I love the Laurel Highlands, Part 2.

Last Friday, I had the honor of being chaffeured around Fayette County by Donna Holdorf, the executive director of the National Road Heritage Corridor, headquartered in Uniontown.  The National Road runs for ninety miles in Southwestern PA and it is lined with treasures – museums, restaurants, markets, wineries, outdoor adventures – and everything in-between.

Look at this view!

We started by taking in the truly breathtaking  view at The Summit Inn.  I’ve driven past this resort for something like 50 years ( obviously someone else was doing the driving way back then) but never stopped to check it out.  I was speechless.  Hard to believe, I know.

Grapevines at Christian Klay Winery

Next stop?  Christian Klay Winery in Farmington right there on the National Road.   After a tour of the property with owner Sharon Klay, we sipped and chatted about her wine, and being no grape expert, I learned a lot.  Sharon is a talented artist and her creativity is evident in her wines and in the ambiance at her vineyard.  Running late, we skipped Washington Tavern at Fort Necessity (but you can bet your booties I’m going back) and made our way to Caleigh’s, a restaurant   off the main street in Uniontown. Donna and I shared a fantastic pork belly appetizer, a cup of crab and corn bisque (made with the first of the local corn) and some sort of amazing cheesecake for dessert, possibly cappucino flavored (?). I was so delirious from all the yummy food, that I can’t remember the flavor. I had their Novara Insalata in between the pork belly and the dessert, just to toss in some veggies.   I would definitely make the trip from Pittsburgh for a meal at Caleigh’s.  Chef Joe Carei’s talented and care is evident.

Whatever the flavor, it was superb.

The trip continued with a few stops in Uniontown, Brownsville and then on to Scenery Hill, where we met Alisa Fava-Fasnacht at Bank 40 Mercantile. Alisa and her husband own Emerald Valley Artisans and they recently opened an old bank (very cool inside)  to sell their cheese and other local products.  A short tour of historic The Century Inn and other cute shops on the main drag and it was getting late and time to get back to home base in Uniontown.  I’m planning a tour or two this fall to the regions around the National Road.  Keep an eye on the Tours link for more details.  They’re going to be great.

The Laurel Highlands in April

Yes, it is April. But it’s April in southwestern Pennsylvania, so one can expect any type of weather. And yesterday, on the Laurel Highlands tour, we had about everything Mother Nature can dish out . . . snow, sleet, rain and sun. . . and we still had a great time.

Okay, so it didn't look like this outside yesterday. But it was snowing when we got on our way.

Deb and I carefully select our stops because we love what each location is doing with regards to food.  These are all hardworking food artisans or business owners who have a true passion for what they do.  We are always excited to have our groups get to know these wonderful folks out in the backroads of Western PA.  We try to mix it up . . some shopping, a little history, maybe a cooking demo, a tour of a kitchen. . so that there is something for everyone.

Our buddy, Jim Koontz, at The Compass Inn Museum

Chef Mark Henry from Treetops restaurant.

We also hand select the samples we give out, whether on the bus or in the goody bags.  We never pass out anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves. We also always like and respect the artisans who have crafted the foods that we sample. It’s a very important part of my company’s mission.   Companies such as Wild Purveyors, Millers Mustard, LaDorita Dulce de Leche and One Tuff Cookie and others provide our region with top notch foods. They are wonderful additions to the tours.

We can't forget Anna Jo Noviello, owner of Aunt Anna's Biscotti (photo courtesy of Aunt Anna's Biscotti)

The stops on our tours are amazing, but the guests on the tours are just as fantastic.  It is truly our pleasure to spend a day with them.  The tour is more like a day out with friends rather than a “canned”  guided tour. It’s relaxed and informal.  And we want everyone to have a good time.

Mouth-watering Desserts at Treetops in Acme

The current set of tours begin and end at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville.  Karen Novak does a spectucular job of getting us some caffeine and a few treats in our bellies before we get on our way for a day of nibbling and dining. The day after each tour, I am always grateful for the wonderful people at our stops and our on tour bus.  Thanks to all of you for making this so much fun for us!!

Spring Culinary Tours from the Pittsburgh Area

A quick word about the spring 2011 tours.  After many requests for a Saturday tour, we’re venturing out to the Laurel Highlands  on Saturday, April 2.  If you went on this fun tour last fall, our newest version is similar, with a few little tweaks from last time. A new shop or two and a mini-factory tour.  But just like last October, we  meet some fantastic food purveyors and chefs and eat a lot of wonderful local foods. A delicious specially prepared lunch and award winning dessert are included, too.   And a local wine sampling!!

The Bedford tour on April 28 also has a few twists from the route we took last fall.  I know you’ll love the changes.  We sure do.  If you’ve been meaning to drive out to Bedford but never get there, let us do the driving for our culinary tour to historic Bedford.  Breathe in the fresh mountain air while we eat and drink our way through the town.  Good stuff.

Our new tour, the one with an Italian focus, is turning out  to be magnifico.  It covers many traditional Italian food specialties such as pasta, biscotti and cannoli along with some contemporary Italian cuisine. We’ll be meeting many personalities in the Italian world of Greensburg and surrounding areas, too. This tour is running twice. Once on Thursday, April 14 and then again on Thursday, May 12.

