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Tall Cedars Restaurant-Donegal PA

Tall Cedars Restaurant in Donegal is one of those old-time bar bars which I’ve drunk in many times but never ate in save for a few late night refueling stops.Tall Cedars dining room In fact, I had never set foot in the dining section of the restaurant until last week. I arrived about 8:30 AM on a Saturday morning to find myself the only patron seated. Usually this is not a good sign. The building is of log construction and the dining room is paneled in wood with a large, genuine stone fireplace dominating one wall. Heavy wooden Captain’s chairs and tables completed the décor which could have been very homey and welcoming if maintained with a bit more care. Perhaps my biggest complaint regarding the atmosphere was the pervasive odor that appeared to emanate from the heating system. Instead of the aroma of food cooking, I was assaulted by the fumes of a poorly vented oil furnace. The menu was presented and it listed only standard breakfast fare with no items of a local nature included. I ordered eggs (over easy), sausage, home fries and toast at $5.95. The food took a bit longer to arrive than I would have expected given I was the restaurant’s only patron, but I’d still call the wait acceptable. Tall Cedars breakfastThe sausage was two large patties about the size of a McDonald’s burger, probably close to 2 ounces each. Although clearly a pressed product, it was well browned and remained very juicy. The home fries were made from fresh potatoes with the skin left on and were well cooked if a bit under seasoned. The eggs were the only real problem in that they were cooked medium, well on their way to hard, instead of the over easy as requested. Not a bad breakfast, but it’s hard to recommend a place that can’t cook an egg properly. Later in the day I was still in the area so I dropped by for lunch, this time stopping in the bar. If you’re the type of person who is intimidated by a local crowd who can be a bit rough, I would suggest eating in the dining room. This is the type of bar where they have a stainless steel mirror in the restroom to replace the glass ones that kept getting punched out. The beer selection is mediocre, offering only national domestic brands with a sprinkling of imports. No premium or craft brews are stocked and the draft system has been out of commission on my last few visits. The lunch menu is more extensive than the breakfast menu with a heavy emphasis on Pizzas, Stromboli and Cal zones. Taking this as an indication of what I should order, I settled on a small cheese pizza ($5). It didn’t take long for the four slice pizza to appear and my initial impression was that there would be issues with the crust. It looked dry, under cooked and somewhat pasty looking. My first bite confirmed my initial impression. The crust was bland and somewhat “biscuity” in texture. The dough exhibited some kind of an issue with the yeast that I couldn’t quite pin down. It appeared either the yeast was old and inactive, or the dough had been stored too long after it was made. In addition, I found the sauce overly sweet for my taste, although I recognize many people prefer it prepared in that fashion. The cheese was of an acceptable quality, but was over browned. Simply a substandard pizza in my view. Sometimes I’m frustrated by Urbanspoon’s insistence on giving a restaurant a ”like” or “don’t like”, but at other times being forced to choose neatly sums up the writer’s true opinion. In the case of Tall Cedars, although I have been a patron of theirs for many years, based on my two most recent visits, I’ll have to choose “don’t like”.

