Taste of the Month: The Express Casual Dining is giving new life to an old landmark
It’s hard to miss the old caboose and railcar sitting outside a Penns Valley landmark that was once a train station and the former Whistle Stop Restaurant. Since April, that landmark is home to The Express Casual Dining, the name playing homage to the location’s railroad past. New owners Greg and LuAnn Yearick, along with their two daughters, Shelby and Hannah, are thrilled to own a part of local history.
The Express Casual Dining is a BYOB, family-friendly restaurant open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Located at 104 E. Wilson Street in Centre Hall, The Express serves diners a mix of smoked barbecue and comfort foods at a reasonable price.
Some of its specialties include slow-smoked brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. Complete your entrée selection with a side of garlic mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, coleslaw, baked beans, or a garden salad with the Original Whistle Stop house dressing.
“We were grateful Ed and Marcia Gemperle of the former Whistle Stop were gracious enough to give us the recipe for their house dressing. Our customers have told us that it tastes as delicious as they remembered it!” says LuAnn.
Other crowd favorites include the signature catfish, chicken and sausage gumbo, chicken-on-a-stick, and cheese steak sandwich. Don’t forget to order a side of homemade aioli, horseradish, remoulade, or barbeque sauce for dipping unique appetizers like the fried gator, crab nuggets, and cheddar-broccoli-bacon bites.
Greg had always dreamed of owning a restaurant, but it took many years of convincing LuAnn before all the right pieces seemed to fall into place, especially the location. A Penns Valley native, Greg caught the barbequing bug from a neighbor who was a chef. LuAnn explains, “It started with a Weber grill, cooking meats with hardwood charcoal and Greg would smoke hickory-apple wood brisket, ribs, and pulled pork for backyard parties with friends and family.”
Before long, Greg became known as a grill master and was asked to cook and host birthday and anniversary parties at the Yearicks’ home. After much encouragement from friends, the Yearicks got their first taste of running a food business six years ago when they bought a an old trailer, fixed it up, named it The Cajun Express, and served Cajun-inspired fare at various local fairs including the Garage Fair in Centre Hall.
“Our family took many trips to New Orleans and really loved the food culture down there, so we wanted to incorporate some of those flavors to our menu,” LuAnn says.
It was an instant success, because it offered fairgoers something different with the Cajun spices and flavoring.
Since opening The Express Casual Dining, the Yearicks have been so busy it was impossible to operate both the restaurant and the food stand. But luckily, many of the food stand’s favorites are available at the restaurant.
“We have just been so blessed and thankful for all the people who have come to support us, and when we first opened, it was overwhelming at times to keep up in the kitchen and all the orders in the dining room,” says LuAnn. “In our first week, one of our first hires was a 15-year-old Penns Valley high school football player who started as a dishwasher and we got so slammed in the dining room that I pulled him out of the back and asked him to wait tables for us. Our staff has just been amazing and willing to pitch in whenever we need the help.”
For a special offer from The Express Casual Dining, just in time for the Garage Fair, click here!
For more information about The Express Casual Dining, visit the restaurant’s Facebook page. For reservations, call (814) 880-8035.