Thursday, December 29, 2016

Been too long.....

Hi everyone,

I realized I almost let the entire year of 2016 go without a post.  So here is the only one for this year.

My personal life was crazy this year- adding and subtracting kids through foster care will do that to you.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Coal Town Diner- Shamokin, PA

Shamokin needed this.

We lost Harry's Grill back in December of 2014.  Harry's was a place you were guaranteed to get a good meal.  I had always hoped to do a write up on the restaurant here, but never got around to it.  RIP Harry's.  I hope someone buys you and brings you back the way we remember you.

So with the closing of Harry's Grill, that left a huge hole in the already slim pickings of a restaurant scene here in Shamokin.

Enter the Coal Town Diner and a few others.  I'll hopefully get around to the others at some point, but right now, let me talk about this "new" restaurant.

It's not totally new because for years it was known as a billiards hall, but they renamed the place (it was previously called Knocker's), took out the pool tables, and put some elbow grease into making it a good restaurant.

Now, let me give my one critique- this is not, as it is named, a "Diner".  "Diner" to me says greasy spoon style restaurant that is open 24 hours a day, or at least late night.  There's another Diner around here, the Palmer Diner, that to me, is not a true "Diner".  Maybe I'm just used to the term applying to the late night so-so restaurants that my buddies and I would frequent when I was in my teenage and college years.  Some who read this will probably disagree with me on the diner thing.  Eh.

Regardless of what marks a true "Diner", I will say that the Coal Town Diner serves some great food. They post a special on their Facebook page just about every day, and I will say that I have enjoyed many of them.

Last week I enjoyed their Spaghetti and Meatballs.  This was homemade sauce and Meatballs that do not come prepackaged.  Those meatballs had me in heaven, with a healthy amount of spice in them.  The whole thing came to $7.99, which means my wife and I could have dinner for under $20.  Not bad for takeout, especially considering that it also included a salad and bread.

Everything seems made with care, and the people already know me despite that I've not been a regular customer for even a month at this point.  They are nice, friendly, and you might get in an interesting conversation with a fellow customer.

They do have some coal region specialties from time to time.  My first time at the Coal Town Diner I had a Kielbasa sub, which was probably the best thing I've had there.  This was old-style polish Kielbasa made in a crockpot, with onions that tasted very much like sauerkraut.  In fact, sitting there, I asked what kind of sauerkraut it was, only to be informed that they were in fact onions.  I hope they bring that one back soon.  (Hint, hint.)

I only have two criticisms, and they are as follows: 1.) their specials are so good that they should just be a part of the regular menu, and 2.) they do not serve dessert.  Now, the second one can be taken care of, as Maurer's Dairy is next door, but if you want more than ice cream, you're out of luck.  I bet that their kitchen could produce some decent cakes and pies.

So if you live in Shamokin, do give this place a try.  They seem to be doing great on the business end, which is good to see, but I want to see this place thrive for a long, long time.

Coal Town Diner
30 South Market Street
Shamokin, PA
(570) 644-1844

Saturday, January 3, 2015

To Roma Pizza in Pottsville:

This is not Bruschetta.  I asked everyone, and they all said the same thing.





So let me look it up:

Per Wikipedia:
Bruschetta (Italian pronunciation: [bru╦łsketta] ( )) is an antipasto from Italy consisting of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. Variations may include toppings of tomato, vegetables, beans, cured meat, or cheese; the most popular recipe outside of Italy involves basil, fresh tomatogarlic and onion or mozzarella. Bruschetta is usually served as a snack or appetizer. In some countries, a topping of chopped tomato, olive oil and herbs is marketed under the bruschetta name.[1]

So maybe in a very loose way, it fits, but check out the sample picture of Bruschetta from the web:

Now, as a reminder, let's compare that with Roma Pizza's "interpretation".  Go ahead.  Look up.

Which would you rather eat?

See the thing is, Roma Pizza's pizza was actually decent.  But this was not. 

Bruschetta fail!

Bernie the Legend

Some might say to me, "she was just a waitress."  But there's more to that when it comes to Bernie, the long-tenured worker at Tony's Lunch in Girardville.

I was maybe 16 or 17 years old the first time I wandered into Tony's Lunch.  I definitely know that I was in high school, towards the end of my time as a student at North Schuylkill.

From the moment I stepped inside that restaurant, I knew that I had found a place that would stick with me.  From the endless stream of interesting characters that would wander in late at night, to the wonderful homemade burgers and fresh cut fries, Tony's Lunch has long remained one of my favorite places to eat.

