34 Fabulous Food Finds
Winter — especially a Central Pennsylvania one — can leave us all in a rut, trudging through our days and eating the same meals over and over. But have no fear, spring is here! At least when it comes to food. Our fifth annual Fabulous Food Finds includes delectable dishes from area restaurants, both old and new. Maybe you’ll find your new comfort food, or perhaps you’ll discover the taste you’ve been longing for all winter. Either way, feast your eyes on this year’s 34 picks — and then dig in!
Everything you have heard about this place is true. It is absolutely worth the drive to the Big Valley. Take a carload of friends for a unique dining experience — the plates are great for sharing. Or, make a reservation for a perfect date night. Begin with the Bread and Bone ($11). The richness of the marrow cooked in the bone and topped with short ribs is perfectly balanced by the brightness of a fresh herb salad with radish and preserved lemon. Scoop up the creaminess with Gemelli sourdough. End on a sweet note with the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake ($7). Spiced and sweet, hot and cold, this dessert is packed with dates, walnuts, dried cherries, raisins and toffee sauce and topped with Meyer Dairy vanilla ice cream.
BACKGROUND BITES: The menu here is always changing to reflect the seasons. Chef Quintin Wicks and his business partner and wife, Liz Hoffner, work closely with their farmer neighbors for their sourcing. You may even discover morels, ramps and nettles on the menu — this chef loves to forage for wild delicacies and put them on the table. Seven Mountains Winery offers a tasting bar in the rear of the restaurant. Wine is available for purchase; BYO beer or other alcoholic beverages. No outside wine. The restaurant will be closed until March 29 for a much-deserved vacation — but they’ll start taking reservations again on March 6. Revival Kitchen, 6 N. Main St., Reedsville, revivalkitchen.com
The baristas here garner “oohs and ahhhs” a-plenty for their Lattes ($4). Be sure to admire the lovely art before taking your first sip of this espresso and steamed milk treat. For a healthy and satisfying snack, this place crushes with their Avocado Toast ($3.50). A generous layer of avocado is smeared over arugula, topped with olive oil and chia seeds, and served on a hearty slice of Dante’s multigrain bread. When you aren’t feeling coffee or tea, the smoothies here are more than a popular recovery drink; they are well balanced with just the right amount of sweet. Try the Protein Berry Shake ($6) made to order with your choice of almond, coconut or regular milk and peanut or almond butter.
BACKGROUND BITES: It seems the grit it takes to be world-class BMX bikers transfers to making an excellent cup of coffee for Jamie Bestwick and Ronnie Napolitan — the guys who run the show here. For their newest Kenyan roast, they sampled, roasted (all coffees are roasted in house), cupped, and tasted 30 different varieties before nailing the one they believe will really “shine.” This same thought and attention is reflected in the rustic/industrial design of the shop that is always buzzing — table sharing is encouraged here. Rothrock Coffee, 1736 S. Atherton St., rothrockcoffee.com
Harrison’s Wine Grill & Catering
Featuring fresh and local, meat and vegetarian dishes, seafood and steak, this is the place that will please all palates. Try the Mini Crabcakes ($8). These bites are deviled and served boardwalk style with a garlic-dill aioli. For a decadent vegetarian entrée, we recommend the Wild Mushroom and Chevre Pappardelle ($19.50). This uber-local dish is made with wide ribbons of Fasta & Ravioli Co. pasta, a sauté of PA mushrooms and a cream Marsala wine sauce with herbs and chevre from Byler Goat Dairy. The name of this pasta is derived from the verb “pappare,” meaning “to gobble up” or “to eat hungrily” — which is impossible not to do when you order this dish.
BACKGROUND BITES: Harrison’s is famous for their soups, but you already know that — you voted them as the winner in our Best Of 2016 (and many years before that). The butternut bisque is an all-time favorite. Harrison’s also won best caterer in town for the 13th year in a row in 2016. The mango salsa is reason enough to have a catered event. Harrison’s Wine Grill & Catering, 1221 E. College Ave., harrisonsmenu.com
Friends & Farmers Cooperative Online Market
This is the new way to shop for everything local. From meats to dairy, breads to coffee and even self-care products, you need to hop online and see for yourself what is available with just a few clicks. Here are three must haves for your next order: The Mesclun Mix ($5.20) from Tait Farm has been selling out in recent weeks for good reason. The zippy mix of fresh-cut baby leaf mustards, arugula, kale, mizuna and tatsoi is like a taste of summer on the plate. Clover Creek Cheese Cellar’s Alpha & Omega Cheese ($3.90 for 1⁄3 lb.) is a sharp and salty cow milk feta. Its crumbly texture makes it an ideal salad topper. Finish your salad with a few drizzles of olive oil, salt and pepper and a few splashes of Tait Farm Beet Shrub ($9.01). The earthy beet flavor also mixes well in cocktails — think beet and bourbon or a beet gin fizz.
