Phantom Diner

Café Saint-Amand – The Phantom Diner, December 2010

Written by The Phantom Diner | Nov 19, 2010 1:39 PM

I would love to say lots of nice things about the French bistro Café Saint-Amand in Gettysburg because, well, there just aren’t enough good French bistros in Central PA.

But this one, after just celebrating two years in business and located right downtown just one block south of the borough square, still has some more growing to do.

Now maybe I was there for the wrong meal. It offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I’m told breakfast is great. (The lunch menu looks good, too.) But I was there for dinner and, frankly, left a tad disappointed.

For starters, the place just looks more like a breakfast and lunch restaurant than it does a French dinner place. The long, oblong-shaped dining room with an odd and open arrangement of tables and a few booths almost creates the feel of a large diner.

Not that there’s anything wrong with diners. I love ’em. But you just don’t see many French ones.

And it’s strange, because there’s a mix of elements that play to a French evening meal. There are a couple of bistro tables in the front window. There’s live music Friday and Saturday — an electric keyboard with easy-listening vocals. There’s candlelight, and fresh flowers on the tables, and there’s lots of art all around (especially Eiffel Tower–themed art).

But the track and drop lighting seemed too bright and the open space too large to feel like a French bistro should feel after dark.

Regular readers know I put great stock into venue and consider atmosphere essential to the dining-out experience.

But to the food.

The menu is fine, reflecting some traditional country French dishes, and the prices are reasonable. A couple can have appetizers, top entrees, dessert and coffee, and get out for about $65.

It’s a BYOB. Some great French wines would be a plus. So bring some.

Our wine was promptly opened and chilled at our table, which started things well, and soon a basket of nice small, warm French dinner rolls arrived along with good sweet butter.

Appetizers run from just $5 for a seasonal quiche to $11 for champignons sauvages et truffe fondue (wild mushrooms baked with brie cheese and chives).

There is also, of course, classic French onion soup ($7), a dish beloved by many but one that never starts any meal of mine; just too filling.

Other appetizers include sautéed mussels with garlic butter and white wine; grilled eggplant with basil and tomato compote; a house salad; and a Caesar salad.

I had salade d’agneau, the absolute (and only) culinary star of my evening — a wonderful salad of grilled baby lamb chops dabbed with melting goat cheese and served over mesclun greens. This was $9. I should have had a double order.

Entrees are limited in number but interesting and, as mentioned, a good representation of country French cuisine.

Most are priced in the mid- to upper teens, and there are a few items clearly aimed at a college-town crowd, such as a roast beef sandwich on a baguette with Swiss cheese or a house-ground burger with American cheese, each just $8.

But there’s also coq au vin, a slowly-braised-in-white-wine half chicken with roasted vegetables ($16); cordon bleu, lightly breaded chicken with ham and brie and served with whipped potatoes ($14); ratatouille, eggplant, squash, zucchini and tomatoes ($12); and pan-seared steak au poivre with black pepper and a cognac sauce ($19).

My dining partner ordered the latter but was not happy. The complaint included dissatisfaction with the beef (too pot-roasty tasting), the seasoning (too salty, though French food is often heavily seasoned) and what was described as an unidentifiable brown gravy, I assume the aforementioned cognac sauce.

After tasting the dish myself, I found little to criticize in the criticism.

I ordered croquettes de poulet (chicken croquettes), because it’s a dish I rarely see on a local menu, and it was really quite tasty. The battered coating was too thick, and the portion, four large (nearly the size of softballs) croquettes, was just too much food for anyone with a normal appetite. The dish was $19.

Coffees are excellent, and desserts are what you might expect: crème brûlée and chocolate mousse, strawberries and cream tart and a fresh berry crepe served with fresh cream. They run from around $4 to $6.

My table had warm banana crepes with chocolate hazelnut, very sweet but very good.
I’m thinking of heading back for breakfast or lunch. The breakfast menu offers Belgian waffles, cheese, egg or chicken crepes, pain au chocolat, omelets and croissant breakfast sandwiches.
The lunch menu includes croque monsieurs, French dips, Monte Cristos, ham-and-cheese crepes, and soups and salads. And everything is reasonably priced.

I like the idea of Café Saint-Amand more than I like its execution, at least when it comes to the evening meal. But I bet this could be a popular nighttime place with just a few adjustments.
During my visit, at least, it seemed a little off. But then, it is named for the French patron saint (St. Amand or Amandus) of winemakers, beer brewers and bartenders — and the place is a BYOB.

CAFÉ SAINT-AMAND
48 Baltimore St., Gettysburg; street parking and lot parking nearby; takes major cards and reservations; BYOB; open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week; open for dinner Wed-Sat 4-9pm; 717-334-2700; cafesaintamand.com

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