Unless the owner is vigilant, hands-on and confident in his or her vision, things can often change drastically when a fine-dining restaurant loses its opening chef and changes to a new chef. We held our collective breath when opening chef Jordan Miller moved on in October 2016, but we breathed a cautious sigh of relief when former Salt Air Exec. Chef Matt Kern announced that he was joining the Heirloom team. Three visits later (the first one using four of my loyal spies), I can tell you that the change was seamless. Even the bread is still just as good as it was when they opened. I left many of the photos of Jordan’s dishes in the gallery, and have added a number of Matt’s. Interestingly, I’ve already received site visitor comments about how Jordan’s and Matt’s dishes seem to still consistently reflect the Heirloom concept and style. For that, credit must go to owner Meghan Lee. She is relentless in the maintenance and adherence to her concept and look, and her guests are better for it.
So it seems that a revamped review is in order.
Meghan’s Heirloom restaurant is comfortably ensconced in a refurbished mansion at 212 Savannah Road (corner of 3rd & Savannah) that dates back to 1899, when the floorplans were created by architect George F. Barber for original owner, J.B. Robinson, who used the building for his dentist office. Lee has integrated the old plans into the décor. The house underwent considerable construction; widening the structure while adding an addition off the back (the kitchen had to go somewhere). A lot of effort was put into keeping the restaurant in the style of a historic home, and that is immediately obvious in the relaxed, candlelit atmosphere. Local architect and designer Brenda Jones, who has renovated and rehabilitated several historic homes in Lewes, has lent her design talents to the ambitious project. Three small dining rooms seat around 65 people. There is a separate room with a bar and perimeter seating, along with a special chef’s table (it’s bright red – and looks great) in a private room with an observation window into the brand-new kitchen. Outdoor seating will be part of a later phase. Meghan, whose credits include Sovana Bistro in Kennett Square and the opening management of Talula’s Garden in Philadelphia, brings a wealth of fine-dining experience to Lewes.
Executive Chef Matt Kern has not only continued Jordan’s sourcing of ingredients and that ridiculously good sourdough bread, but is on his way to surpassing it. The crunchy on the outside, light and yeasty on the inside wonderfulness is topped with sesame, caraway, fennel and pumpkin seeds. The butter that accompanies (in a cute little glass container) is made in house as well, using Lewes Dairy heavy cream. They even make the salt.
Even in the off-season, seats are the holy grail at Heirloom. And like so many local fine-dining joints here are the beach, the menu changes often. So use the descriptions and images as a guideline only. The images posted here are from chefs Matt and Jordan, but they are both still quite representative of what you will discover when you visit Heirloom. The menu is easy to navigate, with a wide selection of items. “Beginnings” consists of eight selections ranging from salad to beef carpaccio. Our other beginnings included the Charred Atlantic Octopus. I developed a taste for octopus rather recently because of the excellent preparation at two other local eateries. Well, I now have to add Heirloom to that list. A magical combination of smoked chilis, twice-fried potatoes and … wait for it … butterscotch(!) makes for a taste greater than the sum of the parts. Get this dish! Another must-get is the Crispy Veal Sweetbreads. This is another dish for which I have acquired a taste because of some excellent local preparations. Meghan’s Kennett roots are obvious in the bed of gently brandied mushrooms upon which the crispy, almost southern-fried sweetbreads sit. A light and golden tangle of potato-parsnip crisps tops it off. The darn thing is as fun to look at as it is to consume!
A slate of charcuterie appeared at the table. Thin-as-air slices of duck ham are accompanied by a spicy grain mustard and pickled onions. On the other side of the plate is a flavorful pork mortadella. I suspect that the choices of meats and preparation will change with the seasons. This was the prefect preprandial bite and worked perfectly with a frosty and delightfully gingery Moscow Mule (decorated with rosemary, lemon and a couple of happy little cranberries).
Duck with a poached egg raviolo.1/39 Heirloom2/39 Heirloom3/39 Heirloom4/39 Heirloom5/39 Heirloom6/39 Chix under a brick7/39 Heirloom8/39 Sweetbreads with frizzles and ‘shrooms9/39 Kale salad10/39 the gingery mule11/39 The ‘shrooms12/39 That octopus13/39 Heirloom14/39 Short rib15/39 Heirloom16/39 Chicken Reoulade with kumquats, olives and rainbow carrots17/39 Crispy skin redfish with Kennett mushrooms18/39 Hudson Valley Foie Gras with maple-brandy poached pears and apples.19/39 Lancaster Chicken & Dumpling soup20/39 Pressed persimmon caprese21/39 Pot de Creme/dolce de leche/candied peanuts with ricotta beignets in the background22/39 Beef Tartare23/39 Seared Venison with cocoa nibs24/39 Matt’s apple orchard salad25/39 Matt’s version of the Berkshire pork chop26/39 Sweet potato biegnets!27/39 Matt’s Grilled octopus28/39 A little cheese amuse29/39 Cherry pannacotta30/39 Matt’s take on the Chicken under a Brick31/39 House-made Concord Grape Sorbet32/39 Matt’s amazing Lambcetta33/39 Some bathroom humor at Heirloom.34/39 Peach Trifle35/39 Matt’s Seared Scallops36/39 Matt’s Seared Foie Gras37/39 I took this beignet closeup to show off a new lens.38/39 Matt’s Beet Salad39/39
Then there are the Entrées. I searched high and low to find something wrong with the Braised Short Ribs. I failed. Yes, this dish is pretty ubiquitous around these parts, but I place Heirloom’s preparation up among the best. Darkly roasted and savory root veggies lounge in a golden lake of celery root soubise (a bechamel-based onion sauce), forming a platform for the generous portion of fork-tender rib. The kicker? Before serving, Miller sprinkles the meat with vegetable ash – imparting an aromatic, charred note along with a textural component that I’ve not experienced anywhere else. (Vegetable ash is widely used an an exterior finish for certain types of cheese.) Carnivores: Go NOW to Heirloom and order this dish. You can thank me later. I suspect that Matt Kern’s version will satisfy.
Shortly after they opened, one of the most popular dishes was the Crispy Chicken Under a Brick. This rather involved preparation creates an exterior crunch while maintaining a moist and juicy interior. It’s kicked up even further with a honey/orange jus, crowned by a perfectly baked biscuit. In tribute to Meghan’s Kennett Square history, we ordered the Kennett Square Mushroom Mix from the “Table Shares” section. The ‘shrooms were allowed to maintain their integrity with the simple addition of butter and some herbs. So many restaurants find it necessary to load their mushroom dishes up with spices and other strong flavors; at Heirloom, the mushrooms were given center stage.
After giving the obligatory lip service to being too full to even think about dessert, we proceeded to order the Heirloom Cookie Plate (it has since left the menu. Hope that it returns) with a French Press coffee service of Brazil Blue Diamond. I love the French press table presentation, and your brew doesn’t get much fresher than that. Take a look at the photo gallery to see the cookies, which included ginger spice, a double chocolate-pistachio biscotti, an almond butter cookie, shortbread and a chocolate chip sea salt. All the desserts are the work of pastry chef Allyson Schreiber. I love it that our Cape Region dining mecca has gotten to the point where restaurants employ pastry chefs! And Allyson, who came to the First Town in the First State directly from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, is certainly no slouch in that department. I am going back to get the warm ricotta biegnets and the pink lady apple crumble. Again, I’m sure that the dessert choices will mirror the seasons.
Chadds Ford native Meghan Lee has hit the ground running with her new Heirloom. Reservations are strongly recommended (the place was full and on a wait on the December Sunday visit and on an early January weekday visit). Call 302-313-4065.