Delicious eats in Allentown
As I travel around the country on my book tour, I'm writing my column from the road. Here's my favorite dining spot in Allentown!
If it’s Tuesday it must be Allentown, I thought, as my plane hit the runway. Stop number two on my book tour, but this gig was special, because I would be staying with my oldest, dearest friend.
Arlene picked me up at the airport and said, “Let’s have lunch.” She didn’t have to ask where I wanted to go. Pistachio’s is always my first choice.
Owners Sid and Lynne Stetcher joined us, but this wasn’t the usual meeting of friends. For this column from the road, I wanted to find out what makes this restaurant special.
I asked Sid if I could talk to the chef and was surprised when he informed me, “There is no chef!” Stetcher employs only line cooks and personally trains them himself. “I don’t need a prima donna,” he said. “I have one wife. I don’t need another.”
Having no formal training, Stetcher, a self-professed foodie, claims a natural affinity. “I see it as an art form,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed food, and I’m blessed with good taste buds.”
He’s also blessed with his wife Lynne, a fabulous cook, who provides some of the recipes. “But we have to adapt them to restaurant cooking,” he said. “You can’t do here in a high-volume restaurant what she does at home. You know the slow food movement? She’s the original!”
Stetcher came to the restaurant business through a rather circuitous route. Surprise number two: I learned he had been a professor at Brandeis University teaching psychology and doing brain research. “I was the first PhD. out of Brooklyn College,” he told me. “I was brought down here to Lehigh University to head up a division of the health science center as a professor of neurophysiology and brain function. I left Lehigh because I had nothing to profess.”
While in private practice and then working in real estate development, Stetcher worked on the side with his brother, who owned a restaurant in New York City across from Lincoln Center named Zachary’s, a hangout for the entertainment industry, serving such luminaries as Jerome Robbins, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, and Dustin Hoffman.
Ten years ago he opened Pistachio Bar & Grill. “The concept was California- Mediterranean,” he said, “which morphed into global.
“I thought, here I am in Allentown. There’s no demographic depth here. If you sell hot dogs in New York, you could make $30 million a year selling one kind of hot dog. Here maybe six people like that hot dog. So the menu has to have broad appeal.”
From salads to pastas to fish, meat and vegetarian entrees, even pizzas and omelets, everything is made fresh to order. One of the most popular dishes is Spaghetti with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Artichokes.
“This dish came from someone’s Italian grandmother,” he said, “and reflects povera cooking – cooking of the very poor. They would use the poorest ingredient, leftover bread. Breadcrumbs are ground and then toasted with lots of butter until golden and tossed with spaghetti, fresh and roasted garlic, sautéed artichoke hearts and Parmesan cheese.”
The most popular vegetarian dish is Lynne’s Eggplant Shelbourne. Slices of eggplant are lightly battered and layered like lasagna with mozzarella cheese, spinach, and roasted garlic.
“Our mother sauce is made from San Marzano tomatoes grown in the volcanic ash of Mount. Etna,” he noted.
“A lot of places are selling the sizzle. With us it’s the food. We layer the food,
layer the flavors. It’s not trash can cooking here.”
Spaghetti with Toasted Bread Crumbs, Artichoke Hearts and Italian Parsley
Adapted for the home cook from Pistachio Bar & Grill
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 canned artichoke hearts, quartered
2 tablespoons ground and toasted fresh breadcrumbs or panko
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons roasted garlic
8 ounces spaghetti, cooked al dente
1 teaspoon grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or to taste
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and sauté the artichoke hearts and garlic until soft.
2. Add the cooked pasta, salt and pepper, and Parmesan cheese. Toss with
the breadcrumbs. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and butter.
Garnish with parsley. Serves 2
The Orange County Register/Fullerton News Tribune 10-25-07