Words and Photography by Jadrian Klinger
Grand Finale Meals of 5 Midstate Chefs
Of all the tastes, of all the flavors, of all the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks and desserts savored throughout a lifetime – what is the hands-down, all-time, without-question, undeniable, No. 1, top-of-the-list, most favorite foodie delight in the whole world that, if given the chance, you’d choose as the last thing you’d ever eat? If you had to decide right now, what would be your last meal?
It’s a question, not meant to remind us of our mortality, but rather to focus the palate and conjure the many fond memories associated with all that is tasty. And with these lofty culinary notions in mind, Harrisburg Magazine set out to discover what a handful of the midstate’s cuisine experts would choose as the one grand-finale dish.
Chef Ross Morris, Piatto
Grass-fed rib steak for two (courtesy of Daniel Shirk of Pecan Meadow Farm in Newburg) topped with herb butter and served with sea-salt-sprinkled steak frites.
Chef Ross Morris of Piatto in Carlisle believes in eating real food. “It’s how we were eating two generations ago,” he says. “Everyone knew their farmer and where the food came from. The taste is certainly 10 times better than any commercial or industrial food.”
Morris’ back-to-basics food philosophy is based on his nearly four-decade-long tenure as a chef and restaurant owner. “I’ve spent the better part of my 40 years as a chef trying to make products and ingredients taste like something,” he explains. “Now we are stumbling onto these real-food ingredients that taste great on their own. I can’t do better than that natural taste, so it has really come full circle – going back to a very simple way of eating.”
Morris’ commitment to the flavors of real food is what compelled him to choose steak and frites as the last meal he’d ever want to eat. While the cuisine may seem simple, it is not-your-average cut of beef nor handful of fries. The steak is grass-fed straight from Pecan Meadow Farm in Newburg, and the fries (frites) are cooked in real fat and dashed with coarse sea salt.
Morris also wisely refuses to partake in his feast all by himself.
“It has to be for two,” he smiles, “because I’m not going to eat my last meal alone.”
22 West Pomfret Street, Carlisle | (717) 249-9580
Chef Jim Switzenberg,
John Wright Restaurant
Five peppercorn-crusted, local-sourced, grass-fed rib-eye steak with seared foie gras served alongside truffle mashed potatoes and Iberian ham-wrapped asparagus, and an oak-aged Manhattan with smoked cherries to drink.
Chef Jim Switzenberg of John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville opts for the finest and rarest flavors in the culinary world. “It’s a local-sourced rib-eye that was grass-fed and grain-finished so that it still has inner-muscular fat – it’s just delicious,” he describes. “I put five peppercorns (black, white, green, red and Szechwan) on the steak, and then I pan-seared the foie gras. In that fat, I seared the rib-eye to a pretty darn rare temp. Atop the mashed potatoes are real Alba truffles in truffle oil, which I brought back from Italy. Then I wrapped Iberian ham around asparagus.”
Switzenberg – executive chef, director of operations and partner at John Wright Restaurant – explains his thought process behind this meal of world-renowned delicacies. “This rib-eye is the best steak I’ve ever had – it eats like butter,” he states. “Foie gras because it’s foie gras, and truffles because I have had a crazy fascination with them since I was a young man. I love spicy, so the peppercorn gives it a little heat.”
To accompany his meal, Switzenberg chose a classic Manhattan, which has been oak-aged for at least a month in a true charred-on-the-inside bourbon barrel. The ingredients consist of Old Forester bourbon (America’s first bottled bourbon), Woodford Dark Cherry Bitters, sweet vermouth and apple-wood-smoked maraschino cherries.
“The Manhattan just complements the entire meal, cleansing your palate,” he says. “If it is my last meal, I am going to drink a lot, which is why I may need the entire barrel.”
John Wright Restaurant
234 North Front Street, Wrightsville | (717) 252-0416
Chef Travis Mumma, Café Fresco
Bacon-wrapped, blue cheese, venison meatloaf (medium) overtop walnut, granny smith apple, ginger ale, cranberry stuffing – topped with frizzled onions and a herbed demi-glace drizzle with roasted ketchup, marbled rye and grilled asparagus on the side.
For Chef Travis Mumma of Café Fresco in downtown Harrisburg it’s all about bringing together the flavors he loves most. It’s also about culinary memories with his grandfather that he looks back to for his meal.
“It’s a pretty traditional meatloaf recipe with bacon wrapped around it,” he details. “I chose the venison because I used to eat it a lot with my grandfather when I was young, and it reminds me of those times. Plus, I really like that dark rich flavor. The stuffing is a real traditional white-bread recipe with cranberries cooked in ginger ale, a little chopped granny smith apple and some toasted walnuts.”
The meatloaf is a special occasionally served at Café Fresco, but the stuffing satisfies his own flavor preferences. “I thought about all the different flavors I could bring into this meal,” he says, “and it has many of my favorites. …For me, it was how could I draw as many interesting flavors that I love into one meal.”
215 North 2nd Street, Harrisburg | (717) 236-2599
Chef Chris Deline, Rock Bass Grill
Pepperoni pizza with a Yuengling Lager.
There’s a beauty in the simplicity of Chef Chris Deline’s meal choice. As the executive chef at Rock Bass Grill in Wormleysburg, Deline is an expert in the kitchen and has developed a highly refined palate over the years. And there resides an undeniable epicurean truth in his preference for the most classic of dishes – crust, tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni. Really, there are few better flavor combinations in the world of cuisine than pizza and beer.
“It’s just simple, wholesome, comfort food,” he states. “It’s good cold, it’s good hot, it’s good at 2 a.m. and it’s good at 2 p.m. It’s one of those go-to culinary staples. If it’s my last meal, I want to eat something I love. And nothing goes better with pepperoni pizza than a good beer.”
Rock Bass Grill
461 South Front Street, Lemoyne | (717) 731-1160
Chef Justin Gibson, Alfred’s Victorian
Honey-glazed, brown-sugar-baked ham topped with pineapple chutney served alongside baked macaroni and cheese and collard greens with bacon.
Chef Justin Gibson of Alfred’s Victorian in Middletown shares his birthday with one of the biggest holidays of the year, and on that day of celebration, his mother makes him his favorite meal.
“It’s the meal I have every year for my birthday and Christmas,” he says. “It’s a meal that takes me back to my childhood, and it’s always a good memory. My mom makes it for me every year, and I had to ask her for the recipe.”
With all of Gibson’s culinary skill, expertise and experience as the executive chef for Alfred’s Victorian, who makes the better honey-glazed, brown-sugar-baked ham, topped with pineapple chutney and a side of baked macaroni and cheese and collard greens with bacon?
“Mom’s is always better,” he grins.
Alfred’s Victorian Restaurant
38 North Union Street, Middletown | (717) 944-5373