Ted Miller, owner of A la Maison French bistro, was a happy man Thursday afternoon, as the last of his lunch patrons finished dessert, coffee, and conversation before heading out into a bright, warm, clear day along the main drag on Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore.
It was Bastille Day, sure, and Miller had been into a bit of expensive champagne. Tri-colors festooned the sidewalk tables and the indoor seating, and fleur-de-lis hung here and there among the polished brass, the understated décor, the tasteful bistro china. A golden palate of wall paint imbued the eatery with expectation of a fine evening to come.
But a first-time visitor had the distinct feeling that the joie de vivre was not because of any prescribed holiday, whether uniquely French or simply underscored as such by Americans. Miller, with a background in finance and an investor in Philadelphia and South Jersey area restaurants since the late 1990s, was clearly at peace with his small piece of the good life—good food, good wine, good company. A nephew works by his side.
Despite the cozy milieu, Miller says he’s not getting rich. Rather, he counts himself lucky that as a new boss—he took over operations just this past January from a former partner—he is in the position of owning a BYOB where diners regularly bring in wine that cost in the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars.
Maybe the best part? That very pricey wine is brought in to his place to accompany cuisine that Miller has entrusted to an executive chef and a sous chef who are both in their twenties.
“This is a really, really good business with a loyal clientele, and it would have been a shame to see it not survive,” Miller explained. “So I pumped some money into it, we re-did the menu, hired some new people, and I have the most French Irish chef that you have ever met on your entire life.”
That would be one Sean McMonagle, all of 26. “I have been around,” Miller said, speaking of his experience in the high-maintenance, high-wire-act business of fine dining. “He is one of the most talented guys” I’ve met in this business he said, adding that he gave the kid a raise and a profit-sharing incentive.
“That was a formula for success—he just ran with it,” Miller said.
“There’s a lot of excitement and passion in this kitchen,” said Kent Miller, A la Maison’s front-of-the-house manager, and Ted’s nephew. “We want to have a vested interest in the more traditional dishes ... but nevertheless, and especially during these specials, we have a strong emphasis on creativity. To do an in-house pig roast as he basis for this menu—you know, it was fun, conceptually.”
Thursday night’s Bastille Day “first annual” Cochon Roti (roasted pig) menu (salad and dessert included; $56 per person, plus tax & gratuity):
- Braised belly: Macintosh apple sauce, frisee salad, sherry vinaigrette
- Roasted tenderloin: Seard scallops, sweet corn, calvados braised morel mushrooms
- Cochon roti: 12-hour whole roasted suckling pig, braised carrot, creamed cabbage
- Baby-back rib frites: House-cut fries, apple-fennel slaw