• Lenora Kruk-Mullanaphy

Private Dining & Inspired Cuisine

Choosing a venue with ambience and a spectacular menu that’s sure to entice attendees to an event isn’t difficult in the Mid-Atlantic region where the options are abundant. The icing on the cake is working with professionals who have a talent for making meals one of the main attractions of the event.

Experts at restaurants and catering companies can “whip up” mouthwatering meals that attendees will talk about long after their meeting is over.

The Blue Bell Inn is no stranger to welcoming guests - it’s been doing just that since 1743. Its original name was the “White House,” where lodging was offered to traveling hunters.

Throughout the years, the property has hosted important guests like George Washington, who stayed at the inn during the American Revolutionary War. An added touch and an everlasting symbol of the venue is the renowned blue bell design, which was added over the property in 1796.

While it switched hands throughout history, the Blue Bell Inn was reopened as a restaurant in 1967. It stood as one of the first fine dining restaurants in the area, gaining a great reputation. The establishment became known as a family favorite in the 1990s, which is during the time Scott Dougherty, currently a co-owner of the Blue Bell Inn, worked his way from a busboy and maître d’ to being named general manager. Dougherty, Bruce Goodman and Kevin Clib purchased the restaurant in 2013.

Planners can choose from 12 private dining rooms that are uniquely decorated, from the more traditional in design to rustic-meets-modern style. A wide range of dining spaces provides the opportunity for planners to find the perfect complement for holiday parties, corporate functions and more. Its professional staff and a menu consisting of culinary classics are sure to make the meal a hit with attendees.

“Since 1743, the Blue Bell Inn has been serving our guests and helping to celebrate all of life’s special moments,” said Alicia Maestas, director of sales and events for the property. “The Blue Bell Inn blends American heritage with a vibrant atmosphere and modern American menu you won’t find anywhere else.”

Maestas added that the events team has a passion for creating and executing the finest events and strives to create an environment that’s enjoyable and effortless for the host.

Maggiano’s Little Italy in Philadelphia offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as all-day meeting menus. Most of the menus are served family-style, for which the restaurant is widely known. Menu options are available for any size group - the Philadelphia restaurant location provides banquet seating up to 150 guests. In addition, a plated lunch and a steakhouse menu are available for groups with under 40 guests. Maggiano’s offers private dining rooms in 48 of its 53 locations, including those in Philadelphia and King of Prussia, PA as well as in Cherry Hill, NJ.

“We’re an Italian-American, family-style restaurant, and all of our food is prepared from scratch by our dedicated chef teams,” said Victoria Hutchinson, HMCC, banquet and catering sales manager for Maggiano’s in Philadelphia. “Our concept came from our founder’s visit to Little Italy in New York City. He loved the idea of having the red-and-white tablecloths, homemade food - just like Grandma’s - and generous portions that are able to be shared with friends and family.”

Attendees will look forward to Maggiano’s authentic recipes, such as spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, lasagna, Tuscan shrimp and chicken, as well as delectable Italian desserts. Executive Chef Stephen Janisz will help in choosing menu items for those with dietary restrictions or in customizing a dish with special ingredients.

“Our event spaces are a beautiful setting to bring any group together,” said Hutchinson. “We have a passion for making people feel special, and we strive to do just that each time our guests enter our doors.”

Planners will find the experienced sales managers at Maggiano’s have hosted all types of meetings and events, including all-day conclaves, pharmaceutical-compliant seminars, lunch and learns, and a variety of other celebrations.

Maggiano’s Little Italy’s history began in Chicago, where it opened its first restaurant in 1991. With guests sometimes waiting for hours to enjoy family-style servings, it was evident early on that the restaurant had found the recipe for success. Large portions of Italian-American food brought back memories of a Sunday night visit to their grandmother’s house. The recipes were simple, authentic classics from the kitchens of Italian grandmothers, mothers and aunts whose ideas of a recipe were “a pinch of this and a sprinkle of that.”

From four locations in Illinois to numerous restaurants across the country, guests can whet the appetite with hearty portions of their favorite menu items.

Stephen Distler is the owner of both elements and Mistral restaurants in Princeton, NJ, as well as another Mistral location in King of Prussia. These restaurants are recognized nationally for James Beard Foundation-decorated Executive Chef, Scott Anderson. As a “food activist,” Anderson is committed to sourcing fresh ingredients, many of which are from local farmers and producers. His use of progressive, modern techniques allows for the purest flavors in every serving.

“Scott is out in the field foraging for new ingredients every day,” said Distler. “He is known to change menu items ‘day of’ to reflect what he finds.”

Anderson has mastered a cooking style that celebrates a dish’s culinary roots and traditional flavors while infusing a diverse set of flavor profiles he’s accumulated from his travels around the world.

