Behind the Plates: Bedford Tavern brings the shore to Central PA
BEDFORD — You don’t have to go to the shore to get clusters of steamed crab legs, a sampler of shrimp served four ways or a pot of langostino, a crustacean that might remind you of a Louisana crawboil that’s often prepared like lobster.
The Bedford Tavern & Seafood House on Pitt Street has specialized in seafood since shortly after Jeffrey Rinscheid bought the place a decade ago.
“I sell a lot of crab legs and steamed shrimp,” Rinscheid said. “The shrimp sampler has a combo of grilled, fried, steamed and garlic jumbo bay shrimp, and it’s popular.”
Another popular dinner menu item is the Cajun Lime Shrimp, which isn’t too spicy, and you can taste a hint of lime. It goes for $18.95, while the sampler is $25.95 and crab legs go for $25 to $29. The langostino is $17.95. All dinners come with a salad and side.
Rinscheid said the seafood comes from all over the world, and generally from the same suppliers that he has found to be consistent in quality. Shrimp often comes from South America, langostino from Scotland and crab legs from the North Atlantic except for a month of closures when he buys from Canadian fisheries every April.
“They’re fresh frozen. A lot of people think it’s not fresh because it’s frozen, but it’s frozen on the boat, and that’s how they keep fresh” long enough to get to Pennsylvania, he said.
When Rinscheid bought the restaurant in 2008, it served seafood and steaks, but the quality of the steaks was inconsistent, and he took them off the menu.
“I turned to basic marketing principles and decided to focus on one thing and make it better,” he said.
You can get more than seafood here, and you can choose your atmosphere, but only dinner is served.
Rinscheid upgraded the restaurant, moving the kitchen upstairs to the main level from the downstairs tavern and quadrupling its size. He gussied up the main dining room with some tablecloths and created a quiet ambience that is almost like fine dining. The downstairs tavern is more like a sports bar, with televisions to catch a game and a game room off to the back with a pool table, dart board and tabletop arcade games. The tavern also has three 75-gallon fish tanks, two of them filled with fish, including a rose-bellied piranha and neon tetras.
Or you can enjoy knowing you’re sitting in a nearly 200-year-old building. It was built in 1822-24 as a residence and through the years has served as a general store, a liquor store and finally a restaurant. It also remained shuttered for a number of years.
Rinscheid said he found 29 different kinds of wallpaper when he was remodeling. He also salvaged old, hand-made nails used in early construction. He also cleaned up the original fireplace that you can find in the main dining room, although it doesn’t work because of a third-floor added to the top of the building in the 1960s.
Exposed brick walls in the basement tavern add to the allure. There, the tavern fare includes sandwiches, such as crab cakes, fried fish and roast beef, that range from $6 to $11, and subs, including a cheese steak for $6.95 to $11.95, depending on size. Platters or baskets of fried fish, shrimp, clams and chicken strips are $8.50.
The tavern might be as famous for its chicken wings as it is for its seafood. You can get a dozen wings for $7.50 in 10 flavors, including Southwestern, garlic butter and zesty ranch. On Monday nights, you can eat all the wings you can for a surprisingly low $9.95.
The fine-dining menu also features more than a dozen different appetizers, including bacon-wrapped shrimp and steamed littleneck clams for $7.95, and breaded mushrooms and beer-battered onion rings for $3.95.
Specials, such as desserts, as well as the soup of the day, rotate. But you can get a bowl of cream of crab soup for $5.45 or a cup for $3.95 any day, or choose from among several salads.
Rinscheid said he has no background in restaurants. Working for years in telephone systems in New Jersey, he and his now-ex-wife regularly visited Bedford and decided to retire here and open a bookstore. But when the Tavern came up for sale, he bought it because there was only one other establishment serving dinner in Bedford at the time, and he wanted to help ensure the 200-year-old building was preserved.
“When I bought it, I knew how to do scrambled eggs and Thanksgiving dinner,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from my cooks.”
Chef Kyle Funston has led the culinary efforts for several years, and Rinscheid recently hired Chef Terry Wallace, formerly with Bedford Elks Country Club, to expand offerings including a Sunday buffet and off-site catering.
Patrick Neff, a local high school teacher and borough council member, comes in at least once a week, especially for the unlimited chicken wing special on Mondays.
“It’s a pretty good deal,” he said.
Kevin Glasgow, a permanent resident of Ohio who works through the week nearby, agreed.
“Their breaded mushrooms are the greatest things. They’re lightly dusted, not heavily battered like at a lot of places,” he said. “The wings are great and are a great deal. You can’t beat it. I love food, and we go out to a lot of fine restaurants back home. This is a nice little place here. I enjoy it and the food.”
Trudy Bollman of Roaring Spring was in recently for the first time in a while and said she enjoys the Tavern.
“I love the fried oysters. They’re hand breaded and lightly fried, and that’s important to me,” she said.
Rinscheid said customers regularly come from Blair County, including Altoona and Hollidaysburg.
Another set of regulars is a local writing critique group, called Write Stuff, that meets here once a month. They may criticize each other’s writing, but they weren’t critical of the Tavern’s food.
Popular among the group one recent night was an $8.95 special called Chix-Crab Sandwich, a grilled chicken breast with crab meat and provolone and lime mayonnnaise on the side — with or without the bun, depending on dietary wants and needs. It comes with fries and house-made cole slaw.
“I usually get their wings. They’re really good,” Betsy Ickes said.
“I usually get the bacon-wrapped shrimp,” said Kristina Schurg. “They serve it with a barbecue sauce and that’s really good, too.”
Added Shirley Stuby: “I like anything crabby, and the seafood here is absolutely delicious.”
Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.
Bedford Tavern & Seafood House
224 E. Pitt St., Bedford
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Hours: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; until 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Bar is open later.
Atmosphere: casual fine dining or tavern bar fare
Notes: Free WiFi; children’s menu; reservations taken, recommended on Friday evenings