When I mentioned my plan to visit The Great American Saloon to a co-worker, he called it "a Ruby Tuesday's owned by local people."
I'm sure he meant well in his description, but I regarded it as a dubious endorsement. Let's just say I'm not a fan of box-shaped, so-called "neighborhood" bar and grill restaurants.
But as it turns out, the Applebee's and Friday's of the world could only dream of achieving the feel of this York Township locale nestled in a shopping center between Dallastown and Red Lion.
The place is part old timey saloon, part casual upscale dining, part hunter trophy case and antique collection.
The quirky décor possesses an authenticity the chains can't replicate, try as they might. First of all, I've never seen so much taxidermy outside of a national history museum. Everywhere you look, deer heads, stuffed ducks, geese, foxes and rabbits. And at this time of year, who can resist hanging glass ornaments on the antlers of an elk or putting a Santa hat on a coyote? General manager Athena Kearis said her father and his hunting buddies gave the decorative items to the restaurant.
"I guess their wives had enough of them," she joked.
I sat at the bar to beat the wait for a table, next to regulars enjoying a real neighborhood saloon. People talked sports, commiserated about the horrors of the work day and lamented their incomplete Christmas shopping. I found it sort of soothing to listen to the sounds of a restaurant with real local flavor.
And not surprisingly, I found the food to be superior to that of a chain restaurant.
I ordered a barbecue chicken sandwich with a side of house-made potato salad. The chicken was done perfectly, and the lettuce, tomato and onion tasted fresh, not like they were chopped yesterday. The honey-bourbon sauce, also house made, tasted more sweet than smoky. It all came on a hearty bun that held up well given the massive portion size. The piece of meat was so huge, it looked like it came from a small turkey.
Everything in the potato salad had the right crunch, indicating it's made daily.
If I return to The Great American Saloon, I suspect I'll try one of their many pasta dishes, such as penne rustica (a cheesy baked pasta with shrimp, chicken and prosciutto) or chicken Madeira (a chicken breast topped with a sweet mushroom-wine sauce).
I don't live near the restaurant, but if you do, stop by a few times and give it a try.
You'll find your real neighborhood bar and grill.
If you go
LOCATION: The Great American Saloon, 20 Dairyland Square in York Township
WADE'S PICK: grill chicken barbecue ($7.50)
HOURS: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 4 to 11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
PRICE RANGE: $6.95 to $26.95
ALCOHOL: full bar
ACCEPTS: Cash and major credit card
KID'S MENU: grilled cheese, spaghetti, hamburger, cheeseburger and chicken fingers.