The John Allison Public House in Greencastle, Pa., is named for the founder of the city, whose father ran a tavern on the crossroads between Baltimore and Carlisle streets.
It occupies the location of a former Greencastle landmark, the Antrim House restaurant.
My friend, Pap Ricka, and I checked out the menu online and thought it looked intriguing, so we set out for Pennsylvania.
The John Allison is a huge restaurant with several entrances and several designated parking lots. Pap and I went in at the corner entrance and although a sign said we could seat ourselves, we were met by a host who ushered us into the dining room. He thoughtfully inquired if we wanted a booth or a table and whether we wanted to be near the TV or away from it.
In a short time, our waiter came to take our drink order while we looked at the menu. He brought a beer menu with him and explained that the John Allison has a continually changing list of beer on tap. There were a few well-known brands but others were completely new to me.
He also explained that, along with the items listed on the regular menu, there was a happy hour menu.
Items on the happy hour menu were half price during the designated time, but could be ordered at full price any other time of day. He went on to explain that some folks thought that the prices on the menu were on the expensive side, but that all the food was made fresh and using local ingredients, as much as possible.
Pap and I reviewed the menu. We were there for lunch and while the dinner entrees looked great, like chipotle-orange barbecue pork shank with butternut squash, mashed potatoes and creole succotash for $18.99 or black tagliatelle rustica — pancetta, grilled artichokes, sundried tomatoes, capers, prosciutto, basil and shaved asparagus with a citrus chardonnay butter sauce — for $14.99. But we decided something less hearty was in order.
Eliminating the entrees, however, didn’t make our decision about what to eat any easier. The list of appetizers included such treats as rendered pork belly with udon noodle salad and tangerine chili glaze for $10.99 or bronzed U-10 day boat scallops with roasted pumpkin ravioli and spiced, butternut squash bisque for $15.99.
The list of happy hour fare was equally tempting: duck-fat french fries with garlic, herb salt and duck fat for $5 or Maria’s sausage (spicy quince gastrique and cranberry cherry tangerine chutney on grilled crostini) for $9.
There were salads and sandwiches to choose from as well.
After much deliberation, Pap decided on a crab cake sandwich.
“Good choice,” our waiter said. “We use very little filler, so it is mostly crab.”
I chose the Autumn Confit of Duck Leg salad. Something about fall makes me yearn for strong flavors like sausage and root vegetables. So duck seemed perfect.
Then, just for fun, we ordered the lobster mac and cheese off the happy hour menu.
As I mentioned, the restaurant is spacious. In the dining room where we were, there were booths along the walls and tables and chairs in the middle. There was a large colorful bar in one corner of the room. Pop music played on the satellite radio. The overall feeling was friendly, but the room was so big that the local pub atmosphere didn’t quite fit.
When our food arrived we forgot about anything else. Pap’s sandwich featured a sizeable scoop of crabcake topped with a drizzle of pale salmon-colored remoulade sauce. The bun had been toasted and had lettuce, tomato and onion on it. It made quite a mouthful.
My salad was a work of art. Mixed greens with cranberries, bleu cheese, onions and pumpkin seeds were heaped in the middle of the plate. Alongside was a warm golden-brown duck leg. The duck was deliciously unctuous, beautifully set off by the vinaigrette. The contract in flavors was delightful.
But undoubtedly, the star of the meal was the lobster mac and cheese. The “mac” was spirals and the “cheese” was pecorino romano with small chunks of lobster.
What made it memorable was the tiny bits of carrot, corn, red pepper and lima beans. It tasted as if some or all of these vegetables had been pickled so that the dish, instead of being overwhelmingly rich, had a piquant twist to it. It was truly unique.
At the last minute our waiter brought out a tray of desserts, all of which were made in house. Chocolate cake, grilled pound cake with seasonal fruit, carrot cake — all looked delicious. I couldn’t resist and took a piece of Italian cream cake. The cake was nutty with a creamy vanilla frosting. It was served with caramel sauce and whipped cream.
Wow! What a great meal. John Allison would be proud.
Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.