Friday, February 27, 2009

Bar formerly known as Our Beerbelly's


Our Beerbelly's is under new management!

Billy Cornish, the owner of The Standard, Mother's Bar and Grill and Drinky's in Easton, has re-opened the bar as Roosevelt's 21st (21 East Elizabeth Ave. Bethlehem). I love the concept; taking the bar's street address and paying tribute to the amendment that ended Prohibition. Smart.

It should be open by the beginning of March, and it will be a great place to go before Moravian College and Liberty football games.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

DeSales University Act 1 performance: Death of a Salesman

We used to dress up and go to shows at the Kennedy Center, marveling at its towering red curtains, spacious hallways, panoramic views of the Potomac River, and world-class performances. So when I tell you that we were impressed by the latest DeSales University student production, you should know that we have seen enough to know what's really good.

And these students - we dare not call them kids - are GOOD.

So good that we actually subscribed to the Act 1 (DeSales University's theater company's) 2008-2009 season. In October we tried to guess the ending of The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie's murder mystery. We caroled along with the cast during their clever rendition of Merry Christmas, George Bailey! - an old-timey radio show production of It's a Wonderful Life - in December.

Not only is the university casting students for the right roles in the productions, but they are recruiting gifted young performers out of high school in the first place, as well as selecting productions that are suitable for the audience (mostly older), theater size (473 seats - and almost always sold out when we visit), and pool of talent (richly diverse). Add to that an obvious commitment to service, from the box office to the ushers, a reasonable ticket price, and a terrific sound and lighting team, and you have an amazing asset here in the Lehigh Valley.

The latest performance we took in was Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and we were fortunate to have selected the ASL-signed performance for hearing impaired. (We got twice the show - those interpreters signed with passion!) Professor Wayne Turney portrayed Willy Loman, a salesman who is plagued by memories and battles his own ego in his "quest for legacy." But the students stole the show - Jenny from the LVCVB took the words out of my blog - Victoria Rose Bonito's portrayal of Willy's glass-half-full, desperate wife sent chills down my spine. We've seen her in a number of Act 1 performances, and she has impressed us every time. The best part of being a subscriber is following the students from their first shows (their bios in the show program tell us) to their final, and the spring musical, Sunday in the Park with George, will likely be Ms. Bonito's last show at DeSales. We can't wait to see what she and her fellow cast members will do with Sondheim's modern musical ode to Seurat's painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," (which we saw last year at the Art Institute of Chicago).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Foodie alert" ? Restaurant Week

The Morning Call posted an all points bulletin today announcing not one but two Restaurant Weeks in the Lehigh Valley. In DC, the announcement of Restaurant Week always prompted an email from my friend Kirwei with a list of restaurants and a request that the group narrow it down and pick a night. It was a great excuse to get friends together and check out a place that most or all of us had not been before. True, the servers hated waiting on a bunch of poor young pros like us, and the ingredients were not usually the fanciest. But baby, it was cold outside, and we usually went back at non-RW times if we liked it. Isn't that the point? So... in the spirit of Kirwei and the DC Restaurant Week, here's a list of places I haven't visited yet and want to go to during Restaurant Week(s): Dinner

  • Shula's Steak House, Promenade Shops
Lunch

  • 24 East at 24 E. Third Street - Bethlehem

  • Dartos’ Restaurant at 46 W. North Street - Bethlehem

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hyatt Hotel in Bethlehem

The Eastern PA Business Journal reported an update on the Hyatt Hotel project in Bethlehem (North Guetter and North Street) this week. It's already under construction right behind the Wachovia Bank on Broad Street. It will be great to have another new business in Bethlehem, especially one that might keep the only other place with sleeping rooms in Historic Bethlehem on its toes. :)

According to the EPBJ, it's slated to open in September, and there will be six floors, a small bar for hotel guests (boo), meeting rooms and an indoor pool!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Watch out, half-rate places that proclaim good burgers and fries and a casual atmosphere: Here comes Five Guys to kick yer butt. The first one opened in Arlington, VA, outside of DC, in 1986, and they have been making fast food franchisees cry ever since.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries is a staple in DC and we've already got one in the area (4025 Tilghman Street, Allentown). A new store is opening at the Target/Christmas Tree/shopping center you can see from Route 22 at the Airport Road exit (Airport Rd and Catasauqua Rd, Allentown). The Morning Call says the shopping center is called Airport Center but we all know that no one except the leasing office will call it that.

