Revival of Brunch at the Kitchen on Main

There was a time when the term brunch had a completely different meaning than it does today. If you go to a restaurant advertising brunch now, what you expect is a pig-out buffet which just happens to have a few pedestrian breakfast items offered in addition to the standard offerings. Previously brunch consisted of an á la carte selection of elegant egg dishes typified by the classic Eggs Benedict, and accompanied by libations such as Bloody Marys and Mimosas. This traditional version of brunch is getting harder to find, but a new restaurant in Ligonier has stepped up to fill the void. Kitchen on Main is savvy enough to use the term breakfast as opposed to brunch, eliminating the endless questions from confused patrons such as;”Where’s the buffet?” In addition to breakfast, Kitchen on Main also serves lunch, but it’s the egg dishes that makes the trip to Ligonier worthwhile. The restaurant has an open kitchen design, so I selected a seat at the counter where I could check out the action. Like their sister restaurant Out of the Fire Cafe, Kitchen on Main is a BYOB establishment.Bloody Marys at Kitchen on Main BYOB at Kitchen on Main means Build Your Own Bloody ($4), as they offer tomato juice and the ingredients to make your own Bloody Mary, or in my case a Ruddy Mary (made with Boodles Gin). The menu and Bloody Mary “fixin’s” were swiftly delivered by a friendly server and I immediately decided on the traditional Eggs Benedict ($10) from the four Benedicts offered. In addition, the menu lists several omelets, egg tacos ($11) and a smoked salmon hash ($11), which is made from the salmon smoked at Out of the Fire Cafe. The diner can also order standard breakfast items such as eggs, waffles and pancakes along with a few items for kids age 10 and under. My Eggs Benedict arrived in a flash due to the old restaurant trick of pre-poaching the eggs and then re-heating them to order. This process may sound strange to the home cook, but it is really the best method for volume cooking poached eggs. The supremely fresh eggs were perfectly poached and sat atop what was billed as country ham, but sadly was not. This is the second restaurant I’ve eaten in this month that appears to be unaware that country ham refers to a specific type of ham which is cured and has a distinctive taste. I was a bit disappointed, but the ham served was quite good and in no way detracted from the dish. The English muffin, which the eggs and ham were perched on, was clearly fresh-baked and instead of the usual toasting, it was browned on a griddle, giving a nice buttery crust. The Hollandaise sauce was nearly perfect, needing only a bit more lemon juice to make it so. The consistency of the sauce was perfect and it exhibited no signs of breaking. The Benedict was accompanied by “homefries”, a moniker which seems inadequate to describe what was served. These “homefries” were perfect, tiny rounds of fingerling potatoes fried with fresh sweet red peppers and onions, and were easily the best potatoes I’ve eaten for breakfast in this area. I think a different name should appear on the menu so the diner doesn’t assume they are getting what other restaurants call “homefries”. I finished my meal and was sorely tempted by the freshly baked Pecan Sticky Buns ($4 for 6) which had been staring at me all morning, but I didn’t think they would go well with the horseradish laden Ruddy Mary I was still working on. A few reviewers have suggested Kitchen on Main is over priced, but to make that statement a diner would have to be totally unaware of what they were eating. This was easily the best breakfast (or brunch) I’ve eaten in years and the 20 mile drive to Ligonier will pose no barrier to many return trips.
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Darlington Inn-Like the Loss of a Lover

When a restaurant experience goes bad a wide range of emotions can ensue. In my case it is generally anger or in some cases simply resignation. Rarely though have I felt the sense of sadness or loss as I did last night at the Darlington Inn in Ligonier. It was almost painful, akin to the loss of a lover. The Darlington Inn is one of those restaurants that has the reputation of being obscure and special. It is owned by a Hungarian expatriate who serves the food of her native Hungary and nearby Transylvania, cuisine rarely seen in a restaurant setting in this day and age. The restaurant is in a quirky, Italian villa like building on a quiet road behind Idlewild Park. It’s not easy to find, but at least the online map services were accurate in their directions. I entered the restaurant and took a seat at the bar between a large television playing “soft rock” and two rolls of toilet paper sitting on the bar. The toilet paper was bad enough, but George Michael and Wham! Is not my idea of “setting the mood” for a dining experience. It appeared there was no bartender on duty and the two servers (who were also manning the bar ) were running around in a frenzy, leading to a 15 minute wait before I was even recognized. When I say it “appeared” there was no bartender on duty I meant there was no one stationed there. There was one bozo in shorts and tee-shirt who several times went behind the bar and got drinks for himself or other patrons, but since he spent all of his time schmoozing I couldn’t tell if he was an employee or not. The Darlington serves a buffet on Saturday nights, so when I finally received service I went with that option in order to sample several of the dishes which also appeared on the regular menu. The chafing dishes at the buffet were nearly empty, but for the most part the food looked good and I managed to scrounge enough to fill a plate. When I say “for the most part”, there were a few exceptions. The salad was nothing but browned iceberg lettuce with one unlabeled squeeze bottle of what I assumed to be dressing beside it. In addition, the vegetables were clearly a frozen commercial “blend”, a shortcut that surprised me given the “home made” character of the rest of the meal. I returned to my seat to find the server had never brought me any silverware, so I waited another 5 minutes or so until I managed to flag her down to rectify that issue. As I had passed on the brown iceberg, I started my meal with a beet-sauerkraut salad. This version appeared to have been prepared with shredded beets, although I’m not sure as it was a bit dark in my corner of the bar. Regardless, it was quite good although it would have been more refreshing if served a bit colder. I next sampled a roast pork loin with sauerkraut. Personally, I wouldn’t have used a loin for this dish as it’s too lean, but the chef timed this roast perfectly which avoided the dryness a loin usually exhibits. Töltött Káposzta, or stuffed cabbage in sauerkraut, was next and it was also well prepared. My only complaint with the three dish I had tried so far was that I felt the kraut could have been a bit sharper, a result I suppose of not using a fresh product. The Hungarian Beef stew I sampled next had that great flavor of a good paprika, but like the pork, the cut of beef used was not the best choice. It was much too lean and as a result, the beef was dry. Csirke Paprikás, or Chicken Paprikas, was the only dish I was disappointed in. Although the sauce was flavorful, the chicken was improperly browned, leading to a flabby, undercooked skin. The side dishes for these entrees were mashed potatoes and spätzle, both of which were excellent. The potatoes were clearly made from scratch and were flavorful and of the proper consistency (i.e. Not over whipped). I’m not certain the Hungarians use the term spätzle as do the Swabians, but these little dumplings were prepared and cooked to perfection. This was an absolutely great meal, especially considering the price of $12.95, but it was completely ruined by the incompetence of the front of the house management. Darlington Inn, Ligonier PAThe sadness I referred to comes from this contradiction. To have the hard work of a talented chef go to waste is truly sad. It’s a lot like being in love with a woman you simply cannot get along with. At some point you simply have to walk away, which is exactly what I’ve done with this restaurant, leaving the two rolls of toilet paper still sitting on the bar.
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Nguyen Seafood & Steakhouse-Uniontown PA

Or, How to Spot a Mediocre Sushi Restaurant

The recent heat wave has driven me to spend even more time in air-conditioned bars and restaurants (mostly bars) and to consume lighter and cooler food. This craving for “cool and fresh” brought to mind sushi and led me, on a sweltering afternoon, to Nguyen Seafood and Steakhouse in Uniontown. Nguyen (pronounced “win”) is located in a small, bland strip mall on Pittsburgh Street and is marked by a modest, unimposing sign. Nguyen Seafood & Steakhouse-Uniontown PAThe modest exterior should not be taken as a predictor of the interior, as inside you will find an immaculate and sophisticated décor. The name Nguyen is Vietnamese which should raise a red flag. Rule #1: Eat sushi in a Japanese restaurant, not some other nationality. The tiny (5 seat) sushi bar is located immediately inside the entrance of the restaurant, which raised another red flag. Rule #2: A sushi bar should have a serene, relaxing atmosphere. Although it was the middle of the afternoon, even the limited traffic in and out of the front door was distracting. I can only imagine how it would be on a busy night or perhaps a January evening when the wind is gusting. I took a seat at the bar and was informed the restaurant was BYOB, so I went back to the car where I just happened to have a six of Labatt Blue chilling on ice. I would have preferred a Sapporo, but any beer with a clean finish is my preferred choice to drink with sushi. A perusal of the sushi display case raised more red flags. Rule #3: Seafood displayed in the sushi cooler should be look appealing and fresh. In this case, some of the fish were lacking the gloss of super fresh fish and the asparagus spears were either badly cooked or had sat too long as they were not bright green and were wrinkled. In addition, although I’m resigned to the fact that most restaurants now use surimi (fake crab) for Kani (crab), why do they have to advertise the fact by displaying it? The disposable pens on the counter were another bad sign. Rule #4: Good sushi bars do NOT have you place your order on a slip of paper. A good sushi experience is about building a relationship with your Itamae (Chef), and together you manage the ebb and flow of the meal. By being forced to order the entire meal at once, and doing it through a waitress instead of the Itamae, completely removes a major element of the sushi meal. In addition, having all of the sushi on the plate at once means that by the time you get to the final pieces on your plate they will likely no longer be at the proper temperature. A scan of the order sheet raised even more red flags. Rule #5: A good sushi restaurant doesn’t offer more cooked items or non-traditional items (Volcano Rolls, California Rolls, etc.) than they do raw. This restaurant offered 11 raw items if you count the Ikura (salmon roe) and Masago (flying fish roe). Compare this to a whopping 32 non-traditional items and you’ll get a sense of the kind of customers this restaurant attracts. In spite of all the red flags, I checked the little boxes, sat back and waited for my meal. I started with a bit of goma wakame, or seaweed salad. These bright green threads of wakame seaweed are combined with chiles, sesame seeds, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Since this item can be bought commercially prepared, it is difficult to tell whether it was prepared in-house. This version tasted the same as most of the others I’ve eaten, but the portion size was about double. I’m not usually one to complain about larger portions, but in this case I would have been happy with a bit smaller portion, as sesame oil has a way of sticking with you. The back of the sushi counter was very high, making it impossible to watch the Itamae prepare the meal, which removed one of he pleasures of sitting at the bar. When the food arrived, I was surprised to see that I had inadvertently ordered sashimi instead of sushi (Damn those order sheets!), but the beautiful presentation gave me some hope I would have a successful meal. The three raw items I ordered were presented in cucumber cups and were folded to resemble petals of a flower. Julienne strips of cucumber and sprigs of celery tops were placed to resemble the flower’s stamens. At first glance the presentation was successful, but closer examination revealed some flaws. The celery tops were not properly washed, leaving them marred by black specks. The wasabi was too dry, making it look like a ball of clay (complete with finger prints) and also difficult to disperse in the shoyu (soy sauce). Maguro (tuna) was the first sashimi I tried. It exhibited the clean taste you’re looking for with a clear even color. Sake (salmon) was next and although the taste was rich, I found the texture to be a bit flabby. I finished the raw fishes with the stronger tasting hamachi (yellowtail). It was a touch on the dry side, but the bold flavor you look for in hamachi was not marred by any fishiness. All three fishes were acceptable but all were served a touch too warm, a result of placing the order all at one time. I ended the meal with an order of unagi (eel) and here we had real problems. Unagi is grilled fresh water eel served with the skin on and is served hot. By the time I ate through the raw sushi the unagi was only luke warm. Even worse, the skin was no longer crisp as it should have been. I couldn’t really tell if the lack of crispness was due to improper cooking or if it simply lost it due to sitting skin side down on the plate while I ate the raw sashimi. Either way, it was a long way from proper. Overall, this was not bad sushi, but it was a bad experience. The ordering method completely ruined the ritual of eating sushi and removed the essence of the experience. In this case, the confusion of the ordering process kept me from tasting a wider range of items. If you’re looking for sushi as an appetizer before a meal, Nguyen is acceptable. However, if you want a real sushi experience look elsewhere.

 
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