I will admit that before last week, the Heritage Restaurant in Morgantown was not high on my list of places to visit.
I’ve passed the Heritage Restaurant many times and have never felt the urge to stop. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, a relic from the times when I-176 and the Turnpike didn’t connect and drivers were funneled along Route 10. The motel behind the restaurant certainly doesn’t make it look any more appealing.
But, as they say, never judge a book by its cover.
The restaurant has clearly been updated inside with simple decor in the dining room. The walls are painted gray and are adorned with photography while the seating is made up of wooden tables with darker wooden chairs. While there were only a handful of tables occupied in the dining room, the bar area – which has a separate entrance – was full, which explained the jammed parking lot.
I was invited by fellow writer (and Heritage regular) Cathy Cuff-Coffman to a prix fixe dinner at the Heritage, a new concept for the restaurant but one that they were excited to try out and potentially make a part of the regular offerings.
Our meal was being hosted in their new private dining area. What was formerly the billiards room has been redone to host private functions. One wall features exposed stones while the other three are decorated simply with historic photos that capture the construction of the highways that connect in Morgantown.
A single long table was set with six chairs on each side. Five couples had won their seats through drawings in the restaurant and on social media, having their names drawn from more than 166 entrants. And then there were the two writers at the end of the table, reporter’s notebooks in hand.
Before our meal service began, we were introduced to owner Tamara King. King has owned the restaurant since December 2017 and during that time has made several upgrades to the dining area and hired Chef Brandon Pennypacker to update the menu. The idea for the prix fixe meal is to give Chef Brandon an opportunity to flex his creative muscle and put together a five-course meal with a cohesive theme. For this meal, the theme was spring: spring flavors, spring colors and spring-inspired foods.
Chef Brandon introduced each course as it was presented, and spring colors were on full display with the arrival of our first dish – a corn soup with fresh pico de gallo, pork belly and avocado crema with lime.
What a great way to start the meal. The corn was reduced down to form a base that was creamy but textured. The mix-ins took it to another level. The fresh pico was my favorite part – especially the bits of tomato that burst with a perfect sweet flavor. The salty, crunchy pork added a completely different, but no less enjoyable, flavor and texture to the meal. Throughout the dish, the avocado crema added a sweet and creamy flavor, with a little sour lime thrown in.
It was a very impressive start and just a preview of the great food still to come.
Our second course was a strawberry salad. It featured spinach and kale topped with a basil poppy seed dressing, fresh strawberries, dragon fruit and candied pecans, served with fried goat cheese.
The salad was excellent. I loved the addition of the mildly sweet dragon fruit and the earthy indulgence of the candied pecans. The goat cheese croquette was also good, but I didn’t care for it as much as part of the salad. I didn’t care for how the molten cheese blended with the chilled greens. Separately though, it was good and something that no one else in Berks County is trying.
Chef Brandon has a diverse culinary background. Since graduating from the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts, he has worked in 17 restaurants in greater Reading and Lancaster city. Stops have included the Hitching Post, Virginville Hotel, Blackjax and Billy Burger. For the last 10 months, he has been the lead at the Heritage Restaurant and has worked to remove canned and prepacked items in favor of creating more in-house.
All five courses highlighted what can be done when a talented chef is given an opportunity to experiment with different styles, techniques and ingredients. Nowhere was that more evident than our third course: three scallops each served with its own unique accompaniment.
Chef Brandon introduced them from right to left. First, the mint pea was a thick puree that was reminiscent of the best pea soup with just a touch of mint to add a little brightness. In the middle was a sun-dried tomato pesto (more on this in a moment). And on the left, a saffron orange aioli. I appreciated the tanginess but I have never been a big fan of aioli.
But the sun-dried tomato pesto may have been the best thing I have tasted in a long time. Instead of pistachio, it featured crushed almonds. It had a wonderful smoky flavor throughout, and it worked so perfectly with the buttery scallop (which were all cooked perfectly, nicely seared without being burnt). I have never been a fan of seafood of any kind, but I would gladly order scallops every day if they came with that pesto.
Tamara had told us that in his quest to put together the perfect menu, Chef Brandon had gone through 15 iterations of the menu and tried many different items. One of those, a blueberry venison sausage sounded amazing but was “awful.” Thankfully, that didn’t make it onto our plates as an entree.
Instead, we were treated to wagyu steak with lemon-lime finishing salt and chimichurri sauce, served with a couscous and quinoa mixture that was also topped with lemon-lime seasoning.
Wagyu beef, as Chef Brandon pointed out, is a type of beef from Japan known for its high marbling and richness. A meat with high marbling has more fat in the lean cuts, creating a more flavorful meat. It was clear from the first bite that the meat was high quality. I would normally order my food a little less pink than what was presented, but it was so good that I didn’t mind at all.
What really set the dish apart was the lemon-lime finishing salt. There was enough on the meat to give a taste, but there was even more dusted in the corners of the plate. And adding that little bit of extra salt turned this into an A-plus dish. It managed to bring out even more flavors from the meat and was the perfect compliment.
I enjoyed the chimichurri sauce with the beef as well. It added a tangy layer to the dish. But honestly, I would have been content with just the sweet salt.
When there is so much flavor on the plate, the quinoa and couscous just couldn’t compare. It had a light seasoning, but the grains felt boring compared to the other items on the plate and those we had already tried.
Four courses in and we were anxious to see what would be coming for dessert. We had tried a lot of food, but the portions had been perfect so there was still just enough room for the special treat that would complete the meal.
The dessert course was a sight to behold. Each plate featured a sponge cake topped with fresh strawberries, chocolate mousse, chipotle raspberry sea salt, another layer of sponge cake, banana whipped cream and a strawberry sugar dust.
I don’t think there was anyone in the room that didn’t love this. With just the chocolate mousse and perfectly baked sponge cake, the dish would have been a winner. But the addition of the sea salt and the sugar put it over the top.
First, the chipotle raspberry sea salt hit in so many ways. The added salt enhanced all of the sweet flavors while the chipotle gave it just the slightest bit of heat that was surprising and wonderful.
Then there was the strawberry sugar dust. Chef Brandon described it as a homemade Pixie Stick. He took dehydrated strawberries and ran them through a food processor before blending them with sugar. It really did taste like a candy topping, a concentrated sweetness that helped highlight the natural sweetness from the fresh fruit.
I don’t think there could have been a better way to end the meal.
The prix fixe dinners are a new concept for the Heritage. Everyone received comment cards and were asked to rate every part of the meal – but from the table talk, it sounded like rave reviews from all those in attendance.
Now that I have experienced the Heritage for the first time, I am looking forward to returning and bringing Julie and Jakob along. I’m sure I won’t be getting wagyu steak or a strawberry salad, but I’m confident that I will love the burgers, sandwiches and entrees found on the regular menu.
After my meal, the Heritage is now at the top of my list of places to re-visit.
6016 Morgantown Rd (Route 10)
Morgantown, PA 19543