There is one question I get asked a lot: “What do you think is the best restaurant in Bucks County?” I don’t like this question and mostly I dance around it when I answer. I learned early on that it is often a trap. If I answer with the name of a restaurant, the person often counters that I am mistaken and then tells me their opinion of the best Bucks restaurants. It’s not fun.
The other reason I dislike the question is that I really do believe it is very subjective, and everyone is entitled to their favorite restaurant. What’s “best” to one person is often “no great shakes” to another. I’ve learned this the hard way. Writing posts about what I think is the “best” is like drawing a target on my back. Also, I don’t pretend to be a restaurant critic. I do, however, like bringing attention to the good stuff in Bucks County.
So let me tell you about two experiences we’ve had in the past week. And I’m going to use the word “best” despite my protestations. Because to me, what I look for in that category are chefs and restaurants that are breaking new ground, creating innovative and tasty dishes, and being totally unpredictable. Like a breath of fresh air on a muggy July afternoon.
Now I realize that not every chef or restaurant can be this. In all fairness, for some restaurants it would be foolish, if not financially imprudent. They’ve got a following, and that following wants things the way they want them. And there is nothing wrong with making just plain good food. Especially if the price is reasonable. I also realize that my definition of “best” differs from others – some want a good price, some want the old favorites, some want only BYOB, etc.
So with all that said, there is in my mind three restaurants that I consider some of the best in the county: Charcoal in Yardley, Honey in Doylestown and Maize in Perkasie. If budget was not an obstacle, I’d eat at all three on a quarterly basis. (In truth, there are a lot of places I’d eat at more often if money was no object.) We were fortunate recently to eat at two of them in one week.
Charcoal is an interesting place. During the day, the simple – one might even say plain – dining room hosts great breakfasts and good lunches. The view from this second story restaurant (raised after one too many floods) is wonderful. The Delaware River flows by just across the street, framed by trees on both sides of the river. But in the evening, the menu changes significantly. Innovative, fresh ingredients and unexpected flavor combinations. I had heard about Charcoal for some time and I was looking forward to our meal there, but was also a little nervous. As they say on their website, “Our idea is to push the boundaries of food using modern technique and science, while still offering a level of comfort in a casual environment.” Science? Don’t be afraid, though. The results are superb.
Mark and Eric Plescha, sons of Charcoal’s owner Tony Plescha, take over in the kitchen at night and turn out dishes that are delicious and interesting. It’s fun. Small tastes of this and that, a smear of this sauce and a sprinkling of that, and it all comes together. I started with the Spanish rock octopus. It was lightly fried and served with a dab and smear of housemade ricotta, lemon jam, pepperoni, and a sprinkling of poppy seeds. My entrée was fresh Barnegat NJ scallops, asparagus, black olive, smoked caesar, and grilled romaine. Mark, my husband, had the hanger steak, served with a romesco sauce, farro and roasted garlic. A friend dining with us had the 72-hour short rib, which came with braised black kale, sunchoke and smoked beet. Everyone was happy. And dessert. Oh my. I usually pass on dessert especially when the meal has been satisfying but this I had to try. Imagine creamy chocolate pudding, with broken up pieces of raw chocolate chip cookie dough sprinkled on top and finished with fresh strawberries. Decadent, I know, but really good. Prices range from $7 for first courses up to $26 for the main course (most entrées are in the mid-twenty range) and it’s BYOB. Charcoal is at 11 South Delaware Avenue, and is handicap accessible by elevator.
Not four days later, we had another great meal, this time at Honey in Doylestown. The occasion was Honey’s fifth anniversary in honor of which owners Joe and Amy McAtee were offering a nine-course prix fixe meal. Honey excels in delicious small plates. It’s another fun place to go because you can count on quality ingredients, combined in interesting ways. Here were some of my favorites from the evening: sorrel soup with smoked bacon and chive oil; a rock shrimp “martini” – creamy rock shrimp tempura, sour apple, mashed avocado, toasted peanuts and wasabi tobiko (flying fish roe); rabbit meatballs, served with a morel mushroom gravy, spring onion and goat cheese cream; for a palate cleanser, minted cucumber sorbet; and a duo of lamb – Guinness braised lamb collar, Buckingham Valley honey mashed potato, and potato crusted lamb tenderloin with truffled-honey Dijon and mustard sprouts. Something for everyone. We also thoroughly enjoyed several of Honey’s specialty cocktails. Mark, who always drinks his bourbon straight, veered slightly and had an Alma Calma – Maker’s Mark bourbon, ginger infused brandy, fresh lime and elderflower essence. I had the Maple Rye made with Ri rye whisky, grade A maple syrup and yuzu juice. I can also speak well of the X-rated Iced Tea – X Rated Fusion liqueur with Sweet Carolina Tea vodka and black tea. Very nice summer drink. For beer drinkers there is a selection of local Pennsylvania craft beers. Honey is at 42 Shewell Avenue in Doylestown.
Maize Restaurant, tucked away in Old Towne Perkasie, is another gem. Chef Matthew McPhelin opened in 2009 and quickly established a reputation for fresh, innovative dishes. He starts with finding out what ingredients are available locally, and builds the menu from there. Local meat, cheese, vegetables and fruit can all be found on his seasonal menus which also include wild caught fish and housemade pasta. You’ll find Maize at 519 West Walnut Street in Perkasie. It is also BYOB.
I’ll finish by saying what I often do when people ask me for recommendations. I give them my opinion and then add, “but I haven’t eaten everywhere in Bucks County!” I look forward to adding to my “best of” list. Let me know what you think too.
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