Edgewood Café & BYOB
The seasonal, ambitious menu at this Havertown hot spot suggests a winner with serious potential
by Brian Freedman

The opening of an ambitious suburban restaurant is always a cause for celebration. The fact that Edgewood Cafe & BYOB has planted its roots in Havertown, which lately has been feeling like it needs a bit of a jolt to its food scene, is even more heartening. It opened in May 2012, and since then it has been impressing locals with its seasonal, intimate menu.

This is a restaurant with serious potential. The appealing menu prompts a sense of confidence right from the start; this is food you simply want to eat. And once the dishes start making their way out of the kitchen, that promise is borne out.

Scallops, for example, were perfectly seared, their flesh white and tender beneath the lovingly caramelized crowns. Paired with house-smoked almonds and tangerine, these were flavorful without being overbearing, smartly conceived yet still devoid of pretension. The sweetness of the fruit echoed the mollusks’ own, and the nuts mirrored the browned tops—very thoughtful, indeed. The watermelon salad, although its glistening pink jewels could have used just a pinch of salt, succeeded in bringing together tender greens, feta, more smoked almonds and white balsamic vinaigrette in a tasty recasting of summer’s most emblematic melon. The Edgewood wedge took an all too familiar salad and rethought it slightly to create something clever and new. The result, all smoky with bacon, snappy with onions and parmesan herb croutons and dressed in a honey/white balsamic vinaigrette with serious zip, hit all its intended marks. (It’s also available, more traditionally, with blue cheese.)

Even simpler preparations that for some reason find themselves falling short at most restaurants met with success here. Crab- and mushroom-studded macaroni and cheese was a creamy wonder, each forkful a rich, tongue-coating comfort. Southern-fried chicken breast, its crust shattering with each bite, was lifted by a sense of sweetness from a lovely honey/pink peppercorn sauce. Striped bass was an example of how solid technique can raise up otherwise straightforward ingredients that are too often mired in the doldrums of familiarity. This was a straightforward filet set apart by its perfect cooking temperature. This allowed the moist flesh to be made savory when forked with a pile of beluga lentils, and sweet when dragged through a well-crafted beet coulis.

Not everything was as successful, however. Whole fried snapper, though presented beautifully, was nonetheless in need of more seasoning. Cooking technique, no matter how adept, is always undermined when the seasoning is done with too light a hand. Still, honey soy glaze went far in helping it along, and the texture, from the diamond scoring of the flesh, was gorgeous.

The desserts, while very tasty, fell just a bit short of the procession that preceded them. Asian pear doughnuts were a great idea, for example, but the dough itself felt too heavy. I did, however, love the accompanying chai tea gelato and star anise caramel. Deconstructed s’mores, on the other hand, just missed the mark for my taste. Generally speaking, a deconstruction of a classic should re-cast the familiar into a new and exciting light. What arrived—crumbled graham crackers, dark chocolate ganache painted onto the plate, charred marshmallow gelato, a scattering of lightly browned mini-marshmallows, and a very nice chocolate tuile—lacked a substantial payoff beyond a reimagining of the original. Still, a good s’more is always a lovely thing, so my complaint here is more philosophical than gustatory.

But those kinds of shortcomings were rare, and this is, in general, a kitchen with serious potential. This was embodied most clearly in their lobster Cioppino, an intensely flavorful plate glistening with a reduced tomato herb broth and an ocean’s worth of seafood cooked with amazing consistency: elegant clams and mussels, delicate shrimp, hearty lobster tail. Alongside its homemade focaccia crostini and hillock of saffron rice, this was enough for two ... if you’re foolish enough not to keep it all for yourself.

All of this is presented in a genial, comfortable space by a friendly and helpful staff. The volume of the live music, though, should be turned down a notch or two; even the best singers (and this one was certainly talented) suffer from having their voice so amplified that conversation becomes difficult at nearby tables.

All in all, Edgewood Café & BYOB has proven to be a solid addition to the dining scene in this part of the Philadelphia suburbs. With the slightest of tweaks here or there, it will continue to satisfy the sophisticated palates of locals who can appreciate excellent cuisine. If that’s not cause for celebration, I’m not sure what is.

Edgewood Café & BYOB
1304 Edgewood Road, Havertown
484-453-8851 | edgewoodrestaurant.com

Photography by Alison Dunlap