When the GPS told me I was at The Garlic Poet, I was a little confused. I was at a hotel, just off the interstate. But, nestled to the side of the Clarion lobby, I found the gem.
Stepping into The Garlic Poet is like arriving at your favorite philosophy professor's den (that is, if you can imagine philosophy professor and favorite in the same sentence). Shelves full of books and busts line the walls; a fireplace with a large mirror above it sits in the middle of the restaurant; Medieval-esque lanterns light up the bar.
It's a formal atmosphere, yet comfortable. That's how Aaron Hefelfinger, marketing promotions coordinator for The Garlic Poet and Clarion Hotel, described it. "I think people are surprised to find such a great restaurant," Hefelfinger said. "That's a point of pride."
During my time there, I heard the wrap-up of a book reading at the table next to me. Soon after, the table was filled again with a large family celebrating a special occasion.
When I stopped gaping at the scenery, I looked at the menu — a wood board with pages clasped at the top. Everything made in-house is produced from scratch, and the restaurant teams with local food sources for what it doesn't create. The chef also tends to a garden indoors and outdoors — that's about as fresh as it gets.
Daily specials include a soup, vegetable, seafood platter, burger and butter. When the servers arrive with bread and butter before the meal, they'll let you know what today's butter is — mine happened to be chili lime.
As an appetizer, I ordered a tomato bisque ($5), which arrived in a crock with a large grilled cheese crouton in the center. The chunky texture of the soup balanced the creaminess of the cheese sandwiched in the crouton.
Then came the real star of the evening: The small plate of apple corned pork brisket, served with a maple pork demi glaze, garlic mashed potatoes and beer-braised cabbage and apples ($13). For a small plate, it was just the right-sized portion to accompany the soup. A hearty scoop of potatoes was plated to the side of thin slices of pork, topped with the apple/cabbage combo.
The menu, designed by executive chef Kurt Wewer, changes seasonally. The spring menu boasts items such as filet mignon with bacon-truffle marmalade, Garlic Poet mashed potatoes, the vegetable du jour, red wine-smoked bone marrow butter and house bacon lardons ($20 for small plate; $28 for large plate); and The Poet Meatloaf with truffled macaroni and cheese, tomato ragu, stout demi glace and crispy fried fennel straws ($13/$18).
I topped the evening off with a brownie cheesecake covered in salted caramel pieces, a small plate for $4. The rectangular cheesecake was decadent with bits of brownie and no crust — the salted caramel added just the right amount of crunch. The desserts also rotate daily.
Hefelfinger said the menu will change again for summer the first or second week of June and will feature lighter fare.
There's also a kids menu and a gluten-free menu, plus a wine and beer list with plenty of local brews.
The menu explains the name The Garlic Poet — garlic is known as a universal seasoning and poetry is known as a universal language. The menu also lists upcoming events, including the Mother's Day brunch (tip: the Easter brunch sold out), and the next Chef's Table is on May 10, pairing Garlic Poet's cuisine with craft beer from Free Will Brewing. You can also find more information about The Secret Poet Society, which gives you exclusive access to deals.
And in case that wasn't enough knowledge to absorb in one sitting, the menu provides fun "Did You Know?" snippets, like: Did you know Ralph Waldo Emerson was a vegetarian?
Did you know such a fun restaurant could be tucked inside a hotel?
In one evening, I learned so much about locally sourced food, area events, noted poets — and not to judge a book by its cover.
The Garlic Poet
Location: 148 Sheraton Drive, Fairview Township
Jess' pick: Tomato bisque, $5; apple corned pork brisket (small plate), $13; brownie cheesecake, $4
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. daily
Price range: $1.50 for side of applesauce; $42 for Creative Poetry Option 2 — mix and match two soups, one snackables item, two small items
Accepts: Cash, credit
Kid's menu: Yes
Details: Visit garlicpoet.com, follow @GarlicPoet on Twitter or call 717-774-5435If you want to see your favorite restaurant profiled in Cheap Eats, email Jess Krout at firstname.lastname@example.org.