Simmeria and The Fleetwood Grille: Fresh and Local At Its Best
By: Rachel Eberly
In the small town of Fleetwood, PA there is a butcher, a lot of pizza restaurants, Chinese restaurants, and banks. What most people do not have in their own small town is a cafe and bistro and a grille. In Fleetwood, we have Simmeria Cafe and Bistro along with The Fleetwood Grille. It is right on Main Street and has an outdoor eating deck that has umbrellas during the hot summer to keep you cool and also during the summer you can hear the music from local bands playing until late at night. Simmeria and The Fleetwood Grille is owned by the same people and while Simmeria is a little more upscale than The Fleetwood Grille, they both offer great, local food.
When I first heard that a cafe and bistro would be coming into Fleetwood, I thought that it would be interesting to see how it would fare in a small town of Fleetwood. After all, the only traffic is residents, Deka workers going to and from work, and people just passing through to get on the highway or wherever they need to go. My first visit was with my dad, he was telling me all about it and saying that the food is delicious. I finally went to see what he was raving about and was greeted by the friendly staff. I had Lobster Bisque, which was their soup of the day, a Rotisserie Chicken Salad Sandwich, and fresh fruit. I am a very picky eater and never had Lobster Bisque, but when I took my first spoonful, it was so delicious. After I was done with my soup, I was waiting to see if my sandwich would be as good as the soup, I was not disappointed. The sandwich had celery, grapes, and of course the chicken salad on white toast. I ate that as fast as I ate my soup, throughout the meal our waitress kept on coming to check on us and would get us our refill of drinks right when we were almost out of it, she was always smiling and so was the rest of the staff. When I was eating my fruit, the waitress came over and said that the fruit was just picked the day before and that they just got the delivery today from their local supplier. When the check came, my dad showed me the bill, it was not too bad for a meal. The price is basically the same prices as going out to Olive Garden and getting salad, a meal, and dessert. However, at Simmeria, by the time I was done with everything, I did not need a dessert, even though they offered fresh pastries. If you go to Simmeria, you will leave with a smile on your face, just like the staff, your stomach full, and looking forward to a visit back soon to Simmeria and maybe you will even get your dessert next time too.
I spoke with Al Sinsi, the Executive Chef for both The Fleetwood Grille and Simmeria. He is a very upbeat person and looked forward to our interview. When I first met him, he had a smile on his face and looked happy to be at Simmeria, especially when he stopped by the coffee station and mentioned that he had been at work since 5:30 am, we had our interview at 1 in the afternoon. Al is currently living his dream and loves every second of it.
I first asked Al where he went to school, he replied with, “I went to the Culinary Institute for America in New York when I was 17. Before going there, I was learning some skills while being
trained under a chef where I worked.”
“What else did you learn there?” I asked.
“At the culinary institute, I learned how to plan menus, how to order from different suppliers, and basic accounting skills and management skills.”
Before coming to Simmeria, Al worked at the Blue Grotto in the King of Prussia area.
I asked Al, “Who inspired you to cook?” He thought for a few seconds and smiled fondly. “My grandmother was always cooking and ever since I could reach the counters I started to learn how to cook too.”
“How did you come to the realization that you wanted to be a cook?”
Again Al smiled, “ever since my grandmother started teaching me to cook when I was seven, I wanted to own my own restaurant.” I asked him if he wanted to do anything else with his life before he was seven and he started to laugh. “I wanted to be a truck driver.” Al wanted to own his own restaurant and loved to learn new recipes from his grandma, which was why he chose to be a cook.
I started talking to him about local foods and asked him if he ever heard of The Meatrix. He replied, “I have heard of that from others, but I saw Food, Inc.”
On their website’s homepage, you will find they boast that have “local food”. Also, on their menus at the bottom you will see that they have fresh and local foods. Since I have been here many times, especially during the summer, I know that they have fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, however I did not know what other things they had that were local.
“Simmeria and The Fleetwood Grille’s website says that they have ‘fresh and local’ food, does it cost more to buy local, I figure it does, but why?”
Al explained, “It costs more to buy locally, our suppliers need to make money also. It is different when you buy from big name companies, the more you buy from them, the cheaper it is for you.” He also explained that, “local suppliers are not using pesticide and it takes longer for them to grow some things.”
“Why do you buy local foods? Is it the quality or something else?”
Al smiled, “I buy locally more so to help out the local businesses and try to give back to the local people.” He said with a proud smile, “I never go out of the tri-state area.”
One interesting fact that I learned from Al concerned other countries and why they will not buy meats from the United States. “Japan and China will not accept U.S. meat because we use hormones and other things in our factories.”
“Where do you buy from?”
“I buy from Fossil Farms, that supplies us wild game. Tim Stark supplies our vegetables and is growing us a special eggplant only for us. We also use Bill Steele for some poultry.” They also have Jan’s Pastries make most of their desserts, Jan’s Pastries is located within the Village Butcher in Fleetwood.
“Does Tim Stark have an indoor greenhouse so he can supply you year-round?”
