We travel to eastern Pennsylvania frequently to visit family, go outlet shopping and attend events at the colleges. Until recently, the area was not a fine dining destination by Manhattan standards. But with the recent migration of greater numbers of New York City region people to the area, and at least until recently improving economic growth, the area is developing a few fine places that stand up to highest quality and performance standards. The Bethlehem area seems particularly strong and here are two of our favorites:
Bolete - Resturant and Inn
1740 Seidersville Road
Bethlehem, PA 18015
On the south side of the Lehigh mountain range just outside Bethlehem is one of the most attractive sections of the Lehigh Valley. Seiderville road which runs east to west from Hellertown to Allentown for the most part is a beautiful winding country road. At a rather unfortunate and non-scenic intersection of the road is the charming old stone house/country inn recently renamed Bolete (Latin for wild mushroom). Owned and operated by Lee Chizmar and Erin Shea, this young couple has brought a fine sense of dining and style to what otherwise would be a rather ordinary place.
Erin Shea runs the front of the house and is a friendly and charming hostess. Erin also handles the promotion and maintains a lively restaurant website. The decor is country modern, and it is clear there was more inspiration here than money in the interior design and redecorating budget. Nonetheless, the atmosphere of the dining rooms is simple, clean and perfectly well suited with the building's architectural bones. The dining room is bright for lunch and seductively illuminated for evening dining.
Chizmar is the chef and runs a kitchen that uses local produce when available, changes the menu daily and executes contemporary American meals that are overall outstanding. As is the case in many places, the simpler the dish the better the execution and performance. Chizmar has a weakness to over complicate some dishes and the results are mixed. While the seafood dishes are very good, our experience has indicated the kitchen does meats and fowl better than fish.
The wine list suffers as do all Pennsylvania restaurants from restrictions placed upon them to obtain wine through the state wine distribution system. Nonetheless, the list is acceptable, but surprisingly the wines are priced quite high.
Service is very friendly and mostly very good. Professional and competent waiters make the experience enjoyable and the limited support staff are especially good.
We are pleased to see that a young couple can elevate the dining standards of the area and that the local diners as well as out-of-towners can enjoy a wonderful meal in a pleasant setting.
Update: Bolete has been selected by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the top new spots in the world for 2008. Wow that is a major accomplishment.
Bolete - Recommended
Blue Grillhouse - Wine Bar
4431 Easton Avenue
Bethlehem PA 18020
On the eastern side of Bethlehem on one of the nondescript roads leading towards Easton, is a large dining facility with a formal restaurant which for the last five years has been named the Blue Grillhouse - Wine Bar, which it shares with the catering/event facility Candlelight (the original name had been Candleight Inn for both places). While the place has all the warning signals of a very commercial dining business that serves mediocre food, the Blue Grillhouse is in fact a top notch steakhouse/chophouse with one of finer wine collections in Pennsylvania.
The large restaurant is inviting despite the dark wood decor and the various partitioned dining areas. Always illuminated by candles, the place has a much more inviting appeal than most steakhouse and chophouses. Reception and wait service is consistently very good.
This is a place to go for meat - steaks and chops, but it also does a very good job on simply prepared seafood. Dishes are large and while expensive, represent very good value. Any simply prepared steak, chop of fish will be 100% satisfying.
What really separates Blue Grillhouse is the wine list containing over 200 bottles of well selected wines. With severe restrictions in Pennsylvania for restaurants to develop a top caliber wine list and cellar, Blue Grillhouse does an outstanding job. Prices are also good values.
Blue Grillhouse - Wine bar - Recommended