by Len Lear
Since I have been writing restaurant columns for 28 years for the Local and Main Line newspapers, people often ask, “What’s the best restaurant you’ve been to this year?” Or “Where do you get the most for your money?” Or “What’s the best BYOB in the area? We prefer to take our own wine.”
My answer to all three questions is the same: Zacharia’s Creek Side Cafe in the Center Point Shopping Center, 2960 Skippack Pike (Route 73) in Worcester, 20 to 30 minutes from Chestnut Hill.
Let me start with the “money” question. These days almost everyone is looking for bargains, and as I have said before in this space, one silver lining to the current economic cloud is that many upscale restaurants have lowered their prices or at least begun to offer lower-priced options in addition to their regular menus. Zacharia’s is an obvious case in point. Every Tuesday through Thursday, they offer a three-course, prix fixe menu for $29.99 that is a spectacular bargain. The quality and quantity of the food are so impressive (and it’s BYOB) that you can’t help but smile when the check comes. (And there’s a good chance you’ll have leftovers for a very enjoyable meal at home.)
What first piqued my interest in Zacharia’s was the raves it has received from bloggers and newspaper reviewers alike. Diners are more likely to write “reviews” on restaurant blogs when they’re upset about a dinner, so it’s unusual for a restaurant to have almost unanimous raves, as has Zacharia’s. For example, Jake60 wrote on Menuism.com: “From the décor to the service, we were all blown away … Heavenly! A must visit for your next dining experience.”
Damian O. wrote on yelp.com: “A very nice experience. The food here is very tasty, and you could tell that it was made from fresh ingredients … The service was great … I will definitely come back.” Mangiatanto wrote on Chowhound.com: “Our last two meals at Zacharia’s were excellent … Overall, the food is nicely presented, of good quality and flavorful. We find the restaurant to be a good value with the added benefit of being a BYOB.” DonnaE6722 wrote on Zagat.com: “Amazing food, good service, with a kind and caring owner who makes sure his guests are well fed and happy.” MelissaM3696 wrote on Zagat.com: “What a great experience we had at Zacharia’s … The food was absolutely mouthwateringly good! We’ll be back soon!” LauraA8974 wrote on Zagat.com: “Our third visit to Zacharia’s was for my hubby’s birthday … The service was exemplary and the new menu exciting … Go and BYOB; you won’t regret it.”
Prior to Zacharia’s, another fine BYOB, Ravenna, was in the space. In August, 2007, new owners Andrew and Nancy Gallo named their restaurant for Zacharia’s Creek, which has a course of about four miles across the northern angle of the township, and it flows about 100 yards in back of the restaurant. The creek, which used to power five local mills, was named after a prominent landowner, Zacharia Whitpain, after whom Whitpain Township was named. “The creek runs right through my parents’ property,” said Andrew, “and I played around it growing up here, so it has a lot of sentimental meaning for me.”
I can’t say I am surprised at the food at Zacharia’s because their chef since day one, Anthony Boccella, showed impressive promise previously as executive chef at the now-defunct Blue Horse Restaurant in Blue Bell. “Anthony is like a sponge,” said Gallo. “He picks up everything so quickly. In fact, things were going so well that we were planning to open a second restaurant in this area, but then the economy collapsed. So right now we are concentrating all of our efforts right here. We can always expand later when the strong economy comes back.”
After taking over the former Ravenna, the Gallos made a dramatic renovation of the outdoor patio, which can now accommodate about 50 diners. They added an arbor, gardens, a waterfall on one side and a gurgling stream on the other, twinkling lights, a fence, soft music (not the bang-bang kind so common elsewhere), beautiful tiles where there was once dirt and mulch, and heaters for the spring and fall. It’s now one of the area’s most delightful venues for outdoor dining.
Everything we tasted at Zacharia’s reverberated on the tongue in waves of delight, but two dishes that really sang like Pavarotti were an appetizer of roasted zucchini and Swiss chard encased in the most delicate, revelatory raviolis we have ever had ($10). The other most memorable dish was an entree of Spanish mackerel, crisp and translucent with a gloss of sweetness ($24). It was accompanied by oil-cured olives, blistered tomatoes and baby arugula that tasted just-picked, and roasted red potatoes. And the portions of “New American” cuisine are quite ample. “There is so much restaurant competition out here now, which is one reason the portions are so large,” said Andrew. “Some customers say they are too large. That’s not a bad complaint to have.”
Zacharia’s pastry chef, Marianne Cobaugh, is a local lass who graduated from Arcadia University and the Restaurant School of Philadelphia and spent five years in the pastry department at Le Bec Fin. She was also pastry chef at the Dilworthtown Inn. The two desserts we sampled, chocolate peanut mousse and a Napoleon with chocolate and fresh strawberries, were sublime. Our server, Allie Libby, was excellent.
Since we did not eat indoors, we did not experience it, but the one thing a few bloggers did complain about was the noise level indoors when it is crowded. The indoor décor is also gorgeous, with white tablecloths, fresh flowers, warm earthy colors, carpets, recessed lighting, granite counter tops, a gas fireplace in the back room and magnificent woodsy scenes hand-painted on the walls, even on the bathroom walls. The main dining room can seat 65, and a second dining room can seat 35.
The Gallos also own A Gallo Affair, a family-run catering firm since the late 1980s that is run by Nancy. They have catered many weddings (one at Zacharia’s recently), special events and corporate jobs. They once produced box lunches for a group of 3,800 people.
The Gallos are practically obsessed about buying local. They buy most of their meats, produce, herbs, even ice cream, from local farms and vendors. “This way we know where it comes from, and we know it’s fresh,” said Andrew. “Some of those we buy from even come here for dinner.”
The Gallos have a son, Andrew Jr., 12; and a daughter, Gianna, 6. Zacharia’s also has a children’s menu. They are open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner only and Sunday for an a la carte brunch. For more information, call 610-584-5650 or visit www.zachariascreeksidecafe.com