Earlier this week, I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Central PA. On the drive home, completely famished and about to go “Donner Party” on one another, we stumbled upon Cafe Campbelltown just outside of Hershey, PA.
Cafe Campbelltown serves up “classic American and Southern-inspired” fare. Having now sampled their offerings, I translate this to mean, “darn satisfying comfort food.” For a gal who lived some years in Louisiana, and who often craves a good “jam-ba-lay and a crawfish pie,” I’m completely gaga over this place.
To begin with, our waitress brought us a basket of hot-from-the-oven sweet cornbread and toasted country white. We devoured it in minutes and felt our blood-sugar rise and hunger-induced rage subside.
From the enticing menu, I ordered the grilled catfish, which the chef agreed to blacken. For $14, it came with two sides. I couldn’t choose only two, so I ordered three: scalloped potatoes (the potato du jour), mustard greens, and baked beans.
Unlike the catfish I ate down south, which tasted of the muddy river water in which it swam, this fresh (not-frozen) farm-raised fish had a perfectly mild flavor. With the blackened crust (a tad salty), house-made tartar, and precise preparation, it was a real treat.
As for my sides, I could have made a meal of them alone (though I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that fish!). Rather than thinly-sliced and layered scalloped potatoes, these were cut into bite-sized chunks with the skin-on. A more rustic preparation, they were every bit as cheesy as the casserole-style ones. The mustard greens were smoky and savory and made more interesting and less bitter by the addition of carrots and red bell pepper. Although the baked beans were from a can, someone had lovingly doctored them to be sweet and smooth.
My husband’s vegetarian vegetable soup was toothsome and hearty with its tomato-based broth and every conceivable garden-fresh veggie all cut into uniform bite-sized pieces. Does size matter? In this case, yes.
The bread pudding was served in a caramel-colored glass goblet with piping hot brandy sauce. It was more than enough to share. To complement this Nawlins-staple, I was grateful for the Kona blend coffee (although chicory would have been even more welcome). Both of us were impressed with the loose tea selection. The husband enjoyed the fragrant apple chamomile.
Our server took excellent care of us, particularly as we were pretty ornery when we walked in the door. She was knowledgeable of the menu and genuinely seemed to like her job.
Though Cafe Campbelltown is inexpensive and entirely without guile and pretense, its substantial selection of vegetarian and gluten-free entrees, and its use of local produce, place it at the cutting-edge of central PA’s culinary scene.
Well-fed and happy, the two of us lingered awhile to delight in the eclectic, plantation-style decor. The gooseberry green walls were the same color I painted my bedroom as a teenager. Mix sweet nostalgia with craveworthy comfort food and you have a winning experience that bears repeating.