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THE PHANTOM DINER

Stock’s on 2nd is great date destination

And so, after 30-plus years of reviewing restaurants for WITF, I now also come to the pages and digital spaces of PennLive/The Patriot-News.

And happily so.

I figured I’d start out going back a bit.

There’s been, as longtime locals can attest, quite a change in the area’s restaurant scene since I began the delightful task of dining out and writing about it for the folks of central Pennsylvania.

Almost all of the change is, in my view, for the better.

But it struck me that it’s too often easy to overlook or under-appreciate how we got from there to here.

That’s why I returned, for this premier piece, to the place that (way back in 1998) arguably ushered the capital, if not the region, into the modern dining era.

I speak, of course, of Stock’s on 2nd.

Before it, Harrisburg had no “restaurant row.” And the way restaurants come and go, just the fact that it’s still standing is a tribute to its owners.

Stephen and K.J. Weinstock, the husband-andwife team that own and operate Stock’s, as well as Carley’s Ristorante and Piano Bar (around the corner on Locust Street), Stock’s Manor (a country events venue outside Mechanicsburg) and a booming catering business, deserve recognition for being in the vanguard of the region’s restaurant renaissance.

Now, before you think this a pure puff piece, let me note that from my own experience, and experiences shared with me by others, there have been staff and style changes at Stock’s not always well received. There have been occasions when service and quality didn’t always rise to the highest of standards.

This is not unusual.

One thing I’ve learned during three decades of writing on restaurants, of talking to owners and chatting with chefs, is there are few endeavors more demanding, especially in a smallish market such as ours, than running a consistently good restaurant. Finding and keeping topflight staff is an ongoing challenge, which means consistency in quality can be a challenge, too.

Having said that, I’m happy report that a recent return visit to Stock’s brought back memories of its glory days.

I last reviewed it in 2014 after it underwent major renovations, and changed itself from a sort of traditional upscale spot to a farm-to-fork (with décor to match) gastropub specializing in local fresh fare and far more dining options than offered in its original incarnation.

This means the dinner menu is replete with choices from “pub snacks” to small plates and sides, to full entrees; and includes a wonderful large and separate drinks menu with, as they say, something for everyone, including wide selections of beer and bourbon.

Also, in 2017, Stock’s added two new chefs, executive chef Arturo Iglesias and sous chef Ozzy Pernalete, both of whom formerly worked together at Char’s Tracy Mansion, which, let’s be honest, has a pretty good kitchen.

The addition of these two pros had been brought to my attention prior to my visit in very positive ways. Those ways played out nicely during my recent meal.

The atmosphere, lighting and décor at Stock’s, which features lots of wood and rustic rural influence, including in the art work, put me in the mood for meat. Luckily there was an offmenu (slightly au poivre) filet mignon offered as a special for $32, served with mixed veggies and amazing Dauphinoise potatoes, a wonderful side which, lucky for you, can also be ordered a la carte. My advice? Order them potatoes.

A dining partner stuck with the menu and got bacon-wrapped, smoked mozzarella-stuffed meatloaf (oddly priced at $21.48), served with a bourbon sauce, whipped potatoes and asparagus. It won high praise.

The menu, apart from its odd pricing ($8.29 for a Caesar salad; $13.49 for steamed clams; and so on), is as interesting as it is varied.

Few places offer a range that goes from soft pretzel sticks to black pearl salmon, from chicken wings to cioppino, with lots of options in between.

Notable dishes, in my view, include: cognac shrimp and lobster bisque; the charcuterie plate; pork belly tacos with Asian slaw; Warrington Farms brisket BBQ; and dishes that can be ordered either as small plates or entrees, including lobster mac ’n cheese and lamp chop lollipops with Mediterranean coulis.

As to dessert, Stock’s is long famous for its peanut butter pie. But among other selections are a cute “twinkie tiramisu” and a bourbon crème brulee.

If you haven’t been to Stock’s, or you haven’t been to Stock’s in a while, I recommend a visit. In fact, because of its diverse menu, it makes for a great first-date place. Or a Valentine’s Day destination.

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