If your guests express curiosity about a farm-to-table dining experience, head for Honey Brook!
Residents of eastern Lancaster County thought they were privy to what may have been one of the best-kept secrets in southeastern Pennsylvania: Wyebrook Farm. Now, however, thanks to a delicious feature that ran in last month’s issue of Martha Stewart Living, the telephone is ringing off the hook. “We encourage guests to plan ahead,” says General Manager Audra Matlack of the demand for reservations.
Owner Dean Carlson has indeed created a special destination for food lovers. This one-time bond trader, who grew up in Minnesota and relocated to Philadelphia, read Michael Pollan’s 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and was transformed. The book’s author literally follows the food chain, exploring – from the source to the final meal – industrialized, organic and foraged food. His goal is to make readers think about the personal and global ramifications of their food choices.
Dean took the book to heart and vowed to become a new-style farmer who utilizes old-school “sustainable” methods. In 2010 the future farmer began searching for suitable property to launch his project and happened upon the 350-acre Wyebrook Farm, which was in foreclosure as a result of a failed development plan on the part of its previous owner. Despite being buried under several feet of snow, Dean saw its potential. A barn and houses – distinctively Chester County in design – were built in the late 1700s. Stone walls – built by workers from Isabella Furnace – date to the 1800s. The LanChester landscapes are a perfect merger of Lancaster County’s valleys and Chester County’s rolling hills.
The venture launched in 2011, offering organically grown produce and other items. Soon, chefs from Philadelphia were checking out the farm and forging relationships with Wyebrook. The market, which is located in the restored barn, began sharing space with a dining room in order to accommodate the pop-up events and guest chef dinners that became hot tickets.
Ian Knauer, who was formerly associated with Gourmet magazine and then went on to write a cookbook (The Farm, which inspired a namesake show on PBS ), was the last guest chef to appear at Wyebrook; his New Year’s Eve (2014) event sold out instantly. Now, he is collaborating with Dean and Chef Andew Wood on a Wyebrook cookbook that will debut this fall.
Chef Wood became Dean’s culinary partner earlier this year. A full-service restaurant offering indoor and outdoor dining (picnic tables fill what was once the barnyard, while vintage-inspired tables/chairs make the herb garden a perfect spot for lunch) has replaced the pop-up dining events for which Wyebrook was known.
Dinner at one of the communal or picnic tables might find you sharing space with a young couple from the neighborhood or a group of friends from Philadelphia. If the bench becomes uncomfortable, no worry; a shearling pelt is quickly made available. And, if a chill sets in, you find yourself wrapped in a woolen shawl. BYOB is the rule.
Oh, and you’re encouraged to stroll the grounds and visit with the animals, study the kitchen gardens and enjoy the scenery. Inevitably you’ll find yourself drawn to the market where a butcher is always at work, and artisanal cheeses (many from Lancaster County) and other products are sold.
Chef Wood is a busy man: He is also the owner and executive chef at Russet in Philadelphia. “Andrew and I have collaborated on farm dinners in the past, and my guests and I are consistently wowed by his thoughtful, rustic-modern and uncanny knack for whole-animal cookery,” says Dean. “It’s a joy to have a permanent restaurant here at the farm, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in this exciting next step at Wyebrook than Andrew.” Kristin Wood, Andrew’s wife, is a pastry chef and will be contributing her talents as well.
Anticipating an increase in demand for reservations (even before the MSL article appeared), Dean decided to scale back the market’s offerings in order to provide more indoor seating. He also enlarged the outdoor dining area by building a barn-inspired, open-air pavilion that is topped with a cedar shake roof. “It will provide us with more flexibility,” Audra says, referring to the havoc that bad weather causes.
The fact that visitors have embraced Wyebrook as their own is heartening to Dean and his 40-member staff. “They feel very connected to Wyebrook and want to do all they can to help us succeed,” Audra relates.
In Dean’s estimation, such an attachment to the land signifies that Wyebrook has already succeeded.
Wyebrook Farm is located at 150 Wyebrook Road in Honey Brook. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (brunch/lunch). Call 610-942-7481 or visit wyebrookfarm.com.