BACKGROUND BITES: Become a member of the Friends & Farmers Cooperative to get the best prices in the online market and to take our community closer to opening a brick and mortar store with local and fresh foods every day of the week. The ordering period for the online market is Friday at noon through Monday at noon. Schedule your order for delivery to your doorstep for an additional $5 or pick up at the State College Friends School or The Meetinghouse on Atherton on Tuesdays. friendsandfarmers.coop/online_market
Dolce Vita Desserts
This sweet shop is a true local gem, preparing desserts to enjoy in the shop with a warm drink or to order for special occasions or celebrations. Owner Mary Hilliard bakes with recipes passed down from her mother and her grandmother, preparing everything in house and from scratch. When you need just a bite or two of something sweet, go for the Cake Truffles ($15 a dozen). These cute bite-sized cakes are dipped in chocolate and come in several varieties, some red velvet and some topped with almonds. When you can’t decide between the cannoli and the cupcake, go for the Cannoli Cupcakes ($3 each/$30 a dozen). Be warned, if you spot them at a party, grab one quick — they don’t last long. Special for March are the Chocolate Stout Cupcakes ($3 each/$30 a dozen). With stout beer whipped into the batter and Baileys Irish Cream buttercream frosting, this boozy cupcake makes the perfect Saint Paddy’s Day treat.
BACKGROUND BITES: Big news — Hilliard is thrilled to have just moved from her Lemont shop into a new space on Commercial Boulevard with plenty of room for hosting parties and gatherings of all kinds. Think cake decorating parties and more. Dolce Vita Desserts, 2490 Commercial Blvd., dvdesserts.com
When you step inside this cozy spot, you may think you’ve arrived in Japan. This is not your typical State College dining experience. The food is authentic and fun. The Hirata Buns ($8) — two steamed buns with pork and a spicy mayo — are dangerously delicious. For deep fried goodness, the Potato Shrimp ($10) will cover your crunchy, soft, sweet and salty craving. The chef special roll Anger Dragon ($16) arrives at your table in flames. Seared beef with a teriyaki yuzu sauce tops this roll filled with tempura shrimp, avocado, cucumber and asparagus.
BACKGROUND BITES: Check the specials board and don’t be afraid to try the octopus. This is the kind of place where you can order as you go — try a few things and if you are still hungry, order more. Takeout is an option for everything but the ramen. BYOB. Tadashi, 206 W. College Ave., tadashipa.com
Spats Café & Speakeasy
This should be your downtown go-to for service that is always on point and a menu with choices to suit your mood. If you are out for drinks and nibbles, the Charcuterie and Cheeses ($22) is made for sharing. Enjoy a generous spread of house-made andouille and alligator sausages, duck smoked in house, Maytag blue, Manchego and local farm smoked cheddar. Accompanied with sliced melon, Marcona almonds, Tait Farm apple pepper jelly, pesto aioli, Creole mustard and crusty bread, this plate brings together the smoky, sweet, spicy and creamy. Go big for dinner with the Blackened Jurgielewicz Farm Duck Breast ($32). Finished with bleu cream and balsamic syrup, this dish is served with cheese grits and a vegetable. The duck is from a sustainable PA farm and lived a happy free-roaming life in Shartlesville.
BACKGROUND BITES: Owners Duke and Monica Gastiger bring their hearts to their work in the restaurant business and take responsible sourcing seriously. They work closely with local producers and order regularly from Green Heron Farm, Goot Essa Cheeses and Tait Farm, among others. Monday nights are BYO wine night! Spats Café & Speakeasy, 142 E. College Ave., spatscafe.com
Webster’s Bookstore Café
More than books, coffee, music and community gathering, this place has just welcomed back superstar April Meyers to its kitchen. Meyers works magic with her melts served with a savory, sometimes spicy or pickled, veggie side. The Yemaya Melt ($10) features Meyers’ signature Yemaya spread, tart cranberries, spinach, a nutty swiss and “thai-hini,” melted to perfection on house-made focaccia. Local and marinated Portabello mushrooms are the star in the Mushroom Melt ($9) topped with pesto and provolone and sandwiched between perfectly baked rosemary focaccia.
BACKGROUND BITES: Look for the Three Eyed Buddha coffee, the smoothest medium roast you will ever try. They brew it three times a week, just to keep it special. Be sure to check the events calendar if you wish to enjoy your coffee and food with live music and poetry readings. And if you want to get involved in community action, this is the place to get plugged in. Webster’s is also catering vegetarian lunches ($7.95) on Mondays and Wednesdays at nearby Yoga Lab for a “Power Lunch” after a one-hour yoga class starting at noon. Webster’s Bookstore Café, 133 E. Beaver Ave., webstersbooksandcafe.com
Tucked away in East Calder Alley, this funky little spot is worth the visit. Vintage sofas and chairs fill the upstairs and downstairs space along with brightly colored art for a South American vibe. For breakfast, order the Arepa de Huevo ($3.50) for an egg delightfully fried into a cornmeal pocket. The Empanadas ($2.25 or 3 for $6) are a go-to for any time of day and are made with beef, pork, chicken or black bean. The presentation is especially sweet with salsa verde served on the side with a tiny spoon.
