A funny thing happened on the way to The Mill. I ended up at the Union Canal House.
See, I heard some good things, some bad things about The Mill, a big relatively new place in an old feed mill on Old West Chocolate Avenue in Hershey, and went there with some friends to try it.
I like the look of the menu, cocktails and beer choices. So, I make a reservation, find a spot in the lot and go inside.
It’s packed. And our table isn’t ready. And they hand over a pager. And we join others standing near a bar by the main entrance.
Time passes. More people arrive, many more.
Now there’s a crowd standing and waiting for the crowd that’s seated to finish and leave.
The problem, for me, is the evening was to be a catch-up-with-friends night, not merely a let’s-go-get-something-to-eat outing.
So I dial up Devon, the downtown Hershey seafood place, to see if we can get in there. I get a recorded message. Since all I need to know is if a table’s available, and since I’d never hear a call-back given the noise volume, I hang up, resigned to shouting over dinner.
Ah, but one in my party calls the Union Canal House, another local joint, where they say sure, come on over.
For the uninitiated, the Canal House has been around forever. It’s in an old building that’s been a tavern dating to the 1700s located in Union Deposit, a small village outside Hershey.
Your favorite Phantom reviewed the Union Canal House favorably way back in 1992. And I can tell you it hasn’t much changed in appearance, atmosphere or offerings.
It’s been through a lot. It was wiped out when the Swatara Creek flooded in 2011 during Tropical Storm Lee. It didn’t reopen until 2013.
When it did reopen, it looked pretty much the same as before. Still does.
A dingy little building with a parking lot, multiple small rooms, a big wooden bar and a low ceiling that all combine to give the place the look and feel of a redone basement rec room.
But guess what?
This last port in our save-a-Saturday-evening storm was great: warm service, cozy table, very generous and reasonably priced cocktails, no noise and splendid old-fashioned (but never out-of-style) food.
It provided a contrast to the current spate of farm-to-table, small-plate dining with artisanal cocktails and handcrafted microbrew beers.
Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. It’s just nice once in a while to have some flashback meals.
So, I took great delight in a wonderful serving of clams casino topped with bits of crisp bacon, a lovely Caesar salad and a blackened Delmonico steak with whipped potatoes and mixed veggies.
The simplicity of the servings reminded me of how much I enjoy some foods as they are rather than what inventive modern gourmet kitchens turn them into.
The Canal House menu is full of such food.
There’s a simple crab cake appetizer, a single Maine lobster tail, mussels, grilled mushrooms and a lollipop lamb chop. Prices run from $10 to $14. But if you like clams casino, ($10) trust me and order those.
But everyone at my table loved the food, including some high-quality steaks and seafood and a chicken dish, chicken rosemary, with prosciutto and a white wine cheese sauce, $20.
There also are housemade desserts that are good and, at the very least, worth sharing.
Bottom line is this is a cozy little tavern serving terrific food off the beaten track while bucking current dining trends.
It wasn’t on my radar. But I’m glad I ended up there. I’m happy to recommend it.
THE UNION CANAL HOUSE
107 S. Hanover St., South Hanover Twp.; 717.566.0054 or unioncanalhousehershey.com.
Hours: Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday; onsite parking;
major cards accepted; full bar; reservations a good idea.
THE PHANTOM DINER HAS BEEN A LONGTIME RESTAURANT REVIEWER FOR CENTRAL PA MAGAZINE.