Fork in the Road
Northbrook: Country Comfort
They come in droves and leave clutching paper bags stuffed with old-fashioned cinnamon-dusted apple cider doughnuts. Moist and golden, sturdy yet delicately sweet, bakers have been churning them out for more than 25 years at the iconic fieldstone barn on Route 842 outside Unionville.
The journey to Northbrook MarketPlace is a scenic country drive through open woodlands, past horse farms, and country estates. For generations, it was the site where folks showed up to pick apples in the orchard and the go-to spot for pumpkins and those delectable doughnuts.
Back in 2008, Rob and Christine Boone purchased the property, transforming its rustic roots into a beautifully restored gastro-destination, a casual country market by day, which focuses on local and sustainable cuisine, and an elaborate tasting venue for private get-togethers at the 22-seat chef’s table in the evening.
Housed in a massive red plank and stone wall 1850s barn, when you step inside your eyes are drawn to a far wall adorned with a U. S. flag that flew over the Capitol, a mounted “authentic” jackalope, a bleached Texas Longhorn skull, and an imposing 60-inch steer’s horn.
On a recent late morning visit, the expansive downstairs was a beehive of activity with folks roaming through the deli and hot bar area looking for grab-and-go dishes made from fresh, sustainable ingredients. Patrons can nosh from a mix of breakfast dishes (they go through 180 dozen eggs every two weeks), daily hot-meal specials, a variety of specialty soups, deli meats and cheeses, and paninis. Chefs fire up tender brisket or pulled pork in the smokehouse out back, making sandwiches to order. Don’t miss the amazingly flaky chicken pot pies made from scratch, the smoked salmon or the superb organic coffee.
The Boones arrived at this Chester County outpost with an impressive pedigree. Chef Rob did stints at Charlie Trotter’s (legendary chef who died in 2013) in Chicago for five years then moved to Miami where he became Chef de Cuisine at the highly touted Norman’s. Next up was the Asian concept restaurant Bambú in South Miami Beach, co-owned by Cameron Diaz, creating his cuisine by immersing himself in its culture, food, and people. Boone’s thought-provoking menu led him to his recruitment as top chef at Susanna Foo in Radnor.
Raised by the side of her Master Chef father, Christine worked at exclusive private clubs, a boutique style hotel, and as the Omni Hotel’s Director of Hospitality in Miami. The couple now lives in Downingtown with their two children, a 10 minute drive from Northbrook.
“Living and working in Miami was a great experience, but we have two young children so we wanted a somewhat slower pace in a place with good schools,” Christine relates. “This area is a great family- friendly environment and we like being part of it. We view Northbrook as a community asset, a regular meeting place.”
Stepping into the baking area you’ll find a bonanza of bagels, muffins, scones, an array of pastries, custom cakes for any occasion, cookies, energy bars, cupcakes, and 16 different types of knock-out pies. Northbrook even has its own ice cream parlor with Nelson’s homemade varieties by Nelson’s of Royersford, Pa.
The Northbrook grocery section is stocked with local dairy products, eggs, soup mixes, sauces, produce, dairy, snacks, pretzels, coffee, honey, crafts from local artisans, and their own Northbrook tortilla chips, that pair perfectly with their homemade guacamole or hummus.
The couple wanted to call the chips Robritos, but that was deemed an infringement on Doritos so they dubbed them “Uncle Harold’s.” That’s a tip of the hat to their uncle in Lubbock, Texas, who helped back the Northbrook venture. On each bag of the white or blue corn chips there is an illustration of Uncle Harold, who bears a striking resemblance to the late Howard Cosell. The market now produces up to 1,500 bags of tortilla chips a week, after branching out into other retail outlets.
Upstairs from the market is the converted old hay loft with a sprawling dining space that opens in front of you. It’s utilized for private parties, wedding receptions, and a celebrated “chef’s table” that is tucked away in a secluded room with wide-planked floors and sporting vintage antiques, photos and even a draft horse’s working collar pegged to the wall.
The immense 22-seat dining table was hewn on the grounds from pine and oak trees struck down by lightning. A bouquet of brightly colored flowers sets the tone for an elegant fine-dining (BYOB) experience. The chef’s table takes place Wednesday and Saturday evenings, often melding assorted groups of diners. Typically, Rob presents each seasonally prepared dish. Seating is scarce and fills up fast, so call ahead for reservations.
Settle in for an hours-long sustainable and seasonal seven course eating extravaganza. The menus range widely, from delicate seafoods through meats such as a loin of local grass-fed Texas longhorn, lightly applewood smoked in Northbrook’s giant smoker. Seasonal menus always change, but past hits include mushroom soup with scallops; scallops with couscous, pumpkin and pomegranate; smoked salmon over pickled-beet puree; Chilean sea bass with porcinis and cream; smoked beef strip; smokehouse pork and venison; and chocolate and espresso crème pastries.
Every Sunday, Northbrook offers a BYOB brunch. They serve up everything from BBQ sliders and fresh breakfast potatoes to roasted chicken with caramelized brussels sprouts to spicy beef tips with asparagus. There is a carving station, eggs Benedict, with assorted fruits, pastries and apple cider donut bread pudding, and French toast.
That brings us back to those amazing apple cider doughnuts. Plucked from the fryer and tossed with cinnamon sugar, they are a timeless non-seasonal tradition. Christine estimates they sell 800 dozen a week and they’ve sold as many as 2,000 a day on fall weekends from 5am to 7pm. Stop by Northbrook and you’ll see cyclists parking their bikes out front then heading in for a quick energy boost. Fresh daily, getting one right out of the fryer and piping hot is an experience you will not forget.
For more information about Northbrook MarketPlace, call 610.793.1210 or visit northbrookmarketplace.com