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Sometimes I don’t have the time to review a whole restaurant but want to highlight an item on their menu. Within a restaurant review I will hopefully go into detail about a menu item or two.

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2012 – Best Specials

Lovely, local, labeled, and low-cost; wrap your vegan head around this typical Wednesday menu of specials at Otto’s Pub and Brewery in State College.

Chilled Tait Farm Cantaloupe Soup (Vegan)
Green Beans
Greek (Vegan)

(Vegan and Available All Day) Battered and Fried Tofu Served with a spicy Thai peanut sauce and a house grown lemon cucumber pickle.
Chef Recommended Pairing: Red Mo

(Vegan and Available All Day) Tempeh in sweet BBQ sauce. Served on a Pacifico Kaiser roll with jicama/pepper slaw. Served with choice of Fries, Salad or Vegetable.
Chef Recommended Pairing: Dubbel Ale

(Vegan and Available All Day) A medley of beans and garden vegetables simmered with Indian spices. Accompanied by jasmine rice.
Chef Recommended Pairing: Slab Cabin

(Vegan and Available All Day) Cucumbers, Heirloom Tomatoes and Sun Gold Tomatoes. Tossed in parsley, garlic, lemon juice, mint, and olive oil. Served in a pita with Hummus, alfalfa sprouts, and falafel.
Chef Recommended Pairing: Pilsener.

Otto’s Pub and Brewery – Spaghetti & Falafel Balls

Specials are just what they imply; they aren’t regularly on the menu and can be looked forward to on occasion. New restaurants and ones that are in the process of changing locations have enough difficulty in establishing their new menu and can delay the adding of specials for a while. Places like aardvark kafé do have occasional specials but they are still getting in the groove of even being open. As it turns out, this seems to have been the case with Otto’s Pub and Brewery when they moved to their new location a couple of years ago. Now settled in with Chef Pete and Sous Chef Steve at the helm, even their regular menu is rife with vegetarian and vegan food. It is the specials on Wednesday that are outstanding.
Elk Creek Cafe - Soba Noodle Salad Special

Elk Creek Cafe – Soba Noodle Salad Special

Zola- Vegan Chile Rellenos

Zola- Vegan Chile Rellenos

Still highly noteworthy this year is the 2011 winner of this award, Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks with their supper time Vegan Bowl with grains, greens, root vegetables and perfect seasonal seasonings or a vegetarian creation that would always please our palettes. The focus on local and well crafted meals was so hard to beat, between Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks and Otto’s Pub and Brewery I think I gained 10 pounds in November trying to make my final decision. The great beer made it all go down very easily too. Add in some great vegan specials created at Zola New World Bistro this year and you can understand why my dedication to running goes hand in hand with dining, I run to eat.

Otto’s Pub and Brewery – Vegan Tostadas with Broccoli rabé

So now vegetarians can walk into a place and throw all caution to the wind by saying, “Give me the special!” This would be Wednesdays at Otto’s Pub and Brewery. They are clued in to what exactly differentiates vegetarian from vegan and sympathetic to cross-contamination. This will explain the lack of gluten free options. They take labeling their menu seriously and it means you can trust when it says it is vegan, it is.

Congratulations to Otto’s Pub and Brewery (most recent restaurant review here) for being awarded Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 Best Specials. They have made so many changes to the good for vegans and vegetarians, including options for their Pub Club dinners, we know that you won’t be disappointed to try the specials on Wednesday or many of the regular veggie choices too.BiNaH_Hex_2012SpecialsDo you know of a Pennsyltucky restaurant’s specials that you think can beat Otto’s Pub and Brewery’s in 2013? If it’s in central PA (see map here) and has regular vegetarian specials, 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!

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2012 – Best Veggie Burger

Yorkholo Brewing Company – Black Bean & Spent Grain Veggie Burger

Yorkholo Brewing Company of Mansfield has a wonderful microbrewery and the region’s very best Veggie Burger of 2012. Their Black Bean & Spent Grain Veggie Burger has a very crispy exterior, served super hot, almost deep fried in its breadcrumb coating. The flavor is what makes it top-notch with minced black beans, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and onions combined with spent grain, green peppers is nicely seasoned. I loved the zippy Pico de Gallo on it and the roll was fresh and bread not too dense. The whole burger, although a tiny bit crumbly, has a great texture, well balanced flavors and is a good size. I got it without the provolone but that would enhance the burger even more.

The Green Room Bistro – Quinoa Burger grabbed 2nd place.

This year, I was able to sample quite a few house made veggie burgers in the over 20 counties we judge in the Pennsyltucky region. No matter what the presentation, restaurants that just heat up a commercial grade Gardenburger® Veggie Medley are never going to make the cut anymore.

