By Susan Gottshall
Special to The Morning Call
A good meal is nothing less than a gift — of gustatory pleasure, of a creative, skilled cook’s time and talent, of the earth’s bounty. Christmas seems a perfect time to remember the top gustatory gifts I’ve enjoyed at the 50-some restaurants I visited this year. Here are my 2014 Top 10 fine food moments (alphabetically):
•The Bayou (702 Hawthorne Road, Bethlehem; 610-419-6669, http://www.dat-bayou.com/). Who knew black-eyed peas could be addictive? Here they are flash-fried and seasoned with herbs, lemon zest and cayenne and I can’t get them out of my mind. Guinness chocolate cake with toasted marshmallow ice cream sticks sweetly in my gray matter as well. Thank you, Bayou, for bringing southern comfort fare to the Lehigh Valley.
•Daddy’s Place (650 Northampton St., Easton; 610-438-4442, http://www.daddysplaceeaston.com). At this family-owned Mediterranean restaurant, seasoned ground beef and pine nuts crowned hummus, served with a fresh-from-the-oven, beautiful puff of homemade pita. Pizza-like homemade “labne” — with its thin crust topped by tangy yogurt, onion, parsley, mint, spices and olive oil — was a savory feast. Even the house vegetable medley — green pepper, eggplant, mushrooms and onion — was delicious.
•Grille 3501 (3501 Broadway, South Whitehall Township; 610-706-0100, http://www.grille3501.com). A newly constructed loft proved an exciting addition at this longtime Lehigh Valley favorite. Crispy, nutty sesame chicken dumplings yielded delectable, complex flavor. With pistachios and red beets, bright baby arugula salad tickled taste buds, and boneless beef spareribs practically dissolved in the mouth, leaving behind a wicked, happy smile.
•Hummus House (1502 W. Chew St., Allentown; 610-434-8800, http://www.thehummushouse.com). I love that much of the fresh, carefully made fare at this cafe-like deli is based on family recipes. Roasted red onion hummus and chive hummus were tasty twists on the original. Abundant texture highlighted spinach pie with pomegranate seeds and walnuts in seven-grain pastry, and pine nuts added rich counterpoint to gentle-baked kibbee.
•Manifiesto (904 Hamilton St., Allentown; 610-351-3301). What I remember most about my meal here inside the Holiday Inn in Allentown was meltingly tender pork shoulder slowly roasted in dark ale and caramelized in Creole sauce, some of the most flavorful pork I’ve tasted. Ceviche, made with coconut milk, imparted delicious sweet notes. Patties of mashed, caramelized plantain showcased Manifiesto’s Spanish and Latin American cuisine in luscious form.
•The Mayflower Luncheonette (622 W. Broad St., Bethlehem; 610-691-8111, http://www.mayflowerlunch.com). Neon pink booths and green tables set a retro stage here for top-notch Greek-inspired fare. A gyro meat, feta, home fries and onion omelet with tzatiki sauce in grilled pita was a one-of-a-kind sandwich. Homemade yogurt with honey, berries and walnuts was ambrosial, and kataifi, a shredded filo nest with nuts and honey syrup, was sweet perfection.
•Pomme Verte Bistro (190 S. Greenwood Ave., Palmer Township; 610-438-1339, http://www.bistropommeverte.com). A parade of memorable fare filled my repast at this French restaurant: decadently delicious duck fat fries with roasted garlic aioli; buttery garlic- and Dijon-seared lamb loin; roasted Brussels sprouts. Green apple tarte tatin with brown butter cinnamon ice cream might just be the best French dessert this side of the Atlantic.
•Shankara (201 E. Third St., Bethlehem; 484-330-6405, http://www.balasia.net. My vegan meal here was so good I considered transforming my diet. Nutty sesame carrots were tender and sweet; parsnips left me wanting more. Inspired zucchini Alfredo featured long ribbons of raw squash in a ground nut sauce, and crunchy purple cabbage salad with ginger sent a jolt of flavor through tired taste buds.
•Torre (2960 Center Valley Parkway, Promenade Shops, Suite 706, Center Valley; 610-841-9399, http://www.torrerestaurant.com). Mexican-themed Torre sizzles with its conversation-starter three-story tequila tower and fresh, freshly made innovative fare. House guacamole with cilantro, chili Serrano and lime was exceptional. Open face tacos — citrus-tequila shrimp with mango pico de gallo and grilled tuna with aji Amarillo aioli — yielded clean, distilled flavor. Torre’s stick-to-your-ribs yucca fries are my new go-to carb.
•Youell’s (2249 Walnut St., Allentown; 610-439-1203, http://www.youellsoysterhouse.com). Youell’s story of fire tragedy transformed into opportunity thankfully ended with a rebuilt, light-filled restaurant. My meal here was one delight after another: glistening Beaverhead specimens from the oyster bar; tuna tartare punctuated by black and white sesame seeds; skate cooked to perfection; and lump crabmeat with brown butter, oh-so-sweet, nutty and rich. I love happy endings.
Susan Gottshall is a freelance writer.
Jodi Duckett, editor
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