This piece was originally written for The Muhlenberg Weekly.
Greenhouse & Enoteca, just a few blocks away from Muhlenberg, is easily discernible by its namesake greenhouse attached to the side of a wide, pale green building marked with giant dark windows large enough to rival the walls of the greenhouse proper. The interior is similarly dusky, with overhead fixtures shining down and providing a glowy ambience to the dark stained wood tables and black metal chairs. It’s all so very rustic modern.
While it doesn’t accept reservations for parties any smaller than ten, Greenhouse does offer a waiting list via Yelp (accessible on its website) that prospective guests should definitely take advantage of because, frankly, it tends to be popping and wait times can get quite long. Service was also a bit slow, impacted both by the fact that it was a crowded Saturday night and that the dark wooden supports that so stylishly hold up the ceiling can also impede sightlines for servers.
As an appetizer, I decided to try the Arancini Bianca, which — at $9 — I fully expected to be a plate of fried rice balls. I will say I was disappointed by the size of the dish that followed, as it was only a single fist-sized fried rice cone, but it was delicious, with a well-crisped exterior and soft, rich interior of starchy goodness with a secret center full of peas. It was also well complemented by a basic tomato sauce, which kept the dish from being overly heavy with its bright acidic tones.
For my entree, I had the Vongole, a dish of a basic clams in white wine sauce over linguini. At first bite, it seemed almost too basic, with only a small portion of tiny fresh clams and none of the lovely fresh seafood taste. However, when I squeezed the provided lemon wedge over the dish, everything brightened up and was a little more well balanced, though the seasonal snow peas still tasted somewhat out of place in the dish. Greenhouse touts a mission of sustainability, which results in less red meat on the menu and a focus on seafood, which is a great concept but hard to maintain in a landlocked state like Pennsylvania. This clam dish was perfectly serviceable, but falls flat when you take into account that it costs $21.
My companions’ dishes, however, were scrumptious. One ordered the Shrimp Limoncello, a bright lemony shrimp risotto over sweet balsamic and sour tomato sauces, which I’m not proud to say I stole multiple bites from. The other had the Shrimp “Scampi,” which was shrimp, blistered tomatoes and citrus in harmony over pappardelle pasta, which I also stole a few bites from. None of our small cohort ordered the pizzas, so I don’t feel qualified to comment on them, though I’d be interested to go back and try.
My main complaint at Greenhouse & Enoteca was the price. The food is pretty good, but it is too expensive for the quality it provides, at normal or smaller than normal portion sizes. Appetizers range from $8-$15, salads from $10-$21 (depending on the type and whether you add chicken or shrimp), entrees and pastas from $17-$25 (with gluten free options available at a $3 bump) and pizzas from $12-$19 (again with gluten free cauliflower crust available at a $3 bump). Desserts and drinks can add quite a bit to your tab, but they have house-made wine, local ciders and craft beers that might be hard to get elsewhere.
While its focus on sustainable dining is admirable, Greenhouse & Enoteca neither currently uses its on-premises greenhouse nor credits its local farms that I could see, so I’d like to see more transparency in its menu. Using local freshwater fish might also ease the strain of using seafood in an inland city. Its food is fashionable modern Italian-American fusion, which results in a somewhat hit-or-miss menu. Greenhouse & Enoteca is a nice place to try, but because of cost, quality and gaps between mission and execution, it won’t be a staple in my dining rotation in the near future.
Greenhouse & Enoteca just a 10 minute walk from campus at 2114 W Tilghman St, Allentown, PA 18104, and is open from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 5 p.m.-11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.