I haven't been there in recent years as much.  Marriage, a job, and a steady daytime "normal running hour" life will do that to you.  Still, every time I've gone there, it's like coming home again.

This past week I learned that Bernie, the iconic waitress at Tony's Lunch, was retiring.  I had no idea how long Bernie had been working there.  It seemed like her presence was a constant, and for many of us, she embodied the restaurant.  She was timeless.

Bernie seemed to always be there, patient with a sometimes rough-around-the edges clientele (this was a late night place, after all), pen and paper in hand, waiting to take your order.  I can remember a brief time a decade ago when the Atkins diet was a fad, and I found myself trying it out.  Sure enough, Bernie brought me out two hamburger patties, topped with cheese and sauce.  She proceeded to yell, "leave him alone!" at my friends who were ridiculing me for my order.

She was always there.  And it seemed like it would always be the case.  She waited on generations.  I remember my mother saying, "she's still there?" when I told her about my journeys to Tony's.

She was always there in the background as my friends and I spent countless hours sitting in a booth debating politics, the state of Philadelphia sports teams, world events, and an endless assortment of other topics.  Sometimes I'd wonder what the heck she thought about the insane conversations we were having.

Regardless, at the end of the night, she was always there behind the register, ready to take your payment and thanking you for coming in.

I had the honor of ordering a Fluffburger once at Tony's (and that was enough for me).  If you don't know, a Fluffburger is a regular Tony's "Screamer" with the addition of marshmallow fluff.  Bernie would always give a roll of the eyes when someone would order it, and sure enough, there it was when I ordered mine.

I could go on and on about Bernie.  I could talk about the time I stood behind the counter at Chick-fil-A of the Schuylkill Mall, waiting to take a customer's order and heard someone say, "now it's your turn to wait on me!"  There stood Bernie smiling.

Anyway, after 59(!) years of working at Tony's Lunch, Bernie retired this Past Monday.  Who knows how many screamers and growlers, chocolate milks, and french fries she's brought to people over the years.  But I knew that I had to be there.

At 7:05 I arrived, almost good half hour before Tony's opens.  There was already a line, and I was #12.

You probably can't see it due to the size of the picture, but this was the moment where Bernie had arrived for one last shift.  She's standing in a black coat, and she was met by applause by the people gathered in line.  I believe there were about 25 of us standing at that point.

One of the local news stations showed up ten minutes later, and began to interview me.  At that point, the door opened, causing the line to enter the store, and me to abruptly end my interview in the strangest way- cheering for a burger ("Go Screamers!" was the line).  There was Bernie at the door, waiting to hug everyone who came inside.  I could tell that she was holding back tears.

Upon getting in and waiting for my order, I heard the official story that I hadn't known until that night: Bernie had worked there for 59 years, originally working for her uncle and grandmother, who had jointly owned Tony's when it originally opened.  They then sold it to the Salukas family, who has owned it ever since.  Originally agreeing to work for them for another month or so after the sale, months turned into years and Bernie has been there ever since.

I don't mean to take anything away from Joe and Claire Salukas, because they have made the restaurant what it is today, but for most everyone who has been inside Tony's, Bernie is the next thing you think about after the food when you think about Tony's.  When a local musical group made a parody of "Sweet Home Alabama" about the region, Tony's was mentioned, and Bernie was name dropped in the song.  When people talk about Tony's, Bernie's name is mentioned almost immediately.

I placed an order, and my friend Larry came to sit next to me at the counter.  We talked about a bunch of things, but I kept thinking how Tony's was a big part of the start of our friendship.  Our friends used to gather there, at our peak 4 times a week, and we would have lengthy conversations over burgers and sodas.

I thought about the night Bernie retired.  Behind me in line was someone I had not seen in years, who worked with me at Chick-fil-A.  Behind her was a friend from high school.  Tony's Lunch has been bringing people together for years.  And Bernie has been there through it all.

Here was that night's order, delicious as usual:

And here is a picture of Larry and I with Bernie on her last night:

Local ABC Affiliate WNEP 16 even stopped by to interview Bernie:

It was a great night.  The staff at Tony's had a cake, and everyone got a cupcake.  Everyone who came came to see Bernie one last time and thank her for a long career of serving.

I will be a customer at Tony's for years to come, but it sure won't be the same without her.

Go screamers!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pine Burr Inn- Mount Carmel, PA

A few years ago, I frequented this place for Friday night Karaoke.  It had a good crowd, and people never complained about the food.

