Blue Bell Inn
Traditionally known for serving classic American steakhouse fare, this revered establishment is morphing into something new—with fantastic results
by Brian Freedman

As you might guess, restaurants have played a significant role in my life, but not just because writing about them is a major part of how I make my living. Indeed, for as long as I can remember, they have been the scenes of the sort of life-cycle moments that define all of our experiences. And though I’ve celebrated any number of milestones at great restaurants across the country and around the world, none of them was as consistently a part of that fabric as the Blue Bell Inn.

As a child, it was the first serious restaurant to which my parents took my sister and me. Though my grandfather passed away earlier in the year, I can still see him and my father across one of those big round tables at the inn, deciding on the wine at the start of one of the regular family dinners we had there. Over the years, we celebrated high school graduations, holidays home from college, my sister’s wedding-rehearsal dinner and other occasions in those rooms and on that patio.

So when word got out that John Lamprecht, owner and chef for nearly 50 years, had sold it, I greeted the news with a real sense of sadness. It was the end of an era, and, in a certain sense, an end to a part of my family’s experience.

But here’s the thing: The Blue Bell Inn—under the new ownership of real estate all-star Bruce Goodman, a longtime and passionate customer, as well as Scott Dougherty and Kevin Clib, of Bridget’s and KC’s Alley in Ambler—is making key changes yet, at the same time, managing to keep its deep sense of soul.

The focus is shifting from classic American steakhouse fare to a more ocean-centered menu. (The steaks, however, are still marvelous; a recent New York strip was still better than what you’d tend to find at the big steakhouse chains dotting the region; and, among a lovely selection of other meats, the Blue Bell Inn chateaubriand for two remains, thankfully.) The kitchen is now being helmed by executive chef Peter Sherba and chef de cuisine Christopher D’Ambro, formerly of Talula’s Table and Talula’s Garden, and still working with Bridget’s as well. He is bringing a well of talent and enthusiasm to his new charge, and the vividness of his creativity and firm grounding in unimpeachable technique have already earned him some serious buzz among local restaurant lovers.

A recent dinner was highlighted by the exceptionally well-developed flavors of a deeply comforting monkfish stew, the fennel sausage playing perfectly off the meaty spoonfuls of fish; the white beans, mussels and clams lifted by the perfume of fennel, all of it in a lovely tomato broth. Simple fried oysters were textbook examples of how careful frying and a great crust can elevate the straightforward to rare heights. The polenta beneath a generous scattering of escargots was impeccably seasoned and well-defined enough to have stood on its own.

D’Ambro also has a deft touch with pastas. Chestnut agnolotti with celery root, duck confit and cremini mushrooms, all of it luxuriating in a miraculous duck jus, possessed a flavor profile as evocative of autumn as anything I’ve tasted recently. Sides, such as creamed leeks and spinach casserole, are fantastic—rich yet never heavy, and brightened up by the inherent freshness of the ingredients.

There are physical changes planned as well, Dougherty tells me, including a new, grander entrance with free valet parking. The dining areas will also see a makeover. “The cafe is going to be re-done with a new foundation, much more landscaping, new furniture,” he says. “The main dining room itself is going to have a major overhaul. We’re hoping to raise the ceilings, let some natural light in, and have it hopefully be the same feel, just a slightly more casual feel to it. Whereas every other room—there’s four other rooms on the first floor—will all remain fine dining. … And those rooms will all get a facelift as well, with new flooring, new ceilings, new lighting, new decor, some furniture—just updating everything.”

The timeframe for the project is January through May or June, Dougherty tells me, and the restaurant will remain open throughout the work.

Good thing it will. Word is getting out about all that is happening at the Blue Bell Inn, and food lovers throughout the region have been coming by to experience the changes for themselves. If my experience is any indication—and from what I’ve heard, it unquestionably is—they’re likely to become regulars. This is one change in ownership that has pulled off the rather difficult trick of reimagining a beloved restaurant in a new light, and forging its own identity without losing what made the its namesake so beloved in the first place.

The former Blue Bell Inn played a tremendous role in my family’s life for the past three decades. Now, with luck, I fully expect the new Blue Bell Inn to do the same for my young brood.

Blue Bell Inn
601 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell
215-646-2010 |