Tall Cedars sign

Tall Cedars on Urbanspoon

Low Tide at Highwaters Grill

Highwaters Grill, located on Mill Run Road (RT 381) between Mill Run and Ohiopyle would appear to be a winning concept. Casual barbecue located a few miles from one of the highest volume rafting rivers in the country seems like it should be a sure bet, but the only winners here are the owners at the expense of the customers. My first stop at this restaurant was for some quick take out on my way home one evening from Falls City Pub. The menu was a rather confusing chalkboard located to the side of the ordering window. I ordered a half rack of ribs ($12.50) and was informed that a choice of two sides were included. When I inquired what sides were available, I was told rather rudely to “look at the menu”. Now, if there were a dozen sides offered or if there were other people in line waiting to place orders, I could understand a bit of impatience on the part of the employee. However, only five sides were listed and there was no one else waiting. Menu at Highwaters Grill, Mill Run PAWould it really be too much to expect the girl to simply say “corn, slaw, fries, onion rings, or beans”? Anyway, the order arrived in a flash and I was off to home with the ribs, corn on the cob and cole slaw. The ribs were slathered with a nondescript commercial sauce, the brand of which I couldn’t identify. The ribs appeared to cooked okay, but were oddly lacking in taste. I thought at the time perhaps they were simply overpowered by the sauce. The corn was fresh and sweet, but I found the slaw to be as tasteless as the ribs. I was willing to cut some slack on the slaw as it had sat in a box with the ribs and had warmed up. I wasn’t happy with the meal, but it wasn’t so bad that I wasn’t willing to give them another shot. About a week later I made another trip down the mountain, arriving shortly after 6:00 PM. There was a server there, but she was busy talking to a table of friends. When she finally acknowledged me, I was informed that since “no one was in town”, no food was available, only ice cream. Needless to say, I wasn’t overly thrilled with this turn of events. I made one last attempt several weeks later, this time ordering the Combo which is a ½ rack of ribs with ½ a chicken at $22.50. For those of you a bit slow with math, that means they’re charging $10 to add ½ a chicken to the rib dinner! And this from a “restaurant” that is basically self-service. I ordered the meal sans sauce, so that I could taste the meat and took a seat on the deck where I noticed they were giving away draft beer, hence the “free Solo cup” on the sign out front. BBQ sauce at Highwaters GrillI also spotted the 5 gallon buckets of BBQ sauce, so the brand they used was no longer a mystery. My meal soon arrived, and naturally it was covered in the Ken’s Sauce, so I had to send it back. The corrected order arrived promptly and before even tasting it I could tell there were problems. It was clear from just looking that both the ribs and chicken had been cooked hours earlier and had been held in an overly moist environment. The ribs had been grilled off first, but the holding had completely robbed them of any residual crispness the charring had provided. Upon tasting them, it seemed as if they had been held in water as they were soggy and tasteless. If they had been rubbed or marinated, it was no longer apparent as all the flavor had leached out. In addition, the membrane had not been removed from the ribs. This is a mistake I can often live with, but in this case since the ribs had been charred, the membrane split and left unappetizing blackened shreds on the underside of the meat. The chicken was as tasteless as the ribs and also was totally lacking in crispness, which was a shame as I could tell that at one point it had been properly cooked. Both the ribs and chicken were barely warm, leading me to question how they were held prior to service. The slaw was as bland as the first time I tasted it and the beans appeared to be straight from a can. After taking only one bite of each item, I simply got up and left. I honestly cannot think of a single positive thing to say about this meal, and at $22.50 it is clear the customer is being taken. The best BBQ joint I know, Big Mike’s in Smithfield, charges $15.99 for the same meal, and at Mike’s it’s REAL BBQ. I really cannot even imagine a sorrier excuse for BBQ than what is served at Highwaters Grill.
Highwaters Grill on Urbanspoon

Bedford Diner, Bedford PA


My recent PSU road trip brought me through Bedford, PA and to the Bedford Diner for breakfast. They are located on Route 222 just off of the Bedford exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and are easy to spot due to the huge sign out front and equally huge letters on the building itself. Bedford Diner, Bedford PAAlthough the building is not of typical diner construction, the interior layout is, having counter seats, booths and lots of stainless steel. White boards above the back counter advertise the daily specials, most of which are “all you can eat” and feature local favorites like ham pot pie. The breakfast menu is a bit larger than most as evidenced by the four varieties of pancakes served. I spotted country ham on the menu and had hope that since the menu also offered a ham steak I might have actually found a restaurant with the real thing. I ordered it along with eggs over easy, home fries, and toast ($6.95) accompanied by a side of scrapple ($1.60). Alas, the restaurant was out of country ham, so I must continue my search for the real deal. I settled for sausage, lowering the price of the meal to $4.95. While waiting for the breakfast, I scoped out the array baked goods, all of which appeared to be house baked as advertised. The pie safe didn’t contain those impossibly high meringue pies traditional in diners, but there were numerous other pies along with some huge cakes garnished with fresh fruit. My meal soon arrived and I was immediately struck by the scrapple which was a massive, thick slab that had been deep-fried. I’d heard of deep-fried scrapple before but this my first experience of eating it. I found it surprisingly good. The outside was very crisp and it was cut thick enough that the inside remained moist and creamy. The rest of the breakfast was not quite as successful. The sausage had a good flavor, but it had been cooked ahead and it had dried out from the holding. I had ordered the eggs over easy, but they arrived medium and were on their way to hard. The potatoes, although fresh, were cut so thin they fell apart into tiny pieces. Overall this was not a bad breakfast, but they clearly need more attention to detail. Cooking an egg properly is a basic skill that no diner can neglect.
Bedford Diner on Urbanspoon

