table on the restaurant side, but we find it a bit boring (despite our hatred of 2nd-hand smoke).

Service: Fine for what it is, although attentiveness typically wavers when the place is busy. One other note — avoid takeout on Friday nights, as fishing through the happy hour crowd to retrieve your order is nearly impossible!

Value: The specialty beers can run up the tab quickly, but otherwise this is reasonable pub grub. (A gripe: I asked for extra ketchup and was charged $0.30 — what’s up with that?)

Details:
times we’ve eaten there: 5+
cards: yes
bar: full
site: www.tjseveryday.com

Nectar, Berwyn

1091 Lancaster Ave.
Berwyn, PA
610.725.9000

Rating: 4 Silver Spoons out of 5

Overview: Big, bold, (think Philadelphia’s Steven Starr) Asian Fusion comes to the Main Line. Nectar, a large, stone, $5 million dollar palace, rises out of nowhere just after passing through Berwyn (traveling West) on Lancaster Ave. Chef Patrick Feury (who opened the spot with Michael Wei of Yang Ming and Scott Morrison of Basil/Tango) succeeds in providing a quality, city-style fine-dining experience to the area with creative, delicious cuisine.

Food: Although Nectar features a traditional sushi bar, the rest of the menu is far more creative. Lamb skewers sit atop a fried goat cheese salad, providing a nice contrast. Spring rolls come filled with duck and mushrooms with a sweet, flavorful sauce. While somewhat ordinary in style, the pork dumplings are top notch, crispy on the outside and succulent within.

Feury’s entrees take the cuisine to the next level. A venison tenderloin was expertly charred on the outside and a perfect medium rare within. The plate was completed with a variety of complimentary flavors — grilled winter vegetables, chestnut puree and a mustard and beet salad. Poached lobster and grilled scallops served together were delicate but tasty. The only slight of the evening was the arctic char — tea smoked before being grilled — which was a bit too smoky for my taste. However, the plate again dazzled, featuring a parsnip puree and a pinot noir sage sauce.

The stars of the dessert menu — warm mini donuts — make a trip to Nectar worthwhile all on their own. A dozen tiny, warm cinnamon-sugar coated beignets come with three stellar dipping sauces: chipolte-chocolate, espresso anglaise and apple cider caramel. (Chipolte-chocolate wins the prize, although it would be even better if served warm.)

Ambiance: Nectar features one of the more grandiose designs ever seen on the Main Line. It is amazingly large and stylish — a 200 seat room features huge ceilings, dark, colorful light and a giant silkscreen Buddha tapestry as a centerpiece. This restaurant recalls the center city experience of a Buddakan or Pod more than any other venue the ‘burbs has to offer.

Service: Although the service was generally agreeable, several inconsistencies marred the overall experience. Firstly, when I originally called to make a reservation, I was bounced to three people and eventually a line that was never answered. When we arrived, although the room was 2/3 empty, we were placed at the table nearest the kitchen door and had to request a less busy location. Lastly, the waiters were a bit overzealous about clearing completed plates — several times they attempted to remove dishes that we were not quite ready to part with. Their intentions were likely honorable, but there is a fine line between being helpful and being too aggressive.

Wine List: The wine list is separated into several quirky but helpful categories — with cutesy names like “sweet nectar” and “bold nectar” that offer some help in navigating the medium-sized list. The prices, however, are outlandish, even for a restaurant of this quality. Less than a handful of bottles come in under $50, with many more available for $100 and above. Perhaps Feury and co. know something that I don’t about the clientele, but I find it baffling that many people would be shelling out three figures for a bottle of wine all that often. Offering a better selection in the $30-$50 range would make the overall experience much more enjoyable and complete. House wine is available for $6.50 a glass, a flat out deal compared to the bottles.

Value: Make no mistake about it — Nectar is fine dining and is priced accordingly. Entrees tend to run in the $20s, with a few available in the teens. The top dishes like the aforementioned lobster/scallop combo and venison were each $29, which is a reasonable price considering the quality of each dish. Appetizers tend to be around $8, and if combined with some sushi would probably make a pretty nice, reasonably priced meal. As mentioned above, the wine list is offensively overpriced, and as such brings down the value of Nectar as a whole.

Details:
# of times we’ve eaten there: 1
Reservations: Yes
Cards: Yes
Bar: Full