2016-03-01 / Features

38 Fabulous Food Finds and Creative Cocktails

Maggie Anderson | photos by Matt Fern

While we don’t always get the latest food trends right away (Where is our gourmet doughnut shop?), the State College food scene has something not even big cities always have — chefs, restaurateurs and diners who care deeply about quality, local ingredients. The “Eat Local” mentality has taken hold here, connecting area farmers with restaurants and customers with deliciousness. And it’s that mentality that has us researching all year to bring you a new list of Fabulous Food Finds — all right here, down the street or in the next town over, waiting for you and your fork.

The Bacrey at Ardry Farms
Sam Doan has been baking for a while, but it was just last year that she began her solo business in earnest. One of her best-selling items is the Everything Bar ($2), which uses peanut butter and oats to corral nuts, dried berries, seeds and more in a dense and delicious pocket-sized bar. For something a little sweeter, try the Pecan Pie Bars ($3), a decadent take on the classic pie that uses brown rice syrup in place of traditional corn syrup. And for an update on a grocery store goodie, she makes Oatmeal Cream Pies ($1.50) from cookies that rival anything your grandmother ever made.

BACKGROUND BITES: Doan and her husband, Mark Ardry of Ardry Farms, sell their wares at the Tuesday Boalsburg Farmers Market, which moves inside St. John’s United Church of Christ for winter, as well as through the Friends & Farmers Cooperative Online Market. In the summer, they’re also at the North Atherton Farmers Market, where Doan will switch from fall and winter goodies to more summery ones, like her uber-popular popsicles. You can also place special orders directly with her. The Bacrey at Ardry Farms,

Mario’s Italian Restaurant
Chef Gary Waite has been cooking classic Italian fare for more than a decade, and if it’s been that long since you stepped inside Mario’s, it’s time for another visit. Start with the Tomato “Parmigiana” Soup ($6), a treasure trove of pesto and mozzarella floating in a creamy tomato bisque. Another antipasto, the Stuffed Italian Peppers ($9), features sausage from Hog’s Galore along with prosciutto and Asiago cheese stuffed into bright green peppers and swimming in a perfect Neapolitan sauce. Save room for dessert, because Dante’s Pastry Chef DaVee Harned makes a mean Gelato ($4) in classic flavors like strawberry and pistachio, as well as modern concoctions like basil lemon.

BACKGROUND BITES: Lunch is a great time to visit Mario’s, but the real deal happens Monday nights with half-priced wine selections by the bottle and glass and $5 appetizers. Mario’s Italian Restaurant, 1272 North Atherton St.,

Local Whiskey
Fear not the downtown bar — this one skews a little older, with subway tile echoing the décor trends of New York and drinks that hearken back to the heyday of the cocktail. The food could be classified as updated comfort food — take the Grilled Cheese with Tomato Soup ($9), for example. The sandwich boasts three cheeses — fontina, American and cheddar — on thick Texas toast, and the soup has a deep roasted flavor. For a unique pairing, General Manager Tim Riefel created the Chupacabra ($10), a drink featuring blanco tequila, Green Chartreuse, serrano honey syrup, muddled basil and an egg white, all shaken to perfection.

BACKGROUND BITES: Go early to avoid a collegiate crowd, if that concerns you. You can also get classic Phyrst menu items like Ernie’s Cheesesteaks and Stanley’s Wonder Wings in a classier setting. And there’s a great lunch special — $5 for a burger, fries and soda, though you’ll want to add a cocktail when you start reading the bar menu. Local Whiskey, 107 E. Beaver Ave.,

Meyer Dairy
Sure, everyone knows about the amazing ice cream at Meyer Dairy, but there’s another State College classic on the menu — the Mexi-Hot ($1.80), a chili dog with mustard and onion. It’s simple but effective and pairs well with a nice chocolate malted.

BACKGROUND BITES: You know the deal — fresh, local milk and ice cream that has garnered a vocal following. Some things change, some remain the same, and Meyer Dairy is still cash only. We wouldn’t want it any other way. Meyer Dairy, 2390 S. Atherton St.,

Kamrai Thai and Sushi House
It may still look like The Victorian Manor, but the cuisine that has been coming out of Kamrai since it opened in 2013 is both Thai and Japanese — and all the better for it. Gorgeous rolls like the Lobster Bomb Roll ($26) look like works of art, but you’ll eat every bit, including the extra lobster tempura that gets rolled into sushi with avocado, cucumber, asparagus and masago and topped with bomb sauce. The Orange Dragon Roll ($16) is a bit smaller but just as beautiful with salmon draped over the top and eel and avocado inside. For a more decadent take on an Asian classic, order the Crab Fried Rice ($15.95).

