Lenape Heights Grille Room putting more emphasis on the upscale experience
The fine-dining revolution at Lenape Heights Grille Room began when KPM Herkules acquired the Lenape Heights Golf Course property in 2007, and made renovations during the next few years, but it went into full swing when executive chef Jonathan Nagy arrived in 2010.
"This is really a treat for me, to be an international-style chef with this restaurant in my backyard so that I can stay at home and make this amazing food," says Nagy, 28, a Rural Valley native who graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Academy of Culinary Arts and worked in Boca Raton, Fla., at Eleven in the Strip District and, most recently, at The Coventry Inn in Indiana. "I want to scream to all my friends, 'Please come to Lenape Heights and get a food-and-dining experience that you will not find outside the city.'
"By the same token, we're only 45 minutes from the city, and we want Shadyside (residents) coming up, we want Oakmont coming up. I want Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins, I want people making movies down in Pittsburgh to hear about this nice little 18-hole golf course and resort that's a hop, skip and a jump away. ... What we're doing will definitely please palates in the Pittsburgh area, and shock them to see what these small-town people from Western Pennsylvania are doing."
A contemporary design assures Grille Room patrons this restaurant simply is not the golf course's 19th hole.
With a light-cream color scheme and a bright-wood floor, the dining room oozes new-age style. Silky stripes in red, gold and green lay across tables, providing pops of color here and there. But for a real palette of colors, just look out the room's massive windows, which make up an entire wall and face the ninth green.
There are plans, or at least discussions, among managers, to place even more emphasis on the high-end nature of the restaurant, Nagy says. The Grille Room soon might cater specifically to those who want the fine-dining experience, and the golf crowd will find more casual menu items in The Green Room, which will sit adjacent to the main dining room and face the course.
"That's going to be one of our biggest hills to climb around here, because typically, in all the restaurants around here, you can have whatever you want on the menu, no matter where you're sitting," Nagy says. "But when taking pride in three- and four-star dishes, you really want your customers to feel comfortable and give them the best dining experience possible.
"At the same time, we don't want to forget about our golfers who have been loyal and really are paying a lot of our bills on the back end. We don't want to shoo off anybody."
Nagy, sous chef Josh Truitt and the rest of the kitchen staff members go to great lengths to make sure their menu reflects a passion for local, fresh and seasonal food.
The rich, buttery, wild-mushroom ravioli ($15) consists of homemade pasta and sauteed mushrooms that, during certain times of the year, are foraged in nearby Indiana County.
Nagy says he created the dish as a special at The Coventry Inn, but demand for the dish became so overwhelming that the Indiana restaurant made it a regular item.
The same sequence of events happened at Lenape Heights.
"That mushroom dish will probably follow me through life," Nagy says with a smile. "It's really kind of just all-around what I'm all about and what we're all about."
The succulent Chicken Florentine ($16) features locally raised free-range chicken. Goat cheese used as filling in the zucchini-blossoms appetizer ($7), a cleverly battered and fried treat, is from Paradise Gardens and Farm in Reynoldsville. And a wide range of vegetables are foraged within a dozen miles of the restaurant.
Nagy's pride in his menu-item ingredients is only slightly greater than his excitement about the Grille Room's preparation methods.
He raves about the restaurant's recently purchased Vulcan broiler, a device Nagy says was made popular by Ruth's Chris Steak House because it gets 400 to 500 degrees hotter than a standard broiler. The Grille Room offers filet mignon ($21 for 8 ounces, $18 for 6 ounces) and a 12-ounce New York strip ($20).
And he beams while talking about small burns that come with cooking scallops -- a saffron cream sauce-drizzled scallop entree is offered for $17.
"We're working the sauteing method of high, high heat and hot oil, so there's going to be some oil spitting back at you, and there's going to be a little pain in the cooking," Nagy says. "You really need these high temperatures to bring out these quality flavors and natural sugars that are locked into the foods."
The Grille Room's menu varies based on the season. Nagy isn't sure what will appear on it after the Grille Room's transformation to high-end dining is complete. But he's certain the experience will be unlike anything else available in Armstrong County and the surrounding area.
"We want them to embrace what we're trying to do," Nagy says, " to go out on a limb and try something new."Additional Information:
Lenape Heights Grille Room
Cuisine: Modern American/European
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
Entree price range: $12-$26
Notes: Credit cards accepted. Extensive wine list available with by the glass and by the bottle options. Seasonal patio.
Address: 950 Golf Course Road, Manor Township
Details: 724-763-2201 or lenapeheights.com
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