Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Room and board: food coma at the Windber Hotel
The once industrious town of Windber, PA, may be sleepy in sight, but a lively "overnight" venue exists to rowel residents from their dreamy slumber. Accommodations may not actually be available at the Windber Hotel, but folks can certainly check in for the night on mounds of hearty, downhome American fare. Listed tops on the roster of Western PA "must eats" Matt cooked up for me, we dropped into this pseudo hotel for an evening of eats and music. Steelers and Penn State gear is strewn passionately across the lofty space, but a galvanized tin ceiling offsets the gruff sports theme. The place was jammed with Windber's hot and hip, and though we didn't land a table in the dining room, we came face-to-face with the restaurant's tongue-in-cheek humor in the bar area: so-called testimonials peddled by the Hollywood set like Christopher Walken.
On the menu stands a list of everyday bar food favorites (burgers, wraps, wings, nachos, chicken fingers) as well as a burst of seafaring surprises (broiled scallops, crab stuffed chicken, lazy lobster: also known as langoustines). But one dish stood out as prominently to me as the Johnstown incline on a still, starry night: country fried steak. As a New Yorker, or shall I say, Dirty Jerse, rarely do I come across the option of country fried steak on culinary outings, so I set aside the idea of ordering any kind of fancy-pants seafood to delve into this favorite homey dish of mine. Some places fry up the steak dismally, executing a tough cut of meat covered by a thin, meekish coating. But other joints whip it up with fine aplomb, as The Windber Hotel did. What gazed lovingly back at me on my plate was a lusty, chunky piece of steak ready for the chomping. The tender-as-biltong meat melted harmoniously with the gravy, a creamy crown seasoned with sauteed onions and seemingly fitting straight-from-the-can mushrooms. As for the batter itself, it came out thick and crunchy, gradually giving way to a soft state when paired with the gravy. Mashed red potatoes came out as a renegade with its rough skin still clinging to the more glamourous white interior. I savored the side of haluski more, a Western PA specialty of Polish-Slovakian origin that involves simple, but robust ingredients of cabbage and noodles. To quote Walken, "You need more of it."
As we neared the end of our meals, we began slipping into a food coma. Matt, too, had indulged in an equally heavy meal: crab-stuffed haddock with sides of rice pilaf and haluski. Our goal for the evening was to take in good-old fashioned food followed by the sounds of a good-old fashioned boy (Justin Hale aka Just Inhale). But our 30-something eyes glazed over from the weight of our food and the low depths of our energy, thereby setting us back from enjoying a rollicking set with Windber's youth. We both almost said in unison, "I'll go home if you want to go home." It was bedtime and the clock hadn't even struck 10 p.m. yet. And this was a Saturday, people. Too bad we couldn't check in for the night at The Windber Hotel.
The Windber Hotel
502 15th St.
Windber, PA 15963
Web site: www.thewindberhotel.com