AT THE TABLE WITH: Laura Vernola Simpson

Laura Vernola Simpson

Laura Vernola grew up in Northport, N.Y. Along with her mother and sister, she moved to New Mexico when she was 14 years old.

Laura met Ed Simpson in New Mexico, where they dated for about a year. She then made a decision to move back east to Philadelphia. They would not see or talk to each other for 17 years.

In 2013, Laura happened upon Ed’s profile on LinkedIn; he had returned to Ohio. So they began a renewed relationship. Each time Ed drove to see Laura in Phoenixville, he would stay a little longer, so they decided that Ed would move to Pennsylvania. They married in September 2016, settling in Mont Clare, which Laura refers to as “the Rittenhouse of Phoenixville.”

Laura’s background is in marketing and PR, which led her to start her own company, Grassroots Marketer, in 2012 after moving to the area the previous year. One of her clients among many was Iron Chef Jose Garces, overseeing his social media, graphics and special events. After Ed’s move, he began working for Grassroots Marketer full-time.

In May of 2016, Laura and Ed learned of the closing of Steel City Coffeehouse in downtown Phoenixville, and instead of allowing this icon of the community to disappear, they decided to become the fifth proprietor.

When they first opened, the need to hire a chef was at the top of the list. After many discussions and encouragement from Ed — Laura an excellent home cook — they felt she would be able to handle the job, so they decided to give it a trial run. Well, she is still cooking nearly two years later, with the addition of two other cooks who follow her lead. This is along with her creating a new and ever-changing menu.

Under the guidance of Laura and Ed, Steel City has grown to be a cultural hub of Phoenixville. The menu offers a tasty and appealing array of delicious homemade foods, beverages, pastries and sweets and entertainment.

Steel City Coffeehouse host the area’s most popular open mic night, with weekly concerts of some of the best original acts with touring artists. All ages are welcomed and at home at Steel City. Family game nights and free family events are offered, as well free storytimes each Tuesday at 10 a.m. Customers have become family, and many have made it their daily workplace.

The hours are long, as they open mornings at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. (seven days a week) with the kitchen closing at 2 p.m., along with dinner when evening events are scheduled.

When they have a chance, they like to relax with their two furry kids, their dogs, Zelda and Pepper. They enjoy walks along the canal near their home.

Yes, Laura still loves to cook at home and shares with us a favorite recipe.

Stuffed Mushrooms — Vegetarian

20 crimini mushrooms (also known as baby bellas or browns) — discard stems and wipe off mushrooms with dry cloth

1 cup Italian breadcrumbs

½ cup of grated Locatelli cheese (use vegan cheese to make this a vegan dish!)

1 bunch of asparagus (chopped into small pieces, include tips)

½ cup of seitan or tofu — very small pieces, lightly salted and peppered

Olive oil

In a large frying pan with olive oil, sauté asparagus, meat substitute (seitan or tofu), grated cheese and breadcrumbs on medium heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stuff crimini mushrooms with above mixture.

Place stuffed mushrooms in a shallow baking pan. Add a small amount of water to bottom of pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, uncovered. Sprinkle a small amount of your favorite cheese on mushrooms.

Let cool for five minutes before serving.


Let Bette Banjack hear from you: Search YouTube for “Look Who’s Cooking with Bette Banjack,” as well (search bar: Banjack) for this column. Find Bette on Facebook by searching “Bette Banjack’s Downtown Kitchen.” Her book, “2 Cups of Yesterday,” is available at Gateway Pharmacy or by contacting her.

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