STORY WRITTEN BY LEN LEAR
For Digital First Media
Someone once said that the one thing constant about life is change, and that certainly applies to the huge (350 seats) Blue Bell Inn, located at 601 Skippack Pike (Route 73) in Blue Bell.
In April of 2013, after the Lamprecht family, long-time owners, sold the historic property, the Blue Bell Inn closed its doors and remained closed for 14 months while undergoing an extensive, multi-million dollar renovation. Talk about the American Dream: one of the trio of new owners, Scott Dougherty, actually began his restaurant career as a busboy at the Blue Bell Inn in 1990, moving up to maitre d’ and then manager over the next nine years. In 2004 he left to become general manager of Bridget’s in Ambler, whose owner, Kevin Clib, he partnered with to purchase the Blue Bell Inn along with a third partner, Bruce Goodman. Executive chef, Pete Sherba, was also brought over from Bridget’s.
An exposed rock wall from the original 18th century edifice at the rear of the main dining room, antique glass found during construction, hanging lights, beamed ceilings and carpets blend with new Italian porcelain tile, black marble and white oak to create an elegant ambience. There is a 50-seat flagstone patio outdoors with a roaring fire pit, heat lamps and water wall. Unfortunately, during our recent visit the patio was closed because of rain earlier in the day. There is a movie star-handsome bar near the entrance, but the noise emanating from it was deafening.
In the old Blue Bell Inn you would have been out of place without a flowing dress or suit and tie. They are almost nonexistent now, however, as they are in almost every other area restaurant, no matter how posh. The menu prices are not for the faint of heart, but they are obviously not dissuading anyone from coming since the parking lot is full every night. Appetizers are $7 to $18, and entrees are $29 to $42. Side dishes are $8 to $10, and desserts are $7 to $9.
An aesthetically presented ahi tuna appetizer was a trio of pepper-crusted and seared tuna, mango poke (silky texture and sweet, vibrant flavor) and sushi grade, ruby-rare tartare with phenomenal homemade wonton chips ($18 but worth it). A mushroom flatbread, festooned with a flood of local wild mushrooms, napped with fresh mozzarella and a tang of prosciutto was a superlative meal in itself ($13).
An impeccably moist branzino entree was served with baby arugula, dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts, earthy couscous, a shimmer of olive tapenade and a whisper of lemon butter ($32). Slow-braised short ribs were a huge tangle of meltingly tender, bewitching sinews of beef, ringed by sweet potato grits and roasty Brussels sprouts. (My mother always said they were good for me.) Side dishes of roasted local wild mushrooms ($8) and mac and cheese ($10) were both gigantic portions and perfectly prepared.
Desserts from pastry chef Lexi Miller, if you have room for them, are also artfully crafted and luxurious, such as the white chocolate ice cream with candied macadamia nuts and macadamia butter ($7) and chocolate peanut butter shortcake with peanut butter mousse, roasted banana ice cream and browned, creamy bananas ($9).
There is a vast wine list by the bottle and a decent selection by the glass. A glass of Raeburn Chardonnay with a glorious, velvety body and lingering after-taste was a compatible match for the seafood ($13), but a glass of Paul Hobbes Chardonnay did not have a distinctive flavor imprint and was way overpriced at $15. A pomegranate Mojito was a perfect summer thirst-quencher ($10) while a Summer Berry Sangria had a sour taste and enough ice to keep the entire building cool ($11).
Server Vittorio Tito, a native of Ecuador, could not have been more pleasant and efficient.
There is live music on Friday nights and a D.J. On Saturday nights. For more information, visit www.bluebellin.com or call (215) 646-2010.