If you ever have a reason to visit Somerset, Munch suggests you bypass all of the Turnpike-proximate chain restaurants and stop at the Pine Grill.
Why? Here's one good reason -- you could sit in the very same booth where U.S. Secretary of the Interior and cowboy (hat) junkie Ken Salazar sat two weeks ago when he was visiting town for the Flight 93 memorial dedication.
Here's another reason -- you might be the type of person who enjoys the rustic, hewn-pine, red-brick accoutrements that are native to such restaurants in such settings, with such names. It's a look that doesn't go out of style, at least not in Somerset. The Pine Grill has been there since 1941. Seventy years is a long time to be serving food in one town; you must be doing something right.
But here is the main reason: You have better than even odds of enjoying a decent meal at a decent price served by decent, God-fearing people who have reasonable taste in beer. Munch ordered a Shock Top Belgian Wheat, an above-average Anheuser-Busch release masquerading as a microbrew, and used it to wash down one of the restaurant's interesting specials, black bean cakes accompanied by a soft pile of couscous, topped by a tart yogurt spread that resembled tzatziki. Not Sardi's, but not bad.
Munch had presumed the land of hayrides and American flag bunting to be exclusively meat-and-potatoes territory, but, as usual, Munch doesn't know nuttin' about nuttin', and Pine Grill has a fair number of vegetarian options. Teetotaler Friend of Munch downed a bowl of vegetarian chili, preceded by a hummus and pita plate, which, having reached Appalachia, Munch thinks we can officially say that hummus is the new black. Salads and vegetarian pasta options also dot the menu.
On with the meat: burgers, steaks, chicken and seafood, plus a variety of sandwiches and wraps. A chicken Caesar wrap got good reviews. One member of our party was unimpressed with his turkey Reuben. This necessarily led to a high-level etymological discussion about whether the proper name for the turkey Reuben is the Rachel or the Georgia Reuben. One of us insisted that the Rachel means pastrami, not turkey. Another was adamant that the Georgia Reuben was actually supposed to have barbecue sauce on it. Opinions were strong. Passions ran high. On a positive note, there was no fisticuffs.
You may want to sample the restaurant's somewhat regionally famous dessert, the skillet cookie. That translates into an extra-large chocolate chip cookie, topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, et al., and served hot in a pan.
Random factoid: The Pine Grill is owned by Mark Miller and Pam Miller, cousins to Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller, one of the many indefatigable souls who responded to the Shanksville crash of Flight 93, a decade ago this month.
Those are some interesting historical bookends, don't you think? The Pine Grill has been welcoming diners in Somerset since Pearl Harbor, through 9/11, and now 10 years beyond. The world can be a frightening place; dependability is going out of style. But it's good to know there are some things and places you can rely on, serving up strip steaks and linguini plates year after changing year.