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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I've come to look for America: PART 1- PA is A-OKAY

"'Toss me a cigarette,
I think there's one in my raincoat.'
We smoked the last one
An hour ago.
So I looked at the scenery,
She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over and open field..."

'All come to look for America.'  I LOVE this song!  It's my favorite Simon and Garfunkel tune.  And the band Yes also does a nice version of this song.  However, I love the original.  I don't know if any cover will do it full justice. I'm in love with the concept and poetry of the original.  It has an innocence and naivety that poignantly describes the longing and pang to travel America.  And I am a road trip junkie.  I have always loved jumping in the car and just driving.  In college, I used to get in my car and purposely get lost.  I'd get out my map and find out where I was and how to get back to campus.  Or, when I lived in Massachusetts, I would get lost and discover new towns and haunts.  And the next three posts will be a series that describe my journey from PA to MO when I helped my mom move back to the Midwest from the East Coast. 

First, however, I must pardon myself for not writing a post for awhile.   As mentioned, I helped my mom moved from PA back to MO.  I was away from NYC for a total of 18 days.  My mom was working in PA for the past two years.  She lived in 'Pennsyl-tucky' because 'anything between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is just Alabama'.  Note that this is common terminology used by residents of PA.  However, I love exploring pieces of the country that I wouldn't otherwise have reason to see.  For 4-5 days, I got to explore Harrisburg and Lancaster PA.  I got to see Amish country and the parts of PA that people easily miss.


I must say that Harrisburg has a nice urban, hip feel.  Parts of the downtown area feel a lot like Philly.  And now being a restaurant snob (having been a NYer for three years) Harrisburg has some nice restaurants. 

My recommendations are:

  •  Mangia Qui (272 North Street, is a superb restaurant which has impeccable risotto and rigatoni.  Here is a description of what my mom and I ate: bruschetta with ahi tuna, tomatoes, capers, pine nuts and raisins; risotto with fresh pea, fava bean, purple asparagus, chive, pecorino and asparagus crisp; rigatoni with asparagus, Maitaki mushrooms, parmigiano cream and white truffle oil.  Gordon Ramsey would have creamed his pants.  The food was that good. The executive chef and owner, Rosemarie 'qui qui' Musarra blends flavors of Europe and uses local, fresh farm-raised produce and meats.   So I support both the sustainability efforts and practice of using multi-culturalism in their culinary experience. 
  • Bricco (31 S. 3rd Street, which had amazing tiramisu (made with Amaretti cookie and Cointreau mascarpone).  Not only is Bricco awesome because it's hooked into the culinary school so both the chefs and waiters are in training to work at the finest restaurants.  Bricco is a collaborative partnership between the Olewine School of Culinary Arts and the Harrisburg Hotel Corporation.  Aside from that, there is also a bakery next door, Ciao!, where you can just buy the amazing deserts.  My fish was very well cooked.  The salmon had a crispy, crunchy skin and was cooked, in my eyes, to perfection.  I eat a lot of salmon, and I get bored of it easily.  I don't like it to be too slimy or flaky.  I also find that the wait staff is super professional and knowledgeable.  I don't know crap about wine, and I didn't feel insulted or spoken down to when I asked about wines.  
Picture of the tiramisu from Bricco (made by Ciao! Bakery)

  • Home 231 (231 North Street, where I had an incredible watermelon and heirloom tomato salad and red snapper with curry and coconut sauce with a Victory Summer Love ale (a brewery in Downington, PA,  For dessert, I had an amazing limecello cheesecake from Tattooed Floozie Bakery in Elizabethtown, PA (run by two ladies,  Home 231 has fresh ingredients that they get from nearby, local farms.  Everything they get is local and this is what I love about the place. They also often have live music and the atmosphere is super chill. Plus it has a cordial staff that makes you feel at 'home'.  If I lived in Harrisburg, I'd eat here once a week.  Yes, it's that good.  I felt like I was in Brooklyn, not central PA. 
So, if you are ever in Harrisburg, PA, you must check out those three restaurants.  You don't feel like you're in 'Pennsyl-tucky'.  Like I said, it's like being in Brooklyn where foodies and food snobs rule the roost.  But note that if your pallet prefers fast food and buffets, then these restaurants aren't for you.  But, if you prefer higher quality food and wine, then you must dine at Home 231, Mangia Qui, and Bricco.  Take my word for it.  And I'm quite certain that if Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliot ate at these places they'd give them rave reviews (I watch a lot of Hell's Kitchen and Master Chef).  But I know that those three gentlemen have impeccable palates and taste.  If I had the money, I'd eat at their restaurants in a heartbeat.
Another restaurant that I must write about is DJ's Taste of the 50's in Lancaster, PA.  It was voted as having the best burgers in PA.  If Food Network hasn't picked up on this place yet, I wouldn't be surprised if they did on one of their 'travel across America in a muscle car to find little hole in the wall eateries'.  My mom and I just went to Intercourse, PA (yes, it exists) where you can get all kinds of 'Amish' chachkes.  You can get Amish butter and jam, Amish hats and dolls, and even little 5 dollar pot scrubbers.  Of course there are I heart Intercourse bumper stickers and shot glasses (I may have bought a few for my friends).                         