A few spots remain on most tours, and people come and go off the list  due to other commitments that arise, so if you are interested, please contact me at mary@theforkandtheroad.com or 412.576.1755.

All tours leave from McGinnis Sisters Special Food Store in Monroeville around 9 AM and return at about 5 PM.  The cost is $125, which includes transportation, all samples, meals, wine tastings and admission fees ( when applicable.)


Spring Culinary Tours

I’ve been super busy researching all of the fantastic stops for the Spring 2011 tours.  The Fork and The Road did a culinary tour to Bedford and to parts of the Laurel Highlands last fall, and both were terrific, but there’s always room  for a little tweak here and there.  The number of high quality artisanal foods in these areas just keep increasing and it’s so hard to decide where the tour bus should go.  So hard and so fun!

New this season is the Italian themed tour.  Of course, lots of testing of all of the stops and products is in order, so as soon as there is a day without ice and snow, I head out on Route 30 to investigate all things food. I’m not giving away any big tour secrets, but I can say I’ve been sampling dark chocolate truffles, freshly made cheese,  delicious pasta, crunchy biscotti and a variety of pasta sauces. Oh, and a little vino always enters the picture, too.  The Italian tour is a mix of “old school” and “cutting edge” cuisine. Good stuff.   We’ve already had quite a  response to this tour, so we’re doing two of them instead of just one.

The small tour size (18 people max.) allows us to have a more personal experience at out stops . . talking with the chefs, store owners or vintners.  So don’t delay in signing up.  A few tours are close to capacity.  For more info, click on the Tours tab above.  For even more info or to register, email me at mary@theforkandtheroad.com or call 412.576.1755.  Hope to see you on the bus!!

The Birthplace of Henry Clay Frick

Memories of the Heirloom Tomato Festival

Last summer, I drove on down to the Heirloom Tomato Festival at the West Overton Village in Scottdale.(Scottdale is a few miles from Mt Pleasant.)  It’s here, in rural Pennsylvania, that  industrialist Henry Clay Frick was born.  If you’ve toured Frick’s  regal Clayton in the Regent Square neighborhood of Pittsburgh, then you  need to go back to the beginning at the West Overton Village.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until Spring, because the museum is closed for the season. Sorry about that.  But if you find yourself in the Scottdale area in the next month or so, all is not lost.(It’s not far from Sand Hill Berry Farm and  a nice little day trip from the Burgh.)   Scottdale is an old  town filled with beautiful architecture. They have  a great little architectural guide that’s available at most stores in town. And right on the main street of Scottdale  is Miss Martha’s Tea Room.

On a ice-cold, flurry filled afternoon, I opened to the door to a warm and bustling restaurant, filled with guests and decorated with carefully chosen antiques and florals, many of which were for sale.  And Miss Martha sure has good taste in the chandeliers.  I fell in love with the two that were shaped like giant acorns. Too bad they weren’t for sale.


The menu had High Tea as an option, but since two guests were required for that, I went for a grilled portabello panini instead.  My sandwich was toasty and filled with lots of  red peppers, mushrooms and spinach.  I sipped an apricot tea and  tried a slice of chocolate mousse pie (all desserts made in house) before I got on my way.  I’m going to round up some girlfriends and take a drive out again soon for their High Tea. I love that Henry Clay Frick was born just down the road, in the springhouse of a humble farm.

On The Road Again

It was a  sunny January day in Pittsburgh, and since the holidays were over, it was time to get back out and explore!  I knew that lots of stops on my list would be  closed due to the long holiday weekend  (and because this was Sunday,)  but I just couldn’t stay in the house one more day. No way.  I get stir crazy after a few weeks without a road trip, so today it was off to the south towards Uniontown and Route 40.  I’ve been itching to check out the shops at Scenery Hill for a while. So, they look super cute from the outside, but each and every one was closed. Phooey.  I drove on towards the next “want to see” on my list, the Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill.  I bought a bottle of their Spiced Apple wine after tasting it (served warm with a cinnamon stick) at Sarnelli’s Wine Cellar in Jones Mill. Yippee, Christian Klay was open . . . both the barn shop and the store further down the road on Rt 40 in Farmington going towards the Nemacolin Resort.  The shop at the barn  is charming and cozy, with little twinkly lights and a woodsy atmosphere and  a stunning view of the  vineyards.

Remnants of snow in the vineyard

In addition to their wine, the shop carries local cheese and maple syrup as well as nice wine-y gifts.  At Christian Klay, they have lots of special events such as Wine & Chocolate, Wine & Soup, Mystery Nights, BBQ Picnics. . .their 2011 calendar of events lists something just about every week.  Pretty cool. I wasn’t in the mood for a wine tasting, although they certainly have a large selection.   I did purchase a few for a later time – the sparkling Summit Mist and  the Raspberry Frost.  If I can’t have local berries all year round, I might as well taste them in local wine!

