I most recently wrote about my experience at a restaurant that I loved, one that had moved and changed since my last visit seven years ago. This past weekend I went to another restaurant, one I loved, that has also both moved and changed.
Husb and I discovered Char’s Bella Mundo in Shipoke, a Harrisburg neighborhood near the river, about four years ago. It quickly became one of our top “special occasion” restaurants. Like the Blue Moon in York, it was the first floor of an old house, bringing Philadelphia to my mind. The food was fabulous and the service was probably as good as we’ve ever had. Never fussy, never overbearing, well paced (on the slow side, which is refreshing), and Char herself always visited each table. I always felt like she was sincerely interested in each guest having the best experience.
As anyone familiar with Harrisburg knows, the Susquehanna River flows on the west side of the city and sometimes decides it needs to visit the city itself. Shipoke is probably one of the most flood-prone areas and Char’s place was under water more than once, the last being Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. It was time to move.
Her new place, Char’s at Tracy Mansion, graces Front Street right along the Susquehanna, but on much higher ground. When Husb and I walked in, the sun was setting on the West Shore—what a beautiful view. This was our (very late) anniversary and (early) Valentine’s Day dinner. I had tried to make a reservation on Open Table but it showed nothing before 8:30 pm. So I called and they managed a table for us at 5:30—a little early to eat but we got to see the sun set.
Dinner was every bit as good as it ever was in Shipoke. The attention to cocktails can make a guest feel festive right from the start (I loved my Old Fashioned). Husb had the appetizer special—alligator hushpuppies!—which came with French fries and could easily have been a small plate entree. I ordered the baby spinach salad (roasted butternut squash, crimini mushrooms, sunflower seeds, orange segments, blood orange dressing), which we shared. It’s on the regular menu and I would order that again and again.
For our entrees, Husb had “Duet of Domestic Lamb—chop and merguez sausage, autumn harvest orzo, roasted garlic oil, mustard verte,” but without the mustard (because he is anti-condiment, of course).I had the fish special, halibut over a (four- or five-cheese, I can’t remember but the server listed all of them) mac-n-cheese. That came with some lovely little asparagus. I took half of it home for dinner the next day.
Dessert of course. For once Husb and I were on the same page so we ordered the “Apple Smoke Roasted Apple Crumble–cinnamon gelato, whipped cream” (perfect for a winter's evening) and the “Bella Mundo Parfait–mango sorbet, vanilla ice cream, fresh fruits and raspberry sauce,” which we’ve had before, and shared. That parfait is just perfect for after dinner: the tang of the mango, the sweet of the raspberry sauce, the creaminess of the ice cream.
Service, too, was every bit as good as it ever was in Shipoke. Even though we were squeezed in, we never felt rushed. We spoke briefly with Char on the way out; even though the new digs are three times as large as Shipoke, she still watches over every guest. My photos would not do it justice, so I recommend looking at the ones on their website. I’m already looking forward to my next sunset at Char’s.
Photograph above from restaurant website.