These restaurants offer diverse options for private and group dining. Planners will find that elements provides three such choices, including: a private dining room able to accommodate up to 10 guests; a large private dining room with space for up to 25 people; and a “buyout” of the main dining room that seats up to 40 guests. All three spaces can be rented simultaneously for hosting up to 75 guests.

In elements’ main dining room, which offers a view of the open kitchen, the team provides guests with incomparable service and a dining experience that will not be forgotten. Courses are delivered tableside by a member of the kitchen team, where they are accompanied by a brief explanation of the dish’s components. Attendees will indulge in meals where nothing is overlooked along with a menu that is seasonally driven.

At Mistral in Princeton, planners can reserve the main dining room that hosts 50 seated or 65 standing for cocktail parties. Another option is the heated and covered outdoor patio for private groups of up to 45 seated or 50 standing. In addition, both rooms can be rented to hold a total of 90 to 100 guests. The King of Prussia location boasts a large open-air space with a lounge, as well as semi-private areas that can be privately booked for up to 125 guests.

Mistral is in the heart of downtown Princeton and within walking distance of Princeton University and Palmer Square. The staff will work with planners to customize the menu to accommodate budget and dietary restrictions. With a staff planner to assist in organizing the details - from menu selection to ordering wine - Mistral makes it easy for groups to enjoy a seamless event.

Each of the restaurants has numerous ways to wow attendees, including a selection of multi-course tasting menus, passed hors d’oeuvres and the option for the in-house sommelier to help select wine pairings that will complement both the menu and budget.

Earl’s New American, which is located at Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, PA, combines the rustic charm and romance of a Bucks County farmhouse with contemporary cuisine. Dining at a reclaimed wood table, sipping a cocktail on the patio, or congregating behind the barn doors for a delectable dinner is an experience for all the senses. Groups can opt for a la carte dining or banquet buffets, and menus can be tailored to meet the needs of each client.

Four sections can accommodate groups, including an upstairs room that can be divided into two sections with the capacity for between 40 and 50 attendees, depending on the configuration. Part of the main dining area, the Map Room - which incorporates a map of Bucks County dating from the late 19th century - is used for large parties. Another area of the restaurant, complete with a cozy fireplace, can be partially converted into a private space.

Earl’s serves an array of progressive American cuisine with hints of international flavors, particularly Asian and Italian. The house made pasta is a popular selection for a la carte dining and buffets.

“We’re always willing to work with clients to create special menus for events that reflect their particular tastes and vision,” said Terri Kleinguenther, general manager for Earl’s. “An added feature is that we often print specialized menus for our private parties, which really seem to be appreciated.”

Kleinguenther said much thought is put into crafting the cuisine at Earl’s, and a lot of consideration goes into the needs of each client. Attendees at a recent wine dinner for a financial client were treated to a memorable meal when each French, Spanish and Italian wine served was presented with a dish from that country.

Executive Chef Evan Gentile and his team are inspired by the food available in and near Bucks County. With a belief in local sourcing, they procure food from nearby farms and providers. The team brings ideas through personal dining experiences, conversations with other chefs and a continuing interest in learning about foods and ways to enhance the guest experience.

The staff at Earl’s welcome the chance for in-depth conversations with planners to determine the objectives of the event and the collective interests and personalities of the attendees. From there, they “cook up” a special experience that includes a carefully crafted menu to reflect the group’s goals and tastes.

“We want everyone who comes to Earl’s to have a memorable experience,” said Kleinguenther. “We want our guests to be relaxed and to feel taken care of.”

Meet a monger and hear a tale of cheesemakers near and far. Explore a world of culinary delights. Visit the prepared foods counter for deliciously easy eating. Walk by any counter and you'll hear plenty of "you gotta try this" and "mmm... what IS that," accompanied by that wide-eyed look that any food lover knows well.

Di Bruno Bros. shares a taste of something incredible with everyone who walks through their doors. There's nothing like sharing an amazing meal and - of course - the power of food. Back that up with a dedication to knowing about everything from generations of cheesemakers to the way Prosciutto di Parma has been made for centuries to the process for which rennet comes together with milk to become cheese.

Di Bruno Bros. is a family run company with strong family values, and has remained dedicated for over 75 years to its staff, customers, and community in Philadelphia.

Di Bruno Bros. spends time traveling the world to find the finest cheeses, meats and specialty foods, then creates delicious dishes with them and serves them up via their catering department at corporate and social events.

Scarpetta Philadelphia, which is located at Rittenhouse Square, features several private dining options, including a lounge area for 75 guests standing; a semi-private dining area for 55 people seated; the main dining room for 85 attendees seated and 150 standing; Table 90 group dinner space for 18 seated guests; and The Wine Room for 14 seated. The restaurant serves contemporary Italian fare based on seasonal offerings, including handmade pastas, raw and cooked fish and select meat dishes.

