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Harrisburg for a weekend

Hi - I'll be in Harrisburg next weekend for PA Flavor, and I'm looking for recommendations on where to eat & drink while I'm there. I'm a professional food, wine and travel writer and I live in NYC, so I'm afraid I'm a bit spoiled. But I'm not a snob, and I happily adjust my expectations according to my location. While in town I'm just looking to feed myself decently... and perhaps be pleasantly surprised?

Here are the details: I'll be there Friday lunch through Sunday brunch. I'll be staying downtown without a car, so I'm hoping to find places within walking distance of my hotel. My tastes are wide-ranging, from brewpub to white linen, as long as the food is solid. I'd like a buzzing grown-up vibe, the kind of room that makes you feel good; I'd rather avoid frat boys and children. I'll be solo, and when alone I enjoy eating at the bar, though a table with an attentive server is great, too. Good wine, spirits and/or beer are important (i.e. I don't want BYOB), and it would be great to find a real cocktail.

Any help is much appreciated!

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  1. My search has yielded the following ideas:
    Mangia Qui
    Suba
    Bricco
    Firehouse
    Home 231
    Raspberries
    El Sol
    Arepa City
    Palumbo's
    McGrath's
    Neato Burrito

    Any thoughts? Thanks!

    26 Replies
    1. re: constancejones1

      I've had one of The Best Steaks of my life at Mangia Qui ("Il Toscano"). The primi and secondi are also nice.

      1. re: linguafood

        Thanks, linguafood. Steak at Mangia Qui is definitely on the radar!

        1. re: linguafood

          Agree but the ret of their menu is also fabulous. I could do multiple just there and have a very different experience every time. Their pastas are excellent. The fish and most other entrees as well, very good. I love the El Benedicto they so at brunch. They do great cocktails and have fresh squeezed juice during brunch a well.

          1. re: melpy

            Yes, I think I mentioned the primi and secondi as being very nice, also.

            The steak, however, left a lasting impression, whereas I can't recall my appetizer or pasta dish.

            1. re: linguafood

              Sorry. I didn't mean to say that you hadn't mentioned it. The steak is probably one of the best I have ever had but I have never ordered it myself because my fiancé always gets it and I get to taste. It is so large that I prefer a smaller meal with more flavors instead of the steak for my entire meal.

              1. re: melpy

                Oh, it's massive. Had we known better, we might have skipped a pasta dish, for sure. And yeah, one has to share it. 24 oz of steak? Can't do that on my own.

                1. re: linguafood

                  That was why I was thinking solo and hotel might not be the best for the il Tuscano. I can comfortably do three courses at MQ but the steak is really better shared or with leftovers.

                  If you get dessert and they have it, go with the Santiago cake. It is to die for and I don't even like that type of thing usually.

                  1. re: melpy

                    Sounds like our visitor had no issues with the steak! Color me impressed :-)

                      1. re: melpy

                        Hah! I could eat barely half of it (and that's a feat for me), and I couldn't take it with me. I made my server promise to find a deserving doggie or kittie recipient for the leftovers. My loss! But I sure hope some hungry critter went to sleep with a full belly that night.

                        1. re: constancejones1

                          Aw. Couldn't you have left us with the illusion that someone is capable of finishing off that whole thing? Besides Alan Richman, that is, for whom this would merely constitute an amuse bouche '-D

                          1. re: linguafood

                            My fiancé eats the whole thing minus 1-2 bites that I steal, plus an appetizer, a half portion pasta course and an espresso with a few bites of dessert. I beg him to take it home but that rarely happens.

        2. re: constancejones1

          Skip McGrath's. All meals there have been fine, but entirely forgettable. Mediocre to fine draft list.

          1. re: mookleknuck

            Thanks for the input. Where would you go for craft beer?

            1. re: constancejones1

              While downtown, I'd choose Anthony's over McGrath's for a much wider selection of draft beer. While Anthony's ambiance and menu and bartenders aren't as nice, extensive, or competent, respectively, as McGrath's, the selection beats all. Go at a slower time to get better service.

              If you don't mind cabbing it to a dive bar, Shady McGrady's has a better selection of bottles, too. But it's a real dive bar, it's not some place I'd want to walk back from, and smoking's still allowed.

              ETA: for concision

              1. re: constancejones1

                Anthony's has been around for a while. The new-comers to the scene are directly across the street: Federal Taphouse and Susquehanna Ale House. I think Federal Taphouse has the better offering.

