Restaurant Review #291: Café 24 Hundred (Lancaster, PA)

As I’ve said many times, I try to avoid hotel restaurants like the plague because as appealing as they may seem, they never quite deliver. Well, Café 24 Hundred did not even seem all that intriguing, but it was located inside the DoubleTree Hotel (the former Willow Valley Resort) that we were staying at. We wanted a night in with just some drinks and apps and this place was a matter of convenience. Having stayed at the old Willow Valley years ago as a child, I must say the dining scene here is a far-cry from what it once was. I don’t know if that’s COVID-related or just a generally dead environment. That being said, we did not have a bad experience here and it provided us with the relaxing night we were looking for. But there were kinks.

We sat in the bar area which is where most of the action was. By that I mean only three high-top tables taken. The only server present was also the bartender, and as a couple more tables came in and it got busier, she was pretty much thrown to the wolves. She did a pretty good job managing the room but it ended up getting a little hectic, all while the hostess stood at the front doing pretty much nothing. The manager was present, checking on tables and removing dirty plates, but perhaps he should have told the hostess to help out if needed. As we were leaving some time later, a wedding rehearsal dinner party next door began to spill in. I don’t even want to know how that ended up.

Anyway, since it is currently a law in PA that you must order food if you are drinking alcoholic beverages, we put in an order of their loaded nachos right away. The menu advertised homemade tortilla chips topped with pulled pork, cheese, tomatoes, and jalapenos. Upon tasting them, the chips were indeed made to order. They were still hot, crispy, and not loaded with salt—something I appreciated. The contents on top were delicious. There was an adequate amount of meat, and both cheese sauce and crumbles of what looked like cotija. Our first round of drinks would be a gin martini for me and a house special cocktail for Justin which I cannot remember the name of (it had blue curacao and blackberry brandy).

After that, I switched over to gin and tonics while he went with beer. I was facing the bar during this time and noticed that there were no bottles on display. Whenever someone ordered a drink, the bartender had to go to another area to get the bottle, which she would then leave on the bar as you were drinking in case you wanted more. I think the only gin they had was Tanqueray which was fine with me, but this strange set-up seemed to add even more work to her already busy slate.

Next up, we had an order of dry-rub wings, which also were very good. Hot and crispy, and laced with a little bit of spice. When we were done with these, the manager came over and said he would remove the plate but we “needed to have food in front of us” as per the law. So, we left a small plate with a couple of bones in it and that was okay. The law/rule seemed arbitrary in Lancaster as to how it was enforced. Several other tables drank for quite a while before any food was delivered. At another bar later in the trip, you were allowed to drink as long as you promised to order food at some point in your visit. Later on, we ended up asking for some more tortilla chips (just plain) and waited over a half hour because they had to be made from scratch, and according to the bartender, the “kitchen was swamped” by the four tables who were now eating.

Another criticism I have is something I saw the bartender do. She did lower her mask several times while at the register which is mildly forgivable for how annoying they are and no one was near her, but what comes next you just do not do. One patron ordered a rum cocktail and asked her to make something “random”. So, she mixed a little of this and that, shook it, and poured it into the glass. She then grabbed a cocktail straw, lowered her mask, dipped the straw into the drink, and removed it to her mouth to get a taste. She shrugged her shoulders as if to internally say, “Tastes good to me”, and then put the mask back on and delivered the drink. Given the seating arrangement, I was the only person to see this. While she did not contaminate the drink, it was just so bizarre in this current world climate to do something so careless.

This review of Café 24 Hundred is all over the place. The service ranged from friendly and solid to strange. The food was pretty good. The drinks were fine. But for such a small crowd, there seemed to be no flow or cohesion. I do hope they have a larger staff on weekends. For four tables to cause so much craziness means they don’t know what they are doing. Management should have a better grip, and for goodness’ sake why are the liquor bottles not behind the bar??? While tables were adequately spaced, patrons from one table kept walking up to the bar for drinks without their masks on rendering all the rules and regulations moot.

The menu is a small one, but many of the ingredients are advertised as locally sourced, with the farms and businesses they are receiving them from named. But I don’t think I’ll ever be back to give them a try. Final score will be 3 out of 5 stars.

Café 24 Hundred is located in the DoubleTree Hotel at 2400 Willow Street Pike in Lancaster, PA.

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