Editor’s note: This is an introduction to a new feature by Ben Destefan, Courier Express editor, titled “Ben’s Bites” that is intended to support local restaurants while giving the new resident recommendations of places to eat.

Still relatively new to the area, my wife and I have continued to try various restaurants on the weekends, primarily wanting to dine in when we’re able.

So far, we’ve leaned on suggestions from colleagues at work who are more familiar with local favorites.

Last Friday, those conversations led us to the Nelson House in DuBois, where we had a first of what will now likely be many more enjoyable experiences.

After we left, it got me thinking.

During what has been an extremely difficult time for restaurants, how could we support local operations while also gaining greater knowledge of our surroundings?

Simple — mix work and pleasure by patronizing a different restaurant each week (or two weeks) and then highlight the experience in a new feature for the Courier Express titled “Ben’s Bites.”

Here’s how it will come together:

  • We want our readers to select the restaurants, asking you to share your favorite places to eat within the Tri-County area. Personal request — restaurants need to be located within the primary coverage area of the Courier Express, and no more than 30-40 minutes driving time from DuBois.
  • Recommendations should be emailed to: bites@thecourierexpress.com
  • Recommendations should include the name of the restaurant and what the reader’s favorite menu item is at that restaurant. I won’t commit to choosing the same menu item, but it will be considered. Appetizers are welcome.
  • There is no way I’ll be able to attend all area restaurants, so selections will be made on which restaurants receive the most recommendations from readers. This is solely up to readers to decide. There is also no timeline on how long we’ll continue the feature. We’d prefer to at least run it for a few months. This will depend on response from readers.
  • Family-owned establishments will be given priority.
  • The plan is to feature one restaurant every week to two weeks. Life happens — as do government mandates — so I can’t fully promote once a week, but I’ll do my best for at least every two weeks.
  • The feature will be a commentary about the experience. It is not intended to be a review, rather to highlight the restaurant’s atmosphere, food, and so on. I will not publish any negative thoughts. Readers will be able to draw their own conclusions.
  • Restaurants will not be notified in advance of being featured. The idea is for the experience to be as natural as possible.
  • This is intended to be fun and supportive of local businesses. Please keep it that way.

As for preferences: Meat, pasta and some seafood are all personal favorites. Same goes for my wife, although her desire for spicy foods is much higher than mine. Additionally, I’m a fan of complementing a nice dinner with an adult beverage, so places with a decent beer selection would be a bonus. We’ll try just about anything, so there are no limits on suggestions.

And, since the Nelson House sparked this concept, here’s a short snippet of what these features will look like:

Being greeted by a large, inviting bar upon walking in quickly brought thoughts of a return trip when things are “back to normal.”

The building is quaint and comforting, exemplifying its name as a “house.”

Considering it was our first time, we went with potstickers as an appetizer, one of our usual go-tos when dining out. Those, paired with a frosty mug of Sam Adams Winter Lager, set the tone for a solid spread.

Exploring the options, while also going for variety, I went with the stuffed shrimp while Lindsey chose the chicken marsala.

The entrees arrived in very timely fashion, with my shrimp overflowing with crab meat. Of course I just dug in, going for the single bite that actually proved difficult because of the portion size of each “stuffed” piece. This was not a bad thing.

Crossing over to my wife’s chicken — remember, sharing is caring — the flavor and juiciness of the cut was fantastic. So good, in fact, what little was left made its way to the refrigerator for later.

A reasonable and worthwhile price tag followed, certainly putting The Nelson House on the map of places to eat for these new locals.

— Please send restaurant recommendations to: bites@thecourierexpress.com

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