The House and Barn offers a one-stop, multi-venue experience for the adventurous diner craving a night out. The House offers an elegant, slightly more formal experience in a space with a modern farmhouse vibe (think Fixer Upper, but more spare). The Barn is a different space altogether—so distinct that the editors of Lehigh Valley Style decided we’d split the coverage into two separate issues. (Look for an Inside Dish on the Barn in May!) In the meantime, perhaps the easiest way to sum up the difference is to say that the House hosts wine pairing dinners, whereas the Barn is all about the beer.
The House is located in what used to be called the Farmhouse, a restaurant known as an early advocate of what’s become more commonplace—farm-to-table fare, sustainably sourced, under chef Michael Adams. That ethos remains intact, thanks to the culinary team led by executive chef Nate Weida. The name may be familiar: Weida has been behind the line most recently at Savory Grille along with the Glasbern Inn and the Farmhouse.
The enterprise is owned by Carl Billera, along with husband-and-wife team Peter and Nicole Adams. None of them are strangers to real estate and Billera is a restaurant biz veteran; he was one of the original owners of Grille 3501, operated the Buckeye Tavern in Macungie for a year and co-owns The Burgery Company across the street. Billera is a broker for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Partners, along with Peter Adams, who also operates Next Generation Group, a property management company. “Real estate is the job that makes me money,” says Billera. But it was also his entry into restaurants. “Others in the industry will likely attest to the fact that once you are involved with a restaurant, you are bitten for life. It tends to get into your blood—and that’s the case with me,” he says.
As for the property itself, which is comprised of a little over four acres of a barn and a house, a sprawling yard and Leibert Creek, the group saw tremendous potential. “It’s in a good location, and has a bit of history,” says Billera. When pressed, no one really knows much about the farmhouse, other than to say it’s “at least 100 years old.” More practically, though, Peter Adams says that this part of town is “underserved” with restaurants. Bit by bit, the potential is being realized. “We keep getting calls for events, parties, weddings,” says Cindy Billera—Carl’s sister-in-law. “There are outdoor patios associated with both properties, so essentially you have four dining areas,” says Carl Billera.
Initially, the team considered starting up a microbrewery, but decided on the more unique two-restaurant concept. The House got a bit of a facelift with new paint, new HVAC, lighting, furniture, equipment and refinished floors, along with interiors by Tangled Root. “Keep it simple, that’s what Carl kept saying, true to what was here,” says Peter Adams. The Tavern downstairs has a speakeasy feel to it and an upgraded seating area. (The fire extinguisher taps are intact, pouring lots of local beers including Funk, Sole and Neshaminy Creek.) The Barn is more, well, rustic, but don’t expect sawdust on the floor. “We wanted them to be polar opposites, with two different choices and feelings,” says Carl Billera. “People come to enjoy both on the same night, start with a drink at the Barn and come over for dinner, or start with the Tavern downstairs at the House, and end up enjoying live music at the Barn,” says Peter Adams. “It’s like a mini restaurant tour.”
When asked how they determined which restaurant they were going to open first, and why the Barn and not the House, they all laughed.
“Because we didn’t know what was right!” says Peter Adams.
“Truthfully, the Barn needed less work,” says Carl Billera.
“The original plan was to open the House first, but we realized it was easier to open the Barn first,” explains Weida.
“And once the Barn got popular after it opened in April, it started to build up some suspense for the House,” says Cindy Billera. With such a large enterprise—two kitchens and sprawling property—the talent pool needs to be deep and versatile. “We have an incredible culinary team here,” says Carl Billera. “Each one of them has a special set of skills,’” he says.
“Food is everything,” says Peter Adams. If the food doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter how beautiful or unusual your space is. “People have been so pleased with us so far. Everything is stop-you-in-your-tracks delicious,” he says. It’s hard to remember the last time plating has been so impressive, for starters.
Weida already knew Jason Spesak, an energetic chef with a fastidious attention to detail who’d also worked at the Trapp Door for a while. Greg Fiedler’s arrival was intriguing. “Greg’s my unicorn. He appeared out of nowhere and he can do anything I throw at him. When we were working 100-hour weeks in the beginning, he just kept going,” says Weida. Cindy Billera seconds that: “I’ve seen him jump behind the bar, I’ve seen him run next door to the Barn when they need someone on the line. There’s nothing he won’t do.” Fiedler’s spent time at Roar, Wegmans and Randall’s on the Orchard.
Weida has held executive chef positions at other restaurants, but he’s always stepped into an established machine. “This was a completely blank slate. Here, we had to create our own system, which was both amazing and terrifying,” he says. First, there are the logistical challenges to tackle: the Barn’s kitchen is small and all prep must take place in the House’s kitchen.
