Heavy Hitters
Our 2019 Golden Fork Awards celebrate restaurants that have earned their place among the region’s culinary heavyweights.
by Bill Donahue and Leigh Stuart

Philadelphia is a city of fighters. We all know that. 
The city has been battling to earn rank as one of America’s culinary capitals, and it’s doing a damn fine job of making itself known. With world-renowned chefs including Richard Landau, Marcie Turney, and Marc Vetri, it’s no wonder Philadelphia is earning a reputation as a culinary heavyweight.
But Philly doesn’t have the monopoly on fine eats. In fact, some of the best dishes in the area are being served up in the suburbs. From crispy wood-fired pizzas to succulent seafood to ambrosia-like risotto, the restaurants in our backyard have earned the right to call themselves contenders.
We present our 2019 Golden Fork Awards, featuring 20 of our area’s heaviest culinary hitters. 

19 Bella 
A charming BYOB just down the road from Skippack Village, 19 Bella offers an immersive dining experience unlike any other. The menu features a long list of small plates inspired by cuisines from around the world. Jerusalem hummus, spicy Peruvian fried chicken, and Greek meatloaf are just a few examples. We could go on, but it’s probably better just to make a reservation and find out for yourself. 19Bella.com

North Wales
This fine-dining establishment offers crispy pizzas, tomato pies, and some of the same delicacies as its sister restaurant in Doylestown, the BYOB known as Bacco Bistro, but that’s where the similarities end. Here, Italian delights such as house-made gnocchi and other pasta dishes abound (including gluten-free options), as do some surprises, such as the grilled Australian lamb chops. If you prefer a more casual dining experience, belly up to the beautifully designed bar; you’re likely to see some familiar faces during happy hour from one week to the next.  BaccoBacco.com

Bowman’s Tavern 
New Hope
Whether you take a seat in the dining room or at the bar (it has two), Bowman’s Tavern feels both comfortable and familial. The menus rotate to feature the freshest in-season ingredients. The winter menu, for example, stars plenty of dishes to warm the belly and the soul, ranging from the pork-and-beef meatloaf to the Scottish salmon. As one staff member says, “You can throw a dart at the menu and be happy with what you get.” BowmansTavernRestaurant.com

Buona Via Italian Seafood and Grill
One might suggest Buona Via started something of a restaurant renaissance in this part of MontCo. Still, it continues to earn its place among the cream of the crop. The restaurant boasts a festive happy hour, an exhaustive wine list, and a lineup of craft cocktails, not to mention a menu of delectable seafood and other fruits of the Mediterranean. BuonaVia.com

Domani Star 
A fixture of Doylestown’s dining scene for 20 years or so, Domani Star offers a celebratory yet intimate dining experience. Since we last featured this lovely little BYOB, it has expanded with a new space called Sorella (Italian for “sister”). The menu continues to evolve, too. Guests rave about Domani Star’s classic Italian dishes, such as linguine fra diavlo and grilled salmon fillet, and “Poppy’s chicken.” And if you like your Italian food with a side of jazz, stop in on a Friday night. DomaniStar.com

Enoteca Tredici 
Bryn Mawr
Enoteca Tredici brings the sophistication of Philadelphia’s Sansom Street to the Main Line. The elegant space feels both artistic and very personal, with a menu to match. You’ll find everything from lollipop lamb chops to braised rabbit pappardelle, and a terrific wine list to pair with any dish. As for where to begin, people swear by the cheesesteak egg rolls. TrediciBM.com

The Green Fork 
North Wales
This creative and casual BYOB caters to a wide variety of dietary lifestyles, including vegan and gluten free. At the same time, meat lovers won’t find themselves staring at the menu and wondering which direction to take. Whether you prefer your burger made from Angus beef or from veggies and quinoa, you’re very much in luck. TGF is also very supportive of local artists, musicians, and artisans. For your own edification, stop in and return the favor. TheGreenForkAndLocalRootsMarket.com

Great service, charming ambiance, and some truly inspired cuisine—you can’t ask for much more from a restaurant, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Imperatore. A new addition at the intersection of Skippack and Butler pikes, Imperatore makes some real magic in the kitchen. One example: the Tartellini Aragosta e Granchio, a popular dish featuring tortellini filled with lobster and crabmeat in lobster grand Marnier sauce. RistoranteImperatore.com

The Jarrettown Hotel 
The Jarrettown Hotel may be best known for its Maryland crab cakes, but the menu has a number of excellent dishes capable of going toe to toe with its signature dish. For our part, we swear by the gnocchi or one of the rustic grill-fired pizzas, paired with a glass or two of Montepulciano or Super Tuscan from the excellent wine list. It’s not just about the food either; the Jarrettown Hotel is one of those places where you feel like you belong when you step foot through the door. JarrettownRestaurant.com

Jasper’s Backyard
At this time of year, it almost hurts to recall memories from Jasper’s sun-splashed outdoor patio. Still, a trip to this Conshohocken eatery is a good idea any time of year. The menu of seasonally inspired dishes features tastes from across the country and around the world, from panko-crusted crab cakes to braised short ribs. If you’re looking for more casual fare, take a seat at Jasper’s lovely bar for one of the handhelds (i.e., upscale sandwiches) with a side of Three Alarm Fries, and maybe something from the exquisite cocktails list. JaspersBackyard.com 

