SCRANTON — Falls Township native Amanda Banta grew up on family-owned Rowlands Farm, which instilled in her a love for hard-won crops and thoughtful landscaping and greenhouse design.
Meanwhile, James Bolus was raised in Dalton, where he inherited a love of cooking from the women in his family before he moved on to culinary studies at the Art Institute of Philadelphia.
Now, Banta and Bolus pool their life experiences to work in concert as the co-owner and executive chef, respectively, of the newly opened Penn Avenue business the Wandering Hen Cafe & Market.
The downtown Scranton eatery blends their passions for cooking with quality ingredients and techniques and supporting local farms.
“Mediterranean cuisine is my niche. Lebanese is my passion,” Bolus said, attributing that love to the ethnic cooking to which his mother and both of his grandmothers introduced him. “I have a lot of experience with classical comfort food, Eastern-European farmer-type (dishes). That’s where I got my love of pickling, fermenting and canning.”
“My husband Bill and I dreamed of always having a true farm-to-table restaurant,” Banta added. “I wanted items people are familiar with but with a twist, and I wanted a name that people automatically thought, ‘free-range.’ (The Wandering Hen) just came to me.”
Between the fresh produce available in the market and the breakfast and lunch menus in the cafe, Banta noted that the Wandering Hen supports about 40 local farms and vendors.
“We’re very proud of how farm-to-table and representative of the local population we are,” Bolus said. “I try to prepare relatable food while also keeping it healthy and educating to expand palettes. It’s a way to teach people that healthy food can still be delicious, and not necessarily bland.”
Customers have the option of dining in or grabbing food to go. During the summer, Bolus and Banta estimated, the in-house menu will be about 95 percent locally sourced, while during the winter that number will dip down to about 80 percent. That number still is high in comparison to other area eateries and is made possible by the bounty of the Wandering Hen’s adjoining market.
Banta made her first connections at the Tunkhannock farmer’s market, and her network of suppliers grew from there. Now, diners (and home cooks) reap the benefits of the mutually prosperous system among the restaurant and the farms.
“It’s really exciting to see all the farms in here selling their stuff in the first place,” Banta said. “It’s a tremendous help after the regular season ends. It’s a good outlet for them to sell their stuff.”
The fresh ingredients featured in the cafe’s dishes have earned rave reviews from diners so far, Bolus said. While he struggled to pick favorites from the menu, he shared some of the most popular standouts that guests love. For vegans, this means the Mushroom BLT and Veggie Burger (the patty is made of all sprouted greens and quinoa). On the breakfast side, the Seasonal Hash (sweet potato, sausage, onion, Brussels sprouts and two eggs over easy) and the Cast Iron Waffle can’t be beat.
“I believe we’re the only people using cast iron, which gets a really nice caramelization while the inside stays nice and fluffy,” Bolus said. “There’s no Teflon (in our kitchen), and we use minimal aluminum to work to our zero-waste goal.”
The Roasted Chicken Salad is bolstered by locally foraged Sumac onions and meat cured for 48 hours before being roasted and pulled. The regular burgers feature 100-percent grass-fed, local beef.
The Egg and Cress Sandwich is a unique take on egg salad, Bolus said, which pairs perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs and straun bread, a low-fat option made of a combination of different greens.
The Wandering Hen can seat 43 among the bar and tables on furniture that has been upcycled or handmade by Keith Thomas. Between the wagon wheel light fixtures, stone floor sourced from an area quarry and local botany, the majority of the decor has been repurposed or ethically harvested.
“Everything from our food to the physical building supports local,” Bolus said.
Contact the writer:
firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5369;
@pwildingTT on Twitter