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.
Kitchen On Main on Urbanspoon

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.
Darlington Inn on Urbanspoon

Bombers Over Uniontown at B21 Coffee & Food Depot

For those of you who have followed my reviews, I believe you’ll detect a certain philosophy of food which my writing affirms. I stand for honesty, respect and a lack of artifice in cuisine. I hold the simple roadside diner in as high regard as the haughtiest of haute cuisine palaces when the ingredients are respected and prepared with care. Opulent surroundings and complex presentations are meaningless if the underlying food is conceived or prepared poorly. I’ve had more memorable meals standing on a street corner in Baja than in many of the high-priced restaurants I’ve eaten in.

One new establishment which adheres to this philosophy is B21 Lunch at B21 Coffe & Food DepotCoffee & Food Depot in Uniontown. Their address is 2 West Main Street, but unless you’re familiar with Uniontown the address can be a bit confusing. I, for one, was confused due to the fact that 2 West Main Street is on the opposite side of the street from 30 East Main Street. I don’t recall ever being in a city that doesn’t adhere to the convention of having odd numbers on one side of the street and even on the other. An additional issue is that the entrance for B21 is actually on Beeson Street, not Main. The confusion is explained by the fact that B21 is located in the basement (bunker) of the First Niagara Bank Building which does front Main Street.

B21 was opened several months ago by Roger Clatterbuck, an experienced and accomplished chef, to bring quality coffee, breakfast and lunch fare to the Uniontown business community. Being business oriented, they are open Monday through Friday from 7:30ish to 2:00 PM with take out orders and delivery a large part of the business. The hours allow Chef Clatterbuck to also run a catering operation known as War Eagle Rations. Chef Clatterbuck is backed up by two experienced chefs specializing in pastry and garde manger. Desserts at B21 Coffe & Food DepotEntering the military themed “bunker”, the patrons are immediately drawn to the wares of the pastry chef which are on prominent display. An array of brownies, cookies and coffee cakes are displayed under glass domes with samples being offered for tasting. The baked goods along with a cup of the excellent Caribou Coffee (which B21 serves) is a popular breakfast on the go for the office workers streaming in every morning. For a more substantial start to your day, breakfast sandwiches are available and are offered on a choice of excellent breads, bagels and naan.

Lunch is basically soup and sandwiches, but as served by B21, they reach a whole new level. Many larger and “classier” restaurants don’t bother to make their own soups anymore, but here the soups are house made and funky. The offering on my recent visit was “Mushroom Beef and Biscuit”, a rich cream of mushroom soup with chunks of beef and biscuits. Definitely a bit unusual. Sometimes you can’t tell what the soups are by their names and you’ll have to ask Chef for the composition. I couldn’t even guess what “1,2 3 OMG Soup” is. The soups are available by the cup, pint or quart and are packed in microwavable deli containers for convenient reheating at the office or home.

Seven sandwiches (“Bombers”) are offered on the menu, but daily specials and the “You design it” option gives the diner a multitude of choices. Continuing the military theme, the sandwiches are named after WWII war birds (though I’m not familiar with a B21). The sandwiches are offered on a choice of breads notably a Pugliese roll, a crusty Italian variety “bigger than a babies head”. I opted for naan, a middle eastern and Indian flat bread, which was stuffed with the daily special chicken salad, Havarti cheese, shredded leaf lettuce and ripe Roma tomatoes. The chicken salad was supremely fresh, with my only complaint being that the pieces of chicken were a bit large to be eaten in the naan. The naan itself, although not prepared on-site, was a lighter, fresher and more flavorful alternative to pita. I’ll forgive them for not making the Naan, as a 900 degree tandoor would turn the small space into a literal oven. Other creative touches include the “gravy-mayonnaise” and corn succotash served with the “XB35 Flying Wind” (turkey and cheddar) and the poblano preserves served with shaved pepper roasted beef sandwich (the “B32 Dominator”). And where else can you get the childhood favorite fried bologna sandwich, serve appropriately on white bread with American cheese and yellow mustard? All sandwiches are priced at $7.50 for a whole and $4.50 per half. Side dishes available include the usual cole slaw and macaroni salad, but being freshly prepared, they far surpass the versions served by many restaurants. Hummus served as a side is a nice touch and several salads are available in two sizes. Since B21 is geared primarily for take out service, the food is served in disposable containers and wrappings which actually adds to the spartan military atmosphere.

Although having limited hours and seating, B21 Coffee & Food Depot offers simple food well prepared with enough creativity to keep it interesting. Uniontown native George C. Marshall would certainly be proud of these “Bombers” and I would have to agree.
B21 Coffee & Food Depot on Urbanspoon

How not to get to Seven Springs Mountain Resort

In this technological age, many of us turn to MapQuest, Google Maps or our GPS devices to get directions when traveling to a new destination. If Seven Springs Resort is your destination, and you are driving from the east (via Somerset) drop the technology because MapQuest and GPS’s direct you the shortest way to the Springs but that route is certainly not  the best one.logo for Seven Springs Mountain Resort

In all fairness, I must point out that both Google and MapQuest show the correct route as a secondary choice. However, who among us chooses the alternate route over the primary one unless we have a specific reason? Well, I’m about to give you several reasons.

All listed routes will get you from the exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike through the town of Somerset. Simply go straight after exiting the toll booth until you come to the first STOP light. (Ignore the FLASHING light unless you choose to stop at McDonald’s for a Big Mac.) At the light, make a RIGHT onto N. Center Avenue (RT 601 S) and proceed .5 miles to the intersection of Main St. (RT 31 W). Make a RIGHT on Main St. Here’s where they go wrong, and we’ll follow the route just to show you how bad it really is.

Harrison Ave Somerset PA
The poorly marked turn onto Harrison Avenue from Main St

After turning right onto Main St., both Google and MapQuest direct you to proceed .7 miles and make a left on to Harrison Ave. The left turn onto Harrison Ave is often missed because there is no sign to mark it. If you’re paying attention you will see several signs for RT 281 south, but there is nothing with the name Harrison on it. If you decide to follow this route in spite of what I recommend, make sure you’re in the left lane long before you get to the intersection or you may get cut off from doing so. Following this route, after turning onto Harrison Ave, you will take the first RIGHT onto Tayman Ave. (RT 281 south). Keep a close eye on your odometer, especially if you’re following the Google route, or you’ll miss the next turn.

 

 
The wind blown Weimer Flats on RT 281 south of Somerset
The wind blown Weimer Flats on RT 281 south of Somerset

Several miles outside of Somerset you’ll come across a straight stretch of road called Weimer Flats. If your trip to Seven Springs is in the winter, Weimer Flats alone is a good enough reason not to take this route. Weimer Flats in the winter can be one of the most vicious, wind-swept sections of road in all of Somerset County, and other sections of RT 281 S can be nearly as bad. Even with minor snowfall, white outs, drifting snow and accidents are common along Weimer Flats and other sections of this route.