                Also, something to keep in mind- PA still allows smoking indoors at establishments that are considered primarily bars. Federal Taphouse is smoke-free, which I appreciate. Depends if you want to be doing laundry while you're here :)

            2. re: constancejones1

              Mangia Qui has been around a long time, which I think speaks volumes.

              Bricco is a good choice.

              We have had good lunches at the Firehouse. It is casual.

              Haven't tried Home 231 yet but have heard good things.

              Appalachian Brewing Company has a good selection of beer. Take a cab from the hotel. Depending on the timing of your visit, you might be able to get a tour.

              We go to Harrisburg once in a while for a "date" weekend. McGrath's bar is good for a couple of drinks. Next door is Carley's and we like to stop in there also.

              The Hilton has had music (jazz) in the bar but maybe we always hit it on "event" weekends, I don't know if entertainment is on the regular schedule. Anyway, it was a nice scene.

              Zeno's (I might have the name wrong) is across the street and a couple of doors down from the Hilton. It has been a while but we used to enjoy the cocktail and bar menu.

              Stocks on 2nd was one of the original places on 2nd Street. I haven't been there in 7+ years but I have good memories. Might be worth the stroll. Hopefully someone with more recet experience will chime in.

              1. re: cleobeach

                This is all great info - thanks! Sounds like there are enough options to fill 48 hours in Harrisburg.

                Another query, Chowhounders: The son of an acquaintance passed along a recommendation for a place called Sawyer's. He says it has a mellow patio with fireplace. He didn't say anything about the food. Is it worth stopping by, or no?

                1. re: constancejones1

                  Sawyer's is silver diner on a large lot. There is a large outdoor lounge area with fire pits. If the weather is nice, it makes a good people watching spot. I remember the crowd as being younger.

                2. re: constancejones1

                  On your list I recommend Mangia qui, Suba, Bricco, and Arepa City. El Sol isn't bad but it isn't as good as the other places. Firehouse will be a let down for you I'm sure. Home 231 was very disappointing quality wise although interesting and less Sysco type of dining than Firehouse. I can't speak about raspberries, palumbo or McGraths. Neat Burrito is sort of our precursor to Chipotle but sadly I prefer Chopotle.

                  1. re: melpy

                    Oh no, what were you disappointed in at Home 231? I haven't had dinner there since last summer, but the brunches that I've had there have been really wonderful.

                    1. re: hyacinthgirl

                      We went last Fall and looking at the menu now for dinner it is completely different but we were underwhelmed with taste and quality of execution. Seeing the change in menu I am going to suggest trying it out again. Just looked at Federal Taphouse menu based on your comment and it looks interesting to try as well.

                      1. re: melpy

                        That's too bad! They do change their menu quite often, do you remember what you had? I hope their dinners are still a high quality, I'll have to go check it out again soon.

                        Federal Taphouse is really hit and miss. My SO had a Philly pork sandwich that was dry and tasteless. I've tried the Greek and Margherita pizzas and have been extremely underwhelmed. However the lamb sliders were tender and flavorful and the breakfast frittata was simple and prepared nicely, with excellent seasoned potatoes. As I mentioned above, the french fries are quite good and I also had a very nice salad with cranberries and perfectly cooked chicken breast.

                        1. re: hyacinthgirl

                          Some kind of BBQ slider perhaps and something like fries or chips? Some things were dry or burnt. The service was indifferent and not helpful. I had this weird out of place feeling all evening. I really don't remember anything else we ate. It was probably something like 4-6 small plates if I know us. The current menu looks quite good. It seems Harrisburg has a bunch of hit or miss places. Bricco is one of our favorites but it really depends on a lot of factors to get it just right. We have had really off nights there but the good ones outweigh the bad.

                3. Try Arepa City for Friday lunch. No liquor license. And if chef has corn flan on the menu that day, try it. We've had it silky smooth and a little chunky. Prefer the silky.

                  (Aside: Chef even sold me filling and unbaked arepas to take on a trip to family, told me how to bake them. I took assorted slices of flan. Huge success. You should do an article on his place.)

                  I can't believe you won't be stuffed at the Expo, but if you need further sustenance, El Sol, Bricco, Mangia Qui are good choices.

                  If you're at the Hilton, they have a Sunday jazz brunch. We were there quite recently and found it underwhelming.

