Summit Diner-Somerset PA

Summit Diner sign-Somerset PAHaving traveled all over the country, I can tell you from experience that the best place to find examples of true regional cuisine is in local diners. My first taste of Linguiça, country ham and grits all occurred in diners. Haute cuisine palaces give lip service to regional specialties, but usually they are introduced only as one ingredient in a chef’s “creation” or to provide “inspiration” for some fancy dish. True regional cuisine is found in the humble homes and diners of middle America and not in cities and fine dining restaurants.

One such regional specialty in Pennsylvania is scrapple. Born of the frugality of the Pennsylvania Dutch, scrapple is made by cooking down all of the “scraps” of pork after butchering and adding cornmeal (and often other starches) along with seasonings. The thickened mixture is poured into loaf pans, chilled ,and then sliced and fried. It is generally served with maple syrup or as a side dish for eggs, to be mixed with the yolks.

The Summit Diner, located in Somerset, is one of the few restaurants still serving scrapple. This classic stainless steel diner has been a fixture in Somerset for over 50 years and is still THE place for breakfast and, of course, scrapple. A recent renovation has transformed the diner’s original western décor with a harder edged black and stainless steel theme. Murals add the the ’50’s flavor of the diner and the servers even sport duds which echo the ’50’s theme. In the summer months the diner even hosts a monthly car cruise.

On my most recent visit I ordered the $4.99 breakfast special which included two eggs (over easy), home fries, sausage, and toast. I also ordered a side of scrapple and a tomato juice. The juice arrived almost immediately and was served in a Coca-Cola float glass that must have held nearly 12 ounces, and cost only $1.99. I could barely finish it. The rest of the meal came out soon after and I was not disappointed. The eggs were perfectly cooked and the home fries were made from fresh potatoes with the skin on. The potatoes were nicely crisped but could have been better seasoned. The sausage was especially good. The menu stated the sausage was freshly ground every morning and I have no reason to doubt them. The hand formed pattys were nicely browned and were a far cry from the frozen machine formed patties you find in most other restaurants. I was a bit disappointed in the scrapple but not overly so. The three slices were very thin and were just heated through with no crispness. The cook apparently doesn’t know to flour the slices before frying to achieve a nice crust on them. They should also cut the scrapple thicker. I would rather have two thicker slices as opposed to three thinner ones. Although the scrapple could have been better, for $2.69 I was happy with it. Whether you’re a fan of scrapple or not, the Summit Diner is a great place for breakfast.

Summit Diner on Urbanspoon

Wing Wars: Baileys Circle 219

Despite hearing numerous bad reports about Bailey’s Circle 219, I decided to check out their wing night, which had been advertised for Tuesdays. I arrived about 4:45 to find the restaurant closed. The only signs visible were a For Sale sign out front and the original Circle 219 sign was laying in the weeds behind the restaurant. They didn’t even have hours listed on the door, so naturally I assumed Bailey’s had gone out of business and I headed off to another bar. A short time later, I was driving by Bailey’s again and noticed a car in the lot and a lighted beer sign in the window, so I stopped. They were open, but barely, with only one other patron at the bar. The tap head in front of me had no handles on it and the bartender confirmed that they indeed had no draft beer. I opted for a Labatt Blue in a bottle and requested menu. The ratty single sheet of paper arrived and I was informed they were offering only a limited menu that evening and that although it was wing night, they had no wings. Since it appeared the highlight of my evening would be the rubber ducks in the vintage Crane urinal, I declined to order and simply left. As a rule, I rarely return to a restaurant after a bad experience, but in this case I had a feeling the trip may have been an anomaly. I arrived for the second attempt at about 6:30 PM the following Tuesday, and again there was only one other customer in the bar. This time the bartender was the owner, so I anticipated a better experience. There was still no draft beer, so once again I settled for a bottle of Labatt Blue. I also noticed they were once again using bagged ice, so we have a bar here with no draft beer and no ice machine. Instead of the pleasant smell of food cooking, I was assaulted by the overpowering scent of Lysol. The owner spent the entire time smoking cigarettes and talking to the lone customer in the bar, and having her back turned to me, never noticed when I drained my first beer.Baileys 219 sign I’m not a smoking Nazi, but it’s considered bad food handling practice for a server to smoke or eat while working. I requested a menu and once again received a single ratty computer generated sheet, although this time it was larger. The wings were available this time and I was informed that on wing nights there was no minimum order required. I wasn’t very hungry, so I ordered three Butter & Old Bay and three Sweet & Hot, passing on the included veggies. It turns out the owner was also the cook, so she disappeared into the kitchen to prepare the wings. I was thankful I had received another beer before she left so that I wasn’t sitting there with nothing while she was gone. The wings arrived in a reasonable amount of time and I started on the Old Bay first. The single section wings were badly overcooked and reeked of stale oil, but the seasoning was surprisingly good. Most of the dry rub wings I’ve had in other restaurants were nearly inedible due to an over abundance of seasoning, but these were properly seasoned. The Sweet & Hot sauce was even better, with a depth of flavor rare in wing sauces. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the ingredient which gave it the depth but it brought to mind Bourbon. I would love to eat this sauce on a properly cooked wing as it was easily one of the best I’ve eaten. This bar appears to be on its last legs, so I suggest calling ahead if you’re planning on visiting to make sure they’re still in business. However, you’ll have a better experience at just about any other bar in the area.