When I tell you that my friend Anisha and I once waited 20 minutes in line JUST TO ORDER at the Chinatown location and then devoured our burgers and fries in less than 3 minutes while standing up, you might think I am exaggerating, but just you wait.

There are a few key things to know before your first 5G experience:
1) *Most Important* Do not enter if you are allergic to peanuts. There are peanut shells all over the floor. It's awful, but it's just one of those places to avoid if you have nut allergies.
2) This is not diet food. But if you feel the need to calculate Weight Watchers Points, they do offer nutrition facts on their web site.
3) All of the burgers are cooked well-done. Sorry, Dad.
4) They only offer about 12 items. If you can't decide, or if your fancy sensibilities are offended by a dish called simply "bacon cheeseburger," step aside so the rest of us can order!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Marla Duran Clothing & Accessories

Moe sent an email last week telling me about a little open house going on at Marla Duran's studio (109 E. Third St., South side Bethlehem). When I walked through the door I was greeted by three friendly little dogs. The shop was full of women poring through racks of sale items and sipping wine, and Marla was at the center of it all, cutting deals and holding court. No fewer than five women were lined up at the counter at all times. Many of them were wearing one of Marla's designs from previous visits to the store, including colorful, cozy jackets and pretty scarves. I found a fun little red cowl-neck long-sleeved dress (sadly, not one of Marla's originals but perfect for Valentine's Day) and lined up with my fellow shoppers. Marla does more than just process a transaction - she knows many of her customers by name and takes time to catch up. When it was my turn, I introduced myself and she was warm, thoughtful and happy I'd stopped in. I was happy I stopped in, too; I got a great deal and it was really nice to meet her after seeing her on Project Runway. Check out one of her furry friends in the front window of the store.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Thai Thai II


Between Sunday night meetings, Courtney and I had time for a quick bite in Bethlehem. We debated over a few spots: Olive Branch (355 Broadway, South Bethlehem), Sal's Brick Oven Pizza‎ (313 S New St., South Bethlehem) and either Thai Kitchen (347 Broadway, South Bethlehem) or Thai Thai II (509 Main St., Historic Bethlehem - props to Tina Bradford on her post about it). Neither of us had been to TTII, so we motored across the Fahy Bridge just to check it out. I wasn't even sure exactly where it was, so we crept slowly along Main Street looking for a sign. When we finally saw it, we grabbed a parking spot right across the street and walked in. Bethlehem is such a dead zone on Sunday night, and I can't figure out why. All the restaurants are open and there's free street parking!

We walked in and were seated in a booth quickly. That was the end of "quickly" for TTII. We did everything short of a physical take-down on our server to get him to our table, and we overheard a few other patrons complaining. *Interesting, because a lot of people complain about the speed of service at Thai Kitchen and White Orchids too. It's not as if the noodles aren't pre-cooked; can anyone explain?* Clearly the problem at TTII last night was that there were two guys in the dining room and probably one person in the kitchen, and at least 10 tables of hungry patrons to serve.

We both picked Pad Thai (the spaghetti and meatballs of Asian cuisine); I know we are both more adventurous typically, but a menu that is 7 pages long is a little daunting, and at a new restaurant... sometimes it's good to go for what you know. Plus, for me, a Thai place is only as good as its Pad Thai dish. To be honest... it was... okay. I paid $3 extra for shrimp in mine and was disappointed at both the size and quantity I received. Maybe next time we'll try one of the chef's specialties.

Be warned, the joint is BYOB and fountain drinks are $1.75/each. I am glad to have another place where we can bring our own bottle of wine, but the bummer about the BYO's on Main Street is... no state store nearby to pick up one, if we forgot (like we did last night). White Orchids has one up on TTII for this reason. The tab, after tax and tip, was $20.00/person.

