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07/24/2012

~ Around Town: The American Ale House & Grill ~

PICT0282At least three times a week someone asks me to recommend a State College restaurant.  "The Ale House", is my immediate response.  Why?  Because when I go out to eat in Happy Valley, unless I am invited somewhere else or looking for a sports bar (which would be "Champs"), The Ale House is where I go and this is where I take people.  My relationship with the restaurant, its owner(s) and executive chef dates back to the 1980's.  Let's start at the beginning:

PICT0234Meet Scott Lucchesi:  A State College native, Scott combined his love of family, the Penn State community and food into an empire. Starting with one sub-shop back in the '70's, he now owns several eateries (including Champs).  He vicariously lives through his businesses and they thrive because of him and his demand to provide excellent food, service and atmosphere... consistently!

PICT0243Back in the 1980's, Scott opened Champs Sports Grill (North Atherton Street, State College, PA), which was very close to where we lived at the time, and that is how Joe and I met Scott.  One cool Fall evening, Scott dropped by our house to talk football with my husband and I happened to be making my tomato-basil sauce and homemade ravioli. At that moment, Scott became the biggest advocate for my Foodie career next to my husband!

PICT0242Meet Linda Silveri:  Formerly from Altoona, Linda graduated from PSU, and, back in the '80's started out waiting tables at Champs. Besides being charming, pretty and really hard working, she "learned the biz from the best" and when Scott was looking for a business partner for The Ale House, it came as no surprise to anyone that Linda, was "the man" for the job. When Linda is in "The House" (which is almost constantly), it's a home!

TommyMeet Tommy Wareham:  Born in Bellefonte and the son of a Penn State music professor, Tommy is "The Original Piano Man".  He's been entertaining for over 25 years, and I'm proud to say he's played the piano in my own home for a few dinner parties, a wedding, and my parents 50th wedding anniversary.   PICT0251When it came time to put "the best entertainer in the biz" in "The House", they built an entire piano bar around Tom and made him a co-owner too!

To view an entertaining WHVL-TV Centre of it All Show segment featuring Tommy Wareham and The American Ale House & Grill: WHVL Tommy Wareham COIA Segment!

PICT0120Meet Executive Chef Jami Steffen: You can't run a successful restaurant without a creative genius in the kitchen, and, at The Ale House, that'd be Chef Jami. Chef has been working with Scott since the 1980's, and, as the businesses grew exponentially, Jami upped his culinary game to be where he is today.  Over the years, Jami and I have worked together too many times to count, and, as a result, we have become culinary confidants.  I have a direct line to his kitchen and he has one to mine too!

DiningroomYesterday, Chef Jami was gracious enough to spend the afternoon with my assistant and I in The Ale House's dining room.  We ordered right from the menu (I prearranged our visit with him, and, while he knew we were coming, he had no idea what we would be ordering.).

We were seated under the sky-lights, which made photographing great food a complete joy, and, in between photographs, tasting food, and sipping on a lovely bottle of wine, Chef answered a few foodie questions for me too:

PICT0017#1.  Farmers Market Beet Salad with haloumi cheese, cracked pepper and honey dressing!

Q.  How many hours a week do you spend in your kitchen and how many diners do you feed, on average, on a daily basis?

A.  I'm in the kitchen about 70 hours a week and we average 200 covers per night.  The hours increase from there, depending on in-house private parties and off-premises caterings.

PICT0032#2.  Heirloom Tomato and Imported Buffalo Milk Mozzarella, with micro greens and white balsamic reduction!

Q.  What do you do to relax when you get a day off?

A.  Travel to various cities to eat in other restaurants, or, stay home and play in my own garden.

PICT0100#3.  Duck-Soba Salad with red pepper, green papaya, cabbage, cilantro, mint and Thai basil!

Q.  You change your menu seasonally, but are there menu items your customer base requires you keep on?

A.  (Laughing)  I'll get into trouble if I try to remove the Thai Chicken Salad, the Acapulco Salad, the Blackened Chicken Penne or the Shrimp Basil Fettuccini!

PICT0061#4.  Iberico Skirt Steak (free-range Spanish pig), served medium-rare with tomato-shishito salad and saffron rissoto!

Q.  A lot of celebrities come to Happy Valley. Who's the most famous person you've cooked for?

A.  I can't say and I really don't care... everyone is a celebrity here!

PICT0103#5. Tamari Glazed Lamb with yuzu creme fraiche, jalapeno-sweet potato puree and sesame kale!

Q.  Working for you, what's someones first day on the job like and what do you look for in a cook or another chef?

A.  Everyone has to fit in and work together.  I'd rather teach skills than try to remove an attitude.

PICT0150#6.  (Vegetarian Soup of the Day) Roasted Poblano Soup with black beluga lentils and smoked pigeon peas!

Q.  How do you balance time with your family and the life of a busy chef?

A.  (Sigh)  That's a tough one because I spend more time with the people in the kitchen, which are just like family to me, than I do my own family. Luckily, my children are old enough to understand what I do, and, they're proud of what I do.

PICT0174#7. (Featured Sandwich of the Day) Peppered Ham (porchetta) with red pepper aioli, Cooper CV cheese, arugula and a fried egg served on toasted semolina bread (the boss's favorite)!

Q.  In your many years in the restaurant business, what are you most proud of?

A.  Everything that everyone here has achieved together as a team.  

Menu WineBesides an extensive wine list and wine cellar, they boast a Gumbo & Seafood "steambar" which serves made-to-order entrees well into the wee hours of the morning too!  

Desserts don't take a back seat either.  Along with everything else on the menu, they too are made from scratch!

Flourless Chocolate Torte w/Sea Salt Caramel & Salted Caramel Gelato:

PICT0187

PICT0266The American Ale House & Grill

821 Cricklewood Drive

State College, PA  16803

(814) 237-9701

www.americanalehouse.net

FIVE STARS AS PER MEL!!!

Note:  Mel awards stars equally for: First Impression, Food, Service, Presentation and Creativity.

6a0120a8551282970b015433a9bee3970c-800wiI totally understand and thoroughly enjoy the differences between upscale fine dining all the way thru to casual diner fare or rustic outdoor barbecue (and will judge everyone equally), BUT, if your place isn't clean, you'll get no stars from me!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Photos & Commentary courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

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