“Scarpetta is named after the phrase ‘fare la scarpetta,’ which translates to the act of dipping the little boot-shaped piece of bread to soak up remaining sauce left in the pot of a home kitchen,” said Executive Chef Michael Loughlin. “This simple Italian tradition serves as the inspiration for Scarpetta’s name and also is translated into each dish served at the restaurant. It’s that Italian focus on simplicity, the use of fresh ingredients, and the pride we take in executing each dish that makes our food memorable.”

Planners hosting their attendees at Scarpetta will find the sommelier is available to assist in selecting the pairings that complement each dish.

Attendees will enjoy camaraderie and the chance to learn how to make a signature pasta dish served at Scarpetta during a pasta-making class hosted by Loughlin on Saturdays. Making spaghetti, tomato and basil from scratch, enjoying light bites, and sipping on wines selected by the sommelier is a great idea for a team building exercise and a way to get the group together for a fun event.

Del Frisco’s Grille in Philadelphia opened in December 2018 and offers a private dining room with seating for up to 50 guests. Featuring premium American classics with fresh, seasonal ingredients, the restaurant serves signature items like prime, hand-cut steaks, a variety of fresh seafood, along with small, shareable plates. Other menu specialties include cheesesteak eggrolls and the freshest fish in season. There’s also an extensive menu of wine and hand-crafted cocktails to complement any dish.

“At Del Frisco’s, every meal is inspired by the concept of celebrating life at the table, and each location takes inspiration from seasonal ingredients and local food traditions,” said general manager for the restaurant, Lee Barbuto. “In Philadelphia, this is seen through menu items, such as the cheesesteak eggrolls and the seasonal Market Catch.”

Barbuto said the restaurant hired a staff of passionate and knowledgeable hospitality professionals who love what they do. It shows in the guest experience, with every sip and bite selected and prepared with passion and precision.

Stir is a new restaurant that opened its doors in the Philadelphia Museum of Art this past October. Options for group dining include: Stir’s 1,130-square foot seating area; the café with 5,520-square feet (which includes food stations and a corridor between seating areas); and the Fiske Kimball Room, which spans 650-square feet.

Available for private dining, subject to the museum’s hours and availability, each event is curated around the season’s best offerings. The cuisine is led by local and seasonal produce, meats and seafood with a focus on quality ingredients, and techniques paired with top-notch hospitality.

According to Executive Chef Mark Tropea, the menu is inspired through the partnerships formed with the restaurant’s suppliers. The restaurant sources the best seasonal and local products from a group of dedicated purveyors, such as farmer Jack Goldenberg of Urban Roots in Newtown Square, PA; Castle Valley Mill in Doylestown, PA; and the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative.

“Each event is created from the current Stir food and beverage menus and tailored to guest preferences,” said Tropea. “We meet with guests to tailor menus based on the best items of the season for the event and an experience that represents the vision of Stir.”

Attendees will find a one-of-a-kind dining experience at Chef Jose Garces' The Olde Bar in Old City Philadelphia. The venue has been restored into a contemporary oyster saloon that pays homage to the former restaurant’s tradition. The Olde Bar offers creative cocktails, the freshest seafood and new fish house-inspired menu items accented by southern flavors.

Garces reinvigorates the menu, however, with new ideas, influences and dishes, and his recent trips to New Orleans and along the coast have resulted in further expanded menu offerings, including a sumptuous selection of Fish House Platters, crystal-glazed fried chicken, a New Orleans-style BBQ Shrimp Po’ Boy and more.

For a true Italian experience with creative menus, Gran Caffe L'Aquila has won several awards since opening in 2014. Companies can book an Italian Aperitivo, Regional Wine Dinners (and with each time coming back a new region of Italy can be featured), and customizable events that incorporate Gelato Tastings.

Gran Caffe L’Aquila was a landmark cafe located on Piazza Duomo in the capital city of the Abruzzo region of Italy. In 2007 Gran Caffe L’Aquila won cafe of the year for all of Italy, but was then tragically damaged in the devastating earthquake of 2009 which destroyed the city. In 2012 the original artisanal ownership met Philadelphia award-winning restaurateur Riccardo Longo, which led to the rebirth of one of Italy’s most beloved cafes - only now in the city of Philadelphia.

The entire restaurant was designed and built in Italy and shipped over for installation. The first floor is an authentic Italian bar and the second floor features the restaurant, wine bar, cultural and language school, as well as the coffee and gelato labs.

Planners will find that these and other regional restaurants and caterers have much to offer with inspired menus and superb service. Options are wide ranging and varied, but all provide the opportunity for hosting a fantastic meal function that will keep attendees coming back and craving more.

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