                  PA Flavor is mainly craft brewers, isn't it? Take your direction from there. Nothing you could walk to from center city, but brewers accessible by cab are ABC (Appalachian Brewing Company) and Troeg's Brewing.

                  Have a lovely visit.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: nemo

                    Thanks! That corn flan definitely has my name on it!

                    1. re: nemo

                      I think that Troeg's moved out to Hershey about a year and a half ago. And ABC's main brewpub, while warm and comfortable, is in a shady part of town that will require a cab. I mention the main brewpub out on Cameron St because its upstairs has a respectable selection of bottles for the area.

                    2. Are you at the Hilton? It's a small city, so really everything's walkable.
                      Having moved here somewhat recently from LA, I certainly know what it's like to be spoiled, but it sounds like your expectations are in check.
                      Here's what I'd suggest:
                      Friday dinner: Tapas at Suba (which is located upstairs at Mangia Qui). It's a small space, but everyone there is very friendly and can be a good spot when you're alone. Not a frat boy to be seen and in my opinion it's the best bet for cocktails in this city. They're making really lovely drinks without over-doing the sweetness (a problem I frequently ran into in LA). The tapas are solid to quite good.

                      Saturday: Breakfast at Yellow Bird Cafe. If you're at the Hilton, this might be a slight hike (around a mile, I did it last week), but it's a nice enough walk. Yellow Bird has Little Amps coffee (which is the best local coffee). It's a very friendly place and they bake all their own bread- the English muffin alone or as a breakfast sandwich is wonderful. If you like granola, they make their own, but be warned it's a bit on the sweet side.

                      Saturday lunch: El Sol isn't bad Mexican, if you're in the mood. I haven't tried Arepa City, but I've heard it's interesting. If you had a car or really want to hike, I'd send you to Alvarros, which is probably 2 miles from the Hilton. They do really nice Italian sandwiches.

                      Saturday dinner: Mangia Qui for a white table-cloth type place. Lovely food, small "adult" space, friendly service. Or if you want to go more loud/casual vibe, Federal Taphouse. The food at Taphouse is very hit and miss (although the french fries fried in duck fat are quite good and a meal on their own), but they have a large selection of beers, if you're not sick of that. Additionally, they have a pretty fun bar scene that tends to skew slightly older than some of the other 2nd street party locales- assuming you're out before 9pm.

                      Sunday brunch: Home 231, hands down. Mangia Qui does a nice enough brunch as well, but I absolutely prefer Home 231. This is a restaurant that could easily hold its own in LA or NY- not as a stand out in those cities, but as a strong local place that's using fresh, in-season ingredients and keeping the menu updated and interesting. They also do a very nice cocktail there, if you're interested.

                      As for the other places that came up on your list:
                      -Bricco is ok, very hit and miss and coming from NY it may very well feel pathetic.
                      -Firehouse I haven't tried yet.
                      -Raspberries: standards Hotel offerings
                      -Palumbos- don't even bother trying the pizza in Harrisburg, it's just not worth it
                      -McGrath's- has a nice upstairs bar space, not worthwhile for food
                      -Neato Burrito- pretty underwhelming yet standard burrito chain. I would put it a notch below Chipotle.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: hyacinthgirl

                        Many thanks, H. This is superb info. I hadn't heard of Yellow Bird before, but I'll add it to my list. Pizza: lol. I'm a born-and-bred NYC pizza fanatic - how could I even have considered a slice in Harrisburg?!

                        1. re: constancejones1

                          We all have a lapse of judgement now and again ;)

                          1. re: constancejones1

                            Seriously, avoid the pizza. Better than pizza in MD but can't even touch NJ, NY, CT.

                            Hyacinth, I would love recommendations for dishes at Home 231. We must have chosen the wrong thing because we were very disappointed the time we tried it.

                            1. re: melpy

                              As I mentioned, we've primarily gone for brunch, so I have more to recommend on that menu. The hash browns are actually grated potatoes formed into a thick patty and then fried so that the outsides have a traditional hash brown texture and the insides are moist. They were perfectly seasoned and delicious, if not way too big. I've had the veggies and eggs twice and I've been very impressed with the selection of unique seasonal vegetables that they use. I get very bored with the same old suspects (the last one included fennel, scape and arugala and was delicious). They also do a wonderful job of preparing the vegetables prior so that they are all strike the perfect texture in the eggs. Too often places clearly throw veggies in raw so that they are still crispy or else they are boiled and mush when added to the eggs. Their breakfast sausage is also very flavorful. I've tried the quiche of the day and have found it to strike the perfect balance between savory cheese and bacon and buttery crust. So far, they seem to be executing brunch better than anyone else I've tried in the area.
                              The dinner that we had last year was very good, but also long enough ago for me to be a bit fuzzy on the details (the Moscow Mules didn't help either), though I do recall the homemade donuts for dessert were perfect.

