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Clifford's Restaurant happily serves up fresh, seasonal, made-from-scratch meals

| Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014, 9:11 p.m.
Dinner patrons at Clifford's in Evans City Sunday, Dec, 7, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Dinner patrons at Clifford's in Evans City Sunday, Dec, 7, 2014.

Clifford's Restaurant is in the middle of farmland.

Literally.

Off exit 88 of Interstate 79, down a few windy roads, past a few residential houses and a farm with horses, you find Clifford's, a cozy and inviting country home where you will enter as a stranger, but leave as one of the family.

From the minute you are greeted by the hostess to the carefully packaged leftovers given to you in used grocery bags, you will feel like an extended member of the Enslen family.

In 1991, Clifford Enslen had a dream to open a restaurant. In 1993, he did just that with his two sons, Jesse and John. Now, Jesse runs the restaurant with his wife, Nicole, serving up fresh, seasonal, made-from-scratch meals that change every day. Yes. Every. Single. Day.

That's what makes Clifford's special. There is a standard, printed menu, but what you really want to hear are the daily specials rattled off to you by memory — first by the hostess when seated and then again by your waitress. It's OK if you need them to recite all of the specials a few times. There are a lot, making it hard to choose.

The printed menu includes appetizers, such as mussels in a white-wine garlic sauce, hot spinach and artichoke dip, and Asian spring rolls with a peanut sauce. Entrees might include chicken Romano, grilled pork chops, and filet mignon.

On the night I dined, the specials of the night consisted of over 10 items, including appetizers such as stuffed habanero peppers and raclette, and a plethora of entrees like rack of lamb (the restaurant's best seller), veal scaloppini done four ways (romano, piccata, marsala and parmesan), beef tips and gravy, N.Y. strip steak (which could be made surf-and-turf style with either crab cakes or shrimp), Ahi tuna, Chilean sea bass, stuffed cod with fresh crab meat or spinach and artichokes and sea scallops, just to name a few.

What I love about Clifford's is not only the freshness of the menu, but the fact that Clifford's is willing to accommodate your taste buds, wants and needs. If you have a craving for something special, call in advance and request it — something you typically only feel comfortable doing among family.

While deciding on what to order, fresh bread will appear at your table with a heaping scoop of butter. First, slices of homemade pretzel bread topped with sea salt and crusty French bread will arrive, but I challenge you to wait for the knot rolls that come piping hot out of the oven. It will be hard not to eat a dozen of these yeasty, airy rolls. But don't worry if you do — they are constantly arriving at your table. And, if you have any left over at the end of the night, the staff is more than happy to give you a bag to take them home.

The appetizers are large enough to share. I strongly recommend the crab cakes served in a rich, decadent sherry cream sauce. They come three per order and are made with jumbo lumps of fresh crab meat with little to no filler. Though not on the menu, you can order them in an entree portion.

The homemade Italian pepperoni and cheese balls — an odd dish, I thought, for a place with white linen tablecloths — some of the best pepperoni rolls I've ever had in my life. Fresh dough is stuffed with pepperoni and cheese then deep-fried to a golden, crisp brown. Marinara sauce is served on the side. There is nothing more appetizing than the smell and taste of deep-fried dough, am I right? Though fried, the balls were light and airy, crispy and salty.

Each entree is served with soup or a side salad (get the beet vinaigrette), vegetable of the day and your choice of potatoes done many ways.

I had to order the scallops simply pan-seared and caramelized. No fancy sauce, no fancy seasoning. Just seven jumbo, fresh scallops seared to perfection served with a dollop of garlic-herb butter, alongside the vegetable of the day (roasted tomatoes, squash, carrots, celery and onions), and a side of raclette.

I forgot to order the raclette as an appetizer and my friendly waitress, Sara, mentioned that I could order it as my side of potatoes. The raclette is a Swiss dish made in honor of one of the family member's heritage. It is cubed pieces of fingerling potatoes with ooey-gooey melted Swiss cheese topped with thinly sliced pickles and a dusting of paprika. The smell is pungent, but the taste is delightful. The only thing this side needed was a knot roll to dip into the ooey cheese.

There's always room for dessert right? The daily-prepared desserts rotate and can include carrot cake, peach or raspberry cobbler topped with ice cream, and creme brulee.

Clifford's is truly something special. This family-run restaurant is serving up comfort food with love in every dish that is sent out of the kitchen. It's definitely worth the drive.

Sarah Sudar is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com, who contribute a weekly Dining Out column for Trib Total Media.

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