If you are following the Google route, 5.6 miles after turning onto RT 281 S you will make a RIGHT on Cross Road. Never mind the fact that there is a sign directing you to keep going straight to get to Seven Springs. After all, are you going to believe your lying eyes or the omnipotent Google? If you’re following the MapQuest route you will NOT turn onto Cross Rd, but will continue another mile to the village of New Centerville and make a right onto Copper Kettle Highway.

New Centerville, PA
The turn onto Copper Kettle Highway in New Centerville

About 100 yards before the intersection there is a sign for Seven Springs indicating the turn. This sign is often missed and there is no sign at the intersection itself. In fact, this turn is so easy to miss that 3 miles further south on RT 281 you’ll find a gas station, the New Lexington Market, that actually posts directions to Seven Springs outside for all of the people who missed the turn.

New Lexington Market on RT 281 S
If you see the New Lexington Market, you missed the turn.

The Google route now directs you to proceed 1.5 miles to State Route 3029. SR 3029 is actually Copper Kettle Highway so at this point the Google and MapQuest routes are the same. State Routes are not well-marked, so after you have turned onto Cross Rd the directions should say “proceed 1.5 miles to the first stop sign and turn right”. Copper Kettle Highway (SR 3029) will turn into County Line Road in 1.9 miles, if you’re following Google, or 4.1 miles using the MapQuest route. Continue on County Line Rd for 4.1 miles and you will come to the entrance to Seven Springs on your left.

Now, for the best route we go back to the point where both Google and MapQuest direct you to turn left onto Harrison Ave (RT 281 S). When you’re on Main St (RT 31 W) stay in the RIGHT lane and instead of turn onto Harrison Ave, keep going straight on RT 31 W and continue for 7.1 miles. A large Seven Springs sign will direct you to turn LEFT onto Trent Rd.

Trent Road to Seven Springs Resort
The well marked turn onto Trent Road from RT 31

Proceed 3.8 miles to the first STOP sign and turn right onto Copper Kettle Highway. In 1.1 miles Copper Kettle Highway turns into County Line Rd. Proceed 4.1 miles to the entrance of Seven Springs on your left. This well-marked route is only about half a mile longer than the MapQuest or Google routes and offers several other advantages. For winter travelers, road condition is probably the most important reason to take the RT 31 route over that via RT 281. RT 31 is not nearly as wind-swept, so white outs and drifting snow is not nearly as big of a problem. Services are another reason to take the 31 route. If you follow the Google route, there will not be even one gas station or store until you reach the bump in the road at Trent which has a very small convenience store. The MapQuest route is only slightly better with New Centerville offering a pizza shop, one restaurant and one additional convenience store. The 31 route offers numerous services including gas stations, a major grocery store, several convenience stores, a beer distributor and a bar that serves great pizza. In addition, you have Moo Echo Dairy, a great country store which makes cheese, ice cream, fresh-baked goods and a wide range of deli products. And perhaps most importantly is Route 31 Bike, Board and Ski, the area’s largest and most experienced  outdoor sports retailer. If you need your skis or snowboard waxed or serviced or if you need equipment rentals, this is the place to stop. The retail store offers everything you’ll need on the mountain including: Oakley goggles and sunglasses, Under Armour base layers and outerwear, and top winter sports brands like Burton, Fisher and Solomon. And finally, in the event I wasn’t clear enough, the Google and MapQuest routes are very poorly marked compared to the 31 route. So, unless you know the turns, it’s not snowing and you’re sure you don’t need to purchase anything, go ahead and follow the “short” route. Otherwise, I suggest you follow the alternate route via RT 31 W.

Route 31 Bike, Board & Ski, Somerset PA
Route 31 Bike, Board & Ski, Somerset PA

Buying Booze in the Keystone State

Pennsylvania is one of 19 states which in some way have a monopoly over retail and/or wholesale sales of liquor, beer and/or wine. The specifics of Pennsylvania’s law is often baffling to the out of state visitor and can cause many inconveniences for the traveler coming to the Laurel Highlands.

