Thursday, June 23, 2011

Black and Blue update for Easton hipsters, beer lovers and Which Brew alumni

I received a sweet e-mail from a reader who is connected to the Black and Blue restaurant project in Easton. The restaurant opened this week, and one of my favorite bloggers, Noel from Neighbors of Easton, reports that all is witchy good over there (read her report, here).

My source gave a great description of why Black and Blue's opening is such a big deal to hipsters in Easton. Which Brew was a special gathering place for this group, and regulars understood the connection with each other. The bar's allure derived from its proprietor, Kelly-Jo Ditze, initially of Weyerbacher Pub fame, whose blended sarcasm and friendly conversation made for a unique dining and drinking experience. I experienced this myself many times. I recall one special night where old friends gathered and shared nibbles and drinks in the dining room to the far left of the entrance, and another evening spent on the beer garden patio.

Which Brew's food menu was peculiar, yet addicitive, and the beer selection was probably the second best in Easton to Porter's Pub, Which Brew's brother/sister bar across Northampton Street. Which Brew's somewhat sudden closing resulted from circumstances beyond the proprietor's control and the word most people use to describe it is "shady." Not being able to confirm any more details, I'll leave it at that.

Now, with the impending opening of Black and Blue (and the illustrious Kelly Jo returning as proprietor, along with beloved servers and bartenders), "the coterie of Which Brew groupies can be reunited," (my source's words - I love them). Fans of Tap & Table (closed), Porter's Pub, Pearly Baker's, and The Bookstore (still open) will enjoy the vibe and would be wise to get in on any mug club early.

Food items range from $4 - $9, beers range from $4 - $24 (for a couple of the wine-sized bottles of import beer), and absinthe runs $9 - $11 a glass. Black and Blue is located at 683 Walnut Street in Easton, across from the courthouse, and is open Tues - Fri 4-11 and Saturday noon to midnight. They do not take reservations, but for more information call (610) 438-3604. (Source: Neighbors of Easton)


My source visited the new spot a few months ago, and many patrons got a peek inside during the recent Easton Pub Crawl event. The remodeled space is cool and inviting...and dark, the way that Which Brew was, but styled more Art Nouveau than Halloween chic. I'm looking forward to checking it out for myself when they open very soon! Places like Which Brew are neighborhood gems and regional draws, the kind of places where people meet their future spouses, talk about anything but work, and experiment with new ways to excite their palates.

Remember Which Brew? Excited about Black and Blue? Did you love a place like this where you lived before you moved to the Lehigh Valley?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blues, Brews & BBQ - recap & a lovey note to one of my favorite local writers





Kelly Huth at the Express Times wrote a nice recap of Saturday's event in Allentown.

If you aren't reading Kelly's stuff, you're missing out. Even if you don't subscribe to the paper, you can sign up for an RSS feed of her articles or "follow" her on LehighValleyLive.com. This assistant editor writes primarily about the arts, restaurants, cooking, and entertainment, in a fresh, bright style that is a pleasure to read.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Mint, a Bethlehem gastropub

Gastropub = a bar and restaurant that serves high-end beer and food

My bf and I visited The Mint (1223 W. Broad St., Bethlehem) last night. The place is not yet "officially" open, but you can stop in during their soft opening week. The bar was humming when we arrived, and we grabbed two stools next to a guy named Frank, who told me that the rest of his group were regulars at the now-closed Main Street Depot, who'd followed their two favorite bartenders to their new gigs at The Mint.

Owners Domenic Lombardo (of Stefano's and Sweet Basil fame) smartly recruited Pittsburgh native-by-way-of-Arizona Brad Navarra to the Valley to help him open the restaurant/bar/lounge in the former Bank of America building, across the street from Abe's Six Pack shop (a destination for microbrew lovers). Brad is managing the bar and has established the restaurant's extensive domestic microbrew list, designed hand-crafted cocktails and put together the restaurant's wine list, which currently includes primarily Italian and Californian wines by the glass.
The Mint is the only Lehigh Valley restaurant to have Victory's Donnybrook Stout on tap. (The bar hopes to sell enough beer to have its own signature Victory microbrew someday.) Later this month, The Mint will close the restaurant for 25 lucky Victory lovers, for a private Victory pairing night: a four-course meal paired with brews, for $70 a person. They're taking reservations now with a deposit.

Some nuts and bolts to know: The restaurant is open seven days a week for dinner until past midnight, and for lunch every day except Fridays. You'll find plenty of off-street and on-street parking. The patio is dog-friendly and the area that once was the bank's drive-through lane is now a smoking patio which will soon feature a gas fireplace. You'll need a reservation, especially on a weekend night. The menu currently ranges from local favorites - red cabbage pierogies and steak and egg - to gastropub classics like steamers and truffled mac and cheese - to house specialties like a vegetarian chickpea cake dish Dom stole from a friend ("Stolen Recipe"), and smoked trout. The menu will be updated regularly to reflect seasonal items as well as customer tastes.

