2 Malvern Eateries Among Food Critic's Suburban Favorites

MALVERN, PA – Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Caig LaBan is the go-to resource for all things food in the Philadelphia area.

And in a new piece, he picks out his favorite suburban establishments, with two Malvern spots making the cut.

The two establishments he chose? Restaurant Alba and The Malvern Buttery.

LaBan gives Restaurant Alba a three-bell rating, which means the eatery is "excellent," "special," and "excels in almost every category of the dining experience."

Here's what he has to say about Restaurant Alba:

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It’s all about the live fire at Sean and Kelly Weinberg’s Malvern oasis, where the aromatic wood grill and the flavors of Northern Italy pair with excellent service and great Piedmont wines for a refined rustic vibe that makes for one of the best overall dining experiences in the suburbs. But what an evolution this restaurant has gone through over the past 13 years! Initially a 53-seat BYOB with a vague “Mediterranean” focus, Weinberg, who lived and cooked in Italy for several years, has more fully embraced his passion for Italian cuisine as the restaurant acquired a liquor license and expanded to 125 seats with a big back patio and a lively bar.

Fresh pastas are a specialty, like the tiny Alba-style plin ravioli stuffed with rabbit and prosciutto in sage brown butter sauce. But anything that kisses the grill is also recommended, from the charred octopus with celery and crisp potatoes over tonnato sauce, or the plump trout fillets whose silver skin is crisped before a pairing with crunchy raw escarole salad in hazelnut brown butter vinaigrette and juicy chunks of sweet peach. The slow-roasted pork may be Weinberg’s true masterpiece, the meltingly soft chunks of pig set over a polenta made with fresh sweet corn and chilies. For dessert? Butterscotch budino!

Weinberg has streamlined the once larger and composed entrées in recent years to focu on their proteins and leave accompaniments to guests, who get to mix and match sides from several choices, from farro arancini to garlicky broccoli rabe and smashed potatoes with chive créme fraìche. It’s a subtle but smart refinement tuned to the times that shows Alba, already a delicious destination, is not done evolving yet.

As for The Malvern Buttery, LaBan did not offer up a bell rating, but the simple fact he considers it one of the best in the burbs is good enough for us.

Here's what he says about The Malvern Buttery:

This unique café and lunch destination could just as easily have been called the “Bread-ery.” That’s because super-crusty, naturally leavened breads in the style of Tartine or High Street on Market are at the heart of so many great things on the ever-changing buffet table of sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and tarts. Take as many items as you want back to the big wooden community tables and they’ll charge you when you’re done — an honor system that works in this laid-back and airy open-kitchen space, where leather couches and oversize easy chairs fill the other half of the room. It’s an artisan go-local twist on the fast-casual trend, says co-owner John Rhoads. And it’s exceptional because of the integrity of the scratch cooking, which features eggs from nearby Highspire Hills Farm, seasonal local produce and some fresh-milled grain from Castle Valley Mills in the outstanding breads from baker Nicole Petrongolo (La Colombe, Avance). I loved everything at our brunch, from the buttery chocolate croissants to irresistible cookies and even the pizza. But my highlight was the refined simplicity of an ultimate PB&J, a crusty slice from the bread station slathered with fresh-ground peanut butter and house rhubarb jam. The coffee service, with pour-overs available using Counter Culture beans, is also serious.

Have you eaten at Restaurant Alba and The Malvern Buttery? What about other Malvern establishments you love? Let us know in the comments.