The Lehigh Valley is full of Thai restaurants now:


  • Touch of Thai - 123 N. Second Street - Easton

  • Phenom - 161 Northampton St. - Easton

  • Thai Kitchen - 347 Broadway - South Bethlehem

  • White Orchids Thai Cuisine - 2985 Center Valley Parkway - Promenade Shops

  • Kow Thai - 1201 W. Linden Street - Allentown

And two restaurants that serve some Thai dishes, or Thai-inspired dishes, that I've already blogged about:



  • The Cafe - 221 W. Broad St. - Bethlehem

  • Bay Leaf Restaurant - 935 E. Hamilton St. - Allentown

What's your favorite and why?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Kome

I like sushi, but I have a friend who LOVES sushi. When Kome opened (without much fanfare if you ask me) at the Promenade Shops I mentioned it to her, but it didn't seem to register until recently. She decided quickly that Kome was the place she preferred to visit to celebrate her ##th birthday this week. I made reservations through Opentable.com.
When I arrived, I was told that 'the rest of the party' had already been seated, by a gracious hostess. I walked by the section with a bar and hibachi tables, and into the dining room. The ceilings are high and the decor is modern Japanese-meets-Center Valley. Very accessible, but also beautifully appointed. Tea light candles accented the room, which was softly lit and featured a long sushi bar in the back, where sushi chefs in starched white uniforms idled, waiting for the first orders to come in. As soon as I was seated, our server, Jake, arrived to ask whether I'd like anything to drink. In addition to the typical sake and beer list, Kome offers some great wines by the glass. I picked a flowery (floral?) fume blanc.

You know those times when you look at a menu and you just can't decide, because there's nothing that calls to you? This was not one of those times. We couldn't decide, because there were so many interesting dishes to try. I selected a lobster miso soup, but Jake let me know it wasn't available that evening. He recommended the spicy seafood miso instead, served as soup for two, in one huge bowl, two spoons and two pairs of chopsticks. I loved the tasty bits of clam, shrimp and mushroom in the fiery broth. We ordered a bunch of sushi rolls and nigiri, and Jake brought them out pretty quickly. (All of this speed kind of surprised me, since I'd read in the Morning Call and heard from someone who'd been there before that the service was a little slow.) There were some interesting combinations, and beautiful presentations, but what stood out was the quality of the ingredients. That's something that most local sushi places either can't afford or don't appreciate as much as Kome.
Even I was surprised when Jake brought out a bowl of ice cream with a candle in it, and - I am not joking - said kindly and sincerely, "Happy Birthday." No clapping. No impersonal, repetitive cheer. Someone at Kome actually read the note I left on Opentable, and relayed the message to our server. We weren't ready to go yet, so we ordered one more dessert to share (profiterole "sandwiches" stuffed with green tea ice cream) and I had coffee. The bill came to $120.00 with a generous tip for Jake, and we were both beaming and stuffed.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Allentown Art Museum

(photo: DENISE SANCHEZ, Allentown Morning Call)

I wrangled Stephanie into visiting the Allentown Art Museum (31 N. 5th Street, downtown Allentown) with me today during lunch, for one reason only: French Impressionism. While the chick they interviewed on Channel 69 news may have come off like an art snob, I am just a regular fan. Never took an art appreciation course. Just like 19th-century dreamy oil paintings. Plus I come by it honestly.

The exhibition is called Monet to Matisse: French Masterworks from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. Admission to the museum is $6 (or if you're a member like we are - or know someone who is - it's free!). It's only in Allentown through May 3; don't miss it!

I mentioned it a while back, but the Art After Hours events at the museum are really fun. Music, food, drinks, and hands-on activities make it an event that is fun for everyone. The event celebrating MTM (look, I can make an acronym out of anything, I must work for a big company) is March 21.

Jewelry by Randi

There's a store on the corner of Guetter and Raspberry Streets where I love to check stuff off of my list. Whether it's a broken necklace clasp, a bracelet that "needs" a pair of matching earrings, or a gift for someone I love (SIL), I know I will find a solution at Jewelry by Randi (77 W. Broad St., Bethlehem). I've been taking my (not always fine) jewelry to Randi to fix up for a couple of years, and have had Randi make a few custom pieces as well.