Here are some pictures of our dinner. The official ribbon cutting is expected to occur next Monday. I wish nothing but the best for The Mint's team! See you again soon.
I couldn't resist the lobster roll with sweet potato fries and wine.Custom napkin rings. The bank theme is subtle and not cheesy.
BF had the signature burger with tater tots and a glass of Victory Summer Love Ale.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lehigh Valley school districts

Transplants, even if you are not a property owner (and thus, directly pay taxes to local schools), it would behoove you to pay attention to what's happening in your local school district.

Here are some recent headlines about the three cities' school district budget woes and the state situation:

Bethlehem schools shed 145 jobs in 2011-12 budget: Property taxes to rise 1.7 percent under $203.8 million spending plan (The Morning Call, June 14, 2011)

Easton Area School Board approves agreement with teachers (Express-Times, May 26, 2011)

[Allentown] District Continues To Look For Ways To Pinch Pennies: Budget Deadline Just Two Weeks Away (wfmz.com, June 9, 2011)

Allentown school district lays off 165 employees (WHTM, June 10, 2011)

Budget cuts to education will harm students, force local property tax increases
(PSEA.org)

A few things that are important for transplants to know:

1. True, most of the "cuts" are being made through attrition and eliminating staff who serve "nice to have" programs like hall monitors, reading specialists, parent liaisons and electives that attract only a few students each year. But those people and programs served some of the unique needs of students who don't fit the mold - the ones who need a little more attention/discipline/patience/challenge. Larger class sizes could also hurt the kids that need more - that is, the gifted and talented students as well as students with learning challenges.

2. With hundreds of unemployed teachers living in the region, it's going to be hard for even the most enthusiastic and talented young person with a teaching certificate to get a job here for a while. That means most will be commuting to New Jersey, substitute teaching, or maybe even finding a new career, until things turn around.

3. Despite the cuts, so-called "school taxes" are expected to rise everywhere. Even if you do not directly pay property taxes to your local district, your landlord does, and you are likely to see a higher rent bill in the future to reflect increased costs.

4. Most comments posted on the local media web sites are anonymous. That means anyone can publish any unkind, ignorant, unproductive comment they feel like writing, without any accountability (or spell checking).

There is a lot more to the story, but knowing these facts will help you understand some of the current issues in the region, and hopefully start you thinking about your local district. Find out how the state's budget cuts affect your community and form a well-researched opinion of your own!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

TC Salon and Dan Schantz updates - sorry we were right this time

TC Salon and Spa has closed its Allentown location. That means both locations are now closed, and there's no indication they will re-open. Many other local salons will honor part or all of the gift certificate you never used. Don't say we didn't warn you; here's a link to some other options.

Dan Schantz is closing its Bethlehem location, but its Allentown location will remain open "forever," according to the e-mail I received from the store. Everything in Bethlehem is 50% off while it lasts. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Restaurant updates/transitions... so you are in the know

Hey, umm... a few things have changed. Here's what you need to know at the watercooler.

1. Open: Bridgeworks, a restaurant on the South Side of Bethlehem near Lehigh University, was purchased and reconfigured, and named Lehigh Pub by the new owners. Then a couple of kids refused to tip their server and it made national news. Now it's called Molly's Irish Grille & Sports Pub. A lot of the old Bridgeworks menu items are still around (shepherd's pie, mmm...) plus the bar features a ton of microbrews on tap and by bottle.

2. Not Yet Open: A tried and true Lehigh Valley restaurant family will soon fill the gastropub void that Tap & Table left. It's called The Mint and is located in an old Bank of America building next to Abe's Six Pack shop. Owner Dominic Lombardo is the son of Stefano Lombardo, of the Stefano's you may already know and love. Dominic is the guy who brought you Sweet Basil in Northampton. The Mint will open any day now, according to my sources, likely around June 15. (1223 W. Broad St., West Bethlehem)

3. Open: Bloggers Chris & Erica, Laini and Glenn got a sneak peek at Emeril's Italian Table, the newest restaurant at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, while I was on vacay. If this is news to you, the only thing you should say about this is, I want to go. It sounds cool. A question like "We have a casino?" is not good. You should also know that Emeril has two other restaurants at The Sands already.

4. Open: There's a new Spanish tapas restaurant on Main Street in Bethlehem called Tapas on Main (easy to remember, right?). It replaced Tika's, which replaced Tortilla Flat. The new place is owned by the people who owned Pacifico at the Promenade Shops, the Latin restaurant in the Promenade Shops of Center Valley. It will likely do well, and it will get overflow traffic from Mama Nina's, which is ridiculously popular. ALSO - be very carefully when pronouncing TAPAS restaurant, as this is not a naked establishment. It is the first Lehigh Valley restaurant to call itself a tapas place, but Apollo Grill has been doing this for a long time. A few Junior League women and I had the sangria last night after an event and sat in the back circular booth and watched the place in action!

5. Not Yet Open: Black and Blue is a new restaurant in Easton, brought to you by the minds behind a place called Which Brew (a business which is now closed - the building at 665 Northampton Street is now home to an Irish pub, Slainte). To say that Which Brew had a cult following is an understatement. Reference the two Facebook pages in the restaurant's honor: "I Utterly Miss Which Brew" and "I miss Which Brew in Easton" each 100+ members strong. Their new location, 683 Walnut Street, Easton, is in the space formerly occupied by the Blue Tone Cafe.

