Can you remember the first time you entered a candy store? Or maybe it was a bakery, or an ice cream shop. That feeling of awe mixed with joy. “All this? In one place?” you thought, and all you could do was whisper, “Wow.”
And so it was when we decided to stop in at the Churchville Inn recently. Located at the corner of Bristol Road and Bustleton Pike in Upper Southampton, the Inn has been a mainstay of the neighborhood for over 40 years. The Wallace family has owned it for the past 30 years. After a terrible fire gutted the restaurant in the spring of 2011, the family rebuilt the landmark and reopened it 2 ½ years ago.
The restaurant has an unusual layout. As you stand in the main entry, to the right is a comfortable dining room with a beautiful mural depicting Bucks County and Churchville history. Families and couples fill the room. To the left is another dining area, furnished in dark wood with a small bar on the far wall. We looked at each other. That can’t be the bar, we said. It’s too small. Then we noticed a buzz drifting down from the upper floor, steps straight ahead. Ah, that must be the bar.
As we climbed the stairs, a large bar and dining area came into view. Big windows let in plenty of light and gave views into nearby trees. Several communal high top tables seating eight each, a comfortable corner table, and an L-shaped bar with at least 20 stools filled most of the room, with another dining area to the left. Just off the dining room, we saw a small patio. Being winter, we weren’t enticed, but it must be nice in warm weather. Wide screen TVs playing sports and Jeopardy lined most of the walls.
As we sat down at one of the high tops, a server placed two menus in front of us. One, a large 11 x 17”, double-sided food menu. The other, a beer and whiskey menu, eight pages long and encased in an 8 x 11” hard cover. Now, I don’t mean to imply that the food isn’t important or good at the Churchville Inn, but it was clear that someone behind the scenes loves whiskey and beer.
That someone is Andrew Wallace. The 31-year-old father of two, and his brother, David, 33, are 3rd generation innkeepers. Their grandfather owned and ran the Continental Tavern in Yardley for 50 years until selling it 9 years ago. Their father worked at the Continental and then bought the Churchville Inn 30 some years ago. Dad and Mom are retired to Florida now, and since 2005 the Wallace brothers — both graduates of the Culinary Institute of America — have run the popular restaurant and bar.
In fact, Andrew and David were living in the apartment above the restaurant when the fire broke out and fortunately survived unscathed. In the rebuild, the Wallaces wanted to expand, but the township kept them to the original footprint. Up was the only way to go, hence the finished upper floor with the full bar. The Inn now seats 250, up from 140 before the fire.
What first catches your eye as you look to the bar is the long line of taps, almost two dozen, where you’ll find everything from lagers, ales, stouts, pils, and IPAs. But that’s just the draft beer. The beer menu also lists 207 bottled beers from all over the United States, Europe, and even, Bucks County (thanks, Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co) available in three sizes: 5 oz., 16 oz., 32 oz. growler, and 64 oz. growler.
The draft beers are accompanied with full descriptions written by Andrew. Even if you’re not a beer drinker, the menu is fun to read. The Carton Boat Beer is “an IPA for everyday drinking,” he says. “Drink boat beer when you are thirsty from softball, fishing, or explaining why your team is best.” For the Hof-Ten Dormaal 2014 Barrel Aged Project Octomore, a beer sour-aged in peated Scotch whiskey barrels, Andrew writes, “I can promise you that you have not, and probably will never again, taste anything like this.” (I think that’s a recommendation; either way, it should be interesting.)
The beer list is one of Andrew’s proudest accomplishments. “I did it without the big distributors,” he explains. “I wanted small brands that you can’t get in the bar down the street.” If you’re a craft beer aficionado, there’s a lot to keep you busy in this warm, fun bar.
But we’re not big beer drinkers. We appreciate it, but it’s not our first choice. So we skimmed past the beer and discovered the whiskey menu. Oh my. It was “candy store” time. Over 200 whiskies, including bourbon, rye, Scotch, Irish, and a small collection of assorted American, European and Japanese whiskies. Our eyes widened and we whispered, “Wow.” The waitress came over to see if we were ready to order our drinks. We looked at her dazedly, and shook our heads. “We need more time.”
