Kiwi fruit on the Pennsylvania frontier
Cedar Run, Pa.
Talk about out of the way. Not even William Least Heat Moon, the recent adventurer through all those forgotten ``blue highways'' of America, would have found Cedar Run, Pa.
Cedar Run, you see, is situated on a ``brown highway'' -- a dirt road winding past the mansard-roofed barns and silos that crop up along the rural landscape of northeastern Pennsylvania.
They call the ridge of small, picturesque mountains around Cedar Run the ``Grand Canyon'' of Pennsylvania. They also call it ``Pennsylvania's Last Frontier.''
As Peggy Myers, co-owner of the Cedar Run Inn, says of the area, ``It's a great place to come and do nothing.''
Sound boring? Maybe. But that is changing some, through the efforts of Peggy and her husband, Randy Lounsbury. Three years ago the young couple left a life as young urban professionals in Washington, D.C., to buy and renovate the inn.
Since then more people from near (Blackwell, Morris, Mansfield) and far (Philadelphia, Boston, New York) have been coming to this place, population 15, and doing . . . nothing.
Or almost nothing. You can read, hike, fish. Take in the mountains. Canoe languid Pine Creek in spring and summer. Or write a play, perhaps a sequel to ``Our Town.''
And then there is, of course, Randy's cooking.
You wouldn't expect to find classical French cuisine in ``frontier'' country. Try Randy's Puff Pastry With Spinach and Swiss Cheese, the Sole With Kiwi Fruit or one of the other appetizers, then the Veal Saut'e or one of the dozen other entrees on the menu.
Dining there, as one retired couple who drove 100 miles for a visit told us, is ``an experience.''
The dining room captures the quaint, rustic propriety of the Pennsylvania Dutch. It has large windows looking out on a flower garden. Just beyond, a mountainside softens the last of the evening light.
If you stay the night in one of the modest but cozy rooms -- many of which feature country antiques -- you are entitled to one of the inn's full breakfasts in the morning. Ours of flapjacks, eggs, bacon, toast, and juice was delicious.
Dinner, breakfast, room -- for $32 per person. In a large city the food bill alone would be comparable, yet the food might not be as good.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Randy was saucier at the Fairmont Hotel's Jockey Club in Washington, D.C., and recently the day chef at Henry Africa's in Georgetown.
He describes his style as a ``combination of classical French, with some of the Oriental aspects of quick cooking to add vitality.''
He knows his food. While at the Cedar Run Inn, we did not have one bad bite. The tossed salad was authentically garden fresh, with a light, cheesy, oil-based dressing that had us begging for a recipe Peggy refused to part with.
The entrees had a distinctive touch -- peppercorns in brown sauce for the rib-eye, grapes in lobster sauce for the scallops.
Vegetables indicate an Oriental influence. A combination of zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli had been baked with garlic and soy sauce and removed in five minutes to ensure crispness.
On weekends Randy does 60 or 70 dinners a night in a dining room that seats 45. Reservations, please.
Living in the country as a chef poses problems Randy did not anticipate. Venison, for example, is not sold commercially, so he cannot buy the abundant domestic venison. Nor, we were surprised to hear, can he find an adequate supply of river trout.
``I use dried morels, cr^epes, and chanterelles, but I'd give anything for a choice of fresh wild mushrooms,'' he laments. Neither can he buy fresh herbs, though the two have plans for an herb garden.
The change from city mice to country mice has changed other things, too.
``I can't just go out for a pizza,'' Randy says. ``If I want a Sunday New York Times, I have to reserve it, then drive 45 minutes to pick it up.'' The country has slowed him down, he says, but he hasn't lost his sharpness. When returning to the city, he can ``get out there and call cabs with the best of them.''
Both say now they wouldn't leave the country. The two also say they meet a lot of people, young couples particularly, who stop, see what they are doing, and say, ``Hey, this looks wonderful, I think we'll try it.''
Randy and Peggy see it differently. ``It's not `fun,' though it can be,'' Randy observes, admitting that for the most part it's a lot of hard work.
Peggy adds that working together 14 hours a day ``puts a strain on the relationship'' that you must learn to work through.
Randy notes that his fast-moving generation is not used to starting and staying with projects on a steady basis. ``It's scary,'' he says, ``to see people ready to invest $75,000 of their savings into something -- and not know what they are doing.''
At the same time, they realize their own venture was a little daring. ``We did this on an impulse,'' he admits. ``If we had figured to the last detail how things were going to work, if [chuckle] we had done a market survey on Cedar Run -- we would never have tried it. In retrospect our move seems an irrational, emotional thing.''
``But we did it,'' he says.
``And it's working!'' the two chime together, grinning broadly.