Those familiar with Garrett County history know that Route 40, which runs east to west throughout the county parallel to Interstate 68, is one of the most historic and famed parts of our area. Known as “The National Road”, it once was used to transport settlers to the “wild” west and was part of the first highway to cross our country.
Of course, travelers then and now have always needed a good place to eat and many inns and restaurants popped up along Rt. 40, including the Little Crossings Inn, which was built in 1818 next to the historic Casselman Bridge, the longest stone arch bridge of its time. Although the arrival of interstates meant the end for many of these restaurants, this area benefitted from the vision and passion of Dr. Alta Schrock, who was called to create a cultural center for artisans and residents in her beloved Allegheny Mountains. In the late 1950’s, she and a group of local professionals and members of her church purchased the Little Crossings area in Grantsville, which still held the original log cabin from the 1800’s.
In 1958, the Penn Alps Craft Shop was opened. Penn Alps Restaurant opened in 1959, and incorporated part of the original Little Crossings Inn. Over the years, Dr. Schrock and her loyal team implemented her vision for an artisan community and was instrumental in moving and preserving original log cabins from throughout the area onto the property, now known as Spruce Forest Artisan Village.
Sixty years later, these institutions continue to fill Dr. Schrock’s dream. The Craft Shop showcases the work of over 200 regional artisans and craftspeople, and sells everything from hand crafted soaps and quilts to original works of art, iron pieces and wooden items, both functional and beautiful. Since 1958, Penn Alps has marketed the products of some 2600 artists, a fulfilment of Dr. Schrock’s dream “to help people help themselves.”
Penn Alps Restaurant still serves homestyle country cooking and showcases the flavors of Alta’s beloved Mennonite community. Here you’ll find a variety of dishes for every appetite. Their specialties include fried chicken, homemade mashed potatoes, Dutch smoked sausage, and freshly sliced roast beef. They have a large and always fresh soup and salad bar that offers their delicious homemade dressings plus two fresh homemade soups daily including their famous German Vegetable Soup. Top it off with their homemade rolls and bread, and you’ve got a meal in itself. Many of the menu items used today (including their delicious desserts) are made from the original recipes used in 1959!
“We are best known for our consistency and affordable prices,” explains Tracy Fratz, one of three co-managers at the Restaurant and Craft Shop. “We have found that sticking with what we know and what we are good at has helped us to remain true to Alta’s vision for the facility and all the food served here reflects the tradition and legacy of our deep roots.” Tracy, along with co-managers Sharon Slovak and Pam Margroff have worked here for over forty years and are proud of their incredible staff who feel more like family. “We worked here together as teenagers and our daughters worked here together as teenagers as well. We work together, play together, even mourn together. We truly are a family,” she adds.
The lunch menu includes popular staples like hamburgers, chicken and fish with house specialties like the Penn Alps Reuben, featuring grilled corned beef or turkey on home-style rye bread with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing. In the mood for a turkey sandwich? All turkey served at Penn Alps is fresh and off the bone, no processed turkey meat here. Of course, it’s always served with homemade mashed potatoes and dressing.
Don’t miss their popular buffets. Breakfast enthusiasts will love their Saturday and Sunday breakfast buffets, offered from 8 to 11 AM, which features breakfast favorites like pancakes, buckwheat cakes, French Toast, egg casserole, muffins, sausage, fruit and more. Those with heartier appetites will enjoy their lunch and dinner buffets which runs from 11 AM until close on Saturday and Sundays. They both offer homestyle country cooking and includes salad bar and delicious desserts. Another popular feature is their Friday Night Seafood Buffet, served from 11 AM to 8 PM, a great value for all budgets.
Be sure to plan extra time to stroll through the Artisan Village. You can browse through thirteen historic log and frame buildings, ten of which are used as studio space for artists in residence including a blacksmith, bird carver, weaver, soap maker, stained glass artisan and more, several of whom work here year-round. The other cabins house guest artists, hold workshops, or are used as learning centers to teach the history of the area and the Penn Alps campus. During the summer, the adjacent concert hall features high quality musical programs for all ages.
Penn Alps Restaurant and Craft Shop is open Monday – Friday from 11 AM to 8 PM and Saturday & Sunday from 8 AM to 8 PM through October. They begin winter hours in early November, and the restaurant will close at 7 PM Monday – Thursday, 8 PM on Friday & Saturday, and 6 PM on Sundays. For more information, visit their website at www.pennalps.com.