The Velvet Cafe, “your neighborhood cafe” in downtown Waynesboro, Pa., caters to family groups, older couples, teens, working men and lunching women.
When we arrived. the parking lot was full —a good sign. We passed a tripod sign that read “oyster stew and dumplins.” There was a happy buzz when we entered accompained by a very pleasant aroma. In front of us was a Hershey’s Ice Cream counter. To the right was a blue room, and to the left was a cheerful pink room.
We chose pink. A Valentine theme prevailed with hearts, cupids and roses for decoration. There were excellent oil portraits hung around the room, which contributed to the cheerful mood of the room. Ceiling fans moved the air. The radio played a local station of rock ‘n’ roll. We obeyed the Seat Yourself sign and passed the salad bar where we found a table from which we could observe the restaurant in action. The pink placemats told us the name of owner, Dave Wishard, and the two managers, Loree Ridenour and Kim Wolff. The Velvet Cafe has been serving since 1982.
Our waitress, dressed in a gray Velvet Cafe T-shirt, came immediately with very large menus. We looked at the menu in awe —five full pages of offerings. The simple board menu outside flashed before my eyes. Oyster stew! A simple choice. But I read the menu. It was divided into soups, appetizers, salads, kids dishes, beverages, lunch and dinner, which included steak, seafood, chicken and pasta. There were 10 different hamburgers and at least 40 sandwiches and several subs listed. Two full pages of dessert ended the menu.
Indecisive because I was so hungry, I debated between smoked pork loin and oyster stew. I heard my guest, the Professor, order “oyster stew with a grilled cheese sandwich and iced tea.” So I chose the smoked pork loin and wondered what the oyster stew would have been like.
The smoked pork loin dinner came with two sides. The choice of sides was so reassuring. I have read these sides in many Pennsylvania restaurants. Jell-O, tapioca, cole slaw, potato salad, cottage cheese and apple butter, cranberry relish salad, pepper slaw, macaroni salad, applesauce, hushpuppies, macaroni and cheese. I chose my old standby, cranberry relish salad, and then asked if the potatoes were real. The waitress shook her head, no, so I chose macaroni and cheese. “We make that ourselves,” she said proudly.
The waitress came with a roll for me, beverages and the cranberry relish. The Professor decided to add an order of battered green beans.
Soon afterward the waitress came with our order, first setting the plate of battered green beans between us. Oh my, they were good. I had never tasted anything quite like them. Well, maybe deep-fried clams at Howard Johnson’s years ago in my youth. We ate them all before we addressed our main course.
“You like soup hot,” said the Professor and handed me his bowl of golden soup to eat first.
“There are nine oysters,” he added.
I was grateful that he was willing to share his oyster stew. It was so fresh, made to order, and creamy with a rich layer of butter on top. The flavors combined the richness of local dairy cream and butter with the treasure of oysters.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Don’t forget the grilled cheese sandwich.” He grinned, knowing how much I loved them, too. And indeed it was a precise grilled cheese sandwich on thin square white bread with American cheese inside. The New England oyster crackers on the side of the plate were the perfect accompaniment.
The Professor, meanwhile, was tasting the smoked pork loin and declared it to be good, though salty and dry. I had to agree with his estimation, although the pork loin was well complimented by the macaroni and cheese and cranberry salad.
Time for dessert. The Professor had no doubts. “Dumplin’,” he said to the waitress.
Meanwhile, I read the menu and got lost in memories of the past. Twenty flavors of ice cream for cones or dishes, milkshakes, ice cream sodas, floats, banana split, 15 different sundaes, pies — apple blueberry, cherry, pecan or lemon meringue. Overwhelmed, I ordered what was at the top of the dessert menu — “The Justanuff! — a teenie tiny hot fudge sundae with vanilla ice cream, fudge, whipped cream and of course a cherry for only 95 cents each.” I am a sucker for maraschino cherries.
“With vanilla ice cream,” the Professor added.
The dumplin came and it was unbelievably delicious. Warm dough, sweet apple, cold vanilla ice cream. One bite for me and The Professor claimed the rest for himself. The little sundae was good but could not compare to the dumplin’.
The sign recommending oysters and dumplins was still standing outside the restaurant when we left. “Next time I come I will order whatever is printed there,” I said decisively.
The Professor was gazing at the empty deck in the wintertime. “Let’s come back on a hot summer day and sit under the shade trees and eat ice cream,” he said.
Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.