And imagine operating one restaurant that’s brand-spanking new, and then creating and testing dishes for a second, totally different restaurant, just paces from each other. The House’s menu went through tricky phases because its opening date was a bit of a moving target; it kept getting changed throughout the summer until the House opened in October. “I kept having to rewrite it,” says Weida.
Weida wasn’t making extra work for himself; this chef works closely with farmers. “I let the farmers dictate the menu, rather than the other way around. The menu is more than seasonal,” he says. Because of that, one can expect things to change slightly from month to month, but Weida foresees that a few dishes will remain somewhat intact because they’ve been early hits—with alterations based on, say, veggie availability. “I have to keep the potato gnocchi with bacon on there,” he says.
“People ask for that in IV bags,” says Peter Adams. “I’m not kidding.”
As you would expect, it’s a scratch kitchen. The only things outsourced are the bread (the stellar, in-demand Wayfare Baker) and the butter (cultured butter, Valley Milkhouse). The kitchen sources from the Mount Joy-based Breakaway Farms, known for its “beyond organic” approach, along with Wild Fox Farm, Primordia, Freebird, nearby Pheasant Hill Farm for veggies in season and its offshoot, Portch Tea, for its kombucha.
The menu is divided into “smalls” and “bigs,” a more flexible experience for the curious (or indecisive) eater. At the House, it’s tough to decide what to order. The lemon herb crab cakes are already a mainstay, but Weida loves the foie gras and says, “Our tuna tartare is really different.” The requisite cheese plate is there, called Fromage From Us, with cheeses from Valley Milkhouse. Another standout is the very quickly fried mushroom spring roll, with a saffron aioli and pea shoots. Finally, the House Pho, with pickled veggies and topped with rice noodles, audibly crackles and softens when the hot, rich broth is poured over it, tableside. Who knew your dinner could speak to you?
And these are just the items on the “smalls” side.
Onto the “bigs,” which are more entrée-sized. The bone-in pork chop with sage and whole grain mustard spaetzle, braised cabbage apple cider mustard cream, is simply Pennsylvania on a plate. Weida confesses to Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, his love for pigs and shares the old adage: “If you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much,” but admits that Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine is not easy to make elegant. Weida’s team has pulled it off, however. Other standouts include the shrimp with roasted garlic polenta, baby beets and a lemon emulsion.
The desserts are more than worth it. The ongoing selection, “Chocolate Textures,” periodically changes; it’s basically a way to keep a chocolate dessert on the menu but not have it be the same one, every day, all the time. Upon my visit, the “textures” in question were milk, mousse, cookie, crumble, fudge and ganache. But those are just words; only taste does the experience justice. The presentation is, of course, part of the fun. “It’s our interpretation how to plate it—your interpretation is how to eat it,” says Weida. “There is no wrong answer here,” says Fiedler.
It’s easy to see the House and Barn’s potential when talking with the staff. The chefs want to turn the House’s former root cellar into a space for dry aging. “We want Pete to build us a room,” says Weida. He means that literally. Peter Adams is handy, so much so that when Spesak first saw him walking around with his tool belt prior to opening, doing some work, he thought, “Who’s this guy? I love his work ethic.” He didn’t realize it was his new boss. Weida seconds that, relaying a story of how he told Adams one night about an outlet that needed to be updated in the kitchen. “I came in the next morning and the outlet was done before 10 a.m.,” he says. As with any new restaurant, it’s a bit of a work in progress, with the key word being work.
“I don’t necessarily see it getting any easier. If it gets easier then you’re doing something wrong,” says Weida.
1449 Chestnut St., Emmaus | 610.421.6666 | houseandbarn.net
Tues.–Thurs.: 4–9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat.: 4–11 p.m.; Weida says lunch will be added sometime in the spring.
A large gravel lot on site, with spray-painted lines. (“We had to do something about that parking lot,” says Billera.)
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What to Order
On the “smalls” menu: Potato gnocchi, lemon herb crab cakes, farmers’ salad (with local kombucha vinaigrette from Portch Tea), house pho. The shrimp and pork are a must. The cocktail situation is worth exploring—the Beet Old Fashioned is vibrant and turns heads “but you have to like beets,” says bar manager Melissa Roach. The Maple Manhattan comes
complete with a slice of bacon resting across the rim. Expect nearly 20 wines by the glass.
Every month there’s a specialty cocktail, and you can expect to see lots of local and regional spirits (Eight Oaks, Triple Sun, County Seat, Dad’s Hat) featured. Every Wednesday, the Tavern will feature a different flatbread, based on what’s available from local farms.
By Carrie Havranek | Photography by Alison Conklin