Longwood Gardens is filled with all the things that make the holidays special – festive trees, sparkling lights, magical water features, miniature trains, music, botanical splendor and opportunities for friends and family to share a special dining experience. While the holidays take the sparkle and splendor factor up a notch, Longwood is a year-round botanical delight.
Located in the heart of the gardens, The Terrace features both a full-service restaurant, 1906, which takes its name from the year Pierre S. du Pont purchased the grounds that were developed into Longwood Gardens, and a family-friendly à la carte dining option, The Café.
According to Executive Chef Will Brown, The Terrace building was constructed in 1984; both dining venues underwent a refresh in 2018. The two venues expand during the holiday season with the addition of tented and heated dining areas – 1906 seats about 68 indoors and 60 on the tented patio, while The Café accommodates a larger number of guests. A Longwood Christmas opened November 18 and closes January 8.
As one would expect at Longwood Gardens, “green” is the theme at 1906 from a design perspective. Indoor seating is along a plush green banquette or at tables outfitted with chairs that are reminiscent of a vintage farmhouse kitchen yet are thoroughly modern due to their simple lines and gray color. Plants add yet another aspect of green to the space. The ambiance might be described as elegant farmhouse. The heated and carpeted tent that takes over the surrounding patio is equally as warm and inviting.
The Café offers a more modern and informal atmosphere as à la carte options are purchased at stations to enjoy at tables in one of several dining rooms or at outdoor tables on the tented brick patio. The indoor dining areas are bright and cheery thanks to the large walls of windows. The Café is a great spot to take a break, grab a quick bite and even “people watch.”
Longwood also offers yet another dining option – the Beer Garden, an outdoor area featuring pub menu items such as pizza, snacks and beverages including wine and local craft beer. It’s adjacent to The Café’s brick patio and shares its seating area. During the holidays, there are also several concession areas located throughout the gardens that serve tasty treats and warm beverages.
Chef Will grew up in nearby Kennett Square. “This is my second tour at Longwood,” he explains. “I started here as a bus boy when I was 14 years old. Working here sparked my passion for cooking, so I went to culinary school.”
He then spent time as a sous chef at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library (Henry Francis du Pont’s estate that is nearby), and then spent four years in Atlanta before moving back to the Philadelphia area to become a chef at the Kimmel Center. In 2011, Will returned to Longwood Gardens, first as catering chef and then as executive chef at The Terrace.
The Terrace’s signature dish is Kennett Square mushroom soup (The Café) and bisque (1906); both pay tribute to the local mushroom industry. “We put a lot of love into that soup,” chef Will says, “We have two 40-gallon kettles in the kitchen – during the holidays, one is for mushroom soup and one is for hot chocolate.”
In addition to mushrooms, chef Will says ingredients are locally sourced as much as possible. There’s also a focus on sustainability. For example, the mushroom omelet features both locally sourced mushrooms and cheese from local cheese maker, The Farm at Doe Run in nearby Unionville.
The Café features an array of soups, ready-to-eat sandwiches and salads, hot entrées such as Kennett Square mushroom pasta, apple-cider chicken and citrus-glazed salmon, as well as house-made desserts. Offerings change seasonally. Chef Will notes that The Café is responsible for over half of The Terrace’s food sales.
This year, during A Longwood Christmas, 1906 will offer a prix-fixe-menu dining experience. A sample menu posted in early November touched on items such as wild mushroom bisque, roasted beet salad, braised Wagyu beef short rib, olive oil-poached halibut and a Valrhona chocolate yule log. A full menu of cocktails, wine and beer is also available. The menu will change every two weeks. “We try to pair the menu in 1906 with the theme of A Longwood Christmas. This year it’s Botanical Splendor. For 1906, we’ll use special ingredients that tell a story,” chef Will explains. “At 1906 we like to deliver a high-end experience; at Christmas, people are celebrating and are often here for a special once-a-year experience.”
For lunch, chef Will says 1906 is changing things up this year and is offering an à la carte menu. Reservations for lunch and dinner are recommended via Open Table or by calling 1906. A note of caution: Reservations do fill up early and may become difficult to secure, so make plans early.
Longwood Gardens is in the midst of reshaping a number of its areas and is in the middle of a major renovation. According to the website, the multi-year Longwood Reimagined project is a “sweeping reimagination of 17 acres of our Conservatory and grounds, opening in fall 2024.”
One of the components of the project is a new restaurant and events space. Chef Will says he’s excited to be part of the planning for the new restaurant and event space. It too is expected to open in 2024. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he says of his involvement.
The Terrace is located within Longwood Gardens; gardens admission is required for dining. Hours during A Longwood Christmas (through January 8) are as follows. The Café is open daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; there’s a limited menu during the last hour of service. Beer Garden hours are Monday through Friday, 4-10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 12-10 p.m. (weather permitting). 1906 serves lunch daily from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Prix-fixe dinner is served Sunday through Thursday, 5-6:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5-8 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended for 1906 and may be made via Open Table or by calling 610-388-5290. For more information, visit longwoodgardens.org.