Youell's Oyster House

By Cathy Kiley

When Tom and I  moved to Forks Township in 1980, the first place we discovered and frequented was Youell’s on Easton’s College Hill. Youell’s was the place to eat, offering fresh seafood with lots of butter. They took no reservations, so the line ran up the block on weekends and – with Lafayette College close by – it was nearly impossible to get in on Parents’, Alumni and Homecoming weekends; however,  it was  worth the wait. As an added plus, our neighbor was the bartender and he made the best martinis in town.  The eatery, originally called Rice’s Oyster House, was founded in 1905 at Hotel Easton (now The Grand Eastonian Hotel and Suites) on Northampton Street. The business moved to Front Street and changed its name to Youell’s Oyster House when it was purchased by Bob Youell in the 1930s.  They relocated again in 1955 to College Hill where it remained a local institution until the late 1980s.

Present owner Christian Filipos explained that in 1992, his family opened Youell’s in its present Allentown location allowing for not only additional dining space, but additional parking as well. Within a year, Youell’s evolved into the fine, casual dining place that it is today. People come from all over to visit Youell’s and the restaurant has a loyal following of faithful diners just yearning for their famous crabmeat and cheese. The atmosphere is warm and neighborly with familiar patrons greeting one another. And, because of the continued growth in the Lehigh Valley, new generations continue to discover Youell’s

We hadn’t been to Youell’s in years and it was delightful to visit an old favorite. However, this is not the same old Youell’s. The new location is large and bright with a dining capacity at least three times larger than the previous College Hill location. The bar is big and lively and was full the night we visited. Our enthusiastic server, Ashley, has been at Youell’s for six years. In fact, most people at Youell’s are long-time employees and quite accommodating. She presented the menu and explained the night’s specials which included an 8-ounce crab-crusted Filet Mignon in a Sweet Bourbon sauce as well as an 8-ounce Filet Mignon and Maryland crab cake combination.

The menu is quite large so take time to study it. Appetizers include Chowders, Lobster Bisque, Spicy Bang-Bang Scallops, Clams Casino, Beer Battered or Coconut Shrimp and Calamari as well as tossed garden or Caesar salads. Oysters have been the specialty at Youell’s since they opened their doors in 1905 and are still prepared four ways – Raw on the half-shell, Rockefeller, and Fried in addition to Oyster Stew.  I ordered Manhattan clam chowder which was steamy, rich and savory with chunky vegetables, large pieces of clams and a mild spiciness that I loved. It was delicious – just the right zip without being overbearing. Tom ordered the Spicy Thai Soup which was a special that evening and it was quite good. The light broth was spicy with a touch of lemon enhancing the shrimp, fish and savory cabbage. We both loved it as it  was delightfully pleasing and  different.

On the dinner menu, you will see old favorites such as Crab and Cheese in Casserole, Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, Crab Stuffed Shrimp broiled or fried, and Stuffed Flounder as well as an array of seafood combinations. However, as I said before, this is not your “old Youell’s.” Chef Tim Plante has added his personal touch to this menu over the last five years which really shows. You will find Lobster and Veal Genovese, sautéed ala Francaise and finished with lemon butter and crabmeat; Firecracker Salmon – Alaskan salmon with soy, balsamic vinegar, chili and spices marinated and roasted served with crabmeat; Fresh Florida Grouper with spinach, sundried tomatoes and shrimp with a saffron reduction; and Boneless Short Ribs, braised for 12 hours served with horseradish mashed potatoes as well as Bouillabaisse and traditional Paella. There are crab cakes five ways including Creole and Vietnamese and, of course, Youell’s Special Crab Cake, one-third pound of jumbo lump crabmeat – no fillers, no seasoning – just crab, simply delicious. There is an array of other items on the menu including seafood pastas as well as lobster, steak and chicken dishes for the landlubbers.  In addition, there are always daily specials including a fresh catch of the day.  We ordered our favorite dishes from days past – Crab and Cheese in Casserole for Tom and the Crabmeat Stuffed Shrimp for me – a blend of cheeses and butter atop large shrimp broiled golden. This has been one of Youell’s most popular dishes for over 50 years and I enjoyed this dish again after a lengthy sabbatical. I won’t wait so long for another chance. Tom hovered over his meal–a deep dish of bubbling, succulent lump crabmeat smothered with a blend of cheeses in pure, unadulterated butter. We both enjoyed our meals although I had to fight for a nibble of Tom’s!

There is a unique “taste” that Youell’s crabmeat, cheese and butter preparations have that is unlike any other. We both remarked that there is a slight difference from what we remember but, hey, change is good and our dinners reflected the positive. And yes, all entrees come with a choice of sides including the old favorites of cole slaw, pickled cabbage, pickled beets or applesauce. Additional sides that night were baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, steak fries, Chantilly potatoes, crab rice pilaf and broccoli. We chose sides of cole slaw, steak fries and rice pilaf that were all great.

The bar was really hopping and Youell’s Manager/Bartender Melissa took a break from her duties to visit our table. We spoke for a minute before she headed back to tend to the bar crowd and thanked her for creating the frosty beverages that we sipped before dinner.

The interior of Youell’s is casually charming. There are two large dining rooms with painted and brick walls decorated with nautical posters, prints and old photos. The décor is quite pleasant, made more so by the friendly, fun competent servers.

Chef Tim Plante chatted with us for a bit. He’s an interesting guy who was born in Brooklyn and later moved to Middletown, New Jersey. He worked along the Jersey shore in various establishments before being recruited by The Canal House in New Hope. He also ran The Back Stage Restaurant in New Hope for four years as well as Club Zadar. Chef Plante later worked for Manors Gourmet Market in Lawrenceville (a New York-style gourmet market/deli/restaurant) that landed the catering contract at the New Jersey Governor’s Mansion for four years under Tom Florio’s tenure. He opened The Gryphon Restaurant in Point Pleasant, New Jersey and later moved that business to Sellersville as The Gryphon Tavern, thus bringing him closer to the Lehigh Valley. He and his family currently live on a farm in Coopersburg. He said he “is a farmer by day and a chef by night.” Chef Plante had the opportunity to learn the best of his skills from others through his own experiences. He is enjoying Youell’s Oyster House and credits much of their success to its long-standing, professional staff.

We finished off our night with delicious Blueberry Carrot Cake topped with lemon cream cheese icing that I thought was fabulous. Rich and sweet rather than spicy, I thought this dessert was very different and, together with coffee, a perfect ending.

Youell’s Oyster House is located at:
2249 Walnut Street, Allentown

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