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A Visit to Beaver County, Pa. Brings Back Pleasant Memories

,by Dave Zuchowski with photos by Bill Rockwell
Outside the Wooden Angel

    I’ve discovered that repeat visits to places you’ve visited before often bring along divergent sentiments. Some sites have proven to be let-downs the second time around. Others, like my recent visit to Beaver County, reignited my treasure chest of pleasant memories.

The Merrick Art Gallery

Executive Director, Michelle Long Outside the Merrick

On my second visit to the Merrick Art Gallery in New Brighton, a follow up to an initial visit 20 or more years ago, I vaguely remembered the paintings amassed by Edward Dempster Merrick (1832-1911). However, I did remember hearing the phrase “hung in salon style” by the now retired director who explained why the paintings there were displayed in tiers one above the other rather than in a simple horizontal arrangement like most other museums and galleries.

 

Paintings Hung Salon-Style

    I also remembered the excellent architecture of the building, one a repurposed train station; the other an addition that parallels and compliments the original building.

 

The Piano Attributed to Stephen Foster

    Did I recall that the piano in the music room is believed to have been played by Stephen Foster when he visited New Brighton and stayed at the Merrick House Hotel? The remnants of that thought seemed to reemerge from the recesses of my brain at first glance.

    New things that energized my aesthetic sense were the attractive brown wicker furniture on the equally attractive porch that looks out on a splendid Victorian garden grounded by a huge tree of unknown species.

Something new and exciting is the 62-foot long, 57-inch tall and 44-inch-wide tunnel excavated on the property during an excavation to solve a sewage issue. In the mid-19th century, Beaver County and New Brighton were major players in the Underground Railroad. A walking tour brochure available at the Merrick Gallery lists nine sites in town that played a role in assisting runaway slaves in their journey north to freedom. It is thought that the tunnel recently discovered at the Merrick might have been part of the town’s Abolitionist efforts. Note: The New Brighton Historical Society is hosting a free Underground Railroad Tour on September 30 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Wooden Angel Restaurant

    Following my visit, I headed over to the Wooden Angel Restaurant in nearby Beaver. Years ago, I wrote about the restaurant when it won the Wine Spectator Magazine’s Grand Award (the only restaurant in Pennsylvania at that time to be bestowed with the honor),

 

A Meeting/Event Room

      During my visit, I met with Alex Sebastian, who toured me around the large and splendidly appointed restaurant. This time around, I met with his son, also named Alex, where I learned that his father passed away just last year.

Pleasant area near te Wooden Angel Restaurant.
Pleasant area near te Wooden Angel Restaurant.

    The elder Sebastian was born and raised in Beaver, and after completing his tour of duty in Vietnam, returned home to help his father and mother run the family restaurant called the Wooden Indian.

 

The Menu

    In 1968, he started his own restaurant adjacent to his parents’ eatery and wondered what to name it. According to the younger Alex, he saw an item in his mother’s artifact collection that proved to be a wooden angel. Voila! It was a perfect fit for his new enterprise.

 

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Still going strong in 2023, the Wooden Angel has an extensive upscale menu and is still famous for its stellar wine list. During my visit, I got to try the restaurant’s jumbo lump crab cake, the recipe of which mimics the one served at Phillip’s Restaurant in Baltimore. I also sampled the rack of lamb, one of the Wooden Angel’s most popular entrees, an American, farm-raised, grass-fed product marinated in the elder Alex’s own blend of ingredients.

 

Rack of Lamb

    Not only are the desserts I tried made in house, but the strawberry cheesecake has roots that go all the way back to Grandma Sebastian‘s recipe.

 

Strawberry Cheesecake

    If you decide to stop in for dinner, keep in mind that Friday night features a dinner for two and the first Wednesday of every month spotlights live Maine lobster. For more information, go to wooden angel.com or phone 724-774-7880.

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