THE RATING

Cooking:The wings were over cooked and tasted of stale oil. 3

Varieties:14 varieties is above average and the 2 I ate were quite good. 7

Value:$.50 each with veggies and dressing is a decent price but not great, especially considering the quality of the wings. 5

Enjoyment:Lysol smell, no draft beer, sitcoms on TV and poorly cooked wings doesn’t make for a great evening. 3

OVERALL: 4.5

 

NOTE: Bailey’s Circle is now permanently closed for business.
Bailey's Circle on Urbanspoon

Wing Wars: Bull’s Tavern, Ligonier PA

One of the joys of bar hopping is discovering how some bars have developed a personality over time and others seem souless regardless of how long they have been in business. The most recent site of the Wing Wars was happily an example of the former.

Bull's Tavern, Ligonier PAThursday evening found me at Bull’s Tavern, located on the historic Lincoln Highway in Ligonier. Bull’s is a small bar, but they manage to pack a lot into the space, including a pool table, dart machine, a couple of other game machines and three flat screen TVs. I’d be willing to bet this tiny bar has more square inches of TV screen per customer in the area, making it a great place to watch sports. There clearly is not a bad seat in the house. In addition to the usual beer signs, the walls are covered with loads of photos and memorabilia giving the interior a clubby atmosphere with its own unique history. I even spied an old metal Kennywood sign, the likes of which I haven’t seen for a while. I took a seat at the bar and was immediately greeted by the bartender and the customers, making me feel almost like a regular. Nothing fancy on the beer front so I settled on a draft Yeungling served in a pint canning jar. I’m not a big fan of canning jars as beer glasses, however they fit in at Bull’s better than in upscale bars who try the same idea. A large white board announced the wing special so I didn’t request a menu. The bartender explained the wings were 35 cents each with a minimum order of ten but I could split the order to get two different sauces. He aptly described the five sauces available and I ordered five Buffalo and five Sweet and Hot. The wings arrived quickly and I started on the Buffalo first. They were perfectly cooked, being crisp on the outside and moist on the inside and the sauce was rich and buttery, as you would expect from a traditional Buffalo sauce recipe. There was no breaking of the sauce that I have found in some other bars. The Sweet and Hot were a bit more mild than I would prefer, but still had a good flavor and a nice balance of sweet to sour. I had declined the veggies and dressing and not having read a menu I’m not sure if they charge extra for them or if they were included. Overall, a very solid experience and I’d certainly go back again. Bull’s looks like a great place to catch a Steeler’s game.

THE RATING

Cooking: Crisp outside and moist inside. 8

Varieties: Only five choices, but the two I ate were great. 5

Value: $3.50 for ten cut wings is pretty good considering the quality. 6

Enjoyment:Authentic sports bar atmosphere with personable staff and customers. 8

OVERALL: 6.8

NOTE: Bull’s Tavern has closed.
Bull's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Wing Wars:Falls City Pub, Ohiopyle PA


