History, Community and Quality Food at The ImperialOct 30, 2020 12:35PM ● By Sheila Julson
When Lancaster residents John Meeder and Sam Wilsker were planning their new full-service hotel on the historic corner of Queen and Chestnut streets, they had a vision for a restaurant that would honor the rich history of the community while providing fine, flavorful food for both guests and locals alike. Their venture has come to fruition through The Imperial Restaurant, offering a diverse, artistic ambiance, historical artifacts and creative dishes crafted by Chef Abou Kouyate.
The Imperial’s unique atmosphere was cultivated by designer Noelle Turco. It includes an eclectic mix of seating, vibrant art and colorized historic photos that honor the site’s remarkable past. Guests will notice large Sanborn Maps from 1912 displayed near the restrooms. Classic photos capture previous eras, as well as notable figures that graced the Imperial Hotel, which stood on the site until it was razed in 1912. “There’s pretty much a historic walking tour right inside the restaurant,” states Wilsker.
The menu includes staples like The Imperial Burger, Oven Roasted Farm Chicken or Surf & Turf entrees to satisfy most tastes. For those with more adventurous palates, there’s Tuna Sashimi Rice Bowl, the Falafel Sandwich or New Orleans Shrimp Creole.
A variety of vegan options include the Portabella Burger, Vegetable Spring Rolls or the Vegan Meatball Stir-fry. Guests seeking gluten-free entrees can choose from Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna Steak; Salmon Toscano, in which a pan-seared fillet is served with creamy spinach, artichokes, capers and sun-dried tomatoes; thyme-roasted New York Strip and more. Appetizers, salads, sandwiches, soups and desserts round out the menu.
Kouyate, known affectionately as “Chef Abou,” was born in Guinea, West Africa. While growing up, he always wanted to feed people who couldn’t afford to eat. He was inspired by his mom and grandmother at an early age to support people in need by feeding them flavorful dishes with food and ingredients that were readily available. Kouyate is a self-taught culinary professional who started cooking part time when he was 20 years old while working for the United Nations.
He later moved to the U.S. and started experimenting more with cooking. Friends and family frequently sampled his dishes and provided feedback. He worked at various restaurants and mentored under many chefs. Before coming to The Imperial, Kouyate was a chef at Normandy Farm Hotel & Country Club, in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. He had also taught students at Walnut Hill College, in Philadelphia. He experiments with global seasonings and spices to create multicultural dishes full of flavor.
“Chef Abou has brought a true sense of leadership and experience to lead the kitchen team. In addition, he’s a perfect complement to the eclectic, varied palate of The Imperial’s concept,” Wilsker enthuses.
The Imperial Restaurant has brought back its popular Sunday Brunch. As one of the few locations in Lancaster currently offering brunch, guests can enjoy favorites like Eggs Benedict, Avocado Toast or Salmon BLT. Bar manager and mixologist Patrick McGettigan has created a distinctive Bloody Mary menu that features the staff favorite, “Heir To The Queen,” made from yellow heirloom tomatoes, shallots, onions and myriad spices.
The pandemic has made 2020 a challenging year for restaurants. “The Imperial is working to stay afloat and looking for ways to distinguish itself to be the place that a limited audience chooses, all while providing a safe and clean environment for guests and employees,” Wilsker emphasizes.
Staff are creatively collaborating with other regional chefs, as well as exploring new wine and dinner options as well as socially distant holiday parties and events in their large meeting spaces. The looming winter months will make outdoor seating a challenge, but The Imperial will extend the outdoor season with heaters to keep guests comfortable.
The Imperial Restaurant is located at 26 E. Chestnut St., in Lancaster. For more information, call 717-399-4040 or visit TheImperialRestaurant.com.