The building located next to the Bosler Memorial Library on West High Street holds a special place in the hearts of those who are familiar with its history of serving up special treats to the people of the region. A cursory search reveals an ad dating back to 1897 promising “cakes baked to order on short notice.” Homemade root beer is touted as an “H. Rhoads specialty.” Years later, a 1946 ad tempts readers with strawberry frozen custard served up at L. Kohr Frozen Custard Store. Fast forward to the 1980s and the Back Door Café arrives on the scene to cater to the appetites of downtown denizens. Last year when Bill Seras decided it was time to retire, a new couple stepped up to the plate. Within weeks, Maria Ntzanis and her husband Yanni Tachoulas were serving patrons at the restaurant they named the Grazery.
My dining partner and I arrived during the lunch hour last Thursday and quickly abandoned the search for scant street parking available after a March snowstorm. We decided, instead, to store the car in the Pomfret Street parking garage and take the five-minute walk to the restaurant.
The heat enveloped us as we strode through the doors, courtesy of the attractive, exposed brick fireplace that is the focal point of the front room. The casual atmosphere features a combination of wood tables and bench seating that lines the walls and is punctuated with colorful pillows. We strolled past patrons in the front room and grabbed a seat at a well-lit, high-top table in the room beyond. A nearby space heater provided additional, cozy warmth during the frigid March day.
The Grazery fills a much-needed niche these days by offering casual, healthy, homemade fare. The Mediterranean-inspired lunch menu includes soup, salads, small plates and sandwiches with names like “the Italian Job,” featuring ingredients like ham, mozzarella and provolone served with homemade olive salad on a fresh toasted ciabatta. Other popular handhelds include the Greek pita overflowing with lamb and shmeared with house made tzatziki, a chicken sandwich sautéed with a sweet pepper/onion medley and served with tomato and melted Gouda in pita halves, and my choice, “the Mellow Bird,” piled high with smoked turkey breast, bacon, avocado, pickled red onion, tomato and zesty mayo on artisan bread.
Visiting vegans have plenty to choose from also, including a portobello burger, a chickpea wrap stuffed with tomato, pickled onion and spinach and “the Mediterranean,” a whole wheat baguette topped with eggplant spread, feta, tomato, arugula and crowned with a balsamic glaze.
I’ve mentioned before that I appreciate when a restaurant offers a “combo” so that I can take the opportunity to sample more than one lunch option without feeling too full. The Grazery sells a sandwich and salad combo, so I added “the Villager” to my half Mellow Bird ($9). The authentic Greek salad (served sans romaine) contains tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, olives, oregano, feta and olive oil.
Additional selections include small plates like stuffed eggplant, bruschetta with feta, tomato, bacon and Gouda, pita bread with a selection of spreads like tzatziki and olive salad and the popular avocado “boats,” stuffed with mayo-free tuna salad.
My dining partner chose the Greek pita and paired his selection with a cup of the Grazery’s lentil soup ($5). The generous serving of soup was more bowl than cup-sized and we decided to share. I didn’t detect any meat flavor, so I asked the waitress if the thick soup laden with lentils was suitable for vegetarians, and she answered in the affirmative.
Shortly thereafter our sandwiches hit the table, wrapped in paper and nestled on a small metal tray — his with kettle-cooked chips and mine with the flavorful and fresh side salad.
My partner’s “gyro” was well received. He remarked on the freshness of the tender, nicely seasoned braised lamb. My choice, the “Mellow Bird,” is definitely something I can coo about, from the flavorful smoked turkey to the delicious, fresh, artisan bread, studded with seeds (which I could eat every day), to the fresh avocado. Pickled onion, which I sometimes object to, was mild enough to integrate into the overall flavor of the sandwich.
These days when diners are demanding healthy alternatives to the run-of-the-mill lunch, it’s nice to know that the Grazery is there to provide options for those who desire nutritious food in a timely manner served up in a comfortable setting.
Up next: Dinner at Black & Bleu in Mechanicsburg.