Flash forward about five years, and my wife and I are hungry on a Friday night.  Since Mount Carmel is only a short drive from Shamokin, I suggested we check out the Pine Burr Inn.  It sits atop Mount Carmel, overlooking the borough.  It's also a hotel, but I don't know much about its reputation as a hotel.

So we get there, and the sign is nice and bright, advertising a wing special and "KARAOKE TONIGHT"!  The place has tinted windows, but I could see light from the outside, so it appeared to be open.

I pull at the door, and it's not budging.

Try again.  Nope.

I looked up the restaurant's phone number, and called it to see if maybe someone from the inside accidentally locked the front door.  Then I looked in the dining area, which I could see from the outside when standing close to the building.  Not a soul.  A light was from the other side.

Where was the "KARAOKE TONIGHT"???  Certainly not here.

I hear the Pine Burr has decent wings.  They were supposed to be open at 8:00 on a Friday night.  I was really hungry for wings.  Now that I'm on a healthier diet (more on that in a future post), I won't be having many wings.  So they missed out on Plenty-of-Wing-Eatin' Brian.  Now they have the guy who forces veggies down his throat begrudgingly.

Did they go out of business?  Hard to believe.

My wife reminded me that once we went here for lunch and they were closed then too, even though they were supposed to be open according to the hours on the door.

I could have said wonderful things about you, Pine Burr Inn.  But now all you are is a restaurant that wasn't open when you said you would be.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

La Playa Cancun- Bloomsburg, PA

Apparently La Playa Cancun used to be in Danville before it moved to the end of the strip of businesses on the edge of Bloomsburg on Route 11.  Currently Danville has another Mexican restaurant that I'll get into in another review, but if history has anything to say about it, Danville seems to have a history of gaining and then losing Mexican restaurants.

It's Bloomsburg's gain.  La Playa Cancun sits in a mini-mall strip next to a Loan Agency and a Rite Aid, and almost every time I've eaten there, it's not been exactly stuffed with clientele.  In fact, there have been times where my wife and I have been the only two people in the restaurant.

Except this past Friday, that is.  We were looking for a place to go on Valentine's Day, and wouldn't you know it, every restaurant was absolutely packed with people.  We thought that we would drive to La Playa Cancun, because usually we've had no wait to get seated.  This time, however, we would wait  a loooooooong time.

It's not La Playa Cancun's fault that it happened to be the night where most couples go out to share in a nice meal.  However, there were tables there that sat empty, and people weren't being seated at them.  I though that maybe they were reserved, because the person at the front desk kept asking for reservations- but then I watched for the rest of the night, and THEY NEVER SAT ANYONE AT THESE TABLES.

At one point, a lady came up to the counter, visibly angry, and complained that they sat there a whole hour and still had not received their food.  They apologized and explained that they were busy.  I'm sorry, but an hour?  Even a busy night is no excuse for that amount of time.

Okay, let me stop ranting about waiting.  Part of that is my issue because, as my wife would tell you, waiting in line is not something I'm very good at.  I get antsy.  I make snide remarks.  I do things to ease my frustration, such as turning all of the business cards backwards on the display on the front counter, and make sculptures with the toothpicks and peppermints that sat there.

La Playa Cancun usually boasts great food.  I have had fajitas, an assortment of burritos, and seafood dishes, and they have all been 1.) quickly prepared and 2.) full of great Mexican flavor.  La Playa Cancun is a pretty "by the numbers" Mexican restaurant, especially compared to La Casita de la Familia in Shenandoah, but they do "by the numbers" pretty well.  They are always willing to refill your chips and salsa (their salsa is pretty good, too), and I have yet to have a subpar meal.

I can't say that my meal on Friday night was "subpar".  I can say that there were little things that were "off" about it.  I had the Burrito Texano, which was a steak burrito that had rice and beans mixed inside with a red sauce poured over the top.  By the way, we did end up waiting about 45 minutes for our food to be served.

My steak was very, very tough.  I tried "bringing it back to life" with the red sauce, but that didn't work very well.  It was like eating a beef jerky burrito, which isn't bad because I like beef jerky, but that's also obviously not what they were going for.

My wife had the El Burro Chocho, which is a chicken burrito topped with a ranchero cheese sauce.  She has had this dish practically every time we've eaten here, and again, it was a bit "off".  The chicken was extremely well done, while it has usually been perfectly tender and juicy.  The cheese sauce was dried on the top of the burrito, as if the whole thing had been cooked too long.

We've never eaten here before when the place has been crowded.  Usually I've enjoyed what I've had, but on this night, I found myself disappointed.  I will say this- if you have a pretty good menu, as I feel La Playa Cancun does, you need to be able to show it off on a night when you know your business is going to be more than the usual.