I stopped in recently to commission Randi to create a pair of earrings to go with a necklace I already had. While I was there, she let me snap a couple of photos of the inside and outside of the store. If you are looking for a last-minute Valentine's gift or if you have a few pieces of jewelry that you don't know what to do with, Randi can help. And if you just want to see an incredibly cute little girl, sometimes Randi's daughter Ruby makes an appearance in the store, too.

Here's the entrance!
This is what you'll see when you walk in:

And here's what you'll see as you're walking out the door with the perfect thing:

The Melting Pot

The Morning Call's Retail Watch announced that The Melting Pot is coming to the Valley. It's even on the corporate web site!

It will be located at the One East Broad building next to coffeehouse Java Brewin, and could open by as early as May, according to Ashley Development. Having worked with another local developer, I know how permits and financing can sometimes slow up the process, so I don't have my heart set on fondue for Memorial Day weekend.

Either the Lehigh Valley has achieved a whole new status, or this fondue restaurant chain is slumming it. The MP's in the DC area were in pretty tony ZIP codes, if not necessarily in a tony neighborhood (the ones in Rockville and Ballston were kind of weird locations though - nothing as charming as Historic Bethlehem!). And you can't really get out of there for less than $50.00/person, so if you think Shula's is overpriced, meet here's-your-pot-of-oil-cook-your-meal-yourself-now-pay-a hundred-bucks-thanks.

On the positive side, my college friend Stephanie worked at a 'Pot and pulled down serious tips (though she said she sometimes worked late hours). It was next to impossible to get a reservation at the Melting Pot on short notice. There was a gorgeous wine list and all the 'stuff' you dunk in oil, cheese and chocolate was first-rate. And it's a lot of fun to go as a group, as long as you aren't the germ-phobic type. So Mr. Pektor, whenever your newest tenant moves in, I will be there, fondue fork in hand.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Fantastic First Friday

When I stopped by TC Salon and Spa recently, I saw a flyer for Fantastic Friday at the Main Street Commons Shoppes (aka the building Bethlehem Brew Works is in). I was already thinking about First Friday, so I took it with me.

This Friday, 2/6, Girlfriends Boutique is featuring a fashion show including Valentine's Day Lingerie (!) and a fundraiser mixer at Brew Works featuring Hor'deouvers (sic), Entertainment and Door Prizes.

hors d'oeuvres is French, and hard to remember how to spell, but here's a tip a caterer gave me back in the day: The last four letters backwards are s-e-r-v-u. So the dirty memory trick is: "Whores do serv-u backwards." I don't know what the explanation for the first e or the apostrophe is, but there you go! I say, if you don't know how to spell it, just say snacks!


Proceeds from the charity auction, and ticket sales ($20) cover benefit Muscular Dystrophy Research. For tickets and more info: http://www.thebrewworks.com/. If you're out and about in Bethlehem, might as well check out First Friday on the South Side - why yes, First Friday does happen year-round! The list of businesses and their activities on the First Friday web site is a virtual must-visit list for those of us on a mission to support local businesses.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sagra Cooking


Since Friday night, I have been hungry for more Sagra (305 Village at Stones Crossing, Palmer Twp - no, it is not the end of the earth, you Allentonians). When I was looking up the Sagra web site to link to this blog, I noticed some fun classes coming up:
  • 2/18 Girls Night Out: Business Women’s Networking

  • 2/19 Girls Night- 6 White Grapes You Should Know

  • 2/28 Italian Seafood 6:30-8:30pm - we should know all about this in our family.

  • 3/25 Salute to Michael Chiarello - love him!
Anyone want to go?

Mom and I went to a Girls Night out maybe 6 months ago - back when there was no snow on the ground, does anyone remember that? There's a huge counter in the middle of the kitchen, with only a few feet of granite and your wine glass separating you from the action. Some classes are cooking classes, some are demonstrations, but you always get to eat. The ladies who attended the night each had a girlfriend or two to chat with, but were friendly with everyone. Robyn and Jim make sure of it! They also offer in-home cooking, catering, corporate team building (!), private parties, and special events. When you're in their space, you feel at home, except home doesn't have a wall of cooking utensils, gourmet seasonings and snacks, or a chef cracking jokes.