The dining room is charming. It's bright with high ceilings, wood floors, a storefront window, white linen tablecloths, large and colorful wall art, and even some Paris art to convey the whole French bistro vibe.
The atmosphere is relaxed and casual and reinforces that vibe.
And the location, right along Market Street in Camp Hill, is a site with local restaurant history, most notably the long gone, greatly missed Café on Market that delighted so many area diners for so many years.
But now the spot holds Layel Bistro, owned by Richard Hanna, who is better known as the owner of Roxy's, a great little diner at Third and North streets in downtown Harrisburg across from the Capitol.
Roxy's is a breakfast/lunch joint that draws lots of political types. Among favorite menu items are its "Looney Tuna" sandwich of homemade tuna salad with cheese and tomato on an English muffin, and its "Mousetrap," a three-cheese grilled sandwich on sourdough bread with tomato and bacon.
Hanna's bistro venture is relatively new (it opened last November) and is named for Hanna's young daughter. It's a BYOB place with no corkage fee. It stresses fresh, local products in its salads, small plates and entrées. (A server said there is no freezer.) There are also daily blackboard specials.
Menus are seasonal and prices are reasonable. Large salads are in the $9 to $11 range; all small plates are under $10; entrées range from $18 to $32 but most are in the $20s.
It's a place to try and the food — at least the food I ate — is good. But during my visit, there was one recurring thought regarding service, a minor complaint that likely will resolve itself with time, if it hasn't already.
The service was more diner-like than restaurant- or bistro-like, which is to say it was rushed. This is understandable given the ownership background, but Layel's would do well to remember that one goes to a diner to eat but goes to a restaurant to dine.
Another minor point: Filled water glasses came with straws, which at once put me in mind of Roxy's.
But to the food.
I started with a large salad of greens and watercress with duck confit and Roquefort cheese ($11), which was very good and nicely paired with excellent, fresh French baguettes.
Next, I opted for a small plate of marinated anchovies ($9), which were tasty, not great but, again, nice with the bread.
For an entrée — and I have to believe no matter what the season this entrée will be on the menu, I selected the steak in a red wine sauce with frites and sautéed spinach ($23). The steak was near-perfect, the potatoes were perfect and the spinach was, well, good for me.
|BISTRO BOUNTY (top right): Salad with greens and watercress with confit duck, Roquefort cheese, cherries, apricots and lemon vinaigrette ; (above): Rosemary skewered sea scallops with pappardelle pasta and spinach, artichokes, capers, garlic, olives, tomato, extra virgin olive oil, lemon and fresh thyme.|
My dining partner did not fare as well. The menu item selected looked wonderful: pan-roasted chicken with polenta cakes in an herb sauce ($23). It arrived in an attractive pan and looked promising but fell well short of expectations. Too much sauce rendered the polenta far too mushy and the chicken was described as badly in need of more taste; probably just a bad night in the kitchen for chickens.
I like this menu and I like this venue and I think there's real promise here.
The other offerings during my visit included salads of seasonal grilled veggies with greens and watercress; arugula, radicchio and frisee with crumbled cheddar cheese, pork belly, egg and an apple cider vinaigrette; and arugula, radicchio and frisee with ham, cheese, anchovy, red peppers and a sherry vinaigrette.
Small plates included white bean salad with andouille sausage; truffle and Parmesan fries; paprika-spiced almonds; fried artichokes; and Serrano (dry-cured Spanish) ham with asparagus.
Entreés beyond those mentioned included duck confit with lentil and veggie salad ($25); skewered sea scallops with pappardelle pasta and spinach, artichokes, capers and garlic ($27); grilled pork chop with French-style sweet potato and asparagus ($23); and fried ravioli stuffed with Manchego (a Spanish, sheep's milk cheese), spinach and tomato confit ($18).
The top-priced menu item was a whole fish of the day stuffed with lemon and thyme and served with spinach and roasted fingerling potatoes ($32).
Dessert and French-press coffee was next. The coffee was wonderful. The cannolli, not so much.
But, again, I like this place. I hold out hope that it will only get better. And I figure any restaurateur who can run a place as good as Roxy's and names his next place after a family member is a restaurateur very likely to make certain the place succeeds.
So go get some French wine, head to Camp Hill and try out the new bistro on Market.
2138 Market St., Camp Hill;
Hours: 11 a.m.- 2:30 p.m.Tuesday-Friday for lunch and 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday for dinner. Brunch 10:30 a.m-2:30 p.m Saturday and 10:30 a.m-3 p.m Sunday. Street parking and lot in back; BYOB; accepts major credit cards, reservations (recommended for dinner) and walk-ins.
The Phantom Diner has been a longtime restaurant reviewer for Central PA Magazine.
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