Inspired by the many Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, we took the our main logo and transformed it into a new Hex Sign that will be used as this year’s award.
This year has seen another huge increase in central Pennsylvania’s vegetarian and vegan restaurant choices. The winners are all local, limited to the counties that are touched by the keystone center of our state (illustrated at the bottom of this page.) The 2013 Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards recognize the year’s best vegetarian foods available by highlighting a few menu items from restaurants we have been able to visit. The annual Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards and past winners are described in further detail at this link.
This year, the categories include region’s best Appetizer, Bakery, Chili, Veggie Burger, Portobello, Soup, Specials, and Vegetarian Restaurant. Extra focus is put on those restaurants that use local ingredients and create as much as possible in-house.
Happy Valley Brewing Company
State College, PA
Opening in the last quarter year, Happy Valley Brewing Company takes the award for Best Appetizer. With choices on their young menu listed as “Killer Apps” and “Pub Grub” vegetarians don’t want to overlook what they also have listed as “Sides.” The huge warm Jumbo Pretzels and the plate of Rosemary Garlic Fries are both impressive but it is The Mason Jar that takes this award. Nicely priced and presented in style, The Mason Jar’s “House Pickled Seasonal Vegetables” come out with a side of locally baked Gemelli crackers. In a brine that is not too tart nor syrupy, the lightly pickled veggies come out in a squat mason jar and are as varied as a hand full of gems from Aladdin’s cave. Turnips, green beans, and other thinly sliced root vegetables are snuggled in with a few capers, garlic cloves, baby onions and hot peppers that provide seasoning. The dense cracker makes for a pleasing vehicle or dipped directly into the pickle juice. It is what an appetizer should be, far more than an amuse-bouche but not a meal on its own. The Mason Jar is great by itself and makes you want to order more from the rest of the menu.
Spruce Creek Bakery
Spruce Creek, PA
I think it was about 3 years ago we took my parents to Spruce Creek Bakery’s first open house. They impressed us as genuinely pleasing individuals and we were excited for their new business. Mid 2012 I learned that they were regularly making vegan doughnuts and I treated myself to a couple after my first 16 mile training run and was really impressed. Since then, they have started regularly suppyling weekly vegan delights to at least one State College restaurant (Otto’s Pub and Brewery on Wednesdays). From pumpkin and apple pies to vegan cheese cakes and chocolate torts, Spruce Creek Bakery has never failed to please the vegan palette. We find ourselves eating dessert first on Wednesdays! Call ahead to see what they have in their shop that is vegan or gluten free.
Consistently outstanding for years, Bullfrog Brewery takes the award for Best Chili this year. Their Habanero Veggie Chili is house made and has an initial pleasant beer flavor that adds a really special quality to it. Be aware, the heat grows on you! Spicy enough that you notice but so flavorful that you keep dipping your spoon back in for more. The lentils, black beans, garbanzos, tomato chunks, onions, celery and carrot shreds balance out the spiciest vegetarian chili in our region. We have enjoyed it piled on their nachos and sitting atop their Veggie Chili Salad (yes – salad!)
BEST VEGGIE BURGER
Yorkholo Brewing Co.
When we give an award, it is my goal to try to find something that can beat it the next year. What a treat it was to return to Yorkholo Brewing Co. this year to find they had added so many more vegetarian menu items. They were all very good with the Tofu Bites being a real hit at our table. Determined not to be distracted, it was my focus was to see if their Black Bean and Spent Grain Veggie Burger would still beat out the same contenders. It was additionally tough coming up against Chef Andrew Monk’s new Quarter Pound Beet Burger and tres jolie Vegan Sliders that the Nittany Lion Inn from State College had debuted in early summer. Yorkholo’s burger of black beans, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and onions blended with spent grain, peppers & bread crumbs were exactly as I remembered, best in all of central Pennsylvania. Congratulations Yorkholo Brewing Co. for holding on to your title!
Happy Valley Brewing Company
State College, PA
Only my husband knows how many portobello sandwiches and salad toppers I have eaten over the past few years. Always trying to find one better than the reigning champion, if a restaurant in central PA has a portobello on their menu I am obliged to try it even if I am not in the mood. Some are nicely marinated but lack something, a few have been grilled just right but the seasoning was flat or nonexistent. This was an award that I thought was certainly going to the same restaurant (Luna 2 Woodgrill) for the third year in a row. Just before Halloween, Happy Valley Brewing Company opened and what do I see on their menu? A Grilled Portabella Sandwich. It was with little hope that I raised the sourdough sandwich with roasted tomatoes, sprouts, and pickled onion and grilled mushroom to my mouth. I took a bite, as did my husband. We looked at each other with wide eyes and I started to cry. I know it sounds like the silliest thing but our waiter saw it and probably thought I was a bit crazy. I was crying over the passing of the title of an old champion to a new one. It was the Best Portobello I have ever eaten and I have returned to sample it more than 3 times since. Seasoned and woodgrilled like the winner of years past but a serious notch above. It is honestly like a vegetarian steak that has been marinated cooked to perfection.
