There aren’t many iconic restaurants left in the Bellefonte area.
Over time, many have closed or changed names. One of the few still standing is the Red Horse Tavern, located at 104 North Main Street in Pleasant Gap.
The Red Horse recently did change hands, but it’s still the Red Horse. The new owners are chef Victor Visciani and Natalie Valdivia. They opened with an eclectic menu filled with homestyle favorites.
But first things first. Why did they keep the name?
“We never considered changing the name,” Valdivia says. “The Red Horse Tavern is iconic, and everyone has such fond memories of the tavern. It seems everyone in the area has some memory of being here, and we are excited to be able to continue the tradition.”
As for the food? Well, Valdivia says the new menu is “eclectic home-style.”
“When planning the menu, we started talking about some classic comfort food dishes that we remember eating as children, things that our moms or grandmothers prepared,” Valdivia says, “and added in flavors and techniques from different cultures, mostly pulling flavors from our South American heritages and our time spent in the South. We wanted to create dishes that people recognized and focus on comfort foods.”
The menu features small plates (appetizers), salads, sides, handhelds (sandwiches), and entrees.
You can start your meal with some fried pickles, bacon wrapped shrimp, horsey bites (fried cheese curds), French fries, or Tavern street corn (fire-roasted corn on the cob).
After that, the options are almost endless. If you are looking for something on the lighter side, check out the watermelon arugula salad. Want something a little more filling? There are a couple of burgers to choose from, including an “Old Fashioned” burger, which is exactly what you’d expect, or the “Piggy Burger,” which features pork instead of beef.
For the full Red Horse experience, try an entree. The menu has pot pie, stew, pork chops, pasta, and steaks.
“Our most popular sandwiches are the Old Fashioned burger and the brisket grilled cheese. The most popular entrees are the chicken fricassee pot pie and the pork chop. Fried pickles and horsey bites are also always a crowd favorite,” Valdivia says.
According to Valdivia, there truly is not a signature dish—at least not yet.
“We put a lot of time and thought into all of the dishes and are looking forward to seeing what customers select as their favorites,” Valdivia says.
As for dessert, the Red Horse will have pies that change on a weekly basis. Thus far, they’ve had a wide variety—peanut butter, pina colada, bourbon chocolate walnut, banana cream, banoffee, and orange bourbon peach pie.
Pie is one of the top sellers so far, Valdivia says.
“Our most popular item is the pie—I think the banoffee pie and orange bourbon peach pie were the most popular so far. I never imagined that we would sell so much pie,” she says.
Valdivia says they put a lot of effort into their desserts.
“Dessert is something that is very important to us. There is nothing better than to sit down and have a good piece of pie and a cup of coffee. We make all of the pies in house and change flavors weekly. We decided early on in the planning stages that we would focus on pie for dessert, offering two or three pie flavors every week. Focusing on one type of dessert allows us more time to experiment with flavors and textures. In the future, we plan to make ice cream to go with the pies,” Valdivia says.
The Red Horse Tavern was built as a residential house in the 1940s. In the 1950s, though, the building was converted to a bar and restaurant.
Visciani brings 30 years of experience with him to Pleasant Gap. He received his culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh in 2002. After graduating, he worked at several Forbes-rated restaurants under an American Culinary Federation certified master chef, and worked at Les Halles in New York.
Valdivia earned her master’s in business administration while working at bars in New Orleans. “After moving back to Pennsylvania, I worked at a local restaurant, caterer, and event facility as the director of catering and events,” Valdivia says.
The Red Horse Tavern is currently in the process of securing a liquor license. In the meantime, diners are welcome to BYOB or try a delicious mocktail.
As with the pies, Valdivia says that much thought was put into the mocktail menu.
“My 11-year-old daughter, Lupe, may have had some influence on the mocktails. She always enjoys having ‘fancy drinks’ during the holidays and was very excited to give her input on the mocktail list. They will be something that stays on the menu permanently,” Valdivia says.
For more information about the Red Horse Tavern, check out its Facebook or Instagram pages. T&G
Chris Morelli is a resident of Pleasant Gap and the news editor of The Express in Lock Haven.