The Bookstore Speakeasy
Photo by Olaf Starorypinski
It’s a strange time in the culinary world. The proliferation of cupcake shops, miniaturized bites and small plates has all but eviscerated bona fide manly food from the dining landscape—or has it? My mission to unearth the area’s manliest eats took me on a journey around the Lehigh Valley and had me sidling up to eateries that know what men like on their plates.
Let it be known, I’m what some would call a girly-girl and, like those of my ilk, I like shiny baubles and dainty things, especially on my dinner plate. Nothing delights me more than a perfect little hoisin-lacquered cube of pressed pork belly or miniscule baby lamb chops (though I draw the line at referring to them as lamb lollipops) but I like to see something entirely different on a man’s plate.
Call me crazy, but I swoon when I see a guy confidently tuck into a gargantuan bone-in rib-eye or deftly carve a charred hunk of meat. Surely, I can’t be the only one. Perhaps it speaks to our prehistoric nature; who can forget the opening scene of The Flintstones when Fred’s macho appetite defies logic and he orders a giant rack of ribs (presumably Brontosaurus) that topples his car? Even in the age of nibbling on precious little bites and delicate tidbits, there’s still a population of unabashed eaters out there who appreciate hearty food.
Nowadays you can’t turn on the television without seeing a food show praising the robust appetites of men and though those shows tend to glorify gluttony over genuine love of food, they do celebrate the “go big or go home” philosophy of eating. But you don’t have be a competitive eater or television host who regularly consumes food bigger than his head (ahem, Man vs. Food’s Adam Richman) to find hearty, filling dishes. Fellas with a hankering for something substantial need to look no further than the Valley’s offering of restaurants that cater to king-size cravings.
Volstead Act and Prohibition be damned—the dark and broody underground (literally) haunt known as The Bookstore Speakeasy (366 Adams St., Bethlehem) not only keeps the era of clandestine drinking alive but also pays homage to the male appetite with a sophisticated menu of fare that may not be entirely 1920s authentic but does offer classics like a colossal porterhouse steak or a succulent pork tenderloin.
Of course, a meal at a speakeasy isn’t complete without a cocktail; manly libations like the absinthe-infused Violet Tendencies combines tequila and sloe gin to make a killer drink fit for a king. The classic Rob Roy, a Scotch whisky and vermouth knockout, is the perfect complement to the more substantial menu dishes.
Now, one can’t talk about the male appetite without mentioning pizza. I mean, it’s practically a food group on the guy pyramid, right?
Guys looking to fill their bellies in a bit more casual atmosphere should head to one of the area’s coolest hangouts. You’ve got to love a place whose tagline is “Beer. Meat. Cigars.” The Wooden Match (61 W. Lehigh St., Bethlehem), a converted train station-cum-gastropub, is the stuff of which male dreams are made. Seriously, the place has man cave written all over it.
The Bethlehem eatery is frequently packed to the rafters with guys looking to fire up a stogie, grab a cold brew and chow down on over-the-top things like the aptly named Bender-Ender Burger—an unlikely mash-up of grilled cheese sandwiches and a burger. Yes, that’s right—a 10-ounce burger is framed between two bacon-filled grilled cheese sandwiches and topped with a fried egg. (An EKG and an appointment with a cardiologist are optional.)
This equivalent of an edible freak show is popular among the pub-going set especially after downing a dozen of the equally acclaimed Angry Birds (because, of course, they can’t just be called chicken wings). The entire menu reads like a guy’s culinary Christmas wish list. This place isn’t for the faint of heart (or stomach) and those with delicate sensibilities needn’t apply; this is real man food.
Now, one can’t talk about the male appetite without mentioning pizza. I mean, it’s practically a food group on the guy pyramid, right? The Lehigh Valley has no shortage of red gravy restaurants and pizza spots—the area is littered with little Italian spots—but Sal’s Pizza (4767 W. Tilghman St., Allentown) is a perennial favorite and deservedly so.
There’s really no higher praise than declaring a pizza comparable to its New York counterpart and pies from Sal’s are consistent recipients of such accolades. Though thick Sicilian slices are done well, it’s the thin, foldable Brooklyn-style slices that have put the pizzeria on guys’ radars and as if that’s not enough, there’s a great selection of beer and dude food like wings and hoagies—certainly a menu made to quell the hunger pangs of the brawny.
All of this manly talk has me questioning my own appetite and eating habits. So am I a convert? Will I abandon my love of pretty plates and precious noshes? Probably not entirely, but the next time you walk into your favorite burger joint and see a dolled-up gal wiping off her lipstick before tackling a behemoth on a bun, it may just be me. After all, sometimes it’s cool to be just one of the guys.
Until we eat again…Iris