Karlton Cafe: Fresh & local done right

When it came to food, Karlton Cafe’s owner James Pharo knew he loved all kinds of cuisine. What he didn’t know is how much he loved cooking and preparing different dishes. Of course, this sounds like a cliché chef’s tale told before. Man discovers secret desire to cook. He pushes forward, pursues his dream of becoming a chef. Success!

Karlton Cafe part two

Pharo is the owner and chef of Quakertown’s Karlton Cafe, a cafe serving up breakfast, brunch and dinner, tucked away on West Broad Street in Quakertown, PA. Recently, the cafe celebrated it’s one year anniversary under his ownership.

For those familiar with the Karlton Cafe, you’ll know it was once owned by AJ Buehrer, who ran the establishment with his wife, Amanda, and his mother who made “mom-made-desserts” each day. Buehrer grew up in the Quakertown area and was raised in the food life. Both parents worked in the restaurant business and eventually started an organic farm that supplied high-end restaurants all over the East Coast with produce and meats.

James Pharo in the kitchen. Photo Credit: Michele Buono
James Pharo in the kitchen. Photo Credit: Michele Buono

Unfortunately, Buehrer passed away in 2016, so Pharo decided to buy the cafe and keep the local legacy alive. Pharo said he learned under AJ and it was through his guidance that Pharo fell in love with the presentation of food and how it looks to the customer.

He appreciates every aspect behind the cafe; the front of the house and the kitchen. And with Karlton Cafe’s open kitchen, he gets to interact with people sitting, watching, and of course, waiting for their meal.

Fresh and local – how it should be

It’s true, Pharo never intended to be in the food business. He obtained an associate’s degree in business administration, but didn’t know what he wanted to do for a full-time gig. He grew up in Warrington, but moved to Quakertown in 2014, which is where he got the job at AJ’s restaurant.

Flash forward, and now he’s the one in the kitchen giving orders. But Pharo says he’s not the most experienced chef there. He’s constantly learning new tips and tricks from some of the other cooks in the kitchen. It’s “a really good team which I can learn from,” he says.

“None of that frozen stuff,” says Pharo.

Yet, if there’s one thing that is unique about Pharo and the cafe, it’s the fresh ingredients. He always buys local, fresh food, and everything is from scratch — nothing is from a bag and nothing is frozen. What’s more, he shops around at local farms and uses produce companies that ship local goods.

Photo Credit: Jamie Roman
Photo Credit: Jamie Roman

For instance, Pharo says he buys from Windy Springs Farm in Quakertown, Bechdolt’s Orchards and Saylor’s & Co. in Hellertown. Next year, he’s considering adding a large garden to the cafe for a little farm-to-table action.

And all of those fresh and local fruits, veggies and herbs make their way into the seasonal dishes the cafe serves up. Plus, with plenty of fresh options, there’s more room for experimenting — think peaches in late summer on top of sugary french toast, fall dishes with root vegetables, and breakfast specials like banana foster French toast and pumpkin pancakes.

Partner in food (and in life)

Pharo has a few other plans in mind, but it goes beyond the kitchen. His fiancé, Elizabeth Stauffer, have been together since Pharo’s early days at Karlton Cafe. In fact, Stauffer started working at the restaurant as a server — just a few years before Pharo took over the cafe.
Photo Credit: Michele Buono
Photo Credit: Michele Buono

Not only does Liz help keep the place running, she’s learning to cook. When we interviewed her over the phone, she was right in the middle of cooking, trying to talk on speakerphone in order to keep the meal prep going. Laughing, she said she had fun learning how to cook different dishes, but breakfast has been by far her favorite. She likes to present the dishes so they look pretty, even if it’s just fresh, vibrant fruit for a garnish or a light powdering of sugar on French toast.

Photo Credit: Jamie Roman
Photo Credit: Jamie Roman 

“[The presentation] is the first thing you are going to notice; for us it’s about making things taste good and look good,” said Stauffer.

Dinner is served

While we know presentation tempts us into tasting a dish, it’s the flavor that has us coming back for more. Pharo is trying to grow his dinner menus, since they just recently opened up for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 – 9 pm. Right now he said he’s taking off with just the two weekend slots, but he hopes to add additional dinner slots during the week.

Some dishes he’s recently tried include: Crab cake and asparagus, pork schnitzel with red cabbage, and chicken chardonnay with mushrooms and linguine.

He’s also introducing the cafe menu to the dinner menu, so there are more casual options to accommodate both the fine-diners and those who just want a nice sandwich. The Karlton Cafe also offers homemade desserts like tortes, cheesecakes, crumbles.

Karlton Cafe
310 W Broad Street
Quakertown, PA 18951

Breakfast: Monday – Saturday 8 am to 11 am
Lunch: Monday – Saturday 11 am to 2 pm
Dinner: Friday & Saturday 5 pm to 9 pm
Brunch: Sundays 8 am to 2 pm

Karlton’s Cafe is BYOB

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