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Foot of the Mountain

October 11, 2009

Foot of the Mountain Restaurant is, literally, at the foot of the mountain on historic Pa. 16, near Cove Gap, Pa. The day I visited the restaurant was the beginning of cold weather. Two friends from the city, Meg and Amy, had driven north for a day. Our plan was to explore the autumn beauty of the mountains, to visit the James Buchanan monument and, especially, to enjoy a leisurely lunch together.

A sign on the two-story building declared that the restaurant had been here since 1971. An airlock antechamber attested to the colder winters in these parts, keeping cold air from flooding the restaurant. There were two dining rooms downstairs. We were directed to the western room which featured a wall of windows and seating for about 40. Upstairs was a banquet hall for special events.

Our round table was simply set with a vase of Asiatic lilies in the center. Sugar, salt and pepper were in utilitarian glass containers and the silverware was wrapped in a white paper napkin

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A line on the menu caught our attention: "Our in-house butcher." Our waitress nodded toward the butcher -- a young man enjoying his lunch at a nearby table. We decided to try variations of his craft. Liver and onions, a special for $7.95, appealed to me. Meg chose the New York Strip Steak ($15.95 for 11 ounces) and Amy ordered pork chops ($11.50 for two chops). Then we looked around the wood-lined dining room and out the big windows to the black walnut forest outside.

Meg noticed the birds first. Bird feeders lined the fence outside the windows, offering suet, sunflower seeds and sugar water. We watched as they swooped in from the trees, ate, and flew away. Amy pointed to the poster behind us which identified the birds and soon we three were able to distinguish the nuthatch, yellow finch, titmouse and sparrow. Then a great gray squirrel leapt onto the ledge. Birds scattered. And the waitress appeared with our meal.

The liver and onions were well done, more than I prefer. The meat would have suited my Pennsylvania kin. The taste was excellent and the serving was substantial. The serrated knife was appreciated.

Each meal came with two sides. We had each chosen different sides. I ordered a baked potato and corn fritters. The fritters were deep fried, about three inches in diameter, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The outside was crisp and crunchy but, perhaps because they were big, the inside was not fully cooked. I just ate the crust and was happy with that, for they were tasty.

Meg's New York strip steak had been recommended by the waitress and it was a winner. More than an inch thick, the steak was cooked medium rare, as she had asked. The taste was so very meaty, rich and juicy. Meg was glad to share, for her portion was huge.

Her sides were corn pudding and coleslaw. The coleslaw was homemade with a dressing like my grandmother made: mayonnaise, sugar and vinegar, tossed over shredded cabbage and carrots. The corn pudding was also homemade, a concoction none of us had ever tried. It was creamy and eggy, studded with kernels of corn.

We had all enjoyed reading the book "Toward the Morning" by Hervey Allen -- an historical novel about this area. The author lovingly described the food which travelers ate as they crossed over Central Pennsylvania mountains in 1764. Corn pudding was a staple, as well as cornpone fingers, corn mush and corn muffins. This warm filling side dish was surely valued by long-ago travelers.

The two pork chops which Amy ordered were cut from an outstanding piece of pork. Pork in this part of the world is a joy. The cuts were thin, however, so the meat was more cooked than Amy preferred. Her sides were great companions to the pork chops. The chilled applesauce was a delightful contrast; Amy said she did not care that it undoubtedly came from a can or jar. And the sliced cucumbers and onions were a surprise: crisp, cold and vinegary.

For dessert, we all opted for blueberry pie. We were happy with our choice for this blueberry pie was exquisite -- a fragrant triangle on the white plate. The crust was glazed and it was crisp and delicious. Inside, blueberries were wrapped in a cornstarch and sugar milieu. "This is real pie," we all said in unison, and then there was silence as we ate. The coffee served with it was of standard strength.

Our waitress was competent and pleasant, but there were lapses in service, such as forgetting requests. Then we noticed we were the last patrons for lunch that day. Soothing flute and piano music was turned off. Our plates were whisked away before we had finished. The bill came quickly. We knew it was time to go. As soon as we walked out the door, our waitress followed and drove off into the mountains. There was a faint chill in the air outside, and we shivered. It had been an interesting, delicious and satisfying meal, but lingering taste in my mouth was a bit sour.

The food was great. The setting was beautiful. The restaurant was attractive. The service was adequate. I might go back and soon, when the leaves change and before the snow falls. The "in-house butcher" was a real artist. So was the pie maker. When I return, I might order a sirloin steak and pecan pie. And then I could scatter bread crumbs outside for the birds.

Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelance writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

Foot of the Mountain

3 stars out of 5

Food: 4 stars (out of 5)

Service: 2 stars

Ambiance: 3 stars

Value: 3 stars

Address: 14191 Buchanan Trail (Pa. 16), Mercersburg, Pa.

Phone: 717-328-2960

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7 am. to 3 p.m. Sunday

Style: American food

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