Your additions are welcome, but that should get you started!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Blues, Brews and Barbecue

BF asked if we wanted to invite our newlywed couple friends to an event this Saturday.
I asked: Isn't it a barbecue event? Aren't they vegetarian? Will this fest have anything they can eat?

Uh, yeah. Vegetarian/vegan local fave
Balasia is a vendor. Allentown thinks of everything.

This Saturday's Blues, Brews and Barbecue event is fun for everyone (including vegetarians) and is happening from noon - 10PM on Hamilton Street between 7th and 9th Streets in Allentown.

This annual free event is an urban festival in the tradition of great downtown fests: kids running through the fountain, music, casual food, outdoor drinking, and after parties. If you don't plan get there early, bring a chair or blanket to sit on.




(pics from last year's event, courtesy of Tara Craig)

Some new features for 2011: two stages for non-stop live music, expanded entertainment like cooking demos and fire performing, an array of artists and expanded activities for children including rides and even a petting zoo in Allentown's "Pocket Park" at 8th & Gordon.

Confirmed Vendors include Made in Brazil, Maison Blanc's Deliciously Wicked BBQ, Danny's Fine Foods, Fat Boy's House of BBQ, 8th Street Creamery, Fegley's Brew Works, The Back Door Bakeshop, Grumpy's Barbecue Roadhouse, Balasia, Sangria, and Valenca.

How to get there: Take Route 22 to 7th Street, and instead of going north to the mall like you usually do, go south into downtown Allentown. Park for free in the Farr lot (20-32 N. 8th St.) or Spiral deck (820-836 Linden St.):




Spiral deck (natives call it the Hess's deck for the store that isn't there anymore)

* "After the show is the afterparty": Downtown restaurants will all be offering "after blues specials." We will likely head over to Cosmopolitan's new rooftop deck to check out the views and drink a yummy cocktail (enjoy responsibly, people).

** "After the party is the hotel lobby": And if you don't feel like enjoying responsibly, Holiday Inn Center City is offering a special $99 blues rate if you want to stay over.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Free outdoor yoga meet-up in Allentown




I just received a tip about a free yoga asana meet-up for people of all yoga experience levels. Instructor Ray Killeen will teach a group outdoor summer series absolutely free to all who attend.



His asana series flows at a steady pace in the flavor of Ashtanga Vinyasa, my favorite practice of yoga, linking movement with breath to foster strength, flexibility, balance, relaxation and self-awareness. This yoga practice is NOT sitting and Om-ing: it's a workout. Participants should wear unrestrictive loose fit clothing in layers (dress for the weather). Bring a yoga mat, water, friends/family/coworkers and a smile!

Meet the group at Hamilton Boulevard & South Ott St. (Cedar Beach Park, volleyball court) 06/05/11 - 08/28/11 Sundays 10:30 am (weather permitting), Allentown, PA 18104 Phone: (610) 406-3395

Monday, June 06, 2011

Local police force might go regional

The Morning Call ran a piece last week in which Andrew McGill describes Nazareth Borough's dilemma: support a police force with rising costs, or join a regional policing group and save taxpayer dollars?

If the borough doesn't seem to need it (since there's been no major police work despite staffing cuts), why continue to pay for it? Residents weigh in:



"I'm almost kind of disgusted," [one local business owner] said. "When you know the officer, when he drives by, you know who he is. I'll stand on the corner and wave to them."

With Colonial Regional, he wonders if he will ever recognize a friendly face.

Many in Nazareth on Friday agreed. They spoke of outsiders hard inflection: Cops from BETH-lehem, Cata-SAQUA [sic]. They don't want them here. Would you, they ask? Wouldn't you want someone born here, raised here, schooled here?

"They're what kept our town safe for all this time," said Fred Werkheiser, sitting in his Main Street shoe store Friday. "How far are we from Easton? And we're nothing like it. It's because of the attention these guys pay to details. They're a part of the community."
Anecdotally, I am pretty sure that BETH-lehem and CataSAUQUA's professional police and fire departments are staffed mostly with graduates of their own local schools, so it's not as if Nazareth has cornered the (Mitch's) market on favoritism (or even xenophobia).

However, assuming that police officers from other municipalities couldn't do a great job protecting and serving the community is ignorant. Implying that an officer raised in Easton might actually be unfriendly, wouldn't help someone pick up a box, or wouldn't pay attention to details is unkind.

In fact, an officer with broader experience may bring a much-needed perspective to the streets of Nazareth. Plus, it's not like Nazareth is hard for an outsider to figure out or find your way around. Residents have an opportunity to learn from them if they would be welcoming to new faces to the borough. I'm sure the regional entity would place former Nazareth police officers on their existing beats when possible.

I understand that change is hard, but if Nazareth taxpayers don't want to feel the impact of continued rising personnel costs, regionalization may be the only option.