Phantom Diner

Black Gryphon – The Phantom Diner, Central PA Magazine, May 2010

Written by The Phantom Diner | Apr 14, 2010 3:56 PM

There’s been a roadhouse-type restaurant at the junction of Routes 241 & 743 in Elizabethtown with different owners and different names since the 1940s. Three years ago, with yet other new owners, it became Black Gryphon. It is unusual.

From the outside, it can pass as any one of those omnipresent, semi-rural, middle-America, too-familiar, just-out-of-town, Saturday-night-for-predictable-fare, quasi-diner places. But it’s not. It might look like that. But it doesn’t have the dull menu, “hiya-hon” service or sub-par/ordinary quality to match.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s far from fancy. In fact, the simple dining room is a tad too simple, leaning to the cold and institutional. But it’s special in its own way. There are wonderful photographs adorning most walls, which sort of clash with a couple of glass-encased sports jerseys hanging on display near the bar, which is visible from the dining room. (There’s lots of open space here.)

But speaking of the bar, there’s a great selection of beers on tap, served in a 20-ounce or a 10-ounce pub glass, including Stoudts, Dog Fish and Victory, as well as a wide variety of bottled beers, specialty cocktails and martinis and an impressive wine list and after-dinner offerings, all at reasonable prices.

And, if you haven’t guessed, attire can be, is and should be casual, even on Saturday night. But the Gryphon seems well-run, our server was extremely friendly (as in sit-down-at-the-table-and-chat friendly) and knew the menu and food preparations. And our food was surprisingly good.

But first, a word about gryphons: They are mythical creatures with the head, talons and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. This Black Gryphon apparently has no relationship to the fantasy novel The Black Gryphon, which much-published American author Mercedes Lackey wrote in the ’90s. This gryphon is Welsh and was part of one of the restaurant owners’ family crest, according to a history of the restaurant available on site and online.

Now to the food:

The menu is an unusual mix of American, Italian and Welsh offerings; a lot of the fare is homemade, including breads, salad dressings and sauces; and a lot of it is put together with fresh local products.

Prices are more than reasonable. There are “small plates” and main courses. No entree costs more than $25 — that’s the Chilean sea bass, pan-roasted, wrapped with prosciutto and served with green lentils. And no “small plate” costs more than $10; that’s the braised oxtail and parsnip ravioli — something, face it, you don’t see everywhere.

On the predictable side, there’s a soup of the day or lobster bisque, a Caesar salad and an endive, apple and cheese salad. But you’ll also find Welsh rarebit made with Yuengling Lager and served over homemade toasted “tin bread” ($8); or pan-fried cod cakes ($9); hot Italian sausage with greens and lentils ($8); or bacon-wrapped macaroni and cheese ($7).

As tempting as many of these dishes are, they seem heavy if one intends to also get an entree (though two of them might make a nice meal), so my table opted for a main course, which comes with a house salad, a fresh mix of greens served with wonderful homemade dressing, in my case a Stilton blue cheese dressing.

Entrees, like the small plates, include a range of dishes from the known and simple to the slightly exotic. There is, for example, basic spaghetti and meatballs in marinara sauce served with garlic bread, a veggie and a house salad for $17; or traditional fish and chips with fresh-cut French fries, veggies and a house salad for $16.

You’ll also find comfort food such as crab cakes, tenderloin or shrimp curry with basmati rice. But then there are such dishes as braised oxtail ragout ($19) or that prosciutto-wrapped sea bass or European brined chicken served with leek bread pudding ($21).

I had the latter and found the chicken remarkably moist and flavorful, and I loved the bread pudding, which was lighter than I expected and a nice fit with the bird.

A dining partner had the tenderloin, billed as Lancaster County beef and served with a Welsh side dish called “stwmp,” a sort of root-veggies mashed affair that’s not all that attractive but tasted good to me. The meat, however, despite being advertised as made with Jack Daniels, was tough.

On the other hand, the veggie of the day, served family-style on a platter, was roasted and diced butternut squash with garlic, and was excellent.

Do not pass on dessert. There is gelato, sorbetto, homemade biscotti, espresso, Mennonite maple walnut cake, dark rum chocolate mousse and sweet potato pie — the latter served in a sort-of-like soufflé, with vanilla-infused whipped cream.

The Gryphon is open Wednesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner (brunch on Sunday, including Welsh eggs with leeks and bacon). It has a kids’ menu, happy hours with half-priced “small plates,” occasional all-you-can-eat specials and lots of live music events.

It is an eclectic, welcoming place with touches of hominess, tavern and roadside rest stop and appeals to both regulars and first-time patrons. If you’re looking for something unusual, you’ll find it at Black Gryphon.

BLACK GRYPHON

54 Mount Gretna Rd., Elizabethtown; open for lunch and dinner Wed through Sun; parking lot parking; smoke-free throughout; 717-367-1859; blackgryphon84.com

Published in Phantom Diner

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