La Stalla 
When in Newtown, do as the locals do: Step through the door of this fine establishment and prepare to enjoy some of the suburbs’ finest Italian cuisine. This Newtown landmark began life as a barn in the 1920s, and it has retained hints of its historic charm. The open kitchen adds to the lovely atmosphere, but the menu is the star of the show. It’s almost impossible to make a bad decision when choosing from La Stalla’s array of traditional Italian favorites: linguine and clams, lobster ravioli, gnocchi Sorrento, etc. Consider us big fans. LaStallaRestaurant.com

Lovin’ Oven 
Frenchtown, N.J.
If you’ve never been across the river in Frenchtown, north of Lambertville, it’s worth the trip—especially if food is on your itinerary. Lovin’ Oven is in a class by itself. For Sunday brunch, the eclectic dining room may be filled with young families, health-conscious boomers, and heavily tattooed hipsters, all there to enjoy the Oven’s healthful, creative, and immensely delicious fare. The menu includes options for herbivores and omnivores alike; no matter which side of the line you might stand on, the red bliss potato fritters are always a hit. LovinOvenFrenchtown.com

Nelli Rae’s Kitchen 
It’s a great time to be a vegetarian if you live in the Greater Philadelphia Area. Whereas Philly has the likes of Vedge and Charlie was a sinner., Bucks County has Blue Sage, Sprig & Vine, and a little gem called Nelli Rae’s. Located in Revere, north of Ottsville, this vegetarian/vegan café offers a rotating menu of healthy, delicious favorites that linger in the mind and on the tongue. One of our favorites is the Moroccan veggie chickpea soup, but you’ll find that everything on the menu is made with love. NelliRaes.com

Souderton is abuzz with life, including this recent addition to a revived downtown. Thanks to the folks behind Butcher & Barkeep in Harleysville and Boardroom Spirits in Lansdale, Northbound offers a thoughtful menu of really good food, as well as a festive bar scene with killer house-made cocktails, and an atmosphere that seems more Philadelphia than Montgomery County. Whether you’re craving a New York strip steak or a quinoa-and-tofu grain bowl, Northbound delivers. Also, no matter which entrée you choose, remember these two words: sexy fries. NorthboundRestaurant.com

Main & Vine 
This recent addition to the Main Line’s vibrant dining scene checks all the boxes. Perfect for a business lunch or an intimate dinner, Main & Vine offers an atmosphere unlike any other. The décor is visually stunning, the service is attentive, and the Northern California-inspired menu is sophisticated yet approachable. Menu favorites include the Napa-style sourdough pizzas and the M&V Bistro Burger, preferably with a side of crispy Brussels sprouts. MainandVineBistro.com

Rising Sun Inn 
The Rising Sun Inn seems built for warmth and coziness, which should come as no surprise considering its hospitality origins; the inn dates back to the 1730s. As for the menu, its particular area of specialty is quite apparent long before you peruse the menu to find items such as the grilled buffalo filet mignon and the baked “buffaloaf”; you can’t miss the massive stuffed buffalo in the lobby. While lean, high-protein North American bison may be its claim to fame, the Rising Sun is hardly a one-trick pony. RisingSunInn.net

Ristorante San Marco 
The neck of the woods between Ambler and Spring House has undergone quite a transformation in recent years, and that includes the dining scene. Among the many new places to dine and drink, a handful of veritable institutions continue to reinvent the dining experience. San Marco may very well top the list. San Marco specializes in artfully prepared traditional Italian cuisine, such as fresh fish, house-made pastas, and risottos, with A-plus service to match. SanMarcoPA.com

Gulph Mills
Nestled in the heart of the Main Line, Savona has earned its reputation as a local dining icon. Breads, pastas, and gelatos are all made in house, with dishes featuring ingredients sourced locally as often as possible. A recent menu gem featured velvety saffron risotto with pine nuts, topped with exquisitely poached lobster. Must-try dishes rotate often, with the menu changing form once or twice per season. In other words, if you see a dish you like, make sure to enjoy it before it's gone. SavonaRestaurant.com

Center Valley
If you’re driving north on 309, past Quakertown, set a course for Center Valley, where Paxos Restaurants has a trio of exceptional restaurants sure to make an impression: Melt, Top Cut, and Torre. (Of course, there’s also the excellent Firepoint Grill in Newtown Square.) Our favorite just might be Torre, which offers a feast for the senses: stunning décor, including one of the area’s niftiest bars; vibrant atmosphere; and some of the finest Mexican cuisine around. From starters (made-to-order guacamole) to desserts (flan de coco), Torre provides a dining experience that’s likely to become a habit. TorreRestaurant.com

Vida and Comida 
This BYOB features a Mediterranean-focused menu that offers authentic Spanish cuisine. Sure, patrons will find familiar favorites such as paella, veal osso bucco, and chorizo, but Chef Manuel Jimenez wants diners to experience everything the region has to offer. Regional seafood dishes are a specialty; guests say they love, love, love the sautéed filet of Dover sole and the seared corvina—not to mention the ever-popular seafood paella, made with imported Arborio rice and saffron. VidaAndComida.com
Savona photograph by Dallyn Pavey
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, February 2019.  
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