Travel Guide PA: Bongo Road House (Lake Ariel)

My friend's roasted oysters.
My friend’s roasted oysters.

I must say, this is probably the most eccentric restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. I mean that in a good way—a very good way. It’s located in the middle of nowhere in the Pocono Mountains. There seems to be nothing but trees for miles, and then all of a sudden, the Bongo Road House pops up. When you go inside, there’s a band playing and surf boards on the wall. Not what you would expect in such an area. There is a nice selection of tap beers, and a bottle of absinthe which caught my eye at the top of the bar. The menu consists of BBQ classics, seafood, pizza, and a couple of German and Polish dishes scattered about. Eccentric, or eclectic? A little bit of both.

Potato Pancakes
Potato Pancakes

When my friend Stefanie was describing the wide variance of menu selections to me, I actually said, “Why do I get the feeling this is the only restaurant for miles?” But as it turns out, the locals are very lucky to have such a place. The food is excellent, and the atmosphere with all of its quirkiness is something that you won’t find anywhere else. This is where the locals go, a beer-and-a-shot crowd I may surmise. Everyone seems to know everybody else. We were made to feel very much welcome by the awesome service. We had Beth at our table, and she was kind, funny, and attentive. As for the food, well, where do I begin? It’s not often you find a restaurant offering so many different kinds of cuisine and actually be competent in them all.  In fact, based on my previous restaurant adventures, that is sometimes a cause for concern. But that’s not the case here. Whatever they are doing, they should just keep it up because they nailed it.

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Po’ Boy sandwich with brisket

The three of us started with the potato pancakes appetizer. They were some of the best I’ve ever had, served with the usual sour cream and applesauce, which had a touch of cinnamon. The one vibe you will get here is the authenticity of making everything from scratch. When even the applesauce is homemade (you could feel the chunks of apple with a different texture than you would normally get), you know you’re going to be in for a treat. Since they have their own smoker on premises, I ordered the Po’ Boy with brisket “burnt ends”. It was up there with the best BBQ I’ve ever had. Smoky, tender brisket on a toasted long roll with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and a remoulade sauce. That’s what really brought it all together. The creaminess of the sauce was much-needed to go with a sandwich that was packed with meat.

German Apple Flatbread
German Apple Flatbread

Stefanie had the roasted oysters (which looked amazing) and Will had a pizza topped with grilled onions and an herb ricotta. I got to try a piece of this and it was very good. I didn’t think I would say that about a place in the middle of the Pennsylvania wilderness. It was competitive to some places you would find in New Jersey—and we generally have great pizza here. For dessert, we had a German apple flatbread (the name of which escapes me) which basically acted as a pizza crust topped with cinnamon apples, walnuts, raisins, some type of sauce, and whipped cream (also homemade). This is where you can really get a sense of how good the pizza is, because the crust was crispy and tasted of the oven. That’s a flavor usually hidden from your taste-buds.

The people of Lake Ariel are lucky. Sometimes when you live in an area like this with only a restaurant or two, you get screwed when the food is not good. Thankfully, there’s no problems here. The chefs know what they are doing, and you would never expect such food coming out of a place with “Road House” in the title. It’s a hidden gem. Given how everything is homemade, we can appreciate this attention to detail. Should you find yourself wandering through the Poconos looking for a place to not just eat, but hang out and have a good time, make Bongo Road House your stop. I’m going to give them 4.5 out of 5 stars, currently tied as one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at in Pennsylvania.

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