Worth the drive: The Way Cafe near Port Matilda uses local ingredients

PORT MATILDA – It’s not easy finding your way to the restaurant about three miles southeast of here on Route 550. The sign out front just says Way Fruit Farm.

But it will be worth the trouble to find The Way Cafe, which, as the menu says, serves “simple country food using fresh, local ingredients,” including many grown on this farm that has been in the Way family since 1826.

“They have the best sandwiches” around, said Elizabeth Weeden, who lives nearby and was recently enjoying “The Jason” sandwich for lunch. “They’re always so fresh, and they use fresh ingredients.”

Megan Way Coopey makes sure of that. She is the sixth generation of the Way family on the farm and is in charge of the restaurant’s menu, among other tasks. She and her husband, Jason Coopey – the namesake for a ham on marbled rye sandwich – decided to move back to central Pennsylvania eight years ago and became partners with her parents, Brooks and Sharon Way.

Shortly thereafter, they decided to expand the fruit stand and apple processing operation by adding a store, bakery, cafe and deli.

“Their peaches are the best,” said Nellie Wright of Altoona who has driven up here for the peaches to make butter since she was a student at Penn State in the late 1970s. “Back then, it was just an orchard stand, and over the years, things expanded. I come here as often as I can. They have very good food.”

Wright recently was enjoying the “excellent” Big Basil BLT while a shopping cart with a peck of peaches and other goodies was parked next to the table she shared with friend Tonya Minieri. A Deland, Fla., resident who summers in Altoona, Minieri was having the Sweet Chicken Salad that comes with diced chicken, walnuts, celery, cranberries and house-made mayonnaise.

“It was very good,” she said.

Besides Altoona, customers come from Tyrone, Bellefonte, State College and even St. Marys, an hour-and-a-half drive away.

“It’s almost out of the way if you’re coming from Altoona, but that is a beautiful drive,” said Weeden.

The quickest way is north up I-99 to Port Matilda and exit right into town on High Street and then right on Beckwith Road. That wends out to Route 550, also known as Halfmoon Valley Road; take a left and Way Fruit is a mile on the left. For a more scenic route of Skelp Mountain and Halfmoon Valley, exit I-99 at Tyrone and follow Route 453 for a quarter of a mile, veering left onto Route 550 and head north.

Step inside the store where you can get seasonal produce and fruit including apples, peaches, plums, pears, sweet corn, pumpkins, strawberries, cherries, blueberries and apricots. It has the feel of an old country store with canned preserves, pickles and the like, as well as bulk oats, baking mixes, flour, sugar, soup mixes, roasted nuts and seeds, coffee beans and more – some organic and gluten free. A cooler section holds cheeses, pork and beef from local farmers.

From there, one door leads into the Country Crafts section that spills out into the 60-seat cafe. It’s reminiscent of a Cracker Barrel gift shop, but most of these items are locally made, such as pottery, candles, soaps and artwork.

Another door leads into the cafe where you will smell something sweet wafting from the bakery.

One recent day, baker Kendall George of nearby Julian pulled apple cider doughnuts, an apple pie and sticky buns with pecans out of the oven, along with croissants, ciabatta, marble rye, kaiser roll and other breads.

The cafe menu includes a variety of hot and cold sandwiches and subs, entree salads and soups. There is even a “Lunch Your Way Combo” in which, for only $5.25, you can select two from a list of four options: cup of soup, side salad, 1/2 deli sandwich or fresh side dish, such as locally made potato salad or applesauce.

What isn’t made in house often is bought locally, including pesto and roasted garlic mustard from a local vendor, Megan said.

“We have partnerships with a lot of local producers so we get the best tasting with the least of anything else added,” she said.

“People come out for fruit and produce and then come in the cafe for lunch or get a pie for dinner. If you like what you taste, you can get a lot of the ingredients from our store. Even our sticky buns are made using local maple syrup. It’s a full experience.”

Megan changes the core of the menu once a year.

“We have staples, though, that haven’t changed much, like the chicken salad,” she said. “Certain things you don’t mess with.”

While most people think of the operation as a fall destination, it’s open year-round, Megan said. The store and cafe are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (until 6:30 p.m. in the winter) and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but breakfast is only served on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon.

That, Megan suggested, is a perfect prelude to Penn?State Nittany Lions fans driving up to Beaver Stadium for a Saturday football game in the fall. The menu features locally grown bacon and smoked ham, fresh, local eggs and potatoes when available, and the cafe makes its own buttermilk pancake mix.

The most popular is the Farmer Way’s Breakfast: two eggs any way, choice of two local meats, two pancakes and homefries for $7.25. The Field Scramble comes with a lot of local vegetables and is a “steaming plate of deliciousness,” and pancakes come with the Way’s own apple maple topping, Megan said. The menu also includes omelettes, fresh bakery items, including made-from-scratch French toast, and seasonal local fruit.

On game days, a lot of locals come in for breakfast and then take cold cuts and cheeses for tailgating. “They load up on our (apple) cider, too,” she said with a grin, suggesting that some fans like it as a beverage mixer.

Penn State is special for Megan and Jason, too. Both graduated from there before marrying and moving away, she as a teacher and he in government positions. After 10 years, they were ready to return home and today have three children, ages 4 to 10, who would be the seventh generation to run the farm.

“We won’t force them to carry it on because you’ve got to love this,” Megan said.

She said the family is grateful to a community that has been “very, very receptive” to the Way Cafe and its focus on using local ingredients.

“People have a greater overall awareness of what they’re eating,” Megan said. “If you’re eating something out of the box and it has ingredients that are hard to pronounce, people just don’t want that. Here, we can offer good quality and quantity at a really good price.”

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.