Pittsburgh's Best Resource for Food Adventures
Archive for May 2010
May 29 2010
It seems I have survived another winter (always the worst season for me) and so I spent this morning thinking about what got me through those bleak and snowy Pittsburgh days. One of the highlights was a late autumn trip to the Omni Bedford Springs Resort in (duh) Bedford, PA. Hesitant to like the place due to my longstanding phobia of big, old hotels . . . maybe I’m permanently scarred from watching movies like The Shining . . I was not an easy “sell.”
But the resort was really idyllic . . . not over the top and ostentatious, but decorated in a casually elegant and comfortable manner with obvious regard to the history of the hotel. There were games, chess sets, lots of old photos from the resort’s early days; bowls of cookies for nibbling and carafes of hot apple cider for sipping. Like the baby bear in the Three Little Bears children’s story, this place felt just right. Besides getting an A for Upscale Coziness, the resort also had foodie activities that deserved an A, too. I pre-registered for two cooking events – one mid-afternoon mini class and a longer Chef’s Table dinner. The mini-class introduced me to Chef Konrad Meier’s generous spirit. The class was loaded with cooking tips, jokes, and lots of really great food. Then just a few hours later it was time to eat again. The evening Chef’s Table, recommended by a friend, was a 3 plus hour adventure of cooking, entertainment, great food and lots of wine.
My husband and I, along with two friends, ended the meal with a s’more-making escapade at the outdoor fire pit. Although I hear this resort is just dandy during any season, it was the perfect way to prepare for my winter hibernation.
May 23 2010
Yes, it’s true. Unlike the rest of my immediate family, I skipped lots of classes in college. My most vivid memory of this unimpressive habit was when, instead of going to my biochemistry lab (a super yawn,) I would sneak across the street to the Creamery and eat ice cream instead. As you might imagine, this didn’t help my biochem grade or my ability to squeeze into already too tight jeans. But if you’ve ever had ice cream from the Berkey Creamery on the Penn State Main Campus, then you can understand why I did what I did. Looking back, do I regret my ice cream instead of biochem choice? Not at all. No way.
Although the Creamery has moved into a new spiffy building since my days at PSU, the ice cream is just as good. I stopped during a recent visit through the State College area and, much to my delight, lots of the flavors were the same as 30 plus (yikes!!) years ago.
Flavors like Peachy Paterno, WPSU Coffee Break, Lion Tracks and Mint Nittany incorporate Penn State memories into the name of the ice cream, but my favorites have always been two old faithfuls, Bittersweet Mint and Coconut Chip.
Besides serving generous cones, those accomodating folks in Happy Valley will pack half gallons of their frozen confections in dry ice to take home. Yahoo! A bit pricey, but oh, so worth it. The Creamery also sells top notch cheese, cream cheese, milk and other dairy products made by the Food Science Department.
My advice: plan a trip to the Central Pennsylvania Festival for the Arts in mid-July and stop at the Berkey Creamery before you leave for the drive home. Have a cone there and take a few half-gallons home with you. No class skipping involved!
May 13 2010
Not sure what it is about Penn State fans, but they are a loyal bunch. I should know, I’m one of them. Even when we visit the ol’ Blue and White, I think most tend to hang out on or around campus. . . .the Creamery, the Rathskellar, Hi-Way Pizza. But there are some really great places just a few miles away from Happy Valley and Tait Farm is one of them. This spring at the Farm to Table conference here in the ‘Burgh, I tasted some super delicious Apricot Butter from the Tait Farm booth. So good. When I looked at the jar, I noticed the farm was really close to PSU, in Centre Hall (not the dorm complex, but the town.) I knew I had to find a way to get there really soon. So last week, on a very unconventional route back from Philly, I stopped at Tait Farm Foods right there on Rt 322 before my obligatory walk through the Penn State Campus. I sure wasn’t disappointed.
Right when I stepped inside, a delivery of a freshly picked batch of asparagus arrived, then, still dewy spring greens were delivered followed by bags of spicy stir fry greens. Yahoo. You see, my day is made by fresh produce, cheese,etc. A new diamond necklace? A day at a spa? Who cares? Not me.
The log cabin market is filled with jams, spreads, dressings .. . all made at the farm. They carry lots of other locally made products as well as bread from Gemelli Bakery in downtown State College.
And the plants! The healthiest, most beautiful things I’ve seen in a while. I have the brownest thumb on the planet, but the herbs were so pretty that I ended up with a flat of them in my trunk for the drive home. So if you’re going to visit your kids at Penn State or will be driving up for the Arts Festival in July, it’s only a few minutes outside of town and definitely worth the detour.
May 11 2010
This post is not meant to be an ad for the Pennylvania Tourism Office, but it kinda sounds like one. I just have to share the information because it’s good stuff. And I’m excited about my latest online adventure.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to be a guest blogger on thesavvygrouse.com, which is the blogsite of various Pennsylvanians who have something to say about where to go and what to do in this great state of ours. Go there to read my first post for them and check out the other bloggers, too. I learn something everytime I visit the site. Then, if you’re on Facebook, sign up to be a fan of VisitPA.com to get even more good daily tips about all that’s going on around us.
And, this is my last Pennsylvania plug I promise, but I completely love the state tourism folks’ publication, Pennsylvania Pursuits. I loved it even before the PA Tourism folks asked me to guest blog for them. I promise. I usually pick up the latest edition at rest stops on the Turnpike, but you can also get a subscription at www.visitPA.com. It’s really good reading, with lots of great photos and lists of upcoming events.
Pennsylvania is a big state with lots to see. Let’s get going!!