Monday last found me in the Youghiogheny River town of Ohiopyle. Long known as a summer hotspot for outdoor sports including white water rafting, bicycling, and hiking, it had also been known as a desert for food and libations. Happily this situation changed in 2002 with the opening of Falls City Restaurant and Pub. Falls City signTucked behind Wilderness Voyageurs Outfitters Store on Garrett Street, Falls City is located in a building which could have been constructed as a commercial garage. It’s a bit cavernous and loud and is appointed in a style that could best be described as “Early River Rat”. Grabbing a seat at the bar, I noticed that premium and craft beers were well represented. I ordered the first ale I spied on the draft rail (the name of which escapes me) and it turned out to be a rather unremarkable brew. But even more disappointing was that it was served in a plastic cup. Glancing through the regular menu I found it more ambitious than I would have expected, but I was here for the wings and concentrated on that menu. It was a single sheet with 17 varieties listed, but with no descriptions. Luckily most were self explanatory and at least they went to the trouble to encase it in plastic. The wings were sold only by the dozen and no splitting of varieties was allowed. I followed the recommendation of the gregarious and efficient bartender and ordered the Hot BBQ Garlic. Just before the wings arrived my ale was drained and the bartender recommend a different one, stating it was great with wings. Wow! A bartender that can recommend beer with wings? lagunitas_logoThe brew turned out to be Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale from the Lagunitas Brewing Company, a double India Pale Ale and this time it was served in a glass. The ale had a huge citrusy nose with some under notes of pine and finished long and clean with only a touch of the bitterness that some IPA’s exhibit. The wings arrived and indeed the ale was a great match. They were single section wings but were large and meaty, leading me to believe they were not the frozen product many restaurants resort to. The cooking was pretty good, with the insides being juicy, but the skin could have been a bit crisper. Celery, carrots and dressing were included in the $5 price, but having the veggies on the bottom of a pile of hot wings is never a good idea. The BBQ sauce appeared to be a commercial product (a suspicion the cook confirmed), but was doctored enough not to be as cloying as most commercial sauces. Interior of Falls City PubThere was a nice balance of sweet to sour with enough smoke to give it a nice aroma. It lived up to the “hot” part of the description and was just right for me, but I suspect some might find it a bit too hot. Another IPA finished off the meal nicely by being a good palate cleanser. The bill arrived, but unfortunately it was not itemized so I can’t report on precise prices of the ales. They averaged out to about $4 which isn’t too bad for a premium craft beer. Overall it was an enjoyable excursion and seeing some of the other food that came out of the kitchen leads me to believe a more complete review is in order.

THE RATING
Cooking: Pretty well cooked but the skin should have been crisper. 7
Varieties: 17 varieties is above average but I always like seeing descriptions 6

Value: $5 per dozen for cut wings isn’t bad when it includes veggies and dressing, but can’t compete with other “wing nights” in the area 7

Enjoyment: Decent wings, friendly and knowledgeable service and fantastic beers makes for a nice evening. Lost points for the plastic cups though. 7
OVERALL: 6.8

Falls City Pub on Urbanspoon

Wing Wars:The Main Event Sports Bar-Donegal PA

Located a bit over 1 mile west of the Donegal exit of the turnpike, The Main Event Sports Bar resides in a building that for many years was The Ponderosa Bar. A complete renovation has cleaned up what was previously a dive, but did so in a manner that was totally nondescript and lacking in character. The décor turned out to foreshadow perfectly the evening.

Main Event Sports Bar signI started the Thursday Wing & Karaoke Night with a draft Newcastle Brown Ale at $4 which was even served in a Newcastle glass. Newcastle is a hugely successful brewer from England and their product is widely available. It’s an OK example of a brown ale but lacks the nuttiness in the nose and finish you’d expect from a brown ale. The menu listed 19 varieties of wings but with no descriptions. The minimum order is six and were priced at $.45 each for wing night down from the $3.75 per six regularly. Veggies and dressing is $.75 extra. I can’t explain why the wings are priced by the piece but that you are required to buy six. Why not just say they’re $2.70 for six? After being informed the wings were single section, I ordered six “Buffalo” and six “Sweet ‘n Sassy”. They arrived quickly, served in two separate baskets, along with a plate for the bones and wet wipes. I could tell right away they were likely IQF (individually quick frozen), an impression that was confirmed with the first bite. They were cooked OK for a frozen wing but lacked juiciness and were not very meaty. The “Sweet ‘n Sassy” sauce appeared to be simply Thai Chili Sauce straight from the bottle. If it wasn’t, I’d like to get the recipe from the cook as it’s a great knock off. Without menu descriptions I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was between the “Buffalo” sauce and the other “Hot” sauces on the menu. I suspect it was the addition of butter (or butter substitute), although I’ve always made all of my “Hot” sauces with butter. There was nothing wrong with either of the sauces I ate but like everything else I experienced they were just OK.

I get the feeling the management has lost their passion for the business and have simply given up. Surfing the internet, I noticed they used to have a website but no longer do. They had also previously used Twitter but haven’t for nearly two years. One thing they will learn the hard way is that if management isn’t excited about their own restaurant the public won’t be either.

THE RATING

Cooking: Cooked decently but IQF wings are never great. 5

Varieties: 19 varieties is above average but nothing exciting and there were no descriptions 6

Value: OK price at $2.70 per six but the wings need to be better to get a good value rating 5.5

Enjoyment: Everything was just OK. They should just rename it the OK Corral. 5.5

OVERALL: 5.5

Main Event Sports Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon