How often do you have French food? Husb and I were in another city and were going to have lunch with another couple. When the husband in that couple balked terribly at the thought of a French restaurant, my husb and I had a little “huh?” moment. What is it about the thought of “French food” that would bring that reaction?
We have no clue. Modern French food is simple, yet complex. Full of flavor but not overwhelming. When we lived in York County the Blue Moon (in its previous incarnation) was our favorite place to eat.
So when cousin Carolyn was visiting, my sister suggested we have lunch at Sips, a beautiful French bistro in Phoenixville. Yes! Although Sips is a few blocks off the crowded downtown, it has its own parking lot and is actually very convenient.
The building had been the Hotel Chester, another of Phoenixville’s classic Victorian hotels. As Sips, it is a mix of Victorian grandeur (with the original bar) and modern comfort. We chose a table in the indoor brick courtyard because it was sunny and bright.
The owner, Fabien Chaigneau, has quite a background in French dining, including time as general manager of Georges Perrier’s Brasserie Perrier in Philadelphia. Once I started asking questions, our server, Michael, asked Fabien to come talk to us about the building. When he decided to open Sips, Fabien visited the Phoenixville Area Historical Society to get the full history. We learned we were sitting in what had been an outdoor space; my bench seat was actually an outdoor wall and hooks on the pillars in our courtyard were used at one time to tie horses.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the food yet. The menu gave me many choices. I was considering the flammkuchen (skirt steak, spinach, blue cheese on flatbread) or maybe the Sips’ Salad (mesclun, apple, blue cheese, cranberry, walnut, balsamic vinaigrette) until I heard the daily frittata was crab and asparagus (Spanish-style omelet, gruyère, mixed greens). Sounds not too heavy, non? Oui. I knew I wanted to try a dessert so I wasn’t taking any chances with getting stuffed. And Sips didn’t disappoint. The apple tart was magnifique.
As we left, we made sure to look at the worn spot in the stone at the front door—a relic of the building’s days as the Hotel Chester—which Fabien had mentioned. This visit did was make me yearn for a French restaurant closer to home, which I know won’t happen. So I’ll be back to Sips--husband in tow--to try the dinner menu just as soon as I can.
The Hotel Chester (photo from Phoenixville Area Historical Society)