May 8 2010
When I was a kid, we spent one week each summer at the Jersey shore. On the drive home, about ten minutes outside of Philly, colorful billboards for Zinn’s Diner would start to appear along the Turnpike. The signs were of Amos, a giant fiberglass statue that resided at this Pennsylvania Dutch eatery. I really wanted to see Amos even though I didn’t give a hoot about shoo fly pie. Every year, I pleaded with my father to stop, but he would never cave in to my wishes. (FYI – Zinn’s is now called Park Place Diner and good ol’ Amos now resides at Hershey Farm near Strasburg.)
Lots of people have memories of a place that seemed magical and exciting from highway billboards. . . especially from the cramped and boring backseat. A place where parents didn’t want to go. For my husband, it was Monkey Jungle in Miami, for younger daughter, it was (still is) Gravity Hill near Bedford. How about the barn seen from the Turnpike near Breezewood that advertises World of Pigeons? Is any parent just itching to visit that ?
So now I’m a big girl and if I want to stop somewhere, doggone it, I’m stopping. This is how I found Dietrich’s Meats & Country Store. The signs on Rt 78 between Allentown and Harrisburg led me to Krumsville (love that name, Krumsville ) where I found a treasure trove of old fashioned goodies.
Homemade sausage, smoked meats, scrapple, fresh baked pies, canned and pickled foods. Squab, guinea hens, pheasants. Hard to find items such as a smoked pig’s head. Yes, smoked pig’s head.
And there are samples galore. Small, family run stores like this are few and far between. It’s the real deal and I love it.
While looping around the store, with an ear to ear smile (not an exaggeration), I spied a cookbook about authentic PA Dutch cooking. The woman at the checkout said the book was a good one and mentioned that many of the meat photos in the book were from Dietrich’s. Pretty cool. Even cooler than that was that when I got home, I realized that owner and butcher Verna Dietrich was the lady I spoke with at the cash register and there she is, standing next to two giant smoked pigs, in the book.
I can’t wait to find an excuse to drive out to that part of the state again. Next time, I’m getting Verna’s autograph near her photo in my cookbook.
May 4 2010
Last September, I was literally out standing in a field. The field was Tim Stark’s pasture at Eckerton Hill Farm, near Kutztown. I was there for the Pennsylvania stop of the Outstanding in the Field tour. Jim Denevan’s company roams the country in a 57 year old bus and stages farm dinners out in fields, at vineyards or in all sort of other interesting outdoor places. The bus is coming to Stark’s farm again this September and since it’s usually a sell-out, now is the time to sign up.
Tim, farmer and author, is the king of the heirloom tomato. His book, Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer ( Broadway Books, 2008), is a must -read for anyone who loves farms and farm markets or who has a secret dream of ditching the rat race for something more rewarding. If you’ve ever been to the Union Square Greenmarket in New York, you’ve probably seen Tim selling his PA produce. He’s there a few days each week.
The wine was locally made and most of the food came from within a few miles of the long white clothed outdoor dinner table. Sheep yogurt and grilled lamb, Stark’s bounty of tomatoes, onions , fingerling potatoes and herbs and a grand finale that included local, juicy peaches and homemade whipped cream melted in our mouths. The food was fantastic and the conversation was even better . . . even though we were pretty much all strangers just a few hours before.
Not every chef wants to take on this challenge since the bulk of the cooking is done over an open fire near the dining area. In 2009, the chef was Dave Pasternack fom Esca in NYC. This September, Lee Chizmar, executive chef of Bolete in Bethlehem PA, will test his skills in this outdoor setting.
The website lists all the stops on this year’s tour. Just don’t wait too long to sign up. . they sell out fast. This year, I’m thinking it could be the Delaware or Virginia stop for me.
Then I can say I once again have been out standing in a field.
May 2 2010
I’ve been driving past La Casa Narcisi Winery on Route 910 in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania for literally 15 years, sometimes twice a day back when my girls needed a ride to their gymnastics practices. Back and forth. Back and forth. I’d glance out the car window and say to myself ”Hey, look at that” every time the winery added something new to their complex. A pavilion. A fountain. A concert area. But I never stopped. Yesterday, many moons after the mom-shuttle to gymnastics ended, I finally took time to check it out. Along with the winery, there’s now a restaurant that serves both lunch and dinner. And guess what? This place is good! Besides a large outdoor eating and entertainment area, the indoor tasting room leads upstairs to a cozy restaurant.
The menu had lots of enticing choices – pizza, flatbreads, pasta, sandwiches. But I order grilled salmon salads everywhere I go, and I wasn’t let down by my choice. Besides a generous piece of salmon, some thin spears of grilled asparagus, cubes of feta and tiny tomatoes were included, all served with a thick tomato balsamic vinaigrette. Yum. On to dessert. So many restaurants use pre-made or frozen cakes and pastries because it saves time and money. Personally, they’re just not worth the calorie splurge. But the Narcisi folks make their desserts in house. My tiramisu was creamy and coffee-scented, just the way I like it.
Since the whole shebang started with a winery, I thought I should have a glass. I’m as far from a wine conneissuer as one can get, but for me, their Deer Creek red was the perfect easy drinking mid-day vino. And, even better, it’s the only Casa Narcisi wine that’s made totally from grapes grown on site. Can’t get more local than that! (Over thirty different varieties of wine are bottled right next door.)
Next time, I’m dragging the better half here with me on a weekend when they have outdoor entertainment. We can sit outside, eating, drinking and reminiscing about all the driving back and forth we did when our kids were little. What a great way to spend a summer night!
A food adventure might be sleuthing out the juiciest June strawberries at a farm market, learning about gone but not forgotten area food treasures, working with a chef during a hands on cooking class or touring Pennsylvania’s artisan cheesemaker’s farms (and meeting a few cows along the way) . . or any of a zillion other fun ways to explore foodie things within a day's drive of Pittsburgh.