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Friday, 31 October 2014

A Culinary Tour in Butler County, PA

Written by Habeeb and Muna Salloum
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After spending a near week in Pittsburgh, PA, a vibrant commercial, academic, and research-oriented city with a population of some 310,000, filled with activity and the rushed living of other modern urban centers but with a focus on sustainability, usually lacking in the world’s largest cities.  In the last few decades Pittsburgh’s citizens have brought their city back to life after it had decayed for years.   

After indulging in this hectic life for a while, I felt the urge to move out for a few days to go back to the quaint rural life of old Pennsylvania.   The closest region was Butler County and it was to that destination that a group of us headed because of its vicinity and its drive to bring nature back as the primary focus of healthy and happy living.  As I was enthusiastically advised by the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau, the ‘3Ds’ of the area – diversity of landscape, diversity of weather, and the diversity of attractions – are a must-see for anyone wanting to feel the rhythm of real Pennsylvania. 

Taking to heart the words of the Bureau’s reps, the next day a group of us were on our way to tour the region.   After a half hour’s drive, we stopped at the Doublewide Grill, in Mars, Cranberry Township in Butler County, for a truck-stop breakfast. 

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Sated we made our way to the Enchanted Olive, home of over 50 blends of the highest quality extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from all over the world.  Walking through the doors, before us was a whole array of stainless steel containers filled with these oils and vinegars in bewildering types and varieties such as the robust olive oil Oro Bailen Reserva Familiar Picual and Alfoos Mango White Balsamic Condimento, a vinegar that pairs well with the Enchanted Olive’s Persian Lime and Harissa Olive Oils.  All members of our group sampled many of the oils and vinegars while a few purchased the ones they liked the best which were bottled and sealed fresh. 

Leaving this unique shopping experience we headed through a lush green rolling landscape, to the Con Yeager Spice Company retail shop in Evan City - a company specializing in spice distribution and seasoning manufacturing serving both commercial and retail customers. The firm makes a variety of up to 1,200 spice blends from spices imported from all over the world for meat curing, and also manufactures various types of sausages.  Rodney Schafer, owner of the company, said that they ship their products all over the U.S.A. and soon hope to add Canada to their area of distribution.  

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At the Freedom Farms we stopped for the final meal of the day.  This really was what I expected from rural Pennsylvania – farm food, wholesome and hearty.  These farms are owned by the King Family, so-well admired in the county that they now have their own reality show called “The Farm Kings” that is aired on cable across the U.S. In addition to farming, the King family owns and operates the Freedom Farms Local Market (including a homemade bakery section), Freedom Farms Sandwich Shop and Freedom Farms Donut Shop.  

Nine strapping young men and their lovely sister, they are led by their outstanding mother, Lisa.  According to her children, she has struggled hard to keep the family together and has so far succeeded.  As her eldest son, Joe, explained, “My mother taught us the work ethic and we will teach our children the same”.  

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Sitting down in a covered pavilion on their farm with 150 customers, we enjoyed a tasty meal consisting of Lisa's culinary handiwork:  a cool rhubarb drink, liver pate, roasted chicken with lemon, balsamic grilled asparagus, garlic potatoes, and two cobblers - one made with peaches and another with blueberries.  Relishing the fresh farm food, I thought of Lisa and her children trying to bring what is best in America to visitors who travel this way.  It made for a fulfilling day this ending of our trip at this farm of hard work and fine hearty food.

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Early the next morning we were indulging in a tasty breakfast at the Chop Shop, one of Butler's favored eating spots.  Its owner and chef, Bill Atkinson, explained that his dream was to own a loud and fun restaurant, approachable to all but with a twist by having the most tasty and creative food in Butler County.  

At only the age of 33, Chef Atkinson has created a culinary paradise that he refers to as casual fine dining.  Casual in the sense that you can walk in with sneakers or even shorts then indulging in the best of popular foods. Tacos are now Hare Tacos made with coffee-rubbed rabbit; nachos are offered as Barbequed Pork Nachos packed filled with pulled pork; a salad called ‘Ugly Duckling’ is made with duck bacon, candied almonds, apple and spinach but there is nothing ugly about it; and the unbelievable Born on the Bayou burger, dressed with spinach, caramelized onions, and smoked gouda cheese sauce, all these and more, making the Chop Shop on demand by the local community and now visitors coming from Pittsburgh.  

A short distance away, it was quite a different stop.   We had reached Zanella Milling in West Sunbury district, a historic mill - the last producer of buckwheat flour in southwest Pennsylvania.  The mill also produces and packages self-rising corn meal and pancake flour but its raison d'être is buckwheat flour, an ingredient for making the best type of pancake.

We toured the mill guided by the owner John Zanella, who was proud of his mill and for the continuation of milling buckwheat.  As he explained, Butler County was at one time called ‘Buckwheat County’ and by maintaining the tradition of milling this product, he is keeping history alive.  Although the mill, built originally in 1897 experienced a major fire in the late 19th century and numerous renovations over the decades, it still churns out those products that are on demand by the local population.  

From buckwheat to hard cider, we moved from one side of the culinary world to another.  At Rebellion Ciderworks we indulged in tasting various types of hard cider, followed by a tour of a family-owned orchard where some of the apples for making cider are grown. 


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With some of our group hugging bottles of hard cider they had purchased, we left for the North Country Brewing Company Restaurant. Now it was time again to eat.  We sat down for lunch on the patio at the Restaurant that offers produce and meat from its own farm and those of the surrounding countryside. The fresher the food, the better it tastes and this restaurant is proof of this adage.  Comfort or ‘sturdy’ food as the manager explained, is the result of ‘farm to fork’ and their menu is really fine-dining in a rural atmosphere.  We ate our fill, washing our meals down with glasses of foaming beer provided by its own on-site brewery house.  

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At this eating place of fun and good food we ended our eye-opening tour of Butler County with its engulfing aura of greenery and fine food. From ‘farm to fork’, this region will soon be a focal point of the best of what organic or real farming can produce on a table.  Ours was indeed a culinary adventure into good living and good comfort food.

 

©Habeeb and Muna Salloum

 

For Further Information, Contact:

      

Enchanted Olive:  120 North Perry Highway (Route 19), Harmony, PA 16037; Tel:  724-473-0017 Website:  http://enchantedolive.com/ 

 

Con Yeager Spice Company:  215 E. Main Street, Evans City, PA 16033; Tel: 1-800-222-2460; Website:  http://www.conyeagerspice.com/ 

 

Freedom Farms:  795 Pittsburgh Road, Route 8, Butler, PA 16002; Tel:  724-586-5551; Website:  http://www.freedomfarmspa.com/ 

If planning a trip to Freedom Farms, visit http://www.freedomfarmspa.com/pages/plan-your-trip to obtain detailed information about activities during the year.

 

The Chop Shop, 108 N Main St., Butler, PA 16001.  Tel: 724-256-9959

 

Zanella Milling, 111 Main St., West Sunbury, PA 16061. Tel: 724- 637-2864.

 

Rebellion Ciderworks,   499 Grove City Road, Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania 16057.  Tel: 724-967-1609.  E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Website: http://www.rebellionciderworks.com 

 

North Country Brewing Company, 141 S Main St., Slippery Rock, PA 16057.  Tel: 724-794-2337.  

Website:  http://www.northcountrybrewing.com/splash.html

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Last modified on Saturday, 01 November 2014