EBENSBURG – Tess Strittmatter likes a challenge.
When she and husband Bernie, son Scott and daughter-in-law Becca bought the Lemon Drop Lounge and Golf Links outside Ebensburg six years ago, they all began building a brand-new menu for a restaurant that had, at that point, been closed for the past four years.
“We had no idea what we were doing when we bought this place,” she said.
After selling off the family’s dairy cows and focusing their farming on soybeans and corn, Strittmatter began focusing on the Lemon Drop Lounge menu, specifically the dessert offerings.
She started with a plain New York-style cheesecake, using a recipe she created by incorporating several different cheesecake recipes.
That recipe is now the base for creations including peanut butter cup, cookies and cream, strawberry scooter crunch, no-bake cookie, key lime, orange creamsicle and Samoa cookie cheesecakes, each topped with cakes, ganaches, frostings and other toppings underneath cookie or graham cracker crusts.
“Something just was in my head that someone would name a dessert and I’d think, ‘How can I make that into a cheesecake? ” Strittmatter said.
“I love creating what they’ll look like when they’re done.”
Other varieties have included Rice Krispie treat, gob cake, Snickers, Almond Joy, carrot cake, chocolate scooter crunch, chocolate chip cookie dough, cream puff, Boston cream, banana nut bread, German chocolate, banana split, peanut butter meltaway, apple strudel, cinnamon roll, Thin Mint and pineapple upside-down cheesecakes.
Strittmatter now makes three kinds of cheesecakes each week and accepts ideas from customers, some of which have been for berry waffle and Mallo Cup varieties.
Seasonal cheesecakes have included pumpkin turtle and peppermint mocha cheesecakes.
“It’s trial and error,” she said. “I loved baking all my life, but never got to do it at this level.”
Over Christmas, Strittmatter completed 54 orders for whole cheesecakes from customers. During the Lenten season, she had numerous calls to reserve slices of cheesecake, often selling out before the restaurant opened for dinner.
In one weekend, the restaurant sold out of nine cheesecakes.
“Those cheesecakes are what people come here for,” she said. “We have other dessert items, but none are as popular as the cheesecakes.”
Strittmatter said the restaurant’s entire menu was created by her family, and, with a limited staff, is often made by her family, too.
“We’ve totally come up with our menu with what we like to eat and what our family likes to eat,” she said.
Including specialty burgers, secret recipe wing sauces, homemade jalapeno poppers and a secret blend of French fry seasonings, there are several popular menu items that can only be found at Lemon Drop Lounge.
Only two of Strittmatter’s daughters have her cheesecake recipe.
Along with customer-inspired cheesecake ideas, other menu items have been created by regular customers, including a burger topped with boneless chicken wings that was the result of indecision between one of the restaurant’s burgers or its popular wings.
The Lemon Drop Lounge, originally built from several old barns, also houses space where wedding showers, baby showers, anniversary parties and weddings can be held.
There’s also a misconception that the Lemon Drop Lounge is a private club, Strittmatter said.
“We are open to the public – both the restaurant and golfing,” she said.
With plenty of space for large parties, parking and the mountainous scenery surrounding the 175-acre property, Strittmatter said special events are a large part of business.
Without a large daily crowd, Strittmatter said the restaurant also relies on holiday meals for occasions such as Easter, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and more.
“That’s what keeps us going,” she said. “Word of mouth has been our blessing.”
The Lemon Drop Lounge is open from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, call 814-344-8749 or visit Lemon Drop Lounge and Golf Links on Facebook.