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Category Archives: Restaurant Review

Reviews and recommendations from a vegetarian point of view. Each will end with an overall BiNaH* Rating of 0-5 stars.

*Bacon is NOT an Herb

Revival Kitchen – a reconnecting

revival-kitchen-logo-e1439827160748-300x246We are born with a connection to where we live that is lost the moment we are fed our first bottled formula. The arrowroot in our first Gerber teething biscuit, that might have been grown in the West Indies, may not be unhealthy but certainly isn’t of our native land. It takes packaging and extensive (and expensive) shipping to get the first juice boxes into our young hands. As I shared in I’m Not Vegan (and neither are you), where and how our food is produced can be more important than what we choose to eat. We are still vegan for anyone wondering if this is to justify a personal change.

When we choose to eat mindfully, we draw our focus closer to home and connect with what is native. Doing so is how we found Revival Kitchen in Reedsville, PA. This blog has always focused on what is (or has been) available in Central Pennsylvania and Revival Kitchen is a way for us to reconnect with what is dear to us. It provides thoughtful dining with a focus on local and seasonal foods from our native land.

The head chef and owner have close and regular communication with local farmers to plan seasonal menus. We hesitated to visit because we could not see anything of the menu that was vegan. I am very shy about asking for modifications or special dishes to be made for us (why our Pennsytucky Veggie Awards were based on regular menu items with no modifications). What changed our minds was an organized group vegan dinner at Revival Kitchen where we had a chance to talk with the Owner Liz Hoffner who assured me that, with a small advanced notice, Chef Quintin Wicks could accommodate us regularly! License to ask for “special” with reasonable notice opened up our world to reconnecting with seasonal and local dining!

Since then, we have dined at Revival Kitchen multiple times. We have taken family and friends who are omnivorous and they enjoyed everything they were served. They told us the gnocchi was done perfectly. The locally raised and butchered beef thrilled and satisfied one of the (self described) pickiest eaters I have ever known. We have all raved about the Coffee Roasted Beets that rightfully won the Sixth Annual Golden Basket Award this year. revival1

Chef Q knows how to celebrate food for what it is with complimentary flavors, textures and impeccable plating. When your dish is set before you, it is a feast for the eyes that prepares you for the ultimate dining experience. Imagine colorful pressed melon bars that have been infused with wine and, in pure Central PA style, topped with a little sea salt. Caramelized grill marks on veggies that are charming with their root ends still recognizable make you stop to appreciate the local foods you are about to eat. Autumnal squash never gets boring at Revival Kitchen, perfect cubes of golden butteriness or wafer thin circles of delicata squash play with your eyes before treating your palate. Forget the tired old plank of zucchini, here you will be served with small lozenges of the squash that are immediately recognizable by allowing a section of their vibrant emerald skin on. Recently, we were overjoyed to be reintroduced to a vegetable we hadn’t had since we were kids; Salsify (oyster plant) was feature along with carrots and sweet potatoes! What a memory it brought back with the slightly slippery mouth-feel and it’s nuttiness complimented with a bit of truffle oil – delightful!

Creatively crafted, local, seasonal food make this restaurant great but what makes it stellar is the staff. Every member of the waitstaff is knowledgeable about the menu. If they ever have a doubt if something is vegan or not, they have no qualms about checking with the kitchen and don’t make you feel like it was an imposition to ask. When your meal is served, they describe what you are about to enjoy in a way you are grateful for. It is like being given a map to an amazing land and you are encouraged to enjoy the journey at your own pace.revival2

Wine pairings are not in print with menu selections but the wait staff can give suggestions if asked. Better yet, talk to the staff at the Seven Mountain Wine Cellars wine bar and get a few tastings. They are experts in all of the wines as well as knowledgeable of the current food menu and will be eager to make suggestions for pairings. There are also non-alcoholic beverage choices or bring your own beer/cocktails (no outside wine).

The interior of the Revival Kitchen is welcoming and its location on Main Street in Reedsville is crucial. It is the lovely young plant that is lucky enough to get a toehold in the sunlight that opened up when the Black Horse Tavern burned down in 2011. How Main Street Reedsville is changing is like polishing off a tarnished kettle you had forgotten about. It is just as charming as it was on the shelf but remembering it useful for making a hot cup of tea is a mindful reconnecting of what is right in front of you.

2013 Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards

2013 Pennsyltucky Veggie Award

2013 Pennsyltucky Veggie Award

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.

BEST APPETIZER
Happy Valley Brewing Company
State College, PA

BiNaH_Hex_2013AppHVBC_AppOpening 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.

BEST BAKERY
Spruce Creek Bakery
Spruce Creek, PA

BiNaH_Hex_2013BakerySPB_cakeI 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.