                              1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                I'm also sorry to hear that Melpy. We've always had a good experience. It is easily my kids' favorite restaurant. Granted, my 12 y.o. son always get steak frites and my 10 y.o. daughter always gets the burger - she swears it's the best burger she's ever had anywhere, and is thrilled that her dad and I give the OK nod when she wants to order it med-rare. LOL...

                                I had the local trout last time I was there and seem to remember really enjoying it. We also had the in-laws with us and everyone seemed very happy. Can't remember what they all got. At least one person got the pasta special of the day. I think my husband might have gotten the braised short rib. Granted, I have been there and not been completely wowed, but I have also never felt disappointed. Oh, and I also love those donuts. Seriously worth the trip for me alone. (And the moscow mule, too funny, that's what I always drink too!)

                                1. re: centralpadiner

                                  Ok- as you two are my go to hounds for PA recs we will have to try again. I will report back. It will probably be a few weeks though.

                            2. re: constancejones1

                              The Subway Cafe is worshipped by many of us raised in Harrisburg. Though it is non-traditional, I'd give it a go. It has sustained that place for many, many years.

                          2. Please let us know how it went! :)

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: hyacinthgirl

                              Yes, of course! Friday afternoon I stopped by Anthony's for a beer, and was underwhelmed. The long list had some promising drafts, but they had run out of the first three that I tried to order. I wouldn't say their lines are the cleanest, either. That said, there was a great jukebox with plenty of old-school rock.

                              Friday evening I went to Suba for dinner. I sat at the bar, where I received excellent service from the bartender and another woman - the manager? A fellow server? Both were friendly, knowledgeable and accommodating. I had a decent Manhattan and a taste of their fun house-infused lemon-habanero tequila. The menu included some interesting dishes and some ho-hum ones; the execution proved to be adequate rather than exceptional.

                              Saturday lunch, I just grabbed a burger at the Broad Street Market before heading over to the PA Flavor event. I was more impressed with the Midtown Scholar (very cool!) across the street from the market than by the market itself. Central Market in Lancaster is a whole lot richer.

                              Just BTW, PA Flavor had some interesting little brewers in addition to the state's biggies, and across the board the beer was okay to good. A couple of standouts, but Troeg's and Victory are definitely head-and-shoulders above the rest. There wasn't much by way of food at the event; the organizers should ramp up that aspect in the future.

                              After PA Flavor I randomly chose The Firehouse as my derby-watching venue. Nothing exciting drinks-wise, but the crowd at the bar (30s and up) had a blast watching the race, and I did, too.

                              For Saturday dinner I did Mangia Qui. The space was pleasant if unremarkable, but the service was terrific. I had the steak - which was, in fact, very good - and they whipped up a little off-menu contorno for me. Dining alone, I didn't manage to taste anything else, and I only ordered a couple of glasses of wine. The red that I had w the steak (it wasn't on the list and I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember what it was) made an excellent pairing. Qui Qui himself is lovely, and we had an amusing chat. Altogether an enjoyable evening, though not culinarily mind-blowing.

                              Sunday afternoon, before hopping on the train back to NYC, I stopped by Federal Taphouse. I was happy to see some new-to-me drafts on their hefty list, and the two beers I tasted were nice and fresh. I accompanied them with the tartufo pizza (I know, I know) and was pleasantly surprised by the decent crust. The bartenders were attentive and fairly knowledgeable. The vibe was mellow; I can see that the huge place must get pretty raucous on a Saturday night.

                              I'd say that my Harrisburg dining experience was pretty much as expected. Thanks for the hospitality!

                              1. re: constancejones1

                                Thanks so much for the report! Glad you had a nice time in the city :)

                                1. re: constancejones1

                                  Sorry to hear that your experience at Anthony's was so disappointing; were you able to order any beer that you enjoyed?

                                  Nice trip report and I'm happy to hear that this town met your expectations!

                                  1. re: mookleknuck

                                    I did drink something good, though I can't now remember what it was. But I liked the dive-y vibe anyway.