By DUTCH GODSHALK
The Conshohocken Café sits along Fayette Street right in the heart of town; it’s a slender building with a few metal tables dotting the sidewalk out front and one of those old, classic neon signs blinking “OPEN” in the window. Inside, clever, chachka salt-and-pepper shakers populate the tables and the music of Wilco pipes lazily through overhead speakers; near the entrance, a weathered collection of Robert Frost poems lies open on a small sofa.
In short, this place has character.
With a menu that’s equal parts decadent and creative, the café has for years been a mainstay for locals seeking out a decent brunch. Its rotating specials keep things interesting, and the coffee, from Bucks County Coffee Co., borders on addictive. The only things the restaurant’s been missing are later hours and a dinner selection — that is, until now.
The café introduced its dinner menu on June 6, at last placing the establishment in league with some of the most well regarded restaurants in town. Touting a slew of carefully-crafted new entrées and appetizers, as well as a more intimately-lit setting, the BYOB restaurant is officially invading Conshohocken nightlife.
Serving dinner “is an idea that’s been floating around since I interviewed for my position,” said Chef Zach Seidenberg, who started at the café about a year ago.
Seidenberg’s been personally cultivating the new dinner items for months. “I wanted to take everything up a notch or two as far as the items we would be presenting,” he said. But there are subtle atmospheric differences, too, including “cloth napkins and candles on the table; I really wanted to make a nice place you wouldn’t be embarrassed to go to on a first date.”
For the menu, Seidenberg brought some of his own favorite entrees to the table; among them are confit chicken wings, spinach gnocchi with grilled chicken breast, tuna tartare, and pork belly.
The confit chicken wings, neatly folded and lollipopped on small skewers, are especially memorable; cured for three hours and then cooked in their own fat, the wings, once served, come right off the bone. According to Seidenberg, such a unique take on a typical dish is how one keeps up with the competition. “Everybody sells wings,” he said. “Nobody’s doing this.”
Most of the new dinner items are “dishes that I was doing already or had been kind of thinking about as a rough concept,” the chef said. “The grilled salmon (with dill pesto spaghetti squash), for instance; putting dill and salmon together is almost a stereotype, so I didn’t want to just put the dill on the salmon. I thought, ‘OK, I’ll do a dill pesto on pasta.’ I love the idea of pesto and pasta.”
For Seidenberg, the café’s unique hook is that it offers an upscale meal at prices a younger crowd can afford. “I really want to make a good option for people (in their twenties) who know enough about food that they want to eat something interesting and delicious,” he said. “There’s plenty of good food in Conshohocken and there’s definitely some interesting food,” but they don’t often enter into an affordable range.
Seidenberg’s been the driving force behind the café’s dinner menu. From the start, the hours between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. have been his blank canvas. “(Conshohocken Café owner Kristin Peice) gave me huge creative control,” he said. “The only thing that she really said was that we should have a few lunch items to keep with continuity for customers accustomed to what we’re already doing.”
So there’s some classic café items on the dinner menu, like the black angus burger and the Bromaha chicken salad sandwich, but as the months roll on, new items will continue to appear. “I’d love to keep it seasonal, within reason, doing a few more summery dishes,” Seidenberg said. “In a few months, I’ll bring in one or two barbecue items, and some smoked or slow-cooked-type stuff around July 4.”
It seems that Seidenberg’s a man who needs a challenge. He doesn’t want things getting rote, doesn’t want to find himself bored in the kitchen.
”I really need to keep it interesting,” he said. “I’ll go nuts otherwise.”
The Conshohocken Cafe, 521 Fayette St., is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. To see a full dinner menu, visit www.ConshohockenCafe.com.
Follow Dutch Godshalk on Twitter @DutchGodshalk.