Otto’s Pub and Brewery – 2011 Winner

From Mansfield to Carlisle, I reveled in the task of comparing so many well crafted burgers. Sadly, Harrisburg’s Appalachian Brewing Company’s Cucumber Garden Burger left me flat but the second place burger this year was in that same region. A big shout out goes to The Green Room Bistro and Juice Bar of Carlisle for their Green Room Veggie Burger. Made of black beans, forbidden rice, red onion, red & yellow peppers, cilantro, red quinoa, it can be made gluten free and vegan. Typically served on a whole grain ciabatta, you can even ask it to be topped with Daiya Cheese – delightful!

Yorkholo Brewing Company – Black Bean & Spent Grain Veggie Burger

The 2011 Pennsyltucky Veggie – Best Veggie Burger, Otto’s Pub and Brewery Vegetarian Walnut Burger, was also a main contender. The State College restaurant’s rice, black bean, and walnut based burgers are crafted in house and have a nice smoky and peppery flavor. I can’t go a week without plotting to eat one.

Two final honorable mentions go to the house made Ritchie Valen Burger at Retro Eatery in Philipsburg and the Spicy Black Bean Burger at Olde New York in State College with its unbeatable taste but not made in house.

Congratulations to Yorkholo Brewing Company of Mansfield and their Black Bean & Spent Grain Veggie Burger for being chosen to receive Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 Best Veggie Burger.

Do know of a Pennsyltucky restaurant’s veggie burger that you think can beat this one in 2013? If it’s in central PA (see map here) 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!
Yorkholo Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2012 – Best Chili

Allen Street Grill – Vegetarian Chili

Best Chili was added as a category this year because there are so many great vegetarian chili’s to choose from in our area. Allen Street Grill in State College has beat out the others with it’s Vegetarian Chili. It has a mild tomato base seasoned with ancho chili powder. Less brothy than the runner up and more consistent flavor wise, it is brimming with chunks of zucchini, carrot, red & green pepper, and onion that are just tender. They add in some kidney and black beans and top it with a garnish of fresh scallions. A hearty vegetarian chili for years whether you get a cup or as a base in the full blown Santa Fe Chili Bowl topped with shredded Cheddar cheese, guacamole, sour cream, tomato and onion and served with tortilla chips.

Bullfrog Brewery

With this region’s mild palate preferences, chili is rarely served very spicy unless by special request. Spiciest in the region is the second placed Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport. They have a beer infused Veggie Chili and the initial pleasant beer flavor adds a really special quality to it as the heat sneaks up on you. Like the chili at Allen Street Grill, it has a tomato base, veggies and beans but is less consistent in flavor because Chef Rico changes the recipe with the brews available on tap. We loved it when he made it with the Extra Fancy Stout. 

Elk Creek Café in Millheim as well as State College’s Otto’s Pub and Brewery and aardvark kafé and have all offered noteworthy vegan chilis but none have remained as regular menu selections. The latter and Selin’s Grove Brewing Co. of Selinsgrove both use a Textured Vegetable Protein in it for a toothsome texture and extra rib sticking bonus.

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Also noteworthy is Mad Mex for its tomatillo based Chick Pea Chili upon which you can opt for the vegan toppings of Tofutti Sour Supreme and Daiya Shreds. Bullfrog Brewery also has the vegan shreds as a choice.

I feel a bit more qualified than just a regular customer to judge this category having been awarded the mid-atlantic region’s second best for my vegan Pennsyltucky Chili. I feel so very happy to exclaim,”¡Felicidades! Allen Street Grill,” for being awarded Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 Best Chili. It is a chili all vegetarians can look forward to warming them through the winter and offering great flavor year round.

Have you tasted a better vegetarian chili than this one? If it’s in central PA (see map here) 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!

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2012 – Best Portobello

For the second year in a row, the Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012- Best Portobello award goes to Luna 2 Woodgrill in State College.

Olde New York

This year, Luna 2 beat out 6 other top contending restaurants for this award. As the “go-to” veggie for many ominvorous restaurants, some form of a portobello mushroom is a ready meat-like substitute. Many places marinate the large cap and serve it up burger style as a sandwich, others have fancied it up with a stuffing of bread crumbs and other veggies while only the best can be enjoyed sliced and on top of a salad.

