Los Angeles Times

There's a little bit of everything good at the Neffs Hotel

Special to The Morning Call

With its parking lot filled to the brim, the Neffs Hotel seemed the epicenter of activity in the sleepy village of the same name on a recent rainy Friday night.

The pace inside the old hotel was a bit frenetic, as well, as tables emptied and filled with a steady flow of hungry patrons.

This restaurant's diner-style fare offers a little bit of everything and at such reasonable prices that it's no surprise locals would forgo cooking at the end of a long week for a cost-effective dinner out instead.

After all, where else can you find a hamburger for $1.95, a steak sandwich for $2.95, or four pieces of honey-dipped chicken with two side dishes for $8.95?

At the hotel's entrance, a string of multicolored, tiny lights in the bay window adds a cheery welcome to the vestibule, outfitted with appropriate memorabilia for an old hotel — antiques such as a typewriter, a dress form and big, old sled that must have carried lots of red-cheeked children down many hillsides.

The deep, narrow dining room with its high ceiling seems cavernous. Just a few antiques accent the decor near the front — an adding machine on a table and, hanging from a wall, a drum with the inscription, ''Victory Band, Neffs, Pa. Organized March 3, 1919.''

Otherwise, the room's decor is simple and plain. A wallpaper border accents cream-colored walls at chair-rail height, and artificial plants hang from the ceiling.

Wooden chairs partner with wood-grain Formica-topped tables set with green paper placemats. The gleaming, dark hardwood floor's patina clearly comes from many years of footsteps.

The menu features lots of appetizers that seem tailor-made for a country hotel repast that throws caution about high-fat foods to the wind for a night. Here's just a sampling: nachos, potato skins, jalapeno poppers, Neff's wings and French fries topped with cheddar cheese and bacon.

Entrees include selections such as fresh country sausage, grilled liver and onions, broiled haddock, homemade crab patties and deep-fried or broiled seafood (scallops, shrimp and lobster tail).

Light side platters — smaller entree portions that include only one side dish — offer similar choices: grilled ham steak, veal parmigiana, breaded fish and grilled chicken breast.

Additional choices from the specials menu the night I visited included filet mignon with peppercorn Dijon sauce, linguine with white clam sauce and mushrooms, and low-fat chicken marinara over pasta.

To ward off the rain's gloom and thank-goodness-it's-finally-Friday hunger pangs, we started dinner by sharing orders of pierogies and breaded cauliflower. The former, which we ordered sauteed with butter and onions, rather than deep-fried, were chewy and tasty, with a creamy, smooth filling nicely accented by golden onions.

Deep-fried cauliflower flowerets, hot and crisp, were served with ranch dressing for dipping that tasted like it came from a bottle.

Dinner salad, mostly iceberg lettuce with a piece of broccoli and shreds of red cabbage and carrot topped with standard raspberry vinaigrette, was disappointing. So, too, was the breadbasket, which offered up textureless white rolls along with rather ordinary blueberry muffins.

A chicken cheese wrap from the specials list was quite good — its strips of chicken and Monterey Jack cheese were wrapped in a tomato basil tortilla, along with lettuce, tomato and spicy sauce. The meat was tender and the sauce just spicy enough to add zip to the combination, yet not overpower the other ingredients.

Filet mignon — a tad overcooked — was standard fare. A stuffed sweet potato was tasty, but a bit heavy handed: The potato's mashed interior was mixed with honey, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, then stuffed back into the skin and topped with walnuts.

Desserts run the gamut from tapioca pudding and cheesecake to caramel apple pie a la mode and brownie sundae.

We sampled a piece of standard Reese's peanut butter fudge pie, and I couldn't pass up homemade chocolate cake with peanut butter icing, a longtime personal favorite and a selection I don't find in many restaurants. The thick layer of frosting made up for the cake, which was a bit dry.

Our three-course dinner for two — including tax, tip and nonalcoholic beverages — totaled $44.50.

Susan Gottshall is a freelance restaurant reviewer for Go Guide. Gottshall, who tells it like it is, attempts to remain anonymous during restaurant visits. All meals are paid for by The Morning Call.

Features Editor Linda O'Connell



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