Have you ever given any thought as to why Roadfood is called Roadfood? It’s really about good, inexpensive, regional food, produced and served by independently owned purveyors. What’s the road got to do with it? Seems that today, anyone who has any real distance to travel does so by plane, but there once was a time when long-distance auto travel was not so uncommon. Such long trips required meal breaks, and wouldn’t it be great to know about the interesting things to eat in the places you were driving through, preferably in restaurants that didn’t draw you too far off your route?
Michael Stern will be the first to admit that, even in the original 1978 Roadfood, the concept of “food on the road” was already morphing into inexpensive regional cuisine, whether close to or far from a major highway. Yet it doesn’t require eagle eyes to notice the large number of restaurants near highways in that first Roadfood book. Which brings us to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The Turnpike runs 360 miles from Pennsylvania’s eastern to western borders, a five to seven hour drive end to end, which is long enough to send most long-distance drivers in search of sustenance along the way. And therein lies the problem, because the Pennsylvania Turnpike has long been notorious for its extremely meager dining options, both on the turnpike and in the nearby communities. The situation is so bad that most of those who have rolled on its pavement would be grateful for any sort of tip at all that would lead them to something more promising than the rest areas or the burger and chicken chains.
One option we’d like to offer is the Summit Diner in Somerset, towards the western end of the highway. The Summit is a 1960 Swingle diner that has seen some pretty extensive remodeling yet still exudes the soul of a classic diner. OJ is served in tall, curvaceous Coke glasses with handles, coffee comes in heavy mugs, and breakfast platters are fresh and generously proportioned.
We especially appreciate one dish known as The Scrapyard, which starts with a base of that Pennsylvania breakfast favorite called scrapple, upon which is layered fried potatoes, eggs, and cheese. The Western Skillet swaps in bacon for the scrapple and adds peppers, onions, and mushrooms to the mix. Hotcakes are tall and fluffy. Pies are homemade, and are a particular point of pride at the Summit. These are not destination dishes, mind you, but simply the well-prepared eats one hopes for, too often in vain, from a diner.
If you’re traveling west on the turnpike and have spent the night in one of the Breezewood hotels, we recommend skipping the spirit-sapping comp breakfast of powdered eggs and stale pastries and breakfasting an hour later at the Summit for a meal that will feed not only your belly but your soul.