A few months ago, I moved from a small city to a different small city. I highly recommend doing this every few years. Moving, I mean. There’s nothing quite as invigorating as uprooting yourself to slough off any ennui borne of familiarity, comfort, and home.
So I left Reading, PA and headed for Allentown. Of Billy Joel fame. We are living here now. Actually 20 minutes from Allentown, but close enough to avail ourselves of the amenities.
We started looking into said amenities soon after the check for the down payment cleared. Did you know Allentown has no less than ten hibachi grills? Yes, it’s true that hibachi is so 70s, but it’s still a lot of fun what with the shrimp flying at your face and all. If you have a really great chef, the entertainment is endless. The last hibachi experience we had left the table looking like a war zone. Jolly good time.
The point is every hunter/gatherer who surveys a new found landscape experiences a wonderful combination of delight and trepidation that gets the juices flowing. I’m at that point with the new digs. In addition to the endless hibachis, I’ve found a number of great places I’d like to relate: Gio’s and Buckeye Tavern in Macungie, Union & Finch at the corner of Union & Fulton (go figure), for starters. There’s even a piece of heaven I found when we ventured into the far reaches of Center Valley somewhat south of A-town.
Southeast PA is a lovely corner of God’s green Earth. Existing in the vicinity of the Appalachians as it does, it tends toward hilly farmland. The area was settled long before the devil invented aluminum and vinyl siding, so you see a lot of stone houses around here. It’s an idyllic area and, in fact, the reason why I moved to Southeast PA a thousand years ago. It’s like living in a story book.
So the ride to Center Valley will put you in an elevated mood of serenity and nostalgia before you even get to — wait for it — the mall. Seriously? Yes, a mall. A high-end mall, but mall nonetheless. I usually avoid those hellholes like the plague, but I’d heard this restaurant — Melt — was worth the trip across the River Styx. It is all that. In fact the restaurant’s facade is so impressive you could almost — if you squint, and you had previously warmed up with a martini — think you were in Vegas, so impressively does this structure rise from the cement.
The building is three stories of fabulous food that will, no doubt, blow you away. The first two floors are Melt proper, serving high-end Italian. The third floor is called “Top Cut” and features steaks mostly. You can get a Porterhouse there for $90. Bring your credit card.
Don’t let the high-end fool you. You can actually afford Melt and it’s worth whatever anyway, because the décor alone is an experience. I find exposed beams and classy lighting always makes food taste better and the Melt experience is exceptional. It’s quiet with no effing sports TVs. And lovely carpets, polished wood. We sat at one of those semi-circular tables that they show in gangster movies where the local Don holds court. I half expected Joe Pesci to stop by to say “hi.”
After dinner, my SO ordered a cognac. Spoiler alert: the after dinner drink menu has no prices. The SO bravely chose some unknown quantity which the waitress refused to serve unless he signed a waiver stating the restaurant wouldn’t be held responsible for any sticker shock heart attacks. Apparently a shot of the stuff was over two hundred bucks. The SO opted for a $15 snifter of Hennessey instead.
The food was great, the ambiance sublime, the experience singular. I insisted on speaking with the head chef. He wasn’t there because he’s actually corporate chef of the Paxos group and has no time for meeting with guests or other frivolity.
I did, however, catch up with the guy — Christopher Heath — a few weeks later. I’ll reveal his back story in the next installment of this 2-part series. Until then, get out and eat!
—Sue Lange/producer, Le Bon Chef (get on the mailing list)