TJ’s Everyday, Paoli

35 Paoli Plaza
Paoli, PA
(Next to the Paoli Post Office)

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?)

times we’ve eaten there: 5+
cards: yes
bar: full

McKenzie Brew House, Malvern

240 Lancaster Ave.
Malvern, PA

Rating: 1 spoon out of 5

Overall: Brewpub in the Frazer area that features a fun bar scene, casual, family-friendly dining, pub-style atmosphere, well-crafted microbrews and outdoor dining, all under one roof. Unfortunately, the food and service are both consistently bland.
Food: The fare is varied, but generally unspectacular. We started with the seared tuna in wasabi dressing, which was surprisinly tender and good (sometimes this type of place can ruin fish — not the case here). The burgers are quite good — charred on the outside and a tender pink within, but the insipid french fries leave the entree lacking. The chicken pot pie is ok, but not something I’d order again. A turkey panini sounded good on the menu but left me disappointed.

A nice selection of everyday beers and a few specialty brews. My favorite was the Black Lab Stoudt, but I probably could have told you that before setting foot in the place. It was quite flavorful, and slightly but not too bitter, with a nice coffee finish. Amazingly, the buttery (seriously, like popcorn) light lager was another favorite, since I usually think light beers are boring. This one, however, was packed with flavor. The seasonal Irish Red was also quite tasty.

Ambiance: Loud as heck! Seriously, it was pretty loud almost everywere, especially in the upstairs and downstairs bars. Later in the evening there was a band, which seemed pretty unnecessary (and loud). The non-smoking dining area was slightly quieter, but not much. It’s a happening place though, so we didn’t really mind the noise. It would certainly be nice if one of the bars was non-smoking (at least until 10pm), so waiting diners didn’t have to deal with that nonsense. Also, there’s a good-sized outdoor area open in nice weather.

Service: Service has gone downhill — we waited in the entryway for a good few minutes before being greeted, and waiters are not attentive.
Value: Ran about $30 per person with an entree and a couple beers — about right for what we got. Nothing outstanding from a value standpoint, but hardly a ripoff.

Number of Visits: 3
Cards: Yes
Reservations: No
Bar: Full

Nudy’s Cafe, Wayne

292 E. Conestoga Rd
Wayne, PA
(610) 687-1345

Rating: 3 silver spoons out of 5

Overview: By day, the best breakfast/lunch joint in the area.

Breakfast: Nudy’s creative spin on comfort food is a step above standard diner fare in the area. It’s difficult to choose incorrectly with a wide variety of specialty pancakes, french toasts and omelets. Favorites include the pumpkin spice pancakes and the banana walnut french toast.

Lunch: From cold cut sandwiches to specials hot off the grill, Nudy’s offers a wide variety of standard and specialty sandwiches. A few highlights include the roast pork sandwich with roasted peppers and a chicken salad wrap with apples and almonds.

Ambiance: Small, cozy and bustling, Nudy’s has the charm of a great neighborhood hangout. During the summer, there is a good sized patio for outside dining, most of which is covered and heated during the winter.

Service: At busy times, staff can be a bit overwhelmed, but are always helpful.

Value: Diner prices with better than diner food. Great value.

# of times we’ve eaten there: 5+
Reservations: No… Expect long weekend waits for Brunch.
Payments: Cards

The Flying Pig, Malvern

121 E. King St.
Malvern, PA

Rating: 3 silver spoons out of 5

Overview: Great little dive bar in the middle of Malvern.

Food: Standard Pub Fare — Generally high in fat and cholesterol, but so tasty. The pepperoni rolls (slabs of pepperoni rolled up in oily bread) are a sentimental favorite, and the burgers are quite good as well (though a recent one was overcooked). We tried an artichoke and parmesan “dip” appetizer recently that was quite good. Unlike most brewpub style artichoke/cheese dip, this was more like a spread (think bruschetta) and was quite unique and interesting. I also had a sandwich called “The Veal Deal” (or something kitschy like that) which was sauteed veal medallions with peppers and onions on a hoagie roll, all smothered in provolone cheese. The roll wasn’t really “crusty” as promised, but it was still quite a sandwich.

Beer: The Pig is definitely a “beer bar” with a great seasonal selection on tap — during a recent visit I tried Anchor Steam Spring Bock, Troegs Sunshine Pils and Lucifer Golden Ale. The selection of bottled beer is even more extensive.

Ambiance: Small, dark, and somewhat noisy, but the type of neighborhood pub where you can really get comfortable. To be avoided when they have bands — it is way too loud and really ruins the whole point of going there in the first place, which is to relax with some friends and some beers.

Service: Not great, but it doesn’t really matter.

Value: More of a bar than a restaurant, so pretty cheap.

# of times we’ve eaten there: 5+
Reservations: No
Payments: Cards
Bar: Full