Chef's Table at Red Brick Bakery
Location: 55 N. Main St., Red Lion
Jess' pick: Gruyere and white wine cheese fondue; creamy corn bisque with crab meat; apricot and cranberry stuffed chicken; chocolate decadent
Hours: Held first Fridays and third Saturdays of the month (except January)
Price range: $36.50 per person
Accepts: Cash and credit
Kid's menu: No
Details: Call 717-332-7427, visit redbrickbakery.com or find Red Brick Bakery on Facebook
Have an idea for an On The Menu column? Contact Jess Krout at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter @JessKrout
If you're looking for a dining experience that includes meeting the chef come to the Chef's Table at Red Brick Bakery and Tea Room in Red Lion.
There aren't too many such experiences in York County – so it isn't a shock the recent Saturday night dinner I attended was sold out.
About 20 people – younger, older and middle aged – sat at tables in the cozy, trapezoidal space.
Chef Danielle Sanders hustled in the open kitchen throughout the night – preparing each of the four courses with the help of a server.
She said she started the Chef's Table about three years ago.
"I wanted to be able to do something in the evening for my customers who can't get in during the day," Sanders said. "I thought we needed to offer something more than just lunch service."
She hardly advertises -- just sending out an emailed newsletter when each seasonal menu is revealed. Yet the response is overwhelming.
"I think as we grow our mailing list, it's definitely getting busier," Sanders said. "As you get regulars, they bring friends with them, and their friends bring friends."
The Nov. 7 Chef's Table is sold out, and the Nov. 22 one is half full.
At the Oct. 18 dinner, seating started between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Most patrons brought their own wine. Then, orders were placed. (Tip: If you're dining with others, order differently so you can taste all the plates by the end of the night.)
The first course started a little before 7, once all parties had arrived. The fall menu, which lasts through December, features gruyere and white wine cheese fondue served with veggies such as cherry tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, bread cubes and a delightful surprise – apple slices. If you're the type who likes the sweet and savory combination of, say, chocolate-covered bacon, you'll enjoy the sweet apples topped with savory fondue.
Next came your choice of soup or salad. I picked the soup – a creamy corn bisque with crab meat and Old Bay croutons. The croutons were sprinkled with Old Bay and the soup was sweet – enhanced by the crab and chopped red peppers. (Sanders said the soup has been a hit on the fall menu.)
Up until this point during the night, conversations had filled the room. But when the entrees arrived, patrons hushed, concentrating on noshing.
I picked the cranberry and apricot stuffed chicken encrusted with toasted nut panko. The sweet filling moistened the chicken, which sat on a bed of buttered egg noodles with fresh herbs; asparagus with roasted red peppers and pine nuts sat on the side.
I sampled my dining partner's beef stroganoff with cognac and mushrooms – the beef was so tender it quickly fell apart in my mouth. Sanders said she buys the meat locally, but the tenderness is mostly in her technique. The Yorktowne Business Institute-trained chef said she learned the most when she taught at YBI for four years.
Before dessert, diners had the option of ordering coffee or hot tea (all included in the price of the meal).
Dessert was the star of the evening – the chocolate decadent (essentially a flourless cake) included whipped cream with a tuile cookie (a really thin butter cookie, Sanders described) in the shape of a swirl, strawberry and blackberry – a work of art almost too pretty to eat. Sanders said the menu item is her personal favorite.
An apple brandy cheesecake with caramel sauce was the other dessert option, served with a tuile cookie in the shape of a fork on top.
"The cheesecake is always a popular menu item when I serve it," Sanders said. "It's made from scratch."
When she's not in the kitchen, she's helping her husband run the Red Lion Bed and Breakfast, which they've owned since 2000.
And crafting new menus, of course. She's already talking about the March menu, which will pair with the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail.