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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. 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.
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. The 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.
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.
Thursday 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.
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
NOTE: Bull’s Tavern has closed.