Cherry Alley Cafe
It is hard to compare soups; a Pumpkin Curry Bisque is very different from a Chilled Gazpacho. In categories like Best Soup we have to consider if a restaurant has vegetarian soup that is regularly offered. This year, no restaurant in central PA guaranteed a house made vegetarian soup every day it was open. What we had to do was then compare how regularly it was available and the quality of what was served when we could get it. Cherry Alley Cafe has only once not had a vegetarian soup and I had called ahead (as their menu suggests) therefore we did not waste a trip. Each soup I have had there has been proper temperature, served quickly and been delicious! I know that not every veggie soup Cherry Alley Cafe serves is vegan but it has been my luck that they have been when I visit. The soup in the photo is a vegan White Bean, Tomato & Kale Soup that had big slices of nutty garlic in it and seasoned with the perfect amount of thyme. It was a chilly day and it blissfully warmed me to my toes.
Otto’s Pub & Brewery
State College, PA
If I could take up this whole post with the very best photos of vegan food I have eaten out all year, it would be of the many weekly Wednesday Specials at Otto’s Pub & Brewery. Trying to decide on just one photo that represents all of the varied menu items and flavors that Otto’s presented this past year was difficult (and had me drooling as I viewed them). Stuffed Peppers, House Made Kale Chips, Tempeh Fajitas and Tacos, as well as Deep-fried Vegan Raviolis photos were like a virtual gustatory trip down memory lane. I settled on Collard-style Kale with Red Beans and Rice. It was a dish that fit the large white plate well and the choices were complimentary. The starch was well-chosen to balance the collard style dressing on the well massaged kale as they do in true southern cooking. I would have to travel well outside of my dear Pennsyltucky region to find vegetarian specials like these. Wednesdays at Otto’s Pub & Brewery are like a vacation without having to leave our own region.
BEST VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT
Too new to rate last year, let’s welcome The Seed to our region with hearty congratulations for being the Best Vegetarian Restaurant! By starting with an Indigogo campaign, this collective of individuals brags to being the “First and only worker owned and operated community space and vegetarian cafe. “
What we found was a real haven for anyone wanting a casual, meat-free space with young pleasant staff that is ready, willing and able to veganize any sandwich you order. They have multiple tea blends, organic kombucha on tap and an answer for any question I could come up with without taking the conversation over with their own agenda. The bright and clean dining and communing area has ample comfortable seating and is on the second floor. It has a walk up sandwich counter with a pleasant and casually disarming staff. The walls are decorated with local art for sale and shelves stocked with books and a Twister game that could be played on their brightly colored floors. The Wifi is free with a password and the climate was well controlled with ceiling fans and air conditioning. The edgy Indie rhythms rounded out a bit of a hipster mood but us old-timers felt very welcome. Shoot, any local place that brags that it will soon be composting gets my attention.
The food was fresh and very flavorful. The portions were decent and the prices very reasonable. The above right photo is a veganized version of their Cuban Sandwich. It was a pannini pressed sandwich which was crusty and warm healthy portions of thick seitan, sour pickles melty Daiya Mozzerella, a nice smear of mustard. We also got The Reuben (photo left) which was also heated on the panini press. It was on a seeded rye with a nice ratio of components, Daiya Mozzerella, multiple thin slices of warm tofu, a Russian dressing, and sauerkraut. The side of Cucumber Salad that came with each was fresh, light and well made. It wasn’t a cop-out like a few carrot sticks or small bunch of grapes. Every component was well prepared.
Last year The Seed was planted and it has now grown into the Best Vegetarian Restaurant in the central PA. Well done!
Congratulations to all 2013 Pennsyltucky Veggie Award winners! See links below map if you want to be considered for 2014.
Do you know of a Pennsyltucky restaurant or menu item that you think should be considered in 2014? If it’s in central PA (see map above) and is a regular vegetarian menu item, let me know and I will include it in the judging next year! Drop me, Pennsyltucky Veggie, a line or feel free to leave a comment on any of the awards pages!