BACKGROUND BITES: Kamrai is only open for dinner during the week, but as the days get longer, sitting on the sun porch overlooking Pike Street is a great way to end the day. Don’t forget to bring your own booze — Kamrai remains BYOB. Kamrai Thai & Sushi House, 901 Pike St., Lemont, 814.777.2298

Mamma Lucrezia’s Italian Restaurant
We may have our share of pizza places in Centre County, but when one starts putting together pies like Mamma Lucrezia’s Chicken Marsala Pizza ($15), you know something new is in the works. The pizza is topped with chicken, garlic, mushrooms, caramelized onions, mozzarella, arugula and a marsala reduction — a perfect way to update a classic dish.

BACKGROUND BITES: Since the restaurant was part of the TV show Restaurant: Impossible, it’s gotten a makeover — the interior features a modern décor with classic touches that’s welcoming and cozy. If you want a glass of vino with your Italian fare, remember to bring your own — Mamma’s is BYOB. Mamma Lucrezia’s Italian Restaurant, 136 S. Allegheny St., Bellefonte,

My My Chicken
Open for just three months, the newest chicken game in town already has somewhat of a fan club. Whether it’s the original Fried Chicken ($11 for half a bird) made authentically in pressure fryers or the Korean-style My My Chicken ($7 for 6 pieces), something good is happening in the takeout outpost in the Westerly Parkway Plaza. The extra-crispy My My Chicken can be wings or breast meat and have one of two sauces: Col. Ling (a little less spicy than Gen. Tso) or ’Murica. And what’s fried chicken without some Macaroni & Cheese ($7-$12) made with a proprietary blend of cheeses — one of which is goat cheese, giving the dish a pleasant tang.

BACKGROUND BITES: Although the My My team updated the new spot nicely, this is a takeout only place, and you have to call ahead to order. But usually your chicken can be ready in 20 minutes and will stay hot for even a 30-minute commute. Last month, they started serving lunch, featuring fried chicken on sandwiches and in salads. My My Chicken, 536 Westerly Parkway,

Gigi’s Southern Table
After spending some years searching for an identity, Gigi’s has really hit its stride. From Southern classics like the Shrimp & Grits appetizer ($11) to updated bites like the High-South Sliders ($12), which feature baby crab cakes and grown-up flavors, the Southern-inspired menu delivers on taste — as does the cool décor. And as far as bars go, this one’s a real winner, bringing in professionals of all ages to try newly designed “garden in a glass” drinks, like The Schroot ($8), a mix of Big Spring Spirits beet-infused vodka, thyme simple syrup and lemon with a fresh thyme garnish.

BACKGROUND BITES: The crew at Gigi’s is constantly innovating, whether it’s bringing metropolitan mixology trends to their bar or elevating Southern fare for Northern palates. They have a Saturday brunch (one of the only in town not on Sunday) and happy hours every day of the week. Gigi’s Southern Table, 2080 Cato Ave.,

The Field Burger & Tap
Taking over the old Down Under Steak House spot and taking on the national trend of pumped-up burgers and shakes, The Field is definitely revamping the Toftrees resort. The Chesapeake Burger ($18) tops a wagyu beef patty with a jumbo lump crab cake for surf and turf on a bun. Or for a new take on buffalo wings, try the Smoked Buffalo Chicken Soup ($7), which basically deconstructs the bar food favorite into pulled chicken that gets covered with buffalo-flavored soup, on top of which floats a bleu cheese-topped crostini. And to complement it all, the Salted Caramel Pretzel Shake ($10) makes a classic new again, with caramel vodka and crushed pretzels taking milkshakes to new heights.

BACKGROUND BITES: The Field is focused on using ingredients from local farms, including Gemelli bread and Amish cheeses. Much of the décor has been repurposed from area barns, and art by Centre Region artists will soon grace the walls. There’s a rotating selection of Pennsylvania beers, and when the weather gets warm, the outdoor patios are sure to be a hot spot. The Field Burger & Tap, 1 Country Club Lane,

The Tavern Restaurant
A mainstay in the downtown dining scene since 1948, you may think you’ve eaten everything at The Tavern. And maybe you have, but if you haven’t tried the Seafood Lasagna ($19), you’re missing out. The weekend special features layers and layers of cream sauce and snow crab, shrimp and scallops for a truly decadent dish. For something a little less rich but equally indulgent, try the Escargot ($11), which are just as you’d expect at a French bistro. And for a real classic, sip on the Original Sin ($7), a delicious drink made with cherry brandy, triple sec, sours and champagne. That drink has been around since 1982 — Tavern manager John Leedy served it as a punch at the bar’s grand opening, and it was so popular it has been on the menu ever since.