JP Edwards

aardvark kafé

Stellar vegan choices this year include a few mushrooms that have been well styled. State College’s Otto’s Pub and Brewey offers a portobello cap as a substitution for any of their 1/4 lb. burgers but it was a recent special that had some perfectly sliced and served with a Miso Jus where Chef Pete really shined. Also in State College aarvark kafé‘s Chef Brandon has a Teriyaki Basil Mushroom that sits well on the thick style of pocket bread they serve. Also noteworthy is the Greek-style marinade used by JP Edwards in Lewistown. Emma’s Food for Life in Selinsgrove has a nicely grilled portobella with no seasoning but some olives and artichoke hearts balance out with the sweetness of the roll.
Emma's Food For Life

Emma’s Food For Life

Otto’s Pub

Top of the heap would be the three-way tie for second place between The Green Room in Carlisle, Olde New York in State College and Lambs Creek Food & Spirits in Mansfield. Each are marinated and served on soft rolls. The Green Room Bistro and Juice Bar generously allows for the addition of the vegan Daiya Cheese while Olde New York and Lambs Creek smother theirs in a mix of contrasting green and red veggies that make the sandwiches beautiful and toothsome.

Lambs Creek

The Green Room

The things that sets Luna 2‘s portobello apart is that it is marinated and woodgrilled; the 2 flavors combined are unbeatable. As for the sandwich, vegans shouldn’t hesitate to ask for no cheese and the pesto aioli is on the side. Also on the side are the abundant veggie toppings of roasted red peppers, red onion, crisp romaine lettuce and large slices of tomato. The roll, although no longer made in house, is perfect. It is soft and firm enough that you can eat your sandwich as it was intended, with your hands and not so large and crusty that you have to dislocate your jaw to take a bite.

Luna 2 Woodgrill – Portobello Sandwich

I am not considering the accompanying sides in the judging of the many portobellos, they are too various for it to be fair. What makes Luna 2’s Woodgrilled Portobello sandwich the winner is it’s overall flavor, freshness of ingredients, presentation and value for portion.

Luna 2 partner/Chef Jeremy takes his portobellos seriously, likening them to steak for vegetarians. It’s his marinade and woodgrilled flavor that has this sandwich beating out all other mushroom caps in central PA.

Congrats Luna 2 Woodgrill (restaurant review in full here) for hanging on to your title and winning the award for Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 Best Portobello.
Do know of a Pennsyltucky restaurant’s Portobello that you think can beat this one in 2012? If it’s in central PA (see map here) 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!

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2012 – Best Soup

Fiddlehead – 11-bean Soup

The Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012- Best Soup award goes to Fiddlehead in State College. From Sweet Potato to Tomato Basil to good and Hearty 11-Bean, they are dedicated to having a daily vegetarian soup on the menu and each is more delicious than the next. Many times the soups are vegan or can be made so by leaving off a vegetarian topping like the creative blueberry coulis that topped one chilled soup this past summer.

Fiddlehead – Sweet Potato

Other Fiddlehead vegetarian options over the past year have included (v = vegan): Cream of Mushroom, Mushroom Bisque, Carmelized Onion & White Bean, Roasted Vegetable (v), Roasted Red Pepper with Cilantro Lime Cream as well as Spinach & Rice with Lemon (v). For daily updates, check out their Twitter Feed.

Espresso Yourself Cafe- Chilled Avocado Gazpacho

All of the vegetarian soups in Pennsyltucky were judged on availability, flavor, texture, choice of ingredients, appropriate temperature, creativity, presentation and use of local ingredients. Other restaurants had some super soups but Fiddlehead always had an outstanding vegetarian soup on its menu every time we checked in.

Slurping vegetarian soup in as many central Pennsylvania restaurants as I possibly can is really no hardship for me; I chose to spend one birthday on what I called a local Soupcation. The biggest challenge was finding restaurants that were dedicated to having at least one vegetarian soup on their menu every day.

Otto’s Pub and Brewery – Vegan Gumbo

Jayiid Harvest in Harrisburg has a lot of great vegetarian food but their soups are not their strong point. I found even better vegan and vegetarian soup specials in 2012 at many first-rate restaurants in Central PA. Each restaurant had so many outstanding soups, unique in their own right, pleasant seasonal choices with carefully chosen local ingredients. After my bursting at the seams with soup this year, it was honestly close to being a 4 way tie for this award. I enjoyed every cup, every bowl that the chefs created.

Cherry Alley Café – Plantain Vegetable

Actually, second place was a 3 way tie between last year’s award winning Espresso Yourself Cafe in Newport, Otto’s Pub and Brewery in State College and Cherry Alley Café in Lewisburg. As the staff of Cherry Alley Café said, “Nine times out of ten,” they have a vegetarian soup on the menu. So many great soups but it means checking the online specials or calling ahead to know whether or not you can count on enjoying one from day to day.

Consistent in quality, using local ingredients and dedicated to having vegetarian soup as a fresh daily menu item, kudos goes to Fiddlehead (restaurant review in full here) for being awarded Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 Best Soup.Do you know of a Pennsyltucky restaurant’s soups that you think can beat the pants off of these in 2013? If it’s in central PA (see map here) 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!

