Hard for me to believe I haven’t yet written about the Knickerbocker Tavern in Altoona—it’s one of my regular go-tos when I’m in the area.
As I passed through town on my way to the in-laws last week I had my cousin Carolyn for company (who is winning our personal Scrabble tournament, she would like you to know). Our mutual grandparents lived in Altoona so we drove past the home our grandfather built for his wife and children on 23rd Avenue in Calvert Hills. Then we headed down to Sixth Avenue and the Knickerbocker for lunch.
The place has a great little history tied to the Pennsylvania Railroad. According to “About Us” on the Knickerbocker’s website, the neighborhood—rowhouses and a hotel--was built up in the early 1900s for workers at the South Altoona railroad shops and those passing through for the railroad. (Click on the link for a very cool picture of the place in its infancy.) Like so many places, the hotel eventually became apartments. But the tavern has survived.
In warmer weather I’ve had meals in their little brick courtyard (or Kourtyard, as they call it) a number of times but it’s now March, and a very cold one at that (thanks a lot, Phil!). We found a booth in the bar and settled in. I ordered my standard Diet Pepsi (yes, there is a difference) and Carolyn scanned the beer list. Hoegaarden happened to be the day’s special ($3): no-brainer.
My inability to decide on menu choices must run in the family. Carolyn had the California BLT (says the menu: “Sure, you can make this at home, but ours tastes better. Bacon, lettuce and tomato [and avocado]. Served on Texas toast with mayo”) and a cup of chili (“We never quite understood why something hot would be called chili”) just because she wanted to try both. I ordered the special: roasted garlic creamy tomato soup (“Our family favorite. The award-winning tomato soup”—and Shirley Mitchell’s favorite) and grilled-cheese sandwich. The soup had large chunks of tomato, a nice texture change with the just-thick-enough soup. My sandwich, like so few restaurant grilled-cheese sandwiches, was not at all greasy; I loved it.
Again, this lunch makes me think about all the people out near the highway interchange, eating somewhere because it’s familiar and they know what they’ll get. I’d rather know that I’m going to have an experience (and most likely a far better meal). Like Bold in downtown Altoona, the Knickerbocker is a place off the highway, local, unique, and very much worth the trip.
Photo very obviously not taken by Mary Brenner.