I’m not entirely certain why French dining seems to be out of favor in Central PA.
There just aren't that many good French restaurants around. But for those who favor French cooking, even as an occasional enjoyment, an exception exists along a busy strip in East York. It’s called Blue Heron, and it’s the real deal.
Located in what can only be called an eclectic building — sort of a cross between a Spanish villa and a roadside pizza place — Blue Heron offers a cozy dining room, a small bar, great service and good French bistro food.
The dining room is mixed media with maybe 18 or 20 tables. There are arched windows, tile floors, candles, a palm tree, Tiffany-blue walls, a variety of lighting, lace curtains, a large piece of what appears to be Victorian furniture and original (and expensive; the oil painting hanging near my table was priced at $3,300) art on the walls. But don’t be alarmed. Nothing on the menu or the wine list comes close to that price.
And while the menu is not large, there are daily specials. There are good wines by the glass or by the bottle, and the restaurant’s cocktails are generous, well-made and very reasonably priced. A large Old Fashioned, for example, was just $6.75.
A lovely basket of fresh French bread went well with before-dinner drinks. Appetizers range in price from $7.50 for cream of crab soup to $12.50 for steamed clams in white wine and garlic.
There’s also a soup of the day, a garden salad, a Caesar salad, marinated red beets, baked Brie with apples and praline almonds and Chevre (French herbed goat cheese) with apples, pistachios and golden raisins.
I opted for frogs’ legs because it’s rare that the dish graces a local menu. They were tender and tasty, sautéed with garlic herb butter.
A dining partner went with the pate. It was thinly sliced and served with cornichons (gherkins), Dijon mustard and a sliced baguette. It was excellent and a generous serving, enough for two to share. Other appetizers included calamari on a bed of arugula, steamed mussels and, of course, escargot sautéed in garlic butter with button mushrooms.
Entrées include French classics such as coq au vin ($21.50), ratatouille ($16.50) and boeuf a la bourguignon ($20). The Blue Heron is one of those restaurants that annoyingly prices some things at something-95. For reasons of sanity, I’ll round up. The beef is one of those things.
I ordered an entrée of moules-frites — steamed mussels in white wine with a little cream and a side of housemade, handcut french fries. It’s a combo-dish that’s as much Belgian as French, but it’s a winner no matter its national home. The entrée portion of mussels ($19) is huge. The fries are served in a mini metal frying basket with a serving of a yummy remoulade sauce.
Other entrées include: Parisian chicken ($19.50), a breast sautéed with mushrooms and a sherry wine cream sauce; steak au Poivre ($30), an eight-ounce filet with a brandy peppercorn sauce; and steak frites ($23), a grilled steak with a marinated mushroom salad and those aforementioned fries.
Not a Francophile? Not to worry. There’s also citrus-broiled salmon with fennel, a jumbo lump crab cake, a mixed grill and other house specials.
One special served at my table was golden tilefish (a delicate, sweet white fish) offered in a light tomato basil sauce with rice pilaf and thin green beans. It was a tad pricey at $29, but it was delicious.
Dessert was a housemade créme caramel ($7) which was large enough for two to share, sinfully savory and a real bargain. (Sadly, I didn't see, nor was I offered, French-press coffee.)
Dinner for two without a tip was $105, a fair price given the high quality of the food and service.
The Heron also offers lighter fare Monday through Thursday. This includes dishes such as a lamb burger, a crab meat croissant and a quiche.
And there’s a delightful Sunday brunch menu of omelets, crepes, brioche French toast, quiche with salad, frisee salad with a sunny side egg and crumbled bacon, classic eggs Benedict and more.
The location isn’t great. It’s along East Market Street which is more highway than street in some places. And it comes up fast just past a red light, especially in the dark. But there’s plenty of on-site parking. And everyone and everything inside the Heron are friendly and comfortable.
There’s a lot of detail that goes into this level of cuisine. And the kitchen here is clearly attentive to detail.
Try it before Bastille Day. And bon appétit.
3320 E. Market St., York; 717.846.1100
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday- Saturday; Dinner, 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday- Sunday; Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
On-site parking; reservations suggested.
The Phantom Diner has been a longtime restaurant reviewer for Central PA Magazine.
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