BACKGROUND BITES: The seafood lasagna is only available Friday and Saturday, but there’s always a table in the big, historic Tavern. Adam’s Apple, the bar in the back, is super cozy during the winter months, with a large, open fireplace perfect for cuddling in front of. The Tavern Restaurant, 220 E. College Ave.,

American Ale House
Chef Gus Aranguiz understands modern American cuisine — and now you can watch the magic happen. With a new open kitchen in the revamped dining room, you can see what goes on all those beautiful plates, like the Farmers Market Beets ($9.50), which features beets cooked five different ways and surrounded by ricotta, honeycomb, sorrel, grapefruit and pistachios. For more small plates of deliciousness, try the Fresh Sheepsmilk Ricotta ($9), toasts topped with ricotta, serrano ham and tomato jam, or the ingenious Crispy Octopus BLT ($14) with charred octopus, deep-fried pork belly and green goddess dressing. Finish it all up with the Kobe Sliders ($13), three perfect little burgers, and if you have room, try the new in-house dessert menu.

BACKGROUND BITES: Post-construction, the Ale House’s entrance is around the corner from the old one — but still off the lovely shaded deck. If it’s still wintry outside, a sun porch filled with tables might be just the thing. Of course, if you’re going to see Tommy Wareham, the piano bar serves the same food, just a different atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights. American Ale House, 821 Cricklewood Drive,

Barrel 21 Distillery & Dining
The new venture from the Otto’s folks has taken State College by storm — and that is, of course, due to Chef Lisa Palermo’s inventive tapas menu. Given free rein, she gives “fusion” back its good name, creating small plates like Sake Braised Little Neck Clams ($12), which swim in a too-good-to-be-true broth along with crispy pork belly. The House Smoked Duck Spring Roll ($8) is a favorite, as is the delectable Spicy Korean-Style Gochujang Meatballs ($9), which are served over coconut-bamboo rice. Even Palermo’s Balsamic Charred Brussels Sprouts ($7) are something special when paired with preserved lemon and toasted walnuts.

BACKGROUND BITES: Step inside Barrel 21, and you almost immediately feel like you’re not in State College anymore. And you can have that respite at lunch as well — the menu features sandwiches and salads that are a take on some of the dinner menu items. As for the distillery part? You can now sample and buy two Barrel 21 concoctions — a light rum and an apple eau de vie. Barrel 21 Distillery & Dining, 2255 N. Atherton St.,

Big Spring Spirits
Thursdays are a little indulgent at Big Spring — you can sip on delicious cocktails while listening to “throwback” records and dipping bread and vegetables into hot melted cheese. The Dutch Cheese Fondue for Two ($18) is only available on Thursdays, but it’s as good a night as any for a melting pot of gouda, swiss, 7 Governors’ Gin and caraway seeds. As March comes in like a lion, brush your winter blues away with a Bellefonte Coffee ($8), Big Spring’s take on an Irish coffee made with their barrel-aged rum and Tallyrand cream bourbon. As the month goes out like a lamb, sip on a Petal Pusher ($8), a gin drink available in lavender or rose and just in time for spring.

BACKGROUND BITES: Chef Mark Johnson is making the most of his corner kitchen in the tasting room, creating constantly changing menus that center on classic flavors in new forms. On Sundays, he offers a three-course prix fixe menu that will change monthly. Big Spring Spirits, 198 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte,

Kelly’s Steak & Seafood
Kelly’s often wins “Best Steak” and “Best Seafood” in our annual “Best Of” reader survey, but they’ve won “Best Burger,” too, and we’d bet the Kobe Burger ($11) is part of the reason why. The peppercorn-crusted Kobe patty topped with wasabi aioli and crispy pickled red onion is a perfect combination. Speaking of perfect, the Warm Brie with Macadamia Nut Crust ($10) is an excellent way to start any meal, though you may find it difficult to share.

BACKGROUND BITES: As it warms up, take advantage of Kelly’s outdoor deck and patio for some much-needed sunny R&R. In addition to an award-winning wine list, the bar also features multiple local brews on tap and a friendly crowd of loyal locals. Kelly’s Steak & Seafood, 316 Boal Ave., Boalsburg,

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