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Updated Tarentum restaurant retains classic feel

| Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Tarentum railroad station, off Lock Street in Tarentum, has been around since 1913 and was converted into a restaurant in 1984.

Jeff Norris worked as a server at the restaurant from 1984 until 2007, when John Greco bought the place and transformed it into JG's Tarentum Station Grille. The new restaurant opened in January 2008 with a lot of upgrades, including an addition, new furniture, new Italian tile flooring, new outside lighting and a revamped continental menu.

"They expanded the kitchen and added an office," says Norris, who is now the night manager. "The bar has five wide-screen, flat-panel televisions. We will also have an outdoor patio in a few weeks."

JG's Tarentum Station Grille, named a historic landmark in Tarentum, retains an early 20th-century flair. With its red brick exterior and proximity to the railroad tracks, the restaurant has a welcoming, old-timey feel. Trains chug by several times a day, only adding to the authenticity of the building. Inside, buttery yellow walls in the two main dining rooms mesh nicely with the sturdy wooden tables and chairs and white linen tablecloths.

On busy nights, says executive chef Jeffrey Thompson, he and his crew churn out several hundred dinners. Thompson, 49, is an Erie native who learned how to cook from his mom, Jessie Smith, as a youngster. He watched other chefs while working in various restaurant kitchens since he was 16, and taught himself the skills he incorporates on a daily basis.

"We have a system in the kitchen -- there are three on the line each night," Thompson says. "My grill man, Brion Smith, and my sous chef, Joe Ross, and myself have all been in the business long enough to work well together. We collaborate on the menu and come up with weekly specials."

The continental menu has a whopping 49 entrees, including classic Italian favorites, such as the Romanos, parmigianas, marsalas and piccatas. But diners with a more adventurous palate will be pleased by the offerings. Shrimp Louie features shrimp, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers with a lobster sauce and topped with crabmeat.

The Sole Meuniere, which Thompson says is a very popular entree, boasts a sauteed fillet of sole with portobello and shiitake mushrooms topped with jumbo lump crab meat in a white wine butter sauce. There are several Cajun dishes, as well as pasta, chicken, veal, pork and steak entrees.

Thompson feels that the most important quality a chef can have is leadership ability, and not being afraid to get your hands dirty.

"I've found that people are more willing to follow your leadership when they see you doing things that could be delegated to someone else," he says. "I'll do it once, let as many people see me doing it, then when I need it done again, I have no problem delegating it to someone else."

Medallions of Beef Danielle

Chef Jeff Thompson created this delicious entree in honor of his 20-year-old daughter, Danielle. The filet turns out very tender and flavorful, and the potato pancakes are a delightful accompaniment.

The chef suggests serving this dish with a nice pinot or merlot.

• 3 tablespoons clarified butter, divided (see note )

• 1 (6-ounce) filet mignon, split lengthwise into 2 (3-ounce) medallions

• 1/2 cup flour

• 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced

• Pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning

• 1 teaspoon minced shallots

• 1/2 cup marsala wine

• 1/2 cup veal or beef stock

• 1/2 teaspoon parsley, plus more for garnish, optional

• 1 tablespoon whole butter, dredged in flour

• Potato pancakes (see recipe )

• Paprika, for garnish, optional

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a saute pan over high heat.

Dredge the medallions in flour and place in the pan.

Sear for 2 minutes on each side for medium rare, then transfer the medallions to a cooking pan and put in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes.

In the meantime, heat another tablespoon of butter in the saute pan over high heat, adding the mushrooms and a pinch of kosher salt and pepper.

Add the shallots and the marsala wine, along with the veal or beef stock and parsley.

Cook until the sauce is reduced by half.

Put the filets in the sauce and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Finish the sauce by adding a pat of butter dredged in flour, which will thicken the sauce.

Turn the heat down to low, and season with more salt and pepper, if desired.

To plate: Place the potato pancakes on the bottom of the plate. Put the filets on top of the pancakes and cover with the mushroom sauce. Garnish with paprika and parsley on the edges of the plate.

Makes 1 serving.

Potato Pancakes

• 2 cups dehydrated potatoes or Ore Ida frozen hash browns

• 1 egg

• 2 tablespoons sour cream

• 3 green onions, chopped

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• 1/4 cup flour

• 2 tablespoons clarified butter (see note )

Mix thoroughly the potatoes, egg, sour cream, green onions and seasonings.

Add the flour to keep the mixture from getting runny. Form into two pancakes. Heat the butter in a saute pan over high heat, then place the pancakes in the pan.

Saute over high heat until brown, for about 3 minutes. Flip (Photo 5) , and put in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes.

Note : To clarify butter, melt the butter in a small saucepan and skim off the white milk solids that come to the top. The remaining clear butter is less heat-sensitive, which reduces the risk of burning.

Additional Information:

JG's Tarentum Station Grille

Cuisine: Continental

Hours : 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays, 5-10 p.m. Saturdays

Entree price range: $12.99-$28.99

Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible. Full bar and wine list.

Address: 101 Station Drive, Tarentum

Details: 724-226-3301 or website

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