On my way out, I spied this artsy decoration   made from empty wine bottles.  Love it!  Happy 2011!!

Yes, I am blogging about the Laurel Highlands . . . again.

But I can’t help it.  I can’t imagine another place with so many good foodie finds in such a small area. And so many nice people.  Today I’m thinking of Heather and Bob Kuban, who own Currant Thymes in Ligonier (136 E. Main Street, 724.238.2930) and Kandi Newell and her husband Dave,  who run Old Linn Run Coffee Roastery,  in Rector, Pennsylvania.  Not only did these folks generously give samples out to the ladies on my culinary tour, but they sell some of my favorite treats to purchase for myself and for gifts.

Good eatin' at Currant Thymes

One of my rules of stops on the tours is that the owners have to be kind and the products/services have to be the best.  Heather sells some of the finest maple syrup on the planet, tapped in Rockwood on the Paul Bunyan Maple Syrup Camp.   Their Maple Cream is smooth and sweet, heaven on a spoon, or on pancakes, waffles or toast, too.  Heather also carries a line of towels from a company called Mu Kitchen.(The Mu is missing an umlaut – two dots – over the u, but I couldn’t find it on the WordPress symbol tab.) They’re colorful and stylish, and I especially love the ones with the built in scrubbers. Heather samples a  warm spicy chocolate dessert soup, a broccoli cheese soup and a rich puff pastry hors’ deuvre filled with brie and Meyer lemon preservs. Oh my! And then there was Kandi.  Working hard to promote her small batch coffee roasting business, she cheerfully  explained all about their beans and the roasting process. And the subsequent brewed coffee was (is) the best. Full flavored with some zip, the Bobolink Farms Brazilian is my favorite.

My tour was called Hidden Culinary Treasures in the Laurel Highlands, but I would love it if everyone knew about these folks.  They wouldn’t be so hidden, but they’ll always be treasures to me.

Heather from Currant Thymes

Kandi from Old Linn Run Coffee Roastery

Gobs in the Mountains

I'm too embarrassed to show a photo of the giant gob that I ate, so here is a photo of the beautiful scenery on the way to The Country Pie Shoppe from Ligonier

Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved gobs. You might call them whoopie pies, but they’re the same thing. A giant soft cookie sandwich filled with soft, sweet, whipped filling. They were special occasion cookies in my house and were always part of the cookie tray at Christmas. They still are something I look forward to every December.  My favorite kind of gob is made from a chocolate cake-like batter with a creamy filling made from . . sorry, all of my dietitian co-workers out there  . . .  Crisco . .  . and some sugar, vanilla and canned evaporated milk.  Sometimes I will buy a gob and then be so disappointed by the filling. I don’t care for the ones made with confectioner’s sugar. For me, the texture is chalky and the taste is too sweet. I also prefer the plain chocolate ones with vanilla filling. I’ve tried pumpkin, mint-chocolate, peanut butter, banana and vanilla, but nothing hits the spot for me like plain chocolate.

So imagine my excitement yesterday when, on a drive through the Laurel Highlands, we stopped at The Country Pie Shoppe in Donegal.  I was really hot and thirsty and need some water. (Why I decided to wear a long sleeve black dress on a ninety degree day, who knows?) But once within the shop, I immediately spied the giant gobs and had to have one.  I asked the nice woman in the bakery about the filling, not wanting to waste my time on the confectioner’s sugar filling of a gob, but she was new to the shop(pe) and wasn’t  sure about the ingredients. I gave it a shot . . .and yahoo. . . . the filling was fluffy and creamy and wonderful. So when you are on the PA Turnpike near the Donegal exit or if you are spending the weekend at Seven Springs or Hidden Valley, turn into the Pie Shoppe and get yourself a giant gob. It’s surely enough calories for an entire day, but it will be a good day for sure.

Sign up now for the fall tours!

Mix this kind of scenery with amazing food . . . and you've got The Fork and The Road Culinary Tours!

This fall, we are able to take larger groups on our culinary tours. It is going to be so much fun.  The tours are still small – maximum number of 18 people – and we are travelling in style in a luxury mini-coach. It really is comfy and nice, with big windows for watching the autumn leaves go by.

Our three day-long Autumn 2010 tours start and end at McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores in Monroeville.  The October 21st tour focuses on the hidden foodie secrets of the Laurel Highlands.  Our October 26th  tour takes us to historic Bedford, Pennsylvania, which also has its share of hidden culinary gems.  The third tour, on November 12th, keeps us closer to Pittsburgh in the Gateway to the Laurel Highlands –  Greensburg, Latrobe and some  little towns in between.  Who knew there were so many great food experiences right in our eastern backyard?

Each tour includes round trip luxury transportation, tons of samples, a meal or two (depending on the tour), cooking demonstrations, some history of the area, and a few surprises. All meals, samples, and other fees such as museums are included in the cost.  A great time is guaranteed.

Don’t think we’ve forgotten about areas North, South and West of Pittsburgh, but you’ll have to wait for Spring for those tours.  We’ll keep you posted about the dates as soon as everything is lined up.

For additional information, click on the Tours tab.