A brand new eatery is offering both tourists and residents of Gettysburg a whole new "taste of the town."
Located at the intersection of Washington and Chambersburg streets inside what was formerly Luke's Diner, Food 101 may be a small space, but in just two months, has already become known for serving up some pretty big flavors.
"The response has just been tremendous," the eatery's owner, Don Dantona, said. "People are so happy that this is here. I'm constantly being called out in the dining room for people to meet me and talk to me and thank me for opening. It's just been great."
A New York native whose career in the food business spans more than 35 years and includes seven Italian restaurants (the most successful of which, Cantina Mama Lucia, has been open in Baltimore for 27 years), Dantona was drawn to the Gettysburg area when the contractor who built his now-defunct Frederick eatery–who happened to be the same contractor for Luke's Diner–called him to inform him the space had become available.
Specializing in what Dantona calls "fresh, happening" cuisine that features "a twist on the basics," Food 101 has quickly captured the fancy of foodies and restaurant-goers both local and otherwise. Multiple reviews on TripAdvisor.com are full of praise, ranging from "small but mighty" and "hidden gem" to "special, simple and delicious" and "a great way to end the day in Gettysburg," and have resulted in the spot securing the number one spot among the 119 eateries listed in the area. While Dantona says he was surprised by how quickly the place has taken hold in the community, he maintains that it is the reception he was hoping for.
"My motto is only that we try to bring this bright, happy attitude and food to the table," he posits.
It's a skill the restaurateur picked up not only while attending L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, but growing up as well.
"My parents are from Italy, so I grew up around a lot of good cooking and learned to cook at an early age," he says. After graduating high school, Dantona attended one semester of college before deciding he wanted to pursue a career in food. He opened his first restaurant with a partner at the age of 19, "and then twelve years later I went to culinary school for the fine-tuning and to learn classic French cuisine. I was able to apply some of their fundamentals to what I was already doing in the Italian world."
Although he initially considered opening another Italian restaurant, Dantona reconsidered after visiting Gettysburg.
"When I came to check the place out, I noticed Gettysburg had enough Italian places and pizzerias, so a close friend of mine suggested I open this type of place, and she was right. I did research and found that this particular niche was not addressed, so I developed the menu around what the needs were in town."
Food 101 boasts an array of exciting menu items, from crisp, delicious salads like a berry almond salad prepared with toasted almonds, dried cherries, shallots, shaved fennel, fresh berries, brie and white balsamic vinaigrette to tasty artisan pizzas such as one made with fennel sausage and crunchy broccolini. Sandwiches range from a grilled chicken panini served on a baguette with fig jam, balsamic glazed onions, fresh greens and brie to a popular "tuna burger" made with olive tapenade, red onion, roasted red peppers, romaine, and Dijon-mayo. Those with healthier appetites can choose from entrees that include a seared salmon served with Cauliflower puree, citrus mango salsa, crispy shallots and a seared flank stake with twice-baked potatoes, glazed carrots, roasted garlic and Cabernet sauce.
"We try to source as much as we can locally, and we prepare everything from scratch on the menu," Dantona adds. "We put twists on everything that can be considered familiar, but a lot of it is whim. It's, like, 'What can we do with this to make it more fun and interesting?'"
The menu is designed, Dantona says, to be changed often, with menu items being swapped out for others both seasonally and arbitrarily, although he adds that he is having a tougher time than expected following through.
"Usually you'll find things on a menu that don't sell well, but so far, the whole menu is like a signature dish. People keep saying, 'I love that; don't ever get rid of that,' so it's going to make it harder for me to rotate the menu." Not to worry, he adds: "Old menu items will always be available, because we'll always have the ingredients, so if somebody says 'I want that tuna burger,' we'll be able to make it for them."
Dantona is already thinking ahead to the future, which may include pairings and partnerships with local wineries and teaching a cooking class at the nearby Adams County Arts Council. But he is quick to add that he's content to take things day by day.
"I'm a slow entrepreneur," he explains. "This is my seventh restaurant, but I really try to put down roots and get a good following and do well with what I do and make it a well-oiled machine until everybody's happy and comfortable, and then I start looking to expand. What usually ends up happening is that people will approach me, but it's all about timing."
Dantona stresses that he has no plans on moving away from his cozy little corner on Washington Street. "It's small, but I like it like this," he says. "I think I've got one of the better locations in town. I can see everything that's happening and hear all of my servers and how they are talking to customers and what customers are saying to them. And that's great.
"I've had 200-seat restaurants with bars, but you end up being so detached," he adds. "You have to be out there all the time to make sure everything is running smoothly, but here I've got the lay of the land, both inside and outside. That's the ideal situation for a restaurant owner, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."