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2012 – Best Salad

Espresso Yourself – Japanese Salad

Espresso Yourself Cafe, winner of 2011 Pennsyltucky Veggie Best Menu and Best Soup awards, takes Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 Best Salad. The Newport, PA restaurant has so many great things for vegetarians to eat, it is hard to not choose something that is award winning.

Espresso Yourself Cafe’sJapanese Salad is fresh and super crispy with thick shreds of purple and green cabbage slaw. Topped with sliced Tofurky, organic carrots and cucumbers makes it a nice balance of flavors and textures. It is the sliced almonds and sesame seeds covered with their homemade Asian Rice Wine Vinaigrette that brings this salad to the top of all we tasted this year. Crunchy, tangy and savory bites all come together in a big bowl that I wish was bottomless.

Otto’s Pub & Brewey – Grilled Romaine Salad

Salads have come a long way in the past 30 years. It’s not just the salad bars (which are not being judged for this award) that have added established choices of field greens as well as romaine or iceberg lettuce. Most restaurants outside of diners know that they need to have a base of decent greens under the veggie toppings and a huge portion of dressing won’t dress up any sub-par salad. Arugula, kale or mixed herbs; content is vital. Otto’s Pub and Brewery is splitting and grilling a head of romaine lettuce as a very nice salad base this season.

Fiddlehead – Own It Salad

Elk Creek Cafe – Soba Noodle Salad Special

Chefs have gotten a lot more creative with their toppings too. I think back on the days when I considered myself lucky to at least be served a couple of slices of pale refrigerated tomato and white rings of onion topped on a huge bowl of crunchy white lettuce. Along with the change in greens are the quality of local ingredients many restaurants are making great use of. Fiddlehead has so many scrumptious local veggies to choose from for their Own It salad and Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks is known for their creative use of local produce on their salad specials.

Spats Cafe and Speakeasy - Creole Chopped Salad

A close second, Spats Cafe and Speakeasy’s Creole Chopped Salad was the Pennsyltucky Veggie 2011- Best Salad. The entrée sized salad always comes out super chilled, includes cheese, lettuce and a sweet creamy dressing. There is nothing else like it anywhere in the area and they are happy to make it vegan by asking them to omit the cheese and it is still a wonderful range of textures, veggies and flavors.

Perry County must be very proud of its special and award winning café; Espresso Yourself Cafe is a restaurant that everyone in central Pennsylvania should be stopping at as often as possible. Congratulations to Espresso Yourself Cafe for their Japanese Salad beating out so many other diverse salads in this region and being chosen to receive Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 Best Salad.

Do know of a Pennsyltucky restaurant whose salad can beat this one in 2013? If it’s in central PA (see map here) 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!

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2012 – Best Appetizer

Bullfrog Brewery’s Mucho Nachos with Daiya!

The best way to start off many a good meal is with a terrific appetizer. Not holding anything back, we announce the Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012- Best Appetizer award to Bullfrog Brewery for their Mucho Nachos!

Tortilla chips topped with black beans, tomatoes, black olives, jalapenos, salsa, scallions and cheddar-jack cheese. The vegan option of swapping the cheese for Daiya shreds didn’t cost anything extra and made this huge and well priced appetizer the best we had all year. The addition of guacamole was a minimal up-charge and gave an additional fresh flavor to this dish.

Otto’s Black Bean & Hummus Dips

Mad Mex's Pennsyltucky Fried Tofu

Vegetarians can, and sometimes are forced to, make their entire meals out of a restaurant’s selection of appetizers and sides when dining out. This can be just fine if the dishes are not too heavy, prepared in a healthful way and the diner is not hoping for an entrée. Some impressive exceptions are the runners up, Otto’s Pub and Brewery’s Black Bean & Hummus Dip and Mad Mex’s Pennsyltucky Fried Tofu. Both have excellent portions, very pleasing and unique flavors and house made ingredients. Stellar appetizers that we hope locals will try.

Luna 2 Artisan Mac & Cheese, Bruschetta, Hummus Plate

Last year’s Pennsyltucky Veggie 2011- Best Appetizer award to Luna 2 Woodgrill in State College for their Tomato Bruschetta is still a top notch appetizer, the flavors are garden fresh year round. I still highly recommend all of Luna 2’s vegetarian appetizers including their Artisan Mac & Cheese comes out quickly and Tuscan Hummus with Veggies & Grilled Flatbread.

It was hard to choose from all appetizers which Central Pennsylvania restaurants have on their regular menus. We would have been even harder pressed if we had included vegan appetizers that were offered as weekly specials. We are happy to have tried dozens of local veggie appetizers and extend our congratulations to Bullfrog Brewery (restaurant review in full here) for being awarded Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 Best Appetizer for their Mucho Nachos.
Do you know of a Pennsyltucky restaurant whose Appetizers can beat this one in 2013? If it’s in central PA (see map here) 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!

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