2/12/2013 11:29:00 AM

Avalon Bistro Drops “Pasta,” Adds Hearty Plates and Communal Table

“I didn’t see the gluten-free craze coming.” When he launched the sister to West Chester’s Avalon Restaurant in summer 2011, chef John Brandt-Lee was pretty sure the Atkins fad was over and people would happily slurp up freshly-made Italian noodles. However, this month he is announcing a makeover: Avalon Pasta Bistro is dropping the pasta, and is will now be known as Avalon Bistro. There are some other changes in store for the Downingtown BYO, too.

Instead of a strictly small plates menu, the bistro will now serve a series of mains, such as baked rigatoni with baby meatballs, a braised short rib and a whitefish of the day. The best deal in the house - the $40 “chef’s tour” - will now feature two apps of your choice, followed by an entree and a dessert.

“Tapas-style eating was a city concept I tried to bring out to the suburbs and it didn’t really work,” Brandt-Lee says, explaining, “Diners loved the creative small plates we had - you’d be surprised how much tripe and trotter bruschetta we sell - but they really wanted a main course, too.” The restaurant's relationship with nearby Victory Brewing Co. is still very much on, and diners over 21 can get two free beers or glasses of sangria with each meal.

Though it’s in the suburbs, the restaurant does get a lot of walk-in business, and to accommodate drop-in guests, a new 14-seat communal table now sits beside the open kitchenette. That will be the location for the weekly cooking class dinners, held every Tuesday instead of regular service. (The restaurant is now open for dinner Wednesday-Saturday.)

Class participants will watch and eat an entire meal prepared from scratch right in front of them. It’s part of Brandt-Lee’s “healthy lifestyle” philosophy - if you make food yourself instead of going for processed stuff, you’ll lose weight without even trying. He’s speaking from personal experience, having recently dropped nearly 40 pounds.

Back to the pasta issue: there’s still plenty of it on the menu, but there were so many requests for gluten-free dining the chef felt he had to add more options for those guests. He takes food allergies very seriously - he has a designated person at each restaurant who handles all allergy questions. However, sometimes the gluten-free mania gets out of control. Brandt-Lee related this story:

“A gentleman came in on a busy Saturday night and told us he was allergic to gluten. Even though it disrupts the line, we got him through the entire meal with special orders and attention. At the very end of the meal, he orders the chocolate cake. We tell him there’s some flour in it, it’s not the flourless kind. ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘It’s not really an allergy. I still want the cake.’ We refused to serve it to him. He proceeded to trash the restaurant in online reviews. Can’t win ‘em all.”

78 W. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown; 610-8973-4200

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