Foodie Road Trip: Where You Can Enjoy Elevated Dining In The Treetops
This season, this secluded architectural park in Polymath Park will offer enhanced culinary experiences, more of the popular Treehouse dining pods — and even the start of a fifth house.
An elegant meal is only part of the draw to this architectural park that honors the work and influence of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Polymath Park — tucked in a secluded, 130-acre tract of the Laurel Highlands near Chestnut Ridge Mountain — has been attracting visitors since 2007, when it opened for overnight lodging and tours. At the time, it included two summer Usonian homes built by the renowned architect’s apprentice, Peter Berndtson, and the Duncan House, which had been designed by Wright in Lisle, Illinois, and moved in pieces to Polymath for reconstruction. In 2019, a second Wright home moved from Minnesota, called Mäntylä, opened for tours and lodging.
My husband and I ventured to Polymath at the peak of leaf-peeping season last October. The goal was to eat at the Tree Tops Restaurant — known for its butterknife filets and exquisite seafood and located literally up in the treetops — but we got much more. We took a tour of Wright’s two houses and also stayed overnight at the 3-bedroom, 2-bath Duncan House.
Many visitors combine meals or appetizers at the Tree Tops or in the private Treehouse dining pods with overnight stays or house tours. Up until the pandemic, 65% to 75% of the visitors came from across the United States and other countries, says founder/CEO Tom Papinchak, who owns and developed the park with his wife, Heather. Now, he says, it’s an even split between locals and visitors.
“With COVID, everyone came home and discovered us in their own backyard,” he says.
Like Wright’s philosophy to incorporate nature into design, menus at the Tree Tops Restaurant and Treehouse dining pods integrate nature into the cuisine with locally sourced, fresh ingredients.
For our late October dinner in the cozy dining room, I had the hand-cut filet, served flambé tableside, with risotto and carrots and a garden fresh salad with sliced apples. Among other fall offerings were flaming Kasseri cheese, Brie with fresh berries, poblano peppers stuffed with ricotta, seared scallops, local trout, Ahi tuna and chicken dishes. Service was cordial and efficient, and the kitchen offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Outside, the four newish Treehouse dining pods — which each seat four guests and offer special prix fixe menus — have been so popular that Polymath is adding three more pods for 2023, with one seating up to six guests; they open April 21. Reservations are a must for dining, lodging and tours. The Tree Tops Restaurant and most tours opened for the season on March 17.
For the restaurant, the Papinchaks — who both have culinary backgrounds — are elevating the dining experiences for 2023 with multiple courses and wine pairings. “The food will create its own story and at the same time educate [diners] about the houses in the park,” Tom says. At the time of this reporting, they were taste testing new dishes and designing the menus.
Also new this season: Beginning April 23, guests will be able to tour all four homes at one time (weekly, at 10 a.m. on Sundays).
And a fifth home — the largest to date at more than 6,000 square feet — is expected to start rising on the property later this year. Birdwing, a prairie-style, bi-level home designed by Wright’s son, Lloyd Jr., in Minnetonka, Minnesota, was slated for demolition in 2019 when Tom learned of its fate. He and a team quickly disassembled the home and moved it to Polymath, where pieces await in several shipping containers.
Even with enhanced dining and park expansions, Tom wants to preserve Polymath as a special destination. “Our lure,” he says, “is we want to keep this as the best-kept secret.”
About 1 hour
Polymath Park: treetopsrestaurant.net