This casual, comfortable restaurant, Charcoal, along the Delaware River in Yardley, PA, used to be known to the locals as “Dirty Bills.” Don’t ask me why, but I lived in Yardley for 27 years and no one could ever tell me the reason behind the odd name. Before the flood in 2006, Charcoal Steaks-N-Things as it was originally called, was a homey luncheonette in a no frills room with unadorned formica tables, on street level.
But after suffering through three floods in a row—2004, 2005 and 2006—the owner Anton (Tony) Plescha spent two years rebuilding, and it is now elevated 10 feet above ground. From the moment you walk up the stairs (there is also an elevator) and into the dining room, prepare to be impressed. From the near perfect view of the Delaware River to the thoughtful seasonal menu, this 70-seat BYOB does not disappoint. In 2009, Charcoal was redeveloped from the much beloved diner into an avant-garde dining experience by Tony’s sons, Mark and Eric Plescha, the innovative chef-brother team. While Papa Plescha still runs breakfast and lunch, the two sons preside over the state-of-the-art dinner menu.
Today, Charcoal is an outstanding example of seasonal ingredients being morphed into absolute lusciousness through innovative technique. Inspired by the products grown at local farms near the restaurant, the menu changes regularly. And we had some excellent choices on our most recent visit (one of many celebrating my birthday) so it took a while to zero in on the perfect choices.
For starters, from the “Small Plates” menu Lynn ordered Warm Lobster and Grilled Corn Chow Chow with lovage and lobster butter. Simply Heaven! Russ chose the Deviled Beet Tartare with lychee pickled shallots, arugula, on grilled bread. An unusual combination, is was so satisfyingly delicious, we could have ordered it as a main entree.
Continuing in my seafood frame of mind, I ordered the Shrimp Scampi with blackened rigatoni from the “Pasta” section of the menu. The black rigatonis arrived al dente with a healthy portion of shrimp and garnished with micro-greens.
From the “Large Plates” segment the Pork Porterhouse with “XO” roasted chanterelles, and sweet corn seemed to be calling Russ’ name. Lucky for me, he graciously cut me a small portion to taste. If I had three hands, I’d have rated it “Three Thumbs Up!”
“People come in and dine for two hours now, when before it was 40 minutes,” said Tony Plescha. “Instead of $10 dinners, we’re doing $13 to $30, and no one has complained yet.”
Breakfast and lunch is still mainly Dad’s domain. But in the evening, the music changes, candles are set out on the tables, and many diners show up with some of their favorite bottles of wine. As noted on their website, Charcoal is still a family restaurant, with a bit of a modern twist.