I would recommend that you would go there anytime BUT dinnertime on a Friday night.  You'll have good food if you go on the off hours.  They will take care of you, be concerned that you are enjoying your meal, and be willing to go the extra mile for you.  On Friday night, it will all of a sudden turn into an experience where you are left waiting for your food for a while, and then when it does come, you'll be fairly disappointed.

Monday, February 3, 2014

La Casita De Familia- Shenandoah, PA

There's simply no way to talk about Shenandoah in the 21st century without noting the racial divide that currently marks the town, and really, the entire coal region.  I don't know exactly how to get into this without laying my personal feelings out on the table, so if I offend here, I really do apologize.

Sometime in the late 1990's, a large hispanic population became evident in the small town of Shenandoah. When I was a teenager, my perception was that it happened overnight, however I'm willing to bet that my perception was not reality.  I have previously shared my issues with Shenandoah earlier on this blog, when I reviewed The Lyric.  Growing up in Frackville, Shenandoah was like the elephant graveyard in the Lion King:

Shenandoah was a great place to go if you wanted to get into a fistfight.  It was a place where people would yell at you randomly from their porch while driving through town, most of the time nonsensically, but you got the idea that they were not happy with your presence (and I can attest to that- it has happened to me more than once).

Anyway, like I said earlier, Shenandoah has had an influx of people of Hispanic descent.  Many who live there don't like this, and racial tensions have been an issue for quite some time.  It hit its peak surrounding the killing of an illegal immigrant by some boys who were underage drinking back in 2008, but that is a long story for another time.  If you want to start an argument in Shenandoah, bringing up the incident is a good way to do it.

Regardless of your feelings on immigration or the presence of people from other countries, here's the deal:  They are here now.  They are people. They are us, more than we whites admit.  I hate talking about this in a "them and us" way, but that is the way some look at it, and it is tragic.  If we treat "them" with the respect "we" ourselves would like to get, things will be easier for us all.  That doesn't mean getting taken advantage of.  We are all children from the same source.  Let's act like it.   *end soapbox*

I noticed a little Mexican restaurant near the main intersection a few months ago when I was in town for a meeting.  I remember thinking that it made sense given the population change in Shenandoah.  I made a little mental note to myself to check it out, and a few Fridays ago, my wife and I did just that.

I hope if you read this and haven't checked out this little slice of heaven, you go ahead and give it a try.

The first thing that happens at La Casita is that the waitress comes up and offers you chips and salsa.  I have been to plenty of Mexican restaurants before, in Harrisburg, Chambersburg, Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre, Bloomsburg, Danville, and places in between.  I have never, ever, EVER had chips and salsa like this.  The chips are thicker than your normal tortilla chip, which makes them excellent for dipping.  The salsa is a different texture than your normal restaurant salsa.  It is less chunky, more soupy, which might sound like a bad thing, except it isn't.  The salsa has a good smoky flavor to it, and combined with the thicker chips, you get a pretty good mix.  Honestly, I would come here just for the chips and salsa, they're that good.

The menu is different than many Mexican restaurants.  Like I said, I have been to quite a few in Pennsylvania, and there is a sameness to them.  La Casita deviates from the norm in a good way.  They have their menu broken up into sections based on their geographical origin, including a whole Tex-Mex part that I will get to on my next visit.

I had chorizo gorditas.  In the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that previously, my only exposure to gorditas was as a menu item at Taco Bell:
That is not exactly what the gorditas at La Casita look like.  Here is an image of gorditas online that look closer to the ones they actually serve:

Less taco-y, and more sandwich slider-y.  So in a sense, I had ordered Mexican sausage sliders.  There was probably about twice as much meat in the sandwich as in the above picture.  There was a great amount of sour cream and lettuce, and it all mixed together to make a creamy and spicy dance on my tongue with some good crunch because of the veggie factor.

There were three on the plate, and they came with an order of refried beans and cheese.  By the time I was done eating, I was stuffed.

My wife got something too, which she enjoyed, but I cannot remember what it was.  I do remember, however, that our total meal was less than $20.  In this day and age, that is a deal!

I didn't know what to expect when I went in.  What I got was a great meal, friendly service, and a great overall experience.  The food came pretty quickly, and it was delicious.

If you want a great meal, and something different than the other restaurants in the area, I wholeheartedly recommend giving this restaurant a try.

La Casita de Familia
8 E Centre St, Shenandoah, PA 17976