Patio Dining Delights

By Carole Gorney

Trends come and go, but the popularity of outdoor dining in the Lehigh Valley and nearby communities is here to stay. This season there are no less than five restaurants in downtown Bethlehem that have set up tables and chairs on the sidewalks outside their establishments. Add to that Edge’s patio, and there can be no doubt that open-air dining has become a permanent fixture in the city.

A few tables on the sidewalk are one thing, but patios represent investment and commitment, and the number of eateries making that commitment has steadily increased.

Edge first opened its patio on the east side of the restaurant with four tables in 2002. Since then it has added an awning and expanded seating for up to 70 patrons.

According to managing partner Fran Mantz, Edge is trying to make its patio dining more informal and family oriented: “Some people just come in for drinks and dessert.” Nevertheless, for the first time this year, Edge is offering its full menu on the patio.

A fusion of French and Asian flavors, the menu reflects the blend of casual and chic that Edge is seeking. Consider, for example, the Triple Truffle House Ground Black Angus Burger.

The beautiful backyard of the historic Cab Fryes Tavern on Route 29 in Palm was converted into a dining patio in response to customer requests. Chef/owner Ed Galgon, who bought the former farmhouse in 1993, said outdoor dining adds “a different dimension” to the restaurant.

Unique features of the garden patio, which Galgon describes as “very serene,” include a gazebo used for weddings and special events, and wireless Internet access. The regular menu is served outside, but a menu of light fare also is available. Ask Galgon about his popular clam bake for your next special occasion.

At the Club at Morgan Hill in Williams Township, outdoor dining is offered at Vintage Restaurant and Bar. Located just outside the main dining room, the expansive, awning-covered deck boasts panoramic views of New Jersey’s mountains, the Delaware Valley and the Club’s golf course. The deck comfortably seats 50 or more for lunch or dinner “ranging from casual pub fare to entrees with a Northern Italian flare.” This year, Vintage is open for lunch and dinner on Mondays during the summer months.

The Brick Tavern Inn on Old Bethlehem Pike. The spacious patio that seats more than 50 people on two levels. Heaters, sun screens and retractable 12-foot canvas canopies assure the comfort of diners. When I first saw the patio, I felt as though I were visiting an elegant Southern plantation.

The figurative “frosting on the cake” for me was the field stone pool and water fountain that dominate one corner of the patio. Brick Tavern Inn General Manager Marcia Short called the pool and the patio “therapeutic,” an extremely positive experience for customers. The Inn adds to that experience with live music on Thursday and Friday nights. A nice touch is that the Inn takes reservations for patio seating, and backs them up with indoor reservations in case the weather turns bad.

The coziest of the porch gardens I visited was at Andrew Moore’s Stone Bar Inn in Snydersville. The intimate covered space seats 20 among plants and flowers, with ceiling fans whirring overhead and the tranquil sound of the water fountain in the background. I could imagine myself there even in a mild summer storm, eating a bowl of Cajun crab and corn bisque and listening to the rain.

This restaurant was a pleasant discovery. Chef Moore’s menu is inventive, featuring a variety of distinctive sauces, and native game meats. The staff told me that many customers come from New Jersey as well as the Lehigh Valley, and they compare the Stone Bar to many fine restaurants in New York City.

As I finished one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten at GIO Italian Grille in Macungie – Tony DiMaio explained that the patio was always intended to be an integral part of the restaurant, even to the point of using the same type of chairs inside and out. DiMaio said he and his wife Giovanna honeymooned in Naples, where they enjoyed eating outside, European – style, and they wanted to provide that experience to their customers.

There’s still another reason, according to DiMaio: “Patio dining is increasing, and once one or two places have it, you want to be competitive.” There are some drawbacks, though. “Patios are great when the weather is great,” DiMaio observed. “Our patio attracts very loyal customers but some only come when the patio is open and the weather has to be perfect.”

GIO Italian Grill has more to entice patio diners than perfect weather, however. The restaurant’s progressive Italian menu focuses on fine and fresh ingredients, using authentic recipes but with a modern twist. DiMaio uses brick oven to fire roast vegetables, and he makes his own sausage from scratch. He uses local seasonal produce, but imports his flour and San Marzano tomatoes directly from Naples.

Bolete restaurant on Seidersville Road and Emmaus Avenue added a patio to its already impressive culinary experience. Accessed by a stone walkway around the west side of the old inn, the patio has two levels that together can accommodate receptions of 60-70 patrons, as well as smaller numbers of seated diners. Stone walls, planters and candlelight all add to the ambiance.

The outdoor menu includes lighter fare, such as lobster rolls, smoked pulled pork and house-made pastrami sandwiches. All the rye, brioche and sourdough breads are baked in-house. A hugely popular feature is dollar oysters shipped in from Massachusetts. They are available on the patio and in the bar only, — as many as 600 are served each week.

A unique feature of Bolete’s patio dining is its European-inspired late hours of operation—seating until 10:00 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Chef Lee Chizmar said he and the staff are used to eating late in the restaurant. “We are ecstatic to have people come in to eat at 10 o’clock.”

The newest addition to patio dining opened in May at the Landis Store Hotel in Boyerstown. This beautifully landscaped, multi-level brick patio was built by and for the customers, neighbors and friends of Gary and Janet Henshaw, owners of the historic hotel since 1975.

The friends and patrons decided the hotel needed an outdoor eating space, so they made it happen, transforming an uninspired backyard into an impressive garden bistro with wet bar, fire pit and seating for about 40 diners. Indirect lighting is built into the stone walls and gas torches add a romantic touch to the already aesthetically pleasing ambiance.

The menu for this “community gathering place,” as residents call it, changes daily depending on what fresh ingredients are available. The day I visited, strawberry soup was featured. It is a long, yet pleasant, drive from the Lehigh Valley to the hotel, and is well worth the trip.

Carole Gorney has been writing or teaching writing most of her life. A frequent contributor to Lehigh Valley Marketplace, she writes about her favorite subjects—cooking and restaurants including an article on ethnic restaurants that appeared in Marketplace in 2009.

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