Even takeout from Char’s Tracy Mansion is fine dining
By Phantom Diner
Among the many restaurant-related things your Phantom longs for, things curtailed, postponed or outright lost due to COVID-19 restrictions, is a sunset dinner on a warm evening on the wrap-around porch at Char’s Tracy Mansion.
Central Pennsylvania offers very few outdoor fine-dining venues that can match Char’s porch. It overlooks the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg’s North Front Street, and provides a view that can create a sense of tranquility.
Such a sense, due to the pandemic, is too long missing from so many lives.
But now it’s March, which in the oldest Roman calendar is the first month of the year. For us, it means a return to Daylight Savings Time March, St. Patrick’s Day, and, at long last, the Vernal Equinox, the start of Spring.
Such day hold the promise of light, celebration and rebirth. It’s hard to imagine another year in which they’d be more welcome.
Still, your Phantom could not wait. So, I recently returned to Char’s, at least to pick up dinner from Char Magaro’s “To-Go Menu.” Not the same as a porch repast. But an appetizer for what we hope is a quick return to the river-view so well remembered.
If you can’t wait, or if March is cruel, hopefully only weatherwise, if you’re still not entirely comfortable with indoor dining as permitted, I recommend you celebrate whatever you have to celebrate with a to-go meal from Char’s.
Sadly, the takeout menu for my visit, did not offer all the regular appetizers and small plates, which I perhaps miss most. Such as escargot with wilted spinach, garlic butter and toasted baguette, the risotto du jour or the tempura veggies.
But there was enough to assuage the longing for a little something from Char’s with cocktails: the wonderful duck pate with whole grain mustard and toast points, the charcuterie and cheese plate, the smoked sausage and chicken cassoulet.
Soup du jour was also available by the pint. As was the not-to-be-missed pear and endive salad and Char’s Caesar with Asiago cheese crisps.
To-go menu entrees, in the $30 to $38 range, included grilled Barramundi with roasted potatoes and mixed veggies; panko-encrusted chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese, served with mushroom and spinach risotto; grilled pork tenderloin with garlic mashed potatoes; rigatoni with shrimp and scallops in vodka sauce; and the chef’s vegetarian dish of grilled tofu with three-cheese risotto.
My dining partner picked the lamb shank entree, slow-roasted with carrots, tomato, garlic and celery, mashed potatoes and a red wine sauce. It was devoured and proclaimed “absolutely delicious.”
I went with a grilled flat iron steak with shallot butter, served with thin-cut fries and mixed veggies.
A flat iron is sometimes called butlers’ steak, evidently because in wealthy households, butlers kept this lesser shoulder cut for themselves, so the family would get better cuts.
And while it’s true a flat iron, while marbled, can be tough, when it’s perfectly prepared, it is simply succulent. This despite being less costly than, say, filet mignon or a meatier Delmonico. At Char’s, I assure you, it is perfectly prepared.
To-go offerings include dessert ($8), in this case, apple and raisin bread pudding with crème anglaise and caramel sauce, which is just the right size for two to share. Or almond cake for those who might be trying some dietary reserve.
When I first wrote about this place not long after it opened in 2012, I noted the beauty of the venue. It’s a 30-room residence built 100-plus years ago for manufacturing giant David E. Tracy, founder of the Harrisburg Steel Company, which would become Harsco Corp.
And Char Magaro, a gustatory gift to the region, brought to it years of experience as a superior restauranteur at Char’s Bella Mundo in South Harrisburg’s Shipoke neighborhood, at a site that is now the lovely Los Tres Cubanos Cuban restaurant.
Char’s today has an elegant dining room, a beautiful bar, private-event rooms and the aforementioned unparalleled porch.
(I should note, for those missing Char’s bar, there’s a range of house-special cocktails, plus Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, $25 to $28 for two, to-go.)
It has been a place for special events, high-end dining or celebratory splurges for years. And while I’ll grant a to-go menu from a venue like this is kind of sad. If you know Char’s, you know you’d rather be there than carrying from there. But if you’re not ready for dining in, or if it’s too cold for the porch, the food is still Char’s. And no matter where you eat it, it’s still fine dining.
CHAR’S TRACY MANSION
1829 N. Front St., Harrisburg
Open for limited indoor dining (as of this writing) Thursday through Saturday; pick-up to-go menu offered from 4:30 to 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.
On-site parking with entry from Second or Front streets.