|Pizza at Red Star Craft House, Exton|
There, the great seafood, casual-yet-elegant ambiance and consistently fresh food make for a regularly excellent dining experience. There are three other Doc McGrogan's locations in the region.
|Barra Rossa, Downingtown|
|Mall entrance to Red Star|
Red Star was designed to be a variant of Barra Rossa, with more emphasis on casual fare. It is housed within the Exton Square Mall, in the site formerly occupied by Houlihan's. Along with its new neighbor Main Line Health, Red Star is just the kind of place that this sleepy mall needed to give it a boost of traffic and interest.
|Cafe and takeout area|
Much like the nearby Pour House on Route 100, Red Star has enjoyed a flood of traffic upon opening. Exton area diners don't have a lot of interesting choices beyond the wonderful and growing crop of Indian restaurants in the "Dosa Belt" as described by Philly food critic Craig Laban. If you want an authentic dining experience, you generally head to West Chester or Phoenixville; Exton is a bit crammed with dreary chain restaurants.
|Bar and dining area|
We tried to go early on a Friday night without reservations - and faced a 90 minute wait. We chose instead to go across Rt. 30 from the mall to Biryani King. There, the service is a bit confused but the Indian food is wonderful and expertly presented. The Mongolian cauliflower is other-worldly. Ask for a table in the back of this converted old mansion. But - let's get back to Red Star.
|Dining room and bar, from opposite end|
We tried next on a Sunday at 6:30pm, with reservations. We arrived 15 minutes early, but could not be seated early - the place was buzzing. Folks without reservations faced a 30 minute wait. Hence, with great anticipation, we were seated in the hip-but-comfy dining room and began to examine the menu.
Our server was excellent and spoke knowingly of the menu. We had come for the pizza, of course, but we decided to split an appetizer (shrimp lettuce wraps), a burger, and a pizza. I was delighted by the interesting cocktail selection, at a reasonable $7 each. I ordered a craft beer from the extensive list while my wife had a basil-infused martini.
|Shrimp lettuce wraps|
The lettuce wraps were fine, but I thought the sauce was a little too sweet and that the green peppers dominated the milder flavors of the shrimp and the excellent mango strips included.
We made a mistake by ordering the smokehouse burger "medium well." It was a nicely constructed burger, but the meat was cooked "well done" and was a bit dry. The lovely brioche roll was probably a day past its prime, as well. The fries, smartly served in a metal cup, were undercooked and limp. This may have been "Sunday night at a new restaurant" syndrome, because several things on the menu were not available. Bottom line - good but not great for both the burger and the appetizer.
We had visited sister restaurant Barra Rossa in Downingtown on two occasions. On our first visit, we had excellent pasta and almost-great Neapolitan pizza. I tried the pizza again on my second visit, and I came away thinking that the ingredients were right, but the execution was not. Too much cheese and an undercooked crust made for a tasty pie that lacked the character and texture of the best Neapolitans.
Here, the pizza seems to be very much the same. There is an authentic wood-fired dome oven, but the magic isn't happening. Our pepperoni (with long hots) pizza had excellent cheese and pepperoni. The "long hots" came out as green dollops of pepper pesto, which was a nice touch but lacking any real spicy fire.
The crust, though, was a failure. It was good - not great - in flavor, but its major defect was texture. It was limp (but not wet) and lacking substantial char, crisping, or hole structure. Terrific opportunity to take this pie from OK to wonderful by getting the crust right and cooking it properly.
Overall, Red Star is a big plus for Exton. We instantly loved the ambiance, and much like Barra Rossa and Doc McGrogan's, the staff was friendly and efficient.
|Underside of crust|
The pizza is the second-best pizza in Exton, trailing Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza by a large margin. But it could be so much better. This pie earns a 6 out of 10. We'll be back, though - Dave McGrogan has a good idea of how to keep his patrons happy.