Upscale Diner, Uneven Dishes

Posted: May 03, 1992

Although it may not look it from the outside, in truth the Valley Forge Restaurant & Bar is essentially an upscale, classy-looking diner.

Marking its 30th year, the diner-restaurant has an unusual barn-like roof and greenhouse-like windows that give the appearance of an excursion train.

The main dining area is paneled in attractive grooved oak, decorated with watercolors of country scenes. Big, recessed picture windows are filled with giant planters stuffed with prayer plants, lilies, spider plants and other greenery. Combination ceiling fan-light fixtures whirr overhead.

A bar along one wall is anchored with a Bud Light clock garishly encircled with a scarlet neon tube and a television set tuned loudly to the evening news, then Wheel of Fortune competing with songs from Phantom of the Opera and some accordion music from the other end of the smallish room.

Clearly, this is not a place for peaceful dining.

Big, summer-green booths complement green laminated tabletops with paper placemats and napkins; divider panels of etched glass are framed with brass.

The menu is relatively limited, compared to most diners, and although most dishes are home-cooked to order, the quality seems to vary widely.

Excellent snapper soup ($2.10) - a celebration of shredded turtle meat and chopped egg so rich and hearty there was no need for sherry - was worth a return visit. Nearly as memorable was blackboard special navy bean soup ($1.35) - a smoky tomato-based broth filled with onions, celery, tomatoes, carrots and white beans.

An appetizer of chicken fingers ($4.25) brought five large pieces of breaded, somewhat dry white meat, nicely deep-fried and served with a sticky- sweet honey-mustard dipping sauce.

Bone-dry spanakopita ($3.95), reflecting the Greek heritage of the owner and chef, was a disappointingly chewy, flavorless envelope of strudel dough filled with chopped spinach and a hint of feta.

As if it didn't have enough problems, the dough was burned on the bottom. Nicely chewy sesame dinner rolls exulted in wonderful bread-y flavors.

Thin slices of diner-standard roast turkey ($10.95) offered both white and dark meat on soggy, flavorless bread stuffing, coated with a sickly golden gravy; a little paper cup of cranberry sauce was welcome.

Two large, tender slices of tasty calves liver ($8.95) literally smothered in chopped onions was a better choice.

It came with dark, glue-like gravy that my partner had fortunately ordered as a side dish and, after tasting, easily ignored.

Vegetables included tangy pickled beets with onions, crisp-fried potatoes and limpid broccoli in butter.

Homemade creamy tapioca and dry-but-flavorful rice pudding ($2.50 each) were excellent desserts, both assertively sprinkled with cinnamon but unnecessarily topped with canned whipped cream.

My waitress was very friendly and attentive, but the hostess was somewhat surly.

VALLEY FORGE RESTAURANT & BAR

425 DeKalb Pike (Route 202), Valley Forge, 265-3922.

Open: Full menu served 7 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Sun.-Thu., until 4 a.m. Fri. & Sat.

Price range: Appetizers average $5, entrees $10.

Credit cards: Major cards.

Nonsmoking section: Yes.

Facilities for handicapped: No.

Atmosphere: Moderately pleasant.

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