There are several reasons to make your way out to beautiful Kennett Square, in Chester County Pennsylvania. First, it is steeped in American history. British General Sir William Howe marched through the streets on his way to the Battle of Brandywine, and the city was an essential Underground Railroad stop as many of the prominent members of the town helped slaves escape North. It happens to be the home of Longwood Gardens, one of the premier horticultural display gardens in the United States, consisting of over 1,000 acres of gardens and woodlands. Kennett Square is also the mushroom capital of the world. Over a million pounds of mushrooms are harvested daily – half the world’s mushroom crop.
Mushrooms aside, the farms and purveyors that dot the countryside in the Brandywine region provide ideal support to inspire a culinary food scene. Locally grown produce and proteins are abundant and a short drive from Kennett Square’s charming State Street which is reminiscent of “Main Street, USA.” Nestled amongst the boutiques and thriving businesses is Talula’s Table.
Talula’s, a small gourmet market and cheese shop, stocks over one hundred cheeses both foreign and domestic. The store that serves sandwiches, salads, and soups by day, transforms into a James Beard semi-finalist restaurant by night. It is also known as one of the toughest reservations to procure in the United States.
After selling her wildly popular Society Hill neighborhood restaurant called Django, Chef and restaurateur Aimee Olexy sought a different kind of venture. In 2007 Olexy opened Talula’s Table, named after her daughter Annalee Talula Rae. She combined all of her experiences from her impressive culinary resume to craft her storefront by day/restaurant by night concept.
Currently, Olexy has several collaborations with Restaurateur Stephen Starr in Philadelphia, but she refers to Talula’s like the “mothership.” Olexy works closely with Executive Chef Dylan Sweeney to put together a seasonal menu that changes every 4-6 weeks. The eight-course tasting meal includes desserts and small treats crafted by CIA trained Pastry Chef Claire Twesten. Since they don’t have a liquor license, wine pairing suggestions are offered with every course for diners to BYOB.
Once the store closes at 7 pm the store lighting dims, and the appetizers hit the floor. The lucky diner who called a year in advance gets to occupy the 1,000 square foot retail space with 11 of his or her friends at the country table in the center of the market.
The Farm Table has a legendary reputation because reservations are taken at 8 am in the morning for that day a year in advance. If you miss the opportunity to nab the table, you can keep checking the website for a cancellation which does occur on occasion.
Due to the overwhelming success of the Farm Table, Olexy added the smaller Chef’s Table located in the kitchen. This table seats to up to 8 guests. When both tables are booked, 20 diners are sitting for the night ensuring the staff’s full attention. Chef Dylan and his team make every effort to make the evening worth the wait.
“We just want the experience to feel comfortable for our guests,” explains Chef Sweeney. “We want you to have an incredible meal in a relaxed atmosphere so that you and your guests have a perfect time.” Chef Dylan, a graduate from Johnson and Wales in Denver, loves the opportunity to turn out delicious locally sourced dishes that blow his customers away. His portions are small enough to showcase all of his culinary expertise but also provide a fun progression from course to course. By the end of the meal, you will not leave hungry.
The farm-to-table meal is inspired by the seasons and ingredients found as close to home as possible along the East Coast. Once the menu is finalized, everyone behind the scenes at Talula’s is treated to their own tasting. It is integral to the diner’s experience that each member of the staff is fully educated on how to serve and describe each course.
They also expertly pour the wines purchased by diners based on the menu pairing recommendations. Wines are opened and served throughout the meal based on each course.
The evening that my party dined the Chef’s Table, we had two members who had shellfish allergies. While menu substitutions are discouraged, allergies and dietary restrictions are taken seriously. The kitchen will work with dietary issues if given enough notice to plan accordingly. In our case (when we confirmed our table a month ahead of time) we asked the kitchen to delete the shellfish course for our party. That evening, when the other diners were served a scallop course, our substitution was a beef short rib that was brined first and then braised. It was placed on top of a white bean puree and a creamed spinach. The combination was so luscious and silky, we thought it was mashed potatoes.
When asked about the challenge to serve 20 people some with allergies or dietary lifestyle issues Sweeney remarked, “A lot of our guests wait over a year to get a seat at the table, so we want to make sure every course is perfect. If someone has an allergy or a dietary restriction, we make sure to accommodate them with the same level of creativity and quality as the rest of the table. Everyone will be served a beautiful plate that will taste delicious.”
We enjoyed the slow progression of our meal. Each course built upon the one prior and every plate was stunning in presentation and flavor. The evening was well worth the price for the quality and creativity of the menu. The eight-course tasting is $108 per person (not including tax, corkage fee per table and gratuity). It was an extraordinary experience that made us feel like a part of the Talula’s Table family.
All the information about the meal, table availability and wine pairings can be found at the website: www.talulastable.com. If you choose to make a weekend out of your visit, information about local accommodations are also listed.
Guest author bio: Jeanine Consoli is a freelance travel writer, photographer, and foodie based in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. A retired elementary school teacher, she used her summers to feed her passion for travel and kept journals of all the destinations she explored. Today, Jeanine is working as a writer full-time. She loves uncovering the history and understanding the culture of each location, including the local flavors of each unique place. She has traveled extensively in the United States and Europe and is excited to keep adding to the list, finding special places that are off the beaten path both at home and abroad.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Talula’s, used with permission.