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Marco's Tapas, Lewisburg – The Phantom Diner, Central PA Magazine, December 2009

Written by The Phantom Diner | Nov 16, 2009 6:45 PM

Let’s say you have reason to be in lovely Lewisburg. Picking up or dropping off a Bucknell or Penn State student or attending some holiday-related event at either university or in the borough itself, enjoying a getaway visit (there are plenty of B&Bs and lots of Victorian Age architecture) or, worst case, visiting a friend or relative at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.

Whatever your reason for being in Lewisburg, you should consider a dinner at Marco’s Tapas right downtown on Market Street, a cozy BYOB with a relaxed feel, friendly staff and the everybody-shares-lots-of-tastes fun of Spanish tapas dining.

I know it doesn’t sound like a perfect fit, a tapas place in a historic Central PA place (Lewisburg, population 5,500, is 60 miles north of Harrisburg on Route 15 along the Susquehanna River’s West Branch) with the look and feel of generations past. But the food is terrific, the price is right, you can walk there from anywhere in the town and, if you think about it, tapas really do fit with a college town ­— low-budget, high-variety fare that beats the heck out of pizza.

Actually, Marco’s serves pizza — specialty pizza, and very good pizza indeed. More on that later.

The town itself is totally charming, a Pleasantville right here in Pennsylvania. The downtown, illuminated at night by cast iron, three-globe streetlights, is on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’ve never been there, you’ll be impressed. If you have need or reason to return, you’ll like your meal at Marco’s.

Décor is bistro-like, part exposed brick, part tile and hanging plants. There are candles on the tables, comfy chairs and a very informal, casual, come-as-you-are atmosphere.

Choices aren’t endless, but the variety is easily wide enough to satisfy almost any taste. My party of four started with a large ($11) spinach salad, which we all shared and enjoyed with a light white wine.

Next we ordered a small, 10-inch Calabrian pizza ($12) with peppers, oregano, caramelized onions, garlic and mozzarella, again large enough for all four of us to taste, this time with a less-light white wine.

Part of the beauty of tapas dining is, you can pace your own meal — as we did — by ordering as you go. Our white wines were chilled, our red wine was opened to breathe, and our meal was designed to eat up our evening. And it did.

There are maybe 16 different tapas dishes, and for any infidels in your party, there are a few full-dinner specials but, seriously, why go to a tapas restaurant and not eat tapas?

We eased into seafood by ordering a wonderful ($10) spicy clams dish and a plate of bacon-wrapped (large) scallops, also $10 (actually $9.95, but anyone who’s been reading my reviews for any length of time knows how I feel about that).

I should note that every small-plate dish we ordered had enough food on it for four of us to share. I should also point out that the menu is seasonal, and not all the dishes mentioned below are necessarily available year-round.

With our red wine calling, we shifted to an order of grilled pork loin kabobs with mesquite sauce ($9); a plate of sautéed chorizo, a Spanish pork sausage ($9); and, to make sure we got our veggies, a plate of eggplant ($8) and a plate of spicy potatoes in tomato sauce served with aioli ($7). All delicious, and since you’re not stuffing in food from one large plate but instead eating small portions over time, you might be surprised at your capacity.

We, for example, found room for a shared caramel flan for $6.50 and had coffees and espresso. In short, we ate lots, we ate well, and we did so for a long time in a comfortable, fun venue, all for less than $25 a head.

If your tastes are different, Marco’s also offers a changing list of other tapas, which during our visit included: grilled rack lollypop lamb chops; quesadilla with shrimp, cheese and salsa; sautéed chicken with garlic and herbs; mesquite-grilled shrimp and vegetable kabobs; and more, all priced in the $7 to $10 per plate range.

There is even a small selection of kids’ tapas, including cheese quesadilla wedges and little pork sausages wrapped in pastry, both priced around $5.

As for the aforementioned “specialty pizzas” (the large, 16-inch pie runs from $10 to $22), there is pizza with barbecue sauce, cheese, chicken and scallions; pesto pizza; white pizza with caramelized onions and artichokes; and a red sauce, garlic, basil and Parmesan pizza. Get one to go. You’ll be glad you did.

Marco’s, like everything in Lewisburg, is easy to find. It’s right on the main drag, and street parking doesn’t seem to be a problem. They take major credit cards and reservations and, judging from my visit, are not averse to seating larger parties.

They do charge a corking fee of $2 per bottle, but Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits Stores (there’s one a block away) offer an increasing number of very good wines that come with screw-tops, so if you’re into saving a few bucks here and there, this is a place where you can do so.

Not everyone thinks tapas dining makes for a real meal because there’s no normal procession of appetizer, salad, entree, dessert. This, as demonstrated above, is flawed thinking. You can order tapas to fulfill any dining habit you like. And if you like tapas, you’ll like Marco’s.

MARCO’S TAPAS

434 Market St., Lewisburg; BYOB; ethnic dining; street parking; takes major cards; call for hours and/or reservations; 570-523-0023.

Published in Phantom Diner

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