BACKGROUND BITES: The aim of this family business is to bring a taste of true Colombian coffee and cuisine to State College. All of the coffee here comes from Café Jesús Martín in Colombia, where most beans are sourced from Martín’s farm. Barranquero offers an extensive pour-over menu — choose a flavor profile to fit your palate. Barranquero Café, 324 E. Calder Way, barranquerocafe.com
Properly pronounced pee-duh, this place serves up Turkish pizza with toppings of your choice including veggies, fresh herbs, mozzarella and marinated meats. The biggest difference from American pizza is there’s no sauce and the toppings are folded just slightly under the crust edges of this football-shaped pie. Try the Kusbasili Lamb Pide ($9.95) served warm and fresh from the oven on a wooden board. The lamb is wonderfully seasoned and tender and makes the perfect pizza topping along with red peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes.
BACKGROUND BITES: Owner Sait Satici also owns Penn Kebab. There is no fuss to his establishments, just authentic Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine. Indulge him when he suggests you try the Turkish tea, authentically brewed and poured into a pretty glass with a tiny spoonful of sugar. Beyond the pides, curried chicken, rice, vegetable and potato dishes are featured in the specials that change daily and are very popular with regular customers. Penn Pide, 127 W. Beaver Ave., 814.954.7136
Elk Creek Café + Aleworks
Sunday brunch here is excuse enough for a Sunday drive — or bike ride into town. You will savor every gooey bite of the Eggs Benedict ($14.75) made with local Cow-a-Hen Farm smoked ham, caramelized onions and house-made hollandaise sauce. The Elk Creek Breakfast Burrito ($8.50) will become something you will try to recreate in your own kitchen when you can’t make it to brunch, packed with scrambled eggs, bacon, Fontina cheese and a spicy sour cream. Both dishes are served with crispy potatoes so good it’s impossible not to clean your plate. Proprietor Tim Bowser recommends the “very brunchable” Elk Creek Black Ale or the Big Trout Oat Stout. Don’t leave before picking up a 22-ounce bottle of the famed bourbon barrel-aged Prince’s Porter ($13.50) as it makes its first bottled appearance.
BACKGROUND BITES: Big windows, a beautifully crafted wood bar and lots of art fills this space with warmth and light. Brunch is served Sundays only from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Brewer Tim Yarrington makes delicious miracles happen in the onsite brewery, and now you can take these brews home in a bottle to be enjoyed at a later time or given as a gift. Elk Creek Café + Aleworks, 100 W. Main St., Millheim, elkcreekcafe.com
Barrel 21 Distillery & Dining
We think it’s safe to say that this place has found its groove. The space invites sophistication and romance, with its high ceilings, tall windows and dramatic lighting. It’s fun to have a dinner spot in town that makes you want to wear heels. Intrigued by the drink description which included “a few secrets and time,” we found the Barrel-Aged Manhattan ($8) to be spot on. The Smoked Deviled Eggs ($5) are beautifully topped with crispy Hogs Galore bacon, fried capers and paprika. The Seafood Chowder ($6) is comfort food at its finest. The breadbasket here is a treat in itself, with flame-heated herbed butter and a mix of pretzel rolls and biscuits — it offers several perfect options for scooping the last bits of chowder.
BACKGROUND BITES: When it comes to spirits here, local is regularly in the recipe. “We are really trying to focus on using raw ingredients from PA when possible,” explains distiller Mike Smith. He works with small farms near Bedford in sourcing corn and rye varieties that are sought after for their character that carries over into the distilled spirit. Coming soon — more spirits made from local fruits. Barrel 21 Distillery & Dining, 2255 N. Atherton St., barrel21distillery.com
Whether you choose the wrap-around front porch, back patio or a cozy spot inside, this café oozes charm from each of its little nooks. It’s impressive what this tiny kitchen makes from scratch. They bake a mean Scone ($2.25) with flavors ranging from chocolate pecan to maple on a day-to-day whim. For an adventurous coffee alternative (or if you’ve got a hint of a cold coming on), ask for the Itzamna’s Choco Maté Latte ($4). This spicy tea blend from Pantheon Teas contains some cayenne, which is especially nice when made with Meyer Dairy chocolate milk and a drizzle of honey. And the Curried Egg Salad Sandwich ($5.75) is a favorite here with a nice play of flavors and textures, served on sourdough toast.
BACKGROUND BITES: Café Lemont’s coffee is excellent and roasted in house. The servers are always wonderfully friendly and will bring your order to you as you settle in to a good book or conversation with a friend. Café Lemont, 921 Pike St., Lemont, cafelemont.net
Plaza Mexican Bar & Grill
This is a fun and family-friendly place on the south side of town. It’s worth a visit just to enjoy a few Mexican beers and the Table Side Guacamole ($7.99). It’s an interactive and entertaining experience as you choose what and how much to add to your avocados — with lime, onion, tomato, cilantro and jalapeño options. Enjoy it with house-made tortilla chips and salsa. The menu here is huge: We recommend sticking with the Steak Fajitas ($14.99). Who doesn’t love a sizzling plate of steak strips, peppers and onions to be folded into tortillas with all the fixings?
BACKGROUND BITES: The service here is very friendly, fast and accommodating, which makes it a good spot for large parties. Plaza Mexican Bar & Grill, 1550 S. Atherton St., 814.954.7451 • SCM