CENTRO recently celebrated its first anniversary as an exciting addition to the downtown Allentown dining scene. There is so much to like about CENTRO.
The interior of this chic spot is very appealing and beautifully appointed—starting at the unique quartz bar where you may enjoy one of their specialty drinks with friends; to the adjacent semi-circular booths and intimate dining tables and ending at the sunken lounge area with gas fireplace providing a warm and cozy atmosphere in which to socialize and enjoy after dinner drinks.
What an enjoyable feast of delectable tastes!
As with many of the restored historic downtown buildings, this one has exposed brick walls enhancing dark tile floors, uncovered exhaust pipes and wooden ceiling beams. Interesting eclectic artwork and wall hangings there and throughout a separate dining area near the entrance (that is perfect for private parties) complete the lovely decor. There is a large attractive patio allowing for al fresco dining in season.
We were shown to our table by Restaurant Manager Jesse Hyatt where we met our very friendly server Tommy who assisted us with our selections. Tom and I always enjoy sharing from a small plates menu which enables us to taste a variety of dishes. The menu at CENTRO boasts a Northern Italian flare and according to Executive Chef Jason Shafer, all dishes are prepared fresh from locally sourced ingredients wherever possible.
We started our culinary journey with the Grilled Roman Style Artichoke Hearts. These were indeed a treat. Tender artichoke hearts were herb-crusted, grilled crispy, drizzled with lemon oil and served with a very HOT Italian pepper. This savory starter was fabulous. We both loved it. Chef Jason explained that he created this dish for those who may not be knowledgeable in the practice of eating a whole artichoke. Many people find tackling the outer artichoke leaves daunting and therefore opt not to order them. We love fresh artichokes and this preparation was delightful.
Next to the table was the evening’s special plate of Mushroom Caps with seafood stuffing served with a Caprese Salad. The mushrooms were generously filled with a slightly spicy seafood stuffing and baked. They were paired with lovely tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. The twist was that the tomatoes were topped with Parmesan crisped in the broiler (or torched) and drizzled with an excellent aged Balsamic. I loved this dish and the presentation was beautiful. Tom’s Mussels were an exciting blend of flavor—Steamed Mussels with roasted tomatoes, spicy Italian sausage, fregola sarda (Sardinian pasta similar to Israeli Couscous), pearl onions, scallions, and grilled bread. The vegetables together with the lean Italian sausage, created a spicy broth for the generous portion of fresh tender mussels. The fregola sarda was an interesting addition to the dish which was not only delicious but beautifully presented. We totally enjoyed both of these plates and would not hesitate to order them again.
We sat back and enjoyed the wonderful Ricossa Piemonte Barbera Italian wine we ordered while discussing other plates on CENTRO’s menu. The table adjacent to us ordered the Antipasto Board with a selection of artisan cheeses, meats, crostini and Chef’s accompaniments which looked delicious. There is a breaded Fried Calamari Steak with pickled hot peppers and lemon aioli that I am very surprised Tom didn’t order; a CENTRO Meatball with tomato ragu, whipped ricotta, parmesan and crostini and an interesting preparation of Arancini (stuffed rice balls).
There are four salads and a selection of pizzas from which to choose. For our last plate, Tom and I ordered a Bianco Verde Pizza with arugula, ricotta, prosciutto, and salsa verde. Since Tom does not eat ricotta, we requested that mozzarella be substituted. The chef was glad to oblige. Pizzas here are oval in shape and a size perfect for sharing. The pizza was thin crust and the blend of bittersweet arugula with the prosciutto and mozzarella was delicious and more than enough for two people. What an enjoyable feast of
I promised Chef Jason (who attended the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts) that the next time we visit I will order one of their interesting pasta preparations which include: Sage Pappardelle with braised duck, red wine, pancetta and parmesan; Spaccatelle with prosciutto, parmesan and vodka sauce as well as Squid Ink Linguini with Clams, tomato, parmesan, scallions and cream. The Rigatoni with braised chicken, marsala, local mushrooms and tomato ragu sounds delicious as does the Ricotta Gnocchi in a four-hour supper sauce or the Spicy Sausage Risotto with pancetta, arugula, jalapeño, and parmesan.
For those of you with heavier appetites there are steaks, chops and seafood selections on the menu. CENTRO changes their menu or preparations often depending on availability of local fresh ingredients so the items mentioned herein may be changed when you visit.
CENTRO’s interesting dessert menu that night included Honey Ricotta Cheesecake with an amaretti crust and spicy blackberries; Venetian Chocolate Walnut Cake with an olive-oil and sea salt gelato; Cannoli; Bananamisu (a twist on Tiramisu) as well as sorbets and gelato. I ordered the Pizza Fritta which is their specialty—fried pizza dough with cinnamon, caramel and chocolate sauces with vanilla gelato. It was amazing and I highly recommend you try it. We enjoyed fresh hot coffee and espresso before winding up our evening.
Tom and I truly enjoyed our visit to CENTRO. Everything we ordered was delicious and beautifully prepared. Service is friendly yet professional. Tommy could not have been more attentive yet he did not rush us. There was a great mix of people which we always like. We had a delightful dining experience at CENTRO and we are looking forward to visiting again soon.
CENTRO is located at 530 Hamilton Street and is open Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. There is plenty of on-street parking as well as nearby parking lots. Call 610.841.4016 or log onto: centroallentown.com for reservations or further information regarding their special deals such as Wine’d Up Wednesday, Pasta Nights or Pies & A Pour Mondays.