By Cathy Kiley

When owner John Trapani opened Grille 3501, he brought with him over a decade of experience in the food industry that included the former Trapper’s Pub on the Southside of Allentown. His dream of opening a casual yet upscale restaurant came to fruition in 2001 when he transformed a 75- year-old Lehigh Valley tradition, Trinkle’s Cetronia Hotel, into a trendy eatery on Allentown’s West End. Chef/Owner John Pukanecz later joined the venture bringing with him over 20 years of executive chef experience at Campagna, Glasbern, and The Ballietsville Inn (which in its heyday was considered one of the best restaurants in the Lehigh Valley). A 1983 graduate of Johnson and Wales College of Culinary Arts, Pukanecz earned a James Beard Foundation “Top Country Inn” designation as well as Mobil’s prestigious Four Star Award and the Best of the Best Five-Star Diamond Award. The duo was joined by a third partner in 2008, John Brooks, fresh off ownership of bars and nightclubs in Philadelphia. This past September, Chef Jason Fry, formerly of Manor House Inn and Maison Blanc catering, joined Chef Pukanecz in the kitchen. Together they continue to attract a strong following of faithful diners with a unique menu of Asian/Mediterranean fusion dishes with a Metropolitan flair.

The bar was bustling on the Friday night we visited.  We arrived right after Happy Hour and the crowd was still nibbling on last minute half-priced appetizers that are served Tuesday through Friday from 4:30 to 6:00 PM. Bartender Tom Gillen – who has been around for over eight years – was entertaining the crowd,  serving beers and specialty drinks to an eclectic crowd of revelers of all ages – couples and singles alike. The friendly ambience of the bar at 3501 is well-appointed and the décor gives a “cool” feeling with frosted glass accents and grey granite bar top.  My husband Tom was impressed with the number of single malt scotches on the shelf and decided to have a Glenlivet neat. I sipped a Cosmo and inquired if Charlie Trinkle (yes, of the Trinkle family) still held court at the bar and found out that he does – during the day and on Saturday night. I’ll have to revisit soon and hear some stories about “the good ole’ days.”

Our server, Terri, arrived at our table in the dining room to explain the evening’s specials which included a Potato Bean Soup appetizer and two entrees. First were Roasted Pork Cheeks, prepared with savory cabbage, potato fritters and an apple cider reduction. I also considered the special Roast Duck, deboned and served with a butternut squash puree and pomegranate/cranberry jus. Tom ordered Foie Gras (of course) which was served layered on dense polenta with a reduced cranberry jus and garnished with a slice of deep fried zucchini. The fois gras presentation changes daily and this one was good: a fine combination of sweet, savory and buttery flavors. I preferred my appetizer of roasted prawns spiced with ancho chilies. Three large spicy shrimp were presented on a bed of lentils with a sweet and spicy tomato jam and garnished with a slice of applewood bacon. This different blend of flavors melded beautifully with a powerful zip provided by the anchos. It was a great choice. There were 14 other appetizer choices on the menu that included Crispy Calamari with chipotle-lime sauce and cilantro pesto; Duck Confit ravioli in duck broth with thyme, cream and cranberries; Crab and Mango Spring Rolls in coconut-curry remoulade; Tuna Tartare Flatbread Pizza with tomato, avocado and a spicy sauce; and Crispy Sesame Chicken Dumplings with cucumber-jicama slaw and soy-yuzu sauce just to name a few. There are also salads and soups. The appetizer selection is terrific and it would be great to make a meal of them with a bottle of wine or one of their specialty cocktails.

Speaking of wine, we sipped a 2009 Kenwood Reserve Russian River, California Pinot Noir while discussing the minimalist décor. Soft lighting from wall sconces accent the muted earth tones on walls decorated with a few prints and posters. Other than a few placed vases and candles, there is little that crowds the room. The well-spaced wooden and Formica tables throughout were laid bare. Together with jazzy background music and busy conversations, Grille 3501 succeeds in attaining the ambience they strive for – one that is modern and fun.

Nearly all of Grille 3501’s dishes are presented in a “layered” fashion including dessert which I believe is Chef Pukanecz’s trademark. Tom didn’t think the chef could possibly layer his choice of roasted Free Range Chicken with roasted parsnips and carrots, Yukon potatoes and chicken jus – but he did.  The quarter chicken was tenderly roasted, set atop the sweet accompanying vegetables and surrounded by natural jus. It made for a lovely fall dish. I selected the Sesame Seared Rare Tuna. A bed of lentil fried rice cradled two wedges of seared to medium-rare sesame encrusted tuna. Baby bok choy topped the pyramid that was drizzled with a miso-yuzu syrup. I loved the flavors of my entree which also offered a myriad of texture. The fried rice was not overcooked and the tuna was perfect. The citrusy-sweet syrup, along with the bok choy blended perfectly for a delightful combination.

There were nine other entrees on the menu in addition to the above mentioned specials including Maine Lobster Tails with cannellini beans, fingerlings, endive, truffles and brown butter sauce; Veal Rib Chop, roasted Yukon potatoes, fennel and onions, herb butter in a red wine reduction; Pork Tenderloin served with applewood bacon, barley, asparagus, balsamic onions, red wine reduction; and Chilean Sea Bass with black rice, chorizo, tempura green beans and lobster emulsion. There are also diver scallops, salmon, rack of lamb, duck and a vegetarian selection to round out the menu.

After looking at the dessert menu, I thought I’d order the “Oblivion” Flourless Chocolate Cake with a tempura banana and vanilla ice cream but changed my mind when I heard the dessert special – a Peach Napoleon of crispy fried wontons layered with fresh peaches, dusted in cinnamon sugar and served with peach saffron ice cream. The Napoleon was light – which was unexpected – and I think would be just as wonderful made with apples or berries in season. We finished off the night with decaf espresso and cappuccino.

It had been a while since I dined at Grille 3501 and it was obvious that it has successfully maintained its long-standing popularity for being a lively meeting place and tastefully-casual eatery, presenting consistently satisfying, beautifully prepared Asian/Mediterranean cuisine.

Craig Farley (formerly of Savory Grille and Cosmopolitan Restaurant) was recently hired as their new restaurant manager. Together with the talented service staff, Grille 3501 runs like a well-oiled machine to live up to their popular reputation..

In anticipation of Grille 3501’s 10th anniversary, John Trapani said that renovations are taking place “in the dead of night,” that include new color schemes, tile work, window dressings and changes to interior décor. A party is planned at the end of November to celebrate 10 great years and their positive outlook for the future. Trapani said proceeds of the event will benefit local charities.

Grille 3501 is open Monday to Friday from 11:30 AM to 11:00 PM and Saturday from 4:00 to 11:00 PM so stop in for lunch, dinner or later night fun!

Grille 3501 is easily accessible from Routes 22 and 78 off Cedar Crest Boulevard at 3501 Broadway in Allentown (adjacent to Dorney Park.) Please call 610-706-0100 for reservations which are highly recommended, especially on weekends. Check out for menu, prices and other information.

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