Al smiled and said with a chuckle, “He tried it for the first time this year, he said that it did not go very well like he had hoped.” I told Al that I know of restaurants in the area that order their foods from companies, like U.S. Foods. Al said, “I order from Sysco two times a week, otherwise I order as needed from our local suppliers.” “Eggs come in once a week, the delivery guy asks me how many eggs I need and I tell him. I take what I can get vegetable wise and I work with most of the dishes based on what my local suppliers have available to them.” The only thing that Al does not buy locally, is his featured fish on the weekends. “The fish are caught the previous day and are flown in from Honolulu, Hawaii.”
Here is some information on the suppliers that Simmeria and The Fleetwood Grille use. Fossil Farms started in Pennsylvania and moved to Sussex County in New Jersey. They work with family farms to ensure that they provide the best meats for their customers. Tim Stark who supplies the vegetables, is located in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Some food enthusiasts might have heard of him. He wrote a book titled, “Heirloom: Notes From an Accidental Tomato Farmer. Tim also supplies his vegetables to restaurants in New York City. Bill Steele, owner of Mr. Bill’s Poultry and Healthy Deli can be found at the Allentown Fairgrounds Farmers Market. He supplies Simmeria with healthy poultry that is fresh.
“Do you get local beer and wine?”
Again, Al laughed and said “beer selection is not the biggest selection here.” However, Al said, “we are trying to get local wine from Blair’s Vineyard and beer from Matt at Saucony Creek.” Al got really excited and said, “on May 16th Fleetwood Grille will be offering a Boar, Beer, and Wine event featuring Saucony Creek and BCTV (Berks County Televison) will be there also.” If you would like to go, it is $35 for BCTV members and $45 for non-members of BCTV. It is from 6:30 pm until 9:30 pm.
“How do you create menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?”
“When I am creating a new menu for the season, I base it off of what is available at that time. I create dishes and display them as specials for our customers and by the time I officially add it into the menu, the customers know what it is, the cooks know how to make it and what it looks like, and it is an easier transition for the staff.” Al also makes sure that his staff knows what it tastes like and what it has in it.
“Does your grandma’s recipes make it into the menu?”
Al gave a fond smile, “some of the items are taken from my grandmother and I might add a twist to it or I might just keep it the way she had it.”
“Where else do you get ideas for menus?”
“I also will look at some food magazines and will read the name of it and look at the picture and instead of looking at what the ingredients are, I will try to create it myself.” I was impressed that he could do something like that.
I decided to shift our conversation then to The Fleetwood Grille and how Al manages taking care of both sides if they happen to be open at the same time.
For those of you that have not been to Simmeria or Fleetwood Grille, on one side is Simmeria. Simmeria is a more quiet place to eat and you have the option of sitting out on the deck or inside where you can sit at the bar and watch TV or sit at a table and watch the cars go by. The Fleetwood Grille opened after Simmeria did. There, you have the option of the bar and outdoor seating on the other side of the building. The Fleetwood Grille offers a more casual setting. Both Simmeria and Fleetwood Grille offer different menus and have different hours, except on Fridays.
Al said, “On Fridays we have the Deka employees come by so we make them breakfast over at the Fleetwood Grille, over there it is more casual and that way they can have a nice meal.”
“Do you have a separate staff, it must be confusing to have different menus for both sides.” Being a server, I find it difficult to remember what exactly is in each of the foods that we offer.
Al smiled and gave a little chuckle “we have one kitchen, the same staff for both sides, and we cross-train so that we can have floaters go from side to side.” Being a server myself, I admired the hard work that these waitresses and waiters have to put in to remember what both sides offer on their menus and what they each have in it.
I mentioned that I saw what looked like a catering van with Simmeria being advertised along Kutztown Road. “What is the catering van for?”
He said that it was their new idea to expand. He is very excited about it and hopes that in the future they will have a separate place for the catering business for Simmeria. For now, “I offer a special menu just for catering.”
Finally, Simmeria and Fleetwood Grille not only help out local food suppliers, but they also host events for the community and try to get the community involved in events. Over St. Patty’s Day weekend they hosted a parade, with bagpipes too, that went from Fleetwood Bank down to Simmeria. All weekend they had specials running and live music playing. Every weekend they have a new special going on food wise and will also have bands playing at night. During the summer you can hear the band playing out on the deck and most likely, if your windows are down, you can hear the band before you see them. Simmeria also has a bike team called, Gruppo Sportivo Simmeria. They welcome anyone that wants to join them on their rides.
Al’s last words were “come to Simmeria and Fleetwood Grille, you will find something here you will not find anywhere else.”
If you would like to see the menus for Simmeria and The Fleetwood Grille, what they offer for catering, or any other information, please visit http://simmeria.com/index.html You can also check out Simmeria and The Fleetwood Grille on Facebook for weekend specials, what bands will be playing, and other updates.
Please Note: I did try to post my pictures however, when I tried to upload them, it said that it could not. I apologize for the inconvenience.