Savor the flavor of summer with al fresco dining

by Frank D. Quattrone
Posted 6/15/23

With the air beginning to clear (God willing), al fresco dining likely will resume its place as a carefree joy of summer that won’t be hazardous to your health.

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Savor the flavor of summer with al fresco dining


With the air beginning to clear (God willing), al fresco dining likely will resume its place as a carefree joy of summer that won’t be hazardous to your health.

Whether you prefer that cute French cafe in Chestnut Hill, yummy Italian trattoria in Mt. Airy or the historic pub in Lafayette Hill,  the Northwest and nearby suburbs have plenty of choices for enjoying a meal, sans smoke, outside in the open air.

You could easily find room for the whole family, for example, at Market at the Fareway. Right behind the Chestnut Hill Hotel, itself bedecked with attractive wraparound sidewalk seating, you’ll find a spacious beer garden with plenty of seating for hungry humans and a warm welcome for their leashed canine companions. Here, guests can make themselves comfortable at long or high-top tables to enjoy their choice of fresh food from a modern farmers’ market, whose vendors offer socially-responsible foods and produce, coffees, bread, cheeses, hand-cut sushi, deli sandwiches, juices, soul food and more.

You can pick up a cool microbrew, falafel burger, or vegan special at the Chestnut Hill Brewing Company, a gastropub adjacent to and largely responsible for the beer garden, and enjoy your taproom meal under its protective wooden roof. Outdoor heaters and a raging fire pit (in season) make this a popular setting for outdoor dining all year round.

For an even longer time (think 1850!), the Valley Green Inn has been a popular destination for al fresco diners. Its location alone along the rushing waters of the scenic Wissahickon Creek, with blazingly colored mallards quacking in the water, equestrian riders with their horses along Forbidden Drive, hearty hikers, sweating bikers, and a whole panoply of humanity engaged in al fresco motion make it the perfect setting for your meal, from brunchtime through dinner.

Don’t be surprised to find a wedding party on the premises, as the inn hosts and caters countless wedding parties throughout the year. But there are 60 seats on its patio, in addition to a covered patio space for 120 more guests, who can order from a menu of cross-pollinated favorites ranging from filet mignon egg rolls and tempura cauliflower to Korean sticky short ribs and salmon imperial.

One of the latest players in the outdoor dining scene is Tamarindo’s the Yucatecan Mexican restaurant in Flourtown (726 Bethlehem Pike; 215-619-2390), whose new patio opened to the public on the eve of Cinco de Mayo last month. The spacious patio, partially covered by a wooden roof, seats 65 hungry guests, while an open-air section seats about 40 more. Tall heat lamps allow comfortable dining at virtually any time of the year.

The regular menu, which changes seasonally, offers Yucatán favorites such as Carne Elote, grilled skirt steak covered with mole sauce and topped with a mixture of avocado, corn, and queso fresco, and Camarones Tamarindo, jumbo shrimp cooked in a combination of olives, capers, and peppers in a tomatillo sauce.

Another popular al fresco dining destination is Mt. Airy’s charming “Cresheim cottage” known as Jansen (7402 Germantown Ave. 19119; 267-335-5041), the eponymous restaurant owned by Executive Chef David Jansen. Known to attract not only aficionados of fine cuisine but also everyday diners, Jansen’s seasonally influenced menu features everything from braised venison osso buco served with roasted garlic polenta and broccoli rabe in a red wine venison jus to sautéed halibut in a radish crème fraîche, served with crab potato dauphine and cucumber mint salad.

General Manager Zachary Bourne describes the outdoor dining at Jansen as “a lovely garden overlooking the fields of the school next door, a view that you don’t get at any restaurant in the city. We have two overhead heaters that warm the length of the patio on both sides during the cooler summer months, and clear siding that will protect you from the rain, making it an all-weather area.” Bourne notes that Jansen can take reservations days in advance for these seats. The restaurant also has a small tent on the side for booking private events of 10 to 12 people.

Another favorite is Glenside’s The Ways Restaurant & Brewery (11 S. Easton Road, 19038; 215-887-1029). Owner Tim Way says that the beer garden atmosphere attracts hungry as well as thirsty diners all year round. But he is especially fond of the warm-weather season, when the restaurant’s popular tacos (featuring smoked beef brisket, shredded pork, sweet potatoes and more) and inspired pub fare are complemented by the brewery’s ever-changing offerings.

This season, Way recommends the brewery’s orange and lemon crushes and special new summer beers like orange-infused American wheat ale, a “hazy” low-calorie New England IPA (single hop series), and pink lemonade with hints of lemon and raspberry. Guests can enjoy their sandwiches, salads, and brews under protective sail shades in the spacious beer garden.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant on Germantown Avenue features a lively area where you can enjoy their craft brews and hearty American fare. Their beer-battered fish and chips, washed down with a perfectly chilled house brew, promise a quintessential summer dining experience.

McMenamin’s Tavern. An iconic neighborhood hangout, their picnic-style outdoor setting is the perfect backdrop for devouring a Philly cheesesteak. Pair it with a local draft beer and enjoy the city's favorite sandwich beneath the summer sky.

It's at times like these that we almost don’t mind the occasional intrusion of a buzzing bee. Or a sudden sprinkling from the skies. In times like these we might become slightly annoyed but we laugh. We seek shelter beneath an umbrella, an awning, or the protective branches of a tree.

A few minutes later, it’s back to our meal and our fun as the sun peeks back from that curtain of clouds. We pick up our drink and toast to the pleasures of being al fresco on one of the warmest days of the year.