BEST CHILI
Bullfrog Brewery
Williamsport, PA

BiNaH_Hex_2013ChiliBullfrog_Chili 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.
Mansfield, PA

BiNaH_Hex_2013BurgerYorkholo-BurgerWhen 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!

BEST PORTOBELLO
Happy Valley Brewing Company
State College, PA

BiNaH_Hex_2013PortoHVBC_portoOnly 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.

BEST SOUP
Cherry Alley Cafe
Lewisburg, PA

BiNaH_Hex_2013SoupCherry_Alley_SoupIt 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.

BEST SPECIALS
Otto’s Pub & Brewery
State College, PA

BiNaH_Hex_2013SpecialsOttos_SpecialsIf 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
The Seed
Lancaster, PA

BiNaH_Hex_2013VegSeedSammichToo 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.Seed_Rueben

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.The-Seed

Last year The Seed was planted and it has now grown into the Best Vegetarian Restaurant in the central PA. Well done!
The Seed on Urbanspoon

Congratulations to all 2013 Pennsyltucky Veggie Award winners! See links below map if you want to be considered for 2014.
PAcoMap_mostDo 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!

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2012 – Best Restaurant

ElkCreekCafe_pan

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awarded, Best Restaurant 2011

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awarded, Best Restaurant 2011

What a splendid year of dining out 2011 has been. Sometimes accompanied by our friends and family, Jim and I have tasted foods from all over this region (see map here). The most difficult part was when we interrupted our dining experiences to actually photograph, write down, and try to subjectively judge the food and restaurants. We hope that the sharing of it has been interesting, maybe even helpful, for a few veggie folks who may want to eat out in this area.

Elk Creek Café + Aleworks, mentioned as noteworthy in the Vegetarian Specials award this year, is the winner of Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 – Best Restaurant. This is the second year running they have won for best overall restaurant.

Turnip + Lentil Stew with Roasted Beets

Turnip + Lentil Stew with Roasted Beets

Innkeeper of this laudable restaurant in Millheim is Tim Bowser and he has crafted the perfect balance of color, flare, seasoning, rhythm and down home goodness all under one roof. The feel of the place is hospitable, everyone from granny to toddler is welcome, and every member of the staff treat the customers with care and high regard. Assistant General Manager Genny Uhl sees to everyone’s needs with gentle conduct and a caring smile.

If live entertainment is your thing, there are high quality performers brought in a few times every week and celebrations that embrace local events. Art buffs can look forward to receptions or enjoy the works of art displayed on the cheerful main dining room walls. These are some of the pluses that have kept Elk Creek Café + Aleworks king of the heap.

The Green Room Bistro & Juice Bar, Carlisle

The Green Room Bistro & Juice Bar, Carlisle

It is true that there are other regional restaurants that have a rotation of quality local art, fine musical groups and outstanding staff. The Green Room Bistro & Juice Bar in Carlisle is such a place that is a burning close second place for this 2012 award. Executive chef Pippa Calland can create culinary magic with local and sustainable resources that are regularly vegetarian and vegan. The interior is charming, a perfect place for the local balletomane soiree or family dinner celebrating their Dickinson grad’s accomplishments.

Elk Creek Cafe - Soba Noodle + Seaweed Salad Special

Elk Creek Cafe – Soba Noodle + Seaweed Salad

What still sets Elk Creek Café + Aleworks apart for 2012 is that it offers a more complete spectrum of hospitality for vegan, localvore foodie, pub hanger, and city slicker all under the same roof. World travelers and sophisticated diners have been known to choose the vegan bowl specials over what was offered on the regular menu because of Chef Mark Johnson’s carte du jour mojo. Such patrons share the same pleasure as the kiddos at the next table munching Belgian-style Hand-cut Fries and their parents marveling at the perfectly prepared Walleye Fillet on the plates the smiling server just placed in front of them.

It is only at Elk Creek Café + Aleworks these myriad diners can sit happily together and raise a glass of head brewer Tim Yarrington’s finest together. Bring your whole family out to celebrate this fine establishment’s 5th anniversary this month or go by yourself and cozy up to the friendly bar. Either way you will then personally be able to smile and know why this is the best stuff in Pennsyltucky, especially for us veggie folks. Cheers for winning the Pennsyltucky Veggie 2012 – Best Restaurant!

BiNaH_Hex_2012RestaurantHave you enjoyed a restaurant better than Elk Creek Cafe? Share it with me so it can challenge the best for 2013! If it’s in central PA (see map here) 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!

You can’t beat…

You can’t beat beets! That what my Dad always says and I have to agree with him. This vibrantly colored root vegetable is frequenting local food markets and CSAs right now. Amy shared a couple with me from her bounty and yesterday I put one of them to good use by making a batch of my Walnut Beet Burgers. They were as quick and flavorful as I remembered and I was glad to have blogged the recipe I came up with last year.

