Dine / Day trip to Butler County: Fresh-picked strawberries and fine beer

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It's no coincidence that the alluring strawberry ripens in the comely month of June, when day reaches into night as the solstice nears. As summer's harbinger of bounty and possibility, strawberries inspire rapture. "Pure happiness, simple as strawberries and cream in a saucer," wrote poet Joyce Sutphen.

The romance of the fruit and the farm warrants a day trip to Butler County to walk rows of scalloped leaves, heart-shaped berries and white buds that perfume the air.

Another draw as a final destination to the journey is North Country Brewing Co., an enchanting spot in Slippery Rock with terrific beers.

When my friend and I took the trip on June 1, we were disappointed to learn we were a week early for the harvest.

"Our first day is Thursday," said Aaron Sturges of Sturges Orchard in Zelienople, when I called a few days later.

Turns out, the growing season is right on schedule.

"We had some frost issues," he said. "I thought for sure because of bloom time, there would be fewer strawberries, but the heat we've had brought them on real quick."

Less rain this month means smaller berries. But size does not matter as much as ripeness: Soft ones are the sweetest.

Farther north toward Butler lies Snyder's Farm, a 75-acre estate run by Helen Snyder since 1971.

"You have to come visit. It's so beautiful here," she said of her estate's rolling hills and green fields, where she dedicates 10 acres to strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Visitors can pick their own or buy them by the quart.

"Fresh is best," Ms. Snyder said wryly, when I asked her favorite way to eat them. On shortcake, in pies, atop pancakes and cereal: They're even an indulgence when she picks them in the field.

Certainly a day at the farm will work up a thirst.

Twenty-five miles or so up the road lies North Country Brewing, housed on the main drag of Slippery Rock in an 1805 farmhouse. The interior, embellished and tended to by owners Bob and Jodi McCafferty, is a labyrinth of carved facades, polished wood, antique signs and Pennsylvania memorabilia.

On our visit the restaurant was packed with locals, bikers, beer geeks and hockey fans.

A lanky guy with a wool cap and a prolific beard and tattoos poured a McLeod's Ewe Scottish Ale, then lined up a 13-beer sampler for a pair of first-timers.

"What do you have that tastes like Bud Light?" another customer asked. Amber Waves of Grain did the trick, a balance of light hops and malt.

A Slippery Rock Dew was a fragrant pour that smelled like honey. And despite the name, Stinky Hippie was a night's popular choice for its big hop flavor.

Although the beer is local, the food is not. Standards such as the wings and calamari or beer cheese platters serve as starters. Cajun frogs legs taste like -- you guessed it -- chicken.

Sandwiches appeal to both herbivores and carnivores, and there are black bean burgers and beer battered fish. Ribs serve hearty eaters, though the burger was our go-to, done medium rare, slathered with blue cheese and bacon.

A sprawling patio displays an expanse of bar-height tables made of reclaimed wood by Mr. McCafferty. A tent offers shade while a fireplace is ambiance.

If you have the time, spend a visit here in two rounds: one inside to peruse the carved faces in rails and imprints of leaves on the floor and bar. As afternoon fades, snag stools outside.

In my case, fine company gave way to a fine evening. Even without the seduction of strawberries.

How to get there

Sturges Orchards -- Route 19, Zelienople, left on Route 288, 724-752-8920. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. until July, when the farm is open until 7 p.m.; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat. No pick-your-own.

Snyder's Farm -- Route 68 East, Chicora, 724-445-3116. 8 a.m. until dusk Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sat. and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun. Pick-your-own.

North Country Brewing -- 141 S. Main St., Slippery Rock, 724-794-BEER (2337). northcountrybrewing.com.

mobilehome - dining

Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.


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