Recharging in the park

A quiche, salad, and smoothie at Cedars House, where healthy fare is the order of the day.
A quiche, salad, and smoothie at Cedars House, where healthy fare is the order of the day. (Tony Fitts)

Two run-down Fairmount Park houses are renovated and serving superior refreshment to hikers, bikers, and others enjoying the out-of-doors.

Posted: July 15, 2010

Ricki Gever Eisenstein lived on Northwestern Avenue, just steps from a dilapidated Fairmount Park house for six years, knowing nothing of its history, until one day, at a relative's birthday party, she met Lucy Strackhouse.

Strackhouse runs the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust, which owns the building known as Cedars House. She told Eisenstein that the house was available for rent as a business.

Eisenstein embraced the challenge of renovating the simple frame and stucco house in the charming woodsy setting, deciding to run it as a fitness cafe.

A certified personal trainer whose doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania focused on the urban university and community relations, Eisenstein thought it made sense to offer fresh, healthy fare, along with yoga and Pilates classes and even Swedish massage in this building passed by so many runners, bikers, and hikers in the park.

Located on Northwestern Avenue at the entrance to the park in Chestnut Hill, the Cedars is one of the newest Fairmount Park Trust properties to be repurposed as an eatery.

It joins the new Trolley Car Cafe at the Bathey, just off Kelly Drive at the ramp to Roosevelt Boulevard in East Falls, which also opened in June, the Centennial Cafe in the park's Ohio House, and the Valley Green Inn on Forbidden Drive.

At Cedars, the kitchen serves breakfast, lunch, and snacks from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. And the offerings are much more enticing than a typical concession.

Chef Jenny Sweeney, lately of Cake restaurant in Chestnut Hill, makes the daily chilled soups for the summer menu, along with flaky-crusted quiches, rich chocolatey brownies, and fresh-from-the oven cookies, and she stocks Cedars' pantry with fresh ingredients for salads and sandwiches made on the spot.

Smoothies here start with Pequea Valley Farms yogurt from Lancaster County and can be bolstered with protein.

With the fervently fit in mind, the cafe stocks regular and gluten-free energy bars.The late-19th-century building first housed the Andorra Nursery. By the time Eisenstein toured the inside of Cedars, there were holes in the floorboards.

"It was pretty gross," she says.

But today, Eisenstein dreams of a year-round operation at Cedars, with hikers gathered outdoors around a fire pit in the fall, sipping hot cider or cocoa.

In the nearer future, Cedars will host marathon training for running moms, with or without jogging strollers.

And because she and her husband have three young children, Eisenstein schedules children's story hours and crafts workshops, too.

The cafe has indoor lockers, where customers can leave their belongings while hiking or biking, and an indoor exercise room; space outdoors in a meadow is used for classes in nice weather.

Ken Weinstein, who owns the Trolley Car Diner on Germantown Avenue in Mount Airy, became intrigued with a quirky old brick building in East Falls called Bathey House - even before he learned it had been a changing house for a public pool in the early 1900s.

The pool itself, which sat behind the house, had been filled with dirt, mowed over, and was hardly visible. Still, Weinstein says, it had to be removed as part of the $700,000 renovation to turn the Bathey into the Trolley Car Cafe at the Bathey.

Inside there's seating for 25 at tables with rich red glass tops. Outside, the patio seats 75, and a kitchen garden holds four raised beds, sprouting 10 varieties of tomatoes and enough fresh basil and heirloom carrots for both the Cafe and the Diner. Weinstein planted cuttings from the mint plants in his home garden and uses that mint for the cafe's tasty tea.

Breakfast offerings, served until noon, include frittatas, Belgian waffles, and a Monte Cristo: a cherrywood ham, turkey, fried egg, and Jarlsberg sandwich on a Texas french toast, which will fill you up for the day.

The sandwich and salad menu - the grilled chicken and pesto with arugula, tomatoes, and caramelized onions on the bread of your choice is a customer favorite - is available until 10 p.m.

Desserts here - lemon pound cake, sweet potato cheesecake, and Royersford-based Nelson's ice cream in waffle cones or cups - are delicious but not designed with weight watchers in mind.

Weinstein's renovations make good use of passive and active energy savers, and on weekends a Valley Forge Bike Rental concession is on hand to outfit cyclists.

Strackhouse is proud to say that all the leases on Park Trust properties require tenants to allow public access to their bathrooms.

"And that's a big plus for park users," she says.

Last week, Elizabeth Portnoy was making her second visit to the Trolley Car Cafe.

"I came last Saturday with my husband for breakfast and liked it," said Portnoy, seated at a long table with a half dozen babies and their moms.

"This morning I was meeting up with some girlfriends for a kids music class, so I suggested we come here for lunch afterward."


Egg Salad With Dill

Makes 8 to 10 servings

1 dozen eggs

1/2 small red onion, diced

1/2 cup mayonnaise (or more to taste)

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped (or more to taste)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Place eggs in salted cold water and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Drain and run cold water over the eggs to ease peeling.

2. Peel eggs and mash with fork. Add onion, mayonnaise, dill, and seasonings, blending as they are added.

3. Serve on a bed of lettuce or as a sandwich with dark bread, red leaf lettuce, and fresh tomato slice.

- from chef Jenny Sweeney, the Cedars House Cafe, Philadelphia. 

Per serving (based on 10): 176 calories, 8 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams fat, 258 milligrams cholesterol, 147 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.


The Cedars House

200 Northwestern Ave.

215-285-5431

www.thecedarshouse.com

7:30 a.m to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday

Trolley Car Cafe at the Bathey

3269 S. Ferry Rd.

267-385-6703

www.trolleycarcafe.com

7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder.

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