Saturday, 27 February 2016 18:48

Northern Lights

Written by  Carol Metzker, Photos by Wil Moore

Creative souls bring world-class attractions to the northern tips of Chester County.



Courtesy La MaisonSome people see a wooden plank with four legs. Chef Martin Gagne sees something deeper when he looks at a table.

“The table to me is a highly spiritual and human experience,” says Gagne. “Not long ago we did everything at the kitchen table. Today we still talk about our plans, dreams and beauty as we eat. The table is a profound concept that goes very deep into our roots.”

Gagne’s philosophy and extraordinary cooking talents are just part of what he brings to La Maison, a country French restaurant on the first floor of his 300-year-old home in Coventryville. “My wife Janet and I modeled it after what you’d find in the French countryside—a family taking care of hungry travelers,” he explains. In an unhurried manner set amidst charming ambiance, guests partake of food significant to him—garlic soup with poached eggs or pâté of duck or goose in a crust, served warm with a port or truffle sauce.

His restaurant and home are a far cry from Bangkok and Chicago, where Gagne made earlier marks in the culinary world. But he’s here to stay. “Everyone is proud of this community, where some people have lived for generations,” he says. “I’ve been here 15 years and don’t see myself going anywhere else. We feel at home.”

Gagne, who inspires others to new heights, is one of many creative souls bringing world-class talents and treasures to the northern tips of Chester County and beyond. Studios, businesses and eateries are as unique and wonderful as the individuals who created them.

This spring, feed your senses. Taste, touch, smell, hear, and see what’s great. Indulge your sense of curiosity and sense of adventure. Find meandering country roads and head north.

 

Highlights

Minutes away from Saint Peter’s Village and Pottstown, a gem called The Cob Studio welcomes visitors willing to set foot off the beaten path and explore new ideas. Up a winding lane, stroll past woodland flowers to stepping stones that lead to the door of a magical place.

Nearly defying description, The Cob Studio is best imagined as a giant sculpture—perhaps an enchanted teakettle, where interior space, activities and people are continually transforming through participants’ creative energy and the artistic touch of founder Cara Graver.

The structure is whimsical, yet solid as the earth Graver used to build the studio’s two-foot thick walls that support the green roof. Inside, sculpt a bowl. Sip tea from an artisan’s cup next to the old stove or below the loft. Plop onto a stack of colorful pillows. Pull out your writer’s pen.

For spectacular handmade glass, look no farther than Glasslights Studio at Saint Peter’s. A glassblowing workshop was in progress when I visited. Watching novices working with experts, I was mesmerized by the process of breathing life into glowing globes of molten glass that cooled into wine goblets and ornaments of brilliant colors.

At the workshop’s close, delighted participants headed to the Inn at Saint Peter’s for a drink to celebrate the day.

Steps away, a handmade dulcimer—a stringed wooden folk instrument—drew me into the Dilworth by Design gallery. The shop offers crafts by generations of the Dilworth family—woodworkers, painters, photographers and weavers.

Cross the street to Saint Peters Bakery with gingerbread woodwork on the porch outside and checkerboard cookies and black granite torte in cases inside. Linger over pastries in the cozy café or on the deck overlooking French Creek.

 

Spotlight on Art

Juan Carlos restaurant front view from street

Don’t miss the show at Pottstown’s Steel River Playhouse. Even before the grand red velvet curtain—purchased on eBay from an old movie theater in Indiana—parts to reveal the stage, be dazzled by pop artist Romero Britto’s original painting and its matching mural in the lobby. Catch performances of The Glass Menagerie or Fiddler on the Roof.

For pre-theater dining, Lily’s Grill with food from local sources and Juan Carlos offering fine Mexican dishes are audience favorites. Or pick up a sandwich that’s a work of art from Grumpy’s Hand-carved Sandwiches, Pottstown’s well-loved deli.

Check out the photographs of Wil Moore, artistic photographer in Pottstown. Invite him to shoot your location with a unique and fresh eye.

Cherish history as well as art? Tour Potts-grove Manor where John Potts and his family once owned 998 acres of what’s now Pottstown. Visit the lovely Christmas display in winter and the garden in spring.

Quench your sense of adventure. Take the annual polar plunge into the Schuykill River. The website quips, “Participation is free … We reckon you’ll pay for it later.” If that’s too daring, hike along the trail at Riverfront Park.

 

Cheers!

Manatawny Still WorksSome of the area’s newest establishments provide notable spaces for conversation, activities and good spirits.

Sip, shop or join a bottling workshop to find out what happens behind the barrels at Manatawny Still Works. View Italian copper stills next to the tasting room, or park yourself at an outdoor picnic table in sunny weather while tasting gin, rum or whiskey made on site.

Walk across the street to Sly Fox Brewing Company. Catch a weekend tour or head to a table and ask, “What’s on tap?”

Coming soon: Brandywine Branch Distillers, a grain-to-bottle distillery with a renovated barn plus café and gardens.

On your way home from the northern reaches, stop at Stone Barn Cellars where the wine is enjoyable and the welcome is warm. My first trip to the winery was accidental when I limped my car with a flat tire from Route 100 into the driveway. Thanks to owner Ben Morrison, I left the winery with a changed tire, three bottles of wine and the story behind the winery.

Morrison, a former photojournalist, turned his passion and winemaking hobby into a business venture. He renovated an old stone barn at night after work, removing bats and birds and turning felled trees from the property into floors for the gorgeous tasting room that opened in 2013.

With tires intact, I’ve returned since to say hello and pick up bottles of Night Owl, a wine honoring Morrison’s long hours of labor to bring the winery to light.

Catch the glow!

 

To find out more about Pottstown, visit Pottstown.org, and see the events sidebar on the next page.


 

Pottstown Events

Lily’s GrillWith spring in the not-to-distant future, take some time to enjoy a day outside, watch world-class volleyball, go to a brewfest or enjoy a concert. You can kick up your heels and swing dance the night away, too, if you want. Just head to Pottstown …

March 4–6: Pottstown Family & Home Expo. 610-323-1700; PottstownFamilyAndHomeExpo.com.

March 12: An Evening for the Schuylkill River. 484-945-0200; SchuylkillRiver.org.

April 8: “The Original” WWII Swing Dance. Sunnybrook Ballroom, 50 Sunnybrook Rd. 8 to 11. 610-323-5305.

April 16: Relay Bark-4-Life. 484-366-1735; on Facebook, Facebook.com/BFLPottstown.

April 30: Pottstown Brewfest, Firkinfest. PottstownBrewfest.com.

May 1: Sly Fox Bockfest and Goat Race. 484-524-8210; SlyFoxBeer.com/Bockfest.

May 7: Pottsgrove Manor May Fair. 610-326-4014; MontCoPa.org/PottsgroveManor.

May 7–8: PowWow on Manatawny Creek. Calendar.PowWows.com/Events.

June 4–10: Schuylkill River Sojourn. SchuylkillRiver.org.

June 6–10: Pottstown [In Focus] Film Festival. PottstownInFocus.com.

June 24–26: The Pottstown Rumble. 610-369-1717; PottstownRumble.com.

June 2–5: Quaker State BMX Nat’ls, Trilogy BMX Course. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Pottstown.org.

July 7: Free Concert in the Park. 610-970-6608;  Pottstown.org.

July 16: Sly Fox Track Club Half Marathon. SlyFoxTrackClub.com.

July 10: Pottstown Criterion Bike Race. USACycling.org/Events.

Aug 20th: Veterans Memorials Community Day. 610-970-6608; Pottstown.org.

Sept 17: Pottstown Pet Fair.  610-970-6507; Pottstown.org; BringFido.com.