Anyway, as my mom as I were looking for a place to have dinner, we passed by these huge tourist bus trap places with names like Good n' Plenty and Plain and Fancy.  I swear one had a name like Peckin' Hen or Bushel and a Peck.  My mom and I went in one such place and the smell alone made me want to leave.  Thank goodness there was an hour wait because I had a feeling that I wouldn't enjoy my meal. If you like meat and potatoes, then you'd be fine.  But I'm a vegetarian when I eat out in restaurants (since I keep kosher in my own kitchen).  Everyone in this joint was either overweight or old, or both.  Not that I have anything against that segment of the population.  But I think of the guidelines my dad uses to determine if a restaurant is good or not.  He says that if a restaurant has a line out the door, then that means it's good eats.  I, on the other hand, know better than that.

So, I'm glad my mom and I kept driving past all of the 'Amish' places and found this fifties diner.  I LOVE diners and I love kitsch.  And with DJ's, I truly felt like I was stepping back in time.  The food was great diner food.  It wasn't too greasy or salty.   I got a tuna melt and had spiral sweet potato fries.  Then I had an ice cream sundae for desert that was the size of an entire entrée.  What I loved most though, was the fact that the tables were formica and the chairs were red plastic vinyl.  There was an old fashioned candy counter and you could order egg creams and soda fountain drinks.  And it was a local place.  Yes, some tourists found it, but most were busy pigging out at the Peckin' Hen.  So I recommend eating at DJ's Tate of the 50's (  I also liked that the waitresses were super personable and friendly, plus the fact that they were dressed in poodle skirts and letter sweaters.  One waitress in particular, who I think was also the manager or owner, kept talking to each table and welcoming in each guest as if it were her house.  I love places like that.


The only thing I did not like about central PA was the fact that my mom had someone break into her place multiple times.  One of those times was on one of our last nights in PA.  She had already had her watch stolen right from her bedside table.  And we figured out the whole caper after the following incident.  On a Saturday night, I fell asleep with the television on and bolted awake at around 2 or 3am.  I heard what sounded like a door scraping across carpet.  I was on the middle level, above the basement.  I bolted up the stairs to my mom's bedroom and locked the doors behind me.  Being from NYC, I immediately called the cops.  They came and looked around the perimeter of the townhouse and looked in the basement.  They didn't find anything.  The next day, I did my own investigation (I watch a lot of Monk and CSI: Miami, not that this qualifies me as a detective).  But I do tend to notice little imperfections and peculiarities that others often miss. 

So the next day, when investigating the basement, it was noticed that the screen door was open.  There are two doors, a screen and a glass door.  Upon putting the screen door back in place, I had an auditory flashback.  This was the exact sound I had heard the night before.  The robbers opened the screen door and tried to open the glass door, but failed to do so.  What I also noticed were two rusted paint cans near the patio beyond the basement sliding door.  My mom indicated to me that the paint cans had previously been on the side of the house.  So it seemed that someone had tried to use them to climb up onto the deck.  The deck of the townhouse was about ten or eleven feet above the patio.  There was another screen door on the ground level, going out onto the deck, which rose above the basement patio.  Both the basement and the front door of the ground floor were at ground level because the townhouse was on a hill, the basement being at the bottom of the hill. I think you get the picture.

So, it was figured out that when the robbers got in and stole my mom's watch, they entered through the screen doors on the deck.  My mom left them open while she was sleeping.  It didn't seem that anyone could get up onto the deck, what with it being almost eleven feet off the ground.  But I guess someone tried to use the paint cans, and when that failed, they jumped up on the air conditioner to get on the deck.  You see, my mom's AC broke right after her watch was stolen.  The whole thing was a very scary experience.  I'm glad this all happened right when we were about to leave.  One of my mom's friends also mentioned that one time, at coming back to my mom's place, the door was ajar.  So it seemed that these robbers/thieves had gotten in multiple times.  And my mom was often gone on the weekends, visiting my dad in St. Louis.  Whoever stole her watch probably thought she'd be gone and only came during times when they knew she'd be away.  I don't know if they stole anything else.  I'm guessing that they were on foot too since they didn't steal television or anything 'major'.  The whole thing was bizarre. 
Overall, though, I had a nice time in Central, PA.  I'm glad I went down there and helped my mom move because I got to really explore the area.  I got a $300 Brooks Brothers sport coat for a mere $60.  I ate some terrific food.  I got some interesting wares, like a glow in the dark beetle magnet and a book of Amish speak as well as some hand made pottery and a shoefly pie (basically a pecan pie without pecans).  I met some interesting people.  PA is very friendly and people are always willing to make small talk.  I recommend checking out the area for yourself.  Pittsburgh and Philadelphia get all the attention but there are other places in PA worth checking out.

Stay tuned for the road trip portion, where in the next post I'll talk about my drive from PA to MO on my way chance to 'look for America'. 

Keystone-tastically yours,


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