by Len Lear
I recently received a press release from Morrissey Design, the Flourtown firm that renovated the 4,100-square-foot Brittingham’s restaurant at 640 E. Germantown Pike in Lafayette Hill which, if you include the new roof deck and outdoor patio with fire pits, adds up to 6,800 square feet of space which Morrissey says can accommodate more than 350 guests at one time.
During our dinner visit on Friday, Nov. 22, although it was way too cold for the roof deck and outdoor patio, it seemed as if there at least 350 guests indoors. It was wall-to-wall people everywhere you looked and beehive-busy at the bar. Randy Feinberg, a co-owner, told us it has been like that since the day they opened to the public on Nov. 7. “Our worst day was a Monday night,” he said, “when we did 170 covers (dinners), but the best night had over 600 covers, and we’ve basically been extremely busy since day one.”
When we approached a hostess at 7 p.m., the time of our reservation, we were told that if we did not have a reservation, the wait for a table would be about an hour-and-a-half.
I am the first to say that the Morrissey firm has done a most impressive job with their six-month renovation of the 270-year-old building with all new light woods, new fixtures and finishes, pressed tin, cream-colored wainscoting, custom salvaged wood tables, damask wallpaper, wall tiles and a 30-foot salvaged wood bar that we were told was hand-carried across Germantown Avenue for installation.
Now I am no architect or engineer, but I have to say that despite the aesthetic home run evident in the renovation, one major mistake is equally evident. I assume this was a multi-million-dollar renovation, which produced three dining rooms, each with its own bar. What they should have done was to leave at least one of the three rooms as a bar-less dining room where diners of our generation could enjoy good food and conversation in relative peace and quiet. Aren’t two bars enough for the 20- and 30-somethings? And some of the bar crowd were literally standing right up against tables where people were eating dinner!
Although the food at the new Brittingham’s is superb, thanks to the kitchen staff led by chef Joseph Frost, who previously worked at three of Georges Perrier’s restaurants, the din in the dining rooms is beyond supersonic. I don’t think we have ever been in a louder restaurant. Sound-wise, it was like being in the middle of Hurricane Sandy with the wind ripping tree branches loose. Or the roar of a lion, which is what freezes its victim.
My wife and I could not hear most of what we were trying to say to each other. A woman of our generation at the next table indicated to her daughter and three grandchildren that she had to leave (the other four were all looking at their cell phones and iPads) because she could no longer stand the noise. In addition to one dining room without a bar, the restaurant could definitely use some acoustic tiles like those that were recently installed at Heirloom at the top of the Hill, dramatically reducing the previous earthquake-like din.
When I was about 21, I went to McGillin’s Old Ale House on Drury Lane in center city on a Friday night (it’s still there) because a friend told me there were always lots of single young men and women there looking to meet a partner. I did go there and was not able to meet a girl, despite the presence of about 150 of them. Why? Because the noise in the room was so unbelievably loud, such a fortissimo of supersonic dimensions that when a young lady would talk to me, I could not understand a word she was saying. And it’s not polite to scream at a young lady.
I was reminded of that uncomfortable experience from many years ago as soon as we walked into one of the three dining rooms at Brittingham’s. There is nothing to soften the cannonball sounds shooting off the bar, although the deafening sounds probably will not keep anyone from frequenting Brittingham’s except for old fogeys like us. One downtown restaurateur told me a few years ago, “That noise is a good thing for attracting young people. They are used to that kind of noise from their cell phones and video games, and it makes them think that this is the hip place to be. They flock to places like this, and the noisier, the better. They don’t want a quiet dining room, like you do.”
The major redo of Brittingham’s is definitely an impressive accomplishment. Co-owner Feinberg, a real estate developer with no previous restaurant experience, told us that a construction crew worked around the clock for six months to effect the renovation. “And to make sure we had a well trained staff,” he said, “we paid 75 salaries for months without a penny coming in.”
According to general manager Tim Killeen, who has many years of experience in gastropubs in the Delaware Valley and Florida, “We have a great staff here. During my two-and-a-half years in Miami, it was a big problem getting good staff people, but around here that’s no problem. The work ethic is great … and I was not surprised that we were mobbed at the beginning since we already had so many Facebook fans.”
As I mentioned earlier, the food at Brittingham’s is as good as it gets at a gastropub. The five “devilish eggs,” were addictive jewels, radiating a toasty perfume with pickled shallots and bacon ($5); sweet and spicy house pickles and green tomatoes in a half-pint jar ($4) and mushrooms quivering on flatbread, an indulgence of earthiness drawing extra depth from truffled herb goat cheese and baby arugula ($12), for example, were all nonpareil and fairly priced.
A selection of three cheeses, two of which — a goat cheese and a triple-cream — were dreamy, served with tomato jam, red onion marmalade and crostinis. The triple cream was an authentic echo of France, texture as soft as down, a delightful mingling of sweet flavors ($13). There is a huge selection of classic American pub fare — soups and salads, fries and sides, sandwiches and burgers, raw bar items, pub specialties, etc., with nothing higher than $19.
Desserts of fruit crisp with ice cream in a jar ($6) and homemade cookies — chocolate chip, double chocolate and chocolate with macadamia nuts ($6) — that were thick and silky as velour should stay on the menu for a long time. Irish coffee ($7) has great flavor, but it was not served hot, and no sugar was served with it.
As you would expect, there is a huge variety of wines, beers and cocktails available. One cocktail, a seasonal rum punch, was delightful but filled with too much ice and definitely overpriced at $12.50. Our server, Peter, was personable and knowledgeable.
Complimentary valet parking is offered, which is essential because the parking lot is way too small to accommodate all the cars. Our parker, Rob, was a very charming young man, a real asset to Brittingham’s.
More information at 610-828-7351 or www.brittinghams.com.