The list includes everything a whiskey drinker could want and more. All the usual suspects are there – Maker’s Mark, Blanton’s, Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker (Red, Black, Gold, Platinum, and Blue), Jameson, Bushmill, Glenmorangie, etc. But even with those household names, the depth of selection is impressive. And then…there are the dozens of bourbons and ryes you have probably never heard of, or at least never thought you’d get to touch in the state of Pennsylvania. It’s all there to try.
Prices range but average $10 for a 1.5 oz. pour, and there is plenty of fine, interesting whiskey at that price level. If you want, you can get Jim Beam ($5) or Johnnie Walker Blue ($50 – that’s per pour, which in my opinion, having tasted it, is just not worth it) but why not try one of my favorites, Rowans Creek (bourbon), for only $9, aged 12 years, or High West Campfire, a “peated” whiskey from Colorado, at $12 a pour?
It is not just the best whiskey list in Bucks County (hands down), it is one of two best whiskey lists in the Delaware Valley, including Philadelphia (the other is Teresa’s Café in Wayne, says Wallace, although I think Churchville has a better selection of bourbon and rye; Teresa’s is deeper in Scotch).
Andrew’s dry humor pops up throughout the descriptions, which again, like the beer list, makes it an enjoyable read. A big fan of peat, when he speaks of the High West Campfire it’s with genuine enthusiasm. “Peated Bourbon. YES PLEASE!” Or his comment about Johnnie Walker Blue, “My mother always told me ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’” Period.
To really have fun, do one of the flights of whiskey which includes four 0.75 oz. pours. “Pennsyltucky” ($20) includes Dad’s Hat Rye Whisky, Dad’s Hat Rye Aged in Vermouth Barrels, Kentucky Vintage, and Eagle Rare 10 year. An “Irish Funeral” gets you a pour of Jameson 12 year, Black Bush, Two Gingers, and Irishman 12 year for $25. And for you diehard rye whiskey fans, get the “EZ Ryeder,” which includes Black Maple Hill Rye, Michters Rye, RI, and Bulleit rye.
“My heart’s in whiskey,” says Andrew, explaining that he fell in love at the tender age of 22 and at this point is tiring of his 200+ whiskey list because he’s tasted them all. “What keeps me going is that I want to taste the next best whiskey.”
Which is not easy to do when one lives in Pennsylvania. If you think it’s frustrating being a consumer in Pennsylvania, trying to get at a good selection of wine or liquor, have a chat with your favorite restaurant owner – and be prepared for an earful.
“It’s hard to run a whiskey program in Pennsylvania,” Andrew says. Everything must come through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, and if the whiskey is rare, it’s an especially difficult process. He will wait by the computer for hours, waiting for a promised email from the PLCB announcing the sale. Then, as often happens, when he goes to buy, the website crashes because everyone else is trying to get it also. The only upside is that the PLCB keeps their mark-up the same, whether it’s a common brand or a rare one. “What might go for $400 in New Jersey will be reasonable here,” Andrew explains.
I know I haven’t said anything so far about the food menu, and I don’t mean that as a dig (I’m just really wowed by the whiskey). The Churchville serves up good, solid food with a real Southern feel like Fried Chicken & Waffles (with bourbon maple syrup), Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes or Jumbo Shrimp n’ Grits, Jambalaya, Pulled Pork or BBQ Brisket sandwiches, Jalapeno Corn Hush Puppies, and their famous Baby Back Ribs. And although there are vegetarian choices like a Wild Mushroom Risotto and several salads, I would say this is more of a protein-eaters menu. Each dish comes with a beer suggestion.
But for you whiskey (and beer) fans, it’s time to take a drive to the Churchville Inn, whether you’re in Philly or nearby in Bucks. If you see Andrew – he’s the one with the full beard – offer to buy him a drink in return for listening to him talk about whiskey. You won’t be disappointed.
The Churchville Inn
1500 Bustleton Pike
Churchville, PA 18966
HOURS: Tuesday & Wednesday, 11:30 am – 12:00 am; Friday & Saturday, 11:30 am – 2 am; Sunday 9 am – 12 am; Closed Mondays
Photos courtesy of the Churchville Inn