The worst aspect of Pennsylvania’s effort to protect its citizens from the “demon spirit” is their total monopoly on the sale of liquor and wine. For you touristas, that means you cannot buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer in a grocery store or a gas station as you can in many states. This would be but a minor inconvenience if there were a reasonable number of liquor stores run by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, however the fact is that the entire state of Pennsylvania has only 621 retail outlets. That averages out to 1 store in every 74 square miles. Compare this to neighboring New Jersey which has about 1800 liquor stores or 1 store to every 5 square miles. And it’s even worse in the rural counties which make up the Laurel Highlands region, which is dependent on tourism. Somerset County, the home of Seven Springs and Hidden Valley resorts, has only 4 State Stores to purchase wine and liquor or 1 store to every 270 square miles. The point is that if a traveler to the Laurel Highland doesn’t plan ahead, he can find himself in a pretty dry situation. The PLCB lists all of their stores along with their hours of operation on their website. Pay close attention as many stores have very limited hours and most are not open on Sunday. If you are traveling the Great Allegheny Passage through Meyersdale for example, the State Store there is only open 3 days a week for seven hours each day!

liquor bottles

Purchasing beer is a bit easier than liquor and wine, but still not as easy as in most states. Again, you cannot purchase beer in a grocery store or gas station. A distributor wholesales beer in Pennsylvania both to restaurants, bars and to the public. Wholesale means you can only purchase beer in kegs or full cases. You cannot stop in for a six-pack or two. To purchase six packs you must go to a retail licensee such as a bar or restaurant. The catch is that you may only purchase 192 ounces at a time, necessitating the ruse of buying two six packs, taking them to your car, and then returning for another two six packs.

One exception to this madness is that Pennsylvania considers wine produced in the state as an agricultural product. This means that if you are near a winery you may purchase up to 16 bottles of wine just as you would in any other liquor store. And better yet, most are open on Sundays. The Pennsylvania Winery Association has a tool on their website to find the locations of wineries and also offers “wine trails” to plan a tour of the various wine regions in Pennsylvania. One winery of particular note to those skiing at Hidden Valley or Seven Spring’s resorts is the Glades Pike Winery. Located on Route 31, the winery is only 5 miles from Hidden Valley and a bit over 10 miles from Seven Springs. If you are traveling to either resort from the east (Somerset) you will drive right by the winery.

You must also keep in mind that is illegal to transport any alcoholic beverages into Pennsylvania from another state and even the possession of liquor from another state is illegal. The penalty for this “transgression” is a $25 per package fine, the cost of prosecuting the case and up to 90 days in jail. However, for some strange reason, Pennsylvania does allow you to bring in booze from another country, after pay duties and taxes of course.

One final issue to consider is Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act. Enacted in 2008, it bans smoking in a public place or workplace. However, like most regulations there are exceptions. Bars may be exempted if they don’t admit anyone under the age of 18 or if the bar is separated from the dining area by doors which can be closed. In practice, there are many establishments with great food who do not have the option of segregating the bar area and therefore won’t admit minors. The Taverne, in Somerset, is an example of a place that was previously kid friendly but now bans minors and as a result, your kid’s won’t be able to eat the best pizza in town. Bottom line, call ahead to confirm a restaurant’s smoking policy before arriving with your kids.

Pennsylvania has much to offer the traveler to the Laurel Highlands, but availability of spirits is not one of them. It is essential for the tourist to plan ahead to ensure your trip isn’t a bit drier than you had intended.

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:Morguen Toole Company

Although aware of the Morguen Toole Company, I had never been there before joining them for their Yuengs and Wings night this past Wednesday. I became aware of this wing night by stumbling upon their website, and although put off by the sloppy writing (there’s a difference between your and you’re) and punctuation, the photos intrigued me enough to check them out. Why would I, or you for that matter, care about grammar errors on a website? It’s relevant because when a restaurant sets a high bar of expectations, attention to detail becomes critical. In this case the website foreshadowed my entire experience.

