Symphony Hall was built in 1896. For over 100 years, people have been venturing to Sixth Street to catch a show. Back then, the building now known as Miller Symphony Hall was a burlesque house called the Lyric Theater. Allentown’s website claims that in the early 1900’s, this Theater was one of the leading burlesque houses in the Eastern United States. On April 11, 1912 – during a bonkers presidential race, Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the Lyric Theater – with accompaniment by the still running Allentown Band. By the 1940s, the Lyric was a movie house. In 1953 – the Allentown Symphony was born.
I saw that Symphony, in 2015, in that same building perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. In addition to the Ninth, there was a debut of Diane Wittry’s, Allentown Symphony’s music director and conductor, “Ode to Joy Fanfare” and the Pennsylvania debut of John Estachio’s Borealis and a short film on the Aurora Borealis by Jose Francisco Salgado. Rounding out the program was the performance of Liszt’s Les Préludes-Symphony Poem No. 3. The performances were fantastic.
In a testament to both old and new Allentown, Wittry’s “Ode to Joy Fanfare” was performed in tandem by the Allentown symphony and students in the Symphony’s “El Sistema” program. I had not heard of this program before I saw the students perform but I am really glad to know about it now. This program allows “underserved and special needs youth” the chance for free daily music instruction, free use of instruments, and a snack – so long as they show up every day, practice, and take care of their instrument. That’s awesome.
Following the symphony performance, it was time for dinner. We headed to Aladdin Restaurant on Union Boulevard. I was born in 1983 – Aladdin beat me by two years. I do not know what the culinary landscape looked like in Allentown in 1981 but if I had to guess – I would assume that Aladdin was a pioneer in the City. This was not my first visit to the restaurant and as you will see – it will not be my last.
I suppose you could knock the place for seemingly dated interior. Honestly, I loved it. I felt instantly at home on the long benches covered with pillows. There are camels everywhere. The hostess was also the sole waitress and she nailed it. As she brought out food, she spoke about her mother cooking it in the kitchen to order. She amusingly admonished me for calling her “Miss” and said her name was Sam. You feel at home at Aladdin because you are at home. It’s Sam and her Mom’s place and they have invited you in for awesome.
We started with the “Special Maza” which is an assortment of: hummus, babaganoush, tabouli, feta, olives, mushroom salad, grape leaves, kebbee, spinach pie, arnabit, kusa and falafel. Everything served was delicious. Lemon, olive oil, and garlic were present at all times and they should be. The falafel was cooked brilliantly. I have to give it up for the arnabit though – it was awesome though the Kusa was probably my favorite. I wish I could cook zucchini like that.
Then came the lamb kabobs. Perfectly seared on the outside with a sweet crust of browned flesh and delightfully pink on the inside. The vegetables on the skewer were forced to give into their sweetness by the flame. The rice, topped with mushrooms, was earthy and danced with the spice and sweetness of the lamb as you ate it.
My friend had the Kafta kabob which was pretty much the best meatloaf you could eat. Lamb and spices folks, it does not really get much better than that:
For dessert – sweet Turkish coffee and Baklava. Again – perfect.
That was one hell of a night in “Old” Allentown. There have always been great experiences in our Queen City. You have to make sure you go out there and have them. If I accomplish nothing with this blogging endeavor – the thing I would be most disappointed about would be failing to get this message across. You need to stop going to Applebees and Ruby Tuesdays or similar places in their generic, shitty ilk. Get out to places like Aladdin. Go to the Symphony beforehand. If you want places like this to exist in the Valley you have to keep supporting them even after the glitter and glamour of the moment passes. It’s amazing what’s out there.