Lunch with a side of gardener’s envy at this Edenic Glen Mills eatery.
In an antique greenhouse on a languid spring afternoon, a child was trying to ruin my lunch.
His mom blissfully munched petals of heirloom lettuce while her darling splashed in the greenhouse’s cascading fountain. He bounced around the chartreuse, teal and gunmetal-green lawn chairs like a pinball. He deployed earsplitting shrieks that would render dogs unconscious. When he took a spill onto the unforgiving flagstone floor, the shrieks turned to wails. Later, I felt bad for tripping him, but living in the city, we’ve got to seize our slices of tranquility where and when we can get them.
Few places do tranquility like the Greenhouse Cafe out in Glen Mills at Terrain at Styer’s, the enchanting garden center and latest offering from the retail wizards behind Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. For urban gardeners restricted to blacktop roofs and backyard cement, browsing Terrain’s maze of blooming oxcarts is simultaneously exhilarating and melancholic. I counted half a dozen species of basil and at least as many mints before channeling Veruca Salt: I want a golden gooseberry bush! And a Japanese elm. And a few more tomato plants because, really, nine just isn’t enough. And then my partner in this suburban adventure reminded me that I do not live on a farm. By the end of an hour here, I was ready to rectify that, move to the ’burbs and raise a couple terrors of my own.
Back inside Terrain’s Greenhouse Cafe, the brats had bailed and quiet presided, interrupted only by the gurgle of the fountain and the clatter of spoons twirled through tall glasses of blushing rosehip lemonade. Biscuity bread came baked in a flowerpot. Butter wore a boutonniere of Hidcote Blue lavender and a drizzle of Linvilla Orchards honey. So good together, who cares if they arrived halfway through lunch?
“Just baked,” the waiter informed. Sitting here, in this impossibly picturesque setting, I felt like I was, too.
Before the bread, newly installed chef Keith Rudolf charmed with a cool, crunchy salad of raw and blanched seasonal veggies and chopped hazelnuts. Asparagus, snow peas, slender carrots and English peas like green marbles all came from local farms, natch. The mint and cilantro in the pesto came from Terrain’s own turf. The salad, a mosaic of yellows and greens, feels perfect for the setting, one that isn’t lost on Rudolf.
“My wife brought me to Terrain for lunch three years ago. It was so beautiful. She looked and me and said, ‘You need to be the chef here.’” He submitted a resume. And heard nothing. Her suggestion wouldn’t come true until earlier this spring, when a Craigslist post prompted Rudolf, a Supper vet, to try again.
He got the gig, and change is already afoot. The biggest? Dinner service, beginning in July, served to a chorus of enthralled suburbanites. The lunch menu is almost totally new; the generous cheese plate presented on a crosscut tree-trunk tray dripping with honeycomb is the only holdover from the previous regime. It’s a smart one, starring the peerless Shellbark Sharp from the goat farm Shellbark Hollow just down the road in West Chester.
Like the tray? It’s for sale in one of Terrain’s light-filled open-air hangars, where everything from Italian soaps to manuals on DIY pickling is displayed, seemingly with the same care accorded Smithsonian artifacts. Terrain can make you contemplate purchasing an 18th-century wrought-iron patio set for the patio you do not own, and the men’s room is nicer than most studio apartments.
Back to lunch, the lush caper-studded chicken salad and roasted-tomato Caprese sandwiches on Metropolitan ciabatta needed salt. According to Rudolf, he’s still trying to find the balance between gently salted (for Terrain’s, ahem, water-retentive clientele) and underseasoned. Cop out? Maybe. Not that it matters; both sandwiches, recipes from the previous chef, have already been banished. Replacements include roast pork-and-Provy tartine, grass-fed steak frites and a crab cake sandwich with sorrel aioli I’ve got to try.
The lemon tart hasn’t gone anywhere, fortunately for citrus lovers. A finely crimped pastry shell holds a fine curd, glossy and yellow, with a proper balance between sweet and sour. Where there once was a dollop of creme fraiche, there’s now vanilla whipped cream. I savored the last forkful in immaculate silence.
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The Greenhouse Cafe at Terrain
914 Baltimore Pike, Glen Mills. 610.459.2400
Cuisine: New American.
Hours: Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-2pm. Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 10am-3pm. Coffee bar open daily, 9am-6pm.
Atmosphere: The beauty of a Victorian garden with the eccentricity of the Addams family conservatory.
Food: A work in progress.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014