Wing Wars:Morguen Toole CompanyMeyersdale, Pennsylvania is an old coal mining town best known today as the host of the Pennsylvania Maple Festival and for it’s location on the Great Allegheny Passage, a 135 mile hiking and biking trail. The downtown area is filled with late 19th century buildings, one of which houses the Morguen Toole Company at 130 Center Street. I approached the main door of the beautifully restored building and found it locked. After a bit of looking around, I found a sign directing me to the Alley Entrance, which is indeed back an alley. Unfortunately, once inside I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. It looked like a service entrance with no indication of where the bar was. I did hear some music, so I followed the sound to where I found what appeared to be a dining room with a sign instructing me to wait to be seated, so I waited, and waited, and after waiting some more, I wandered into the bar where I found the first indication of life, a bartender. Yuengling was advertised as the special so that’s what I ordered, and since I was the only patron in the bar, it naturally arrived fairly quickly. The beer was $3 and served in a pint canning jar, a hackneyed idea that makes no sense to me, especially in an operation that is attempting to be upscale. I guess the ceramic mugs below the bar were just for show.

The rooms are quite impressive, cavernous and loaded with original architectural details such as stamped tin ceilings, brick walls and wooden floors. Exposed utilities alludes to the industrial history of the building. The bartender informed me the pub side of the building had been a tool company and the dining room side a morgue, hence the name Morguen Toole Company. A menu was presented and I was informed that as they were conducting cooking classes that evening, the items listed would be all that would be available. I really didn’t have a problem with the limited menu as I was interested in the wings, but I was put off by the fact that the menu was a simple computer print out with no effort to present it as anything other than an after thought. Every bar I’ve visited has made the effort to at the very least add some graphics or color. Even laminating the menu would have been better than a plain sheet of copy paper. The menu listed 10 wing choices, with the “wet” and “dry” listed separately. The names “sounded” more interesting than many restaurants, but there were no descriptions and the prices were steep for an advertised “special”. The cut (1 section) wings were listed at $4.49 for 6 and $7.99 for 12, and that’s without celery or dressings. I ordered 6 of a dry rub listed as Mojo and 6 of a wet Chipotle-Sangria. The wings arrived quickly and I dug into a Mojo. Whoa! The wings were so salty I could barely eat them, and they exhibited none of the flavors I would associate with Mojo. Mojo is a Cuban marinade or sauce for grilling (primarily pork) where the predominate flavors in most versions are garlic (lots), cumin and citrus (usually orange). I picked up none of these flavors, though admittedly, it was hard to get past the salt to discern what flavors were there. If the chef was attempting to do something other than a Cuban Mojo, a description on the menu would have alerted the diner to that fact. The Chipotle-Sangria wings were better, though not what I had expected given the name. Chipotle peppers are smoked Jalapeños and although there were some smoky notes in the sauce, there was no heat at all. Also, Sangria is red wine with oranges and lemons, but the sauce offered no hint of citrus. The wings themselves were also a problem. Although not overcooked to the point of turning the meat into jerky, they were very dry. They had none of the juiciness of the better wingsin other restaurants, and I suspect this was due to using IQF wings opposed to fresh. Overall, this was a very disappointing experience. The owners have put a lot of money into this operation and they are trying to be upscale, but their lack of attention to detail will likely doom them to failure. I would like to think the Yuengs and Wings night was an anomaly since they were holding cooking classes, but I would have to think twice about making a trip to Meyersdale again based on this experience.

THE RATING
Cooking: The wings were edible but dry, likely frozen. 4
Varieties: The 10 varieties showed imagination but there were no descriptions. 5

Value: $7.99 a dozen with no celery and dressing for cut wings with $3 pints? 3

Enjoyment: The great atmosphere couldn’t overcome the substandard wings at a high price. 3
OVERALL: 3.8
Morguen Toole Company on Urbanspoon