Could Billy Joel recommend a place to eat next time?

I don’t usually visit a town cold, without having at least perused the web for some ideas on where to go and where to eat. But time ran away from me and, frankly, how exciting could research about Allentown, PA, really be?

That’s how I happened to be venturing down I-81 and I-476 on Tuesday, with a random flurry only,  and ended up in the city made famous by Billy Joel. Famous, I guess, if you’re a Billy Joel fan.

I was determined, as always, not to eat at a chain restaurant,  so I pulled off US 22 and followed signs on Seventh Street for the “City Center.” I eventually got to what looked like a “center” and started prowling for places to eat dinner.

I passed on a  restaurant with a sign that had an image of food because I couldn’t exactly make out what kind of food it was portraying. I passed a Japanese restaurant, which I passed on, and then I passed a plethora of clothing shops and also the beautiful Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument.

Now, there probably are interesting places to eat downtown, but because I was flying solo and couldn’t Google  and steer at the same time, I’m sure I just missed them (????).  I eventually drove to my hotel near the airport, checked in, and then ventured out to the neighboring city of Bethlehem.

I went that way because I wanted to see Lehigh University, or at least find out where it was. It was dark as I passed the sprawling campus on the city’s south side,  though I did appreciate the huge illuminated Fritch air conditioning/heating sign that served as a retro landmark for me,  better than the university chapel.

I went to a place called the Copperhead Grille. I found out  the restaurant has a sister location near the airport, about five minutes from my hotel. Figures. I don’t think that qualifies it as a “chain,” but at that point in the evening I was going to eat no matter what.

I had a New York strip steak, sweet potatoes topped with cinnamon sugar, and broccoli. Is it because the word “sweet” prefaces this fine vegetable that we deem it OK to add even more sweetness with brown sugar or, apparently, cinnamon sugar? If so, I’m on board with it. It was delicious.

The strip steak reminded me a little of the steaks my family used to get as a big treat Friday nights, except during Lent, at the Ponderosa restaurant in New Hyde Park on Long Island.

To be fair, my steak at the Copperhead was certainly a cut above those beefy rectangles that I sawed through as a kid, but there was nothing dynamic about the presentation. It did have good flavor and was cooked as requested. Two-dollar pints were a nice accompaniment, and the bar area was hopping, as was the long dining area.

It’s kind of sad to see how smartphones have joined TVs in eating away at conversation at today’s bars and restaurants. Guys and gals texting away instead of turning to the person sitting a stool away. The 3.7 inch phone screens even were getting more attention then the 37 inch TV screens planted every four feet throughout the restaurant.

No such issues the next morning, when I found the Bethlehem Diner. I had passed this stainless steel beauty the night before, when it was fully bathed in neon (my photo doesn’t do it justice).

No TVs in this establishment, in fact the waitresses were greeting  customers as if they were long-lost cousins, talking holiday talk and issuing grave warnings about the icy roads.

Even with the time for chatter, this place was as an efficient operation as they come. If we still made things in America, this diner would serve as a good example of  fine-tuned production. My smiling waitress presented me with my tea, my eggs, sausage, and home fries,  a couple of refills, and a warm smile as I left.


3 thoughts on “Could Billy Joel recommend a place to eat next time?

  1. Too bad I didn’t know you were going there, Tim– there are actually a lot of great restaurants in Bethlehem these days and downtown is actually pretty enough, especially at Christmas, to warrant a side trip of several hours. I grew up there and have watched it change. Allentown appears to be a lost cause for the most part but you can still find great cheese steaks there. In Bethlehem there are a number of great diners and hot dog stands– the kind that CNY just doesn’t really have. But there’s also all sorts of great international food and a wide range of other independently owned restaurants. You can get your food and book geek on simultaneously at the (independent) Moravian Cook Shop and Book Shop on Main St. in Bethlehem (north of the Lehigh River) and you can stroll amidst 18th and 19th century buildings which are decorated beautifully for Christmas.

    But yeah, Allentown= godforsaken.

    • Hi, Mark. I could have absolutely used some of your Bethlehem tips. I didn’t have a ton of time to explore, unfortunately, but hopefully I’ll have another chance. I learned about Lehigh University’s attempts to work on improving the South Side of the city, and I wonder what the big casino has done to some of the diners and hot dog stands you mention. Helped or hurt?

      • Well, the thing to remember about Bethlehem is that it’s actually geographically quite big and sprawling, so I couldn’t even tell you to go to one region or the other to sample all the diners– I’d just have to give you a list with some addresses. The best hot dogs in the Lehigh Valley are arguably any of the following: Yoccos (allentown, various locations), Geaker’s (Bethlehem) and (imo) the greatest of all time, Toby’s (Phillipsburg, NJ). As for diners, again, they’re all over the place. the truly classic places from my childhood are, sadly, gone– Walps and Top Diner. However, there’s a place called the Palace on Easton Ave. in Bethlehem that has a colossal, Roscoe Diner-style menu, full bar, the whole bit. Nick’s, also on Easton Ave, is also a great place with tremendous feta omelets. For cheese steaks, you’ll have a variety of opinions, but the local chain J’s is worth a visit, the Brass Rail in Allentown is duly famous, the Lantern on Pembroke Rd. is quite good, and the aforementioned Geaker’s also does a nice job. All of these places are a bit away from the casino, though a couple can be reached pretty easily from there– the bridge next to the Casino is Stefko Blvd and if you follow that it becomes Easton Ave and Nick’s and the Palace are nearby.

        Lehigh’s done a semi-admirable job on the gritty south side, but I kinda miss the old stuff. And the Casino? There was nothing near it to begin with, so it didn’t really have much impact on the immediate vicinity. I still hate the fact that it’s there, though, and I sincerely hope it fails and takes down all the crooks who brought it in with it.

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