By LEN LEAR
For 21st Century Media
After the second-worst winter in Philadelphia-area history in terms of snowfall (67.5 inches), more 6-plus inch snowfalls than ever before (four) and a nightmare of power outages, school closings, aching backs and perilous road conditions, foodies are no doubt hungry for sun-dappled patios surrounded by fresh flowers, fresh food and fresh conversation. In other words, the ambience of outdoor dining.
And if you cannot be seated in a charming café in Provence or Tuscany or England’s Lake District, you can pretend you are. And there are more than enough wonderful restaurants on the Main Line and beyond where you can inhale the ambience and the alchemy created when fine food is married to the great outdoors.
Obviously, it would be impossible to mention every restaurant in the area that offers alfresco dining, the hallmark of spring and summer, but we can highlight a few of the more intriguing possibilities just to whet your appetite, so to speak:
❏ Coyote Crossing, 800 Spring Mill Road, Conshohocken: We visited this restaurant two weeks after it opened in November of 1996, and on a Friday night there were only two other people in the entire restaurant. I thought the restaurant had as much chance of succeeding as I had of playing quarterback for the Eagles.
However, owner Carlos Melendez, who came to Philadelphia in 1992 from his hometown of Mexico City, is not a person who is easily defeated. A comedian once said that you only get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so many times, and Melendez was not about to let this one go. Thanks to his remarkable work ethic, unalloyed optimism, charismatic personality and eventual rave reviews in area newspapers, several months of birth pains produced one of the most successful Mexican restaurants in the Delaware Valley.
That success enabled Melendez to create what I believe is the most inviting, “outdoorable” dining patio in the region. It is filled with ficus trees, plants, bushes, mini-waterfalls and when it opens in the second week of April, stylishly dressed customers. “And we are also constructing a Mezcal bar that should be finished by the beginning of July,” Melendez told me recently. (Mezcal is a smoked agave spirit that has been called “the mother of tequila.”)
For more information, call (610) 825-3000 or visit www.coyotecrossing.com
❏ Carmine’s Act Two, 232 Woodbine Ave., Narberth: John Mims, a native of New Orleans who has often been referred to by food writers as the “Best Cajun chef in the Delaware Valley,” opened Carmine’s Creole Café in 2004 in Narberth after seven years at another Cajun restaurant in Havertown that was beehive busy virtually every night. Late in 2006 he closed Carmine’s and opened a restaurant in Bryn Mawr (where Verdad is now) but eventually had to leave.
In March of last year Mims moved back to his old Narberth location with Carmine’s Act Two. The BYOB property had been home to three restaurants in the previous five years — Margot, Gemelli and Aperto. Mims has been doing a killer business in his second Narberth incarnation, which is no surprise. Anyone who can create his butter-roasted Chilean sea bass with crispy coconut shrimp tossed with mango butter sauce clearly has the soul of an artist. “As soon as the weather breaks, I will have 20 seats outdoors,” he told me recently.
For more information, call (610) 660-0160 or visit www.carminesacttwo.com
❏ Tiramisu, 720 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn: I once heard about a restaurant owner who gave his cooks a stirring speech. (Ba-da-boom!) But one cook who does not need a stirring speech to produce great food, night after night, is Sean DelBello, who opened this BYOB in September 2012, which is not quite like other Italian restaurants in the area.
The difference is that DelBello specializes in preparing authentic Roman-Jewish food, whose flavors were developed between 1500 and about 1850, when the Jews in Rome were confined to a ghetto. Not many Americans, whatever their faith, are likely to be aware that the Jewish community in Rome has existed for more than 2,000 years and is the earliest and largest settlement of Jews in the Western world.
Tiramisu has a lovely outdoor porch that seats about 20. I must say that the last time we were there in warm weather, there was a sudden, scary lightning storm that quickly moved the outdoor customers inside, but under ordinary circumstances it is a delightful place to enjoy the recipes that were passed down to the DelBello family in Rome and modified over many centuries.
For more information, call (610) 906-3299 or visit www.tiramisuberwyn.com
❏ Azie on Main, 789 E. Lancaster Ave., Villanova: This stunning restaurant replaced Maia, which was owned by Michael Wei, who also owns Yangming in Bryn Mawr and Nectar in Berwyn. It features “global” cuisine from executive chef Kazayuki Mitsui, formerly of Morimoto, with influences from France, Italy and several Asian countries.
Owners Win and Sutida Somboonsong, natives of Thailand who also own three other restaurants in the Greater Philadelphia area, including another Azie in Media, said recently that their outdoor patio, which seats 40 and features a fire pit, will open in mid-April. “We are also installing a tiki bar that has its own grill,” they added.
For more information, call (610) 527-5700 or visit www.azieonmain.com
❏ Heirloom, 8705 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia: Owner/chef Al Paris, who opened this beautiful BYOB two years ago, is definitely no flash in the pan (or in the pots). He has been a top toque for upscale restaurants in California and the Delaware Valley for more than 30 years, and he has a collection of cookbooks that could fill up a section of the Smithsonian Institution.
Heirloom specializes in classic American dishes from 1900 to 1950 (hence, “Heirloom”), although Paris puts his own contemporary spin on each one. For example, his popular chicken entrée comes from an Amish farm and is smoked with applewood bacon and served with spoonbread, wilted greens, a sensual honey-cider reduction and toothsome apple-bacon jam.
Heirloom has outdoor seating for 20, and in case you forget to bring a bottle of wine, there is a State Store right next to the restaurant. Paris and his partners also recently opened Paris Bistro, right next door to the Chestnut Hill Hotel, five blocks from Heirloom. It features French cuisine, a downstairs jazz club and will soon have outdoor seating for 20.
For more information, call (215) 242-2700 or visit www.heirloomdining.com.