Beets from NYC certainly aren’t local for us so it will make more sense when I share that we went to visit Arron & Amy this past weekend. Arron’s week of performances in City Center culminated in my favorite ballet of all time, In the Upper Room. His artistic prowess was lauded in the New York Times a couple of days ago. The reviewer found his phrasing in the piece unbeatable, comparing him to one of the world’s top ballet dancers.

Arron Scott is so stylish a dancer that, even when he’s beside Mr. Cornejo in “In the Upper Room,” it’s to him I look to see just how a phrase should be accentuated.

I seem to be blogging backward because even before going to the city to visit with Amy (her first time seeing In the Upper Room) Jim and I had some wonderful times together earlier that day. We made time to finally stop in Bloomsburg and had lunch at Prana Juice Bar and Namaste Cafe. Columbia County is just a hair outside of the limits that are set for the judging for the Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards but it is still home to one other very few all vegetarian restaurants in central Pennsylvania.

Prana was having a Harvest Festival and it was in full swing during the time we chose to visit. This may have caused minor delays and unsynchronized arrival of our food being served but the staff was great about it all. They were cheerful and not in a spacy and oblivious way. They were aware of the increased patronage of the day and recognized it to us in a way that was a pleasant matter of fact and didn’t come off as a whiny excuse as it could have. The place was very busy but we were well taken care of as we placed the order, were directed to seating of our choice, getting our order correct and checking that it was to our liking.

We sat at a cute two-seater in a small room toward the front of the building where we could enjoy the live entertainment that was on the front porch, pleasant acoustic guitar performances graced the length of the festival. It was during this time that some of the other guests were the only unpleasant issue we had. One mom’s free-range parenting style allowed her elementary school aged girls to bang their small pumpkin gourds on the keys of a piano that we sat 3 feet from. She stood over them, enjoying the cacophony until I had to tell her that Jim and I couldn’t hear what each other were saying. Soon after, a young man in his late teens came wandering in and started looking under the cushions of a plush couch that was on the other side of our table. I assumed he had lost something but he turned to explain to us he was looking for spare change, ” …hoping to find $.50.” He went on to share that he was hoping to buy a small portion of one the cleansing juices, “…before I have to poop.” I grabbed up my change purse and gave him 2 quarters so he would be able to… um… get on with his business somewhere other than the dining area.

The juices do sound incredible and I am hoping the fellow got a schmecken of the Pranayumma, carrot, apple and beet juice because it would be my choice. We stuck to water though and ordered the Organic Soup du Jour, a thick vegetable stew with so many hearty and tender veggies we couldn’t count them all. It was well seasoned and might have even classified as a mild vegetable chili, a perfect bowl and a crisp Fall day.

We also shared and Avocado Jalapeno Cilantro Hummus Wrap. The hummus wasn’t super spicy but the flavors of jalapeno and cilantro were just enough to set it apart from the traditional. Fresh and perfect avocado wedges, crunchy but mild onions and other veggies were all wrapped up together with a nice sprig of kale to make a huge wrap. A few slices of gala apple and seedless grapes blessed the plate and added fresh color and flavor as a garnish, very nice.

Prices were pretty reasonable for the quality of food, portion size and customer service we received. The staff really seemed to care about how our meal was and we assured them that we would be returning. Prana Juice Bar and Namaste Cafe isn’t just a groovy idea, it is a well run restaurant that should be on every vegetarian’s radar. We were assured that it is rare to come across a menu item that can not be made vegan (vegan cheese choices on sandwiches) and the kitchen and staff are eager to please all dietary needs without being preachy, judgmental or conversationally aggressive.Prana Juice Bar and Namaste Cafe on Urbanspoon

You can’t beat a nice run before a long trip in the car. Yet one step earlier in our day we made a stop in Mifflinburg to participate in a local fundraiser for the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail, the Flat ‘N Fast 4-Mile run/walk. I used this well maintained and new rail trail for quite a few of my longer training runs before my first marathon this year. Jim biked as I logged many a mile so we were very appreciative of the location and condition of this trail. The entry fees and festive race were all in support of the trail, we got on board by pre-registering a few weeks prior.

When you pre-register for something you never know for sure what the weather will be like or how you will be feeling the day of the race. The weather was perfect and but poor Jim had been pretty sick the day before and wasn’t quite up to a 4 mile jog followed by a drive to the city and then also attending the ballet. He decided to just collect his race shirt and rest while he waited for me at the finish line.

The race was well run, they provided a shuttle to the start line and transported warm-up clothes back to the finish line for all runners. I chose to warm up by jogging to the start line but did take advantage of clothing transport by tossing my gloves in and collecting them later. They also had markers for specific pace groups so that the slower runners and walkers wouldn’t get trampled by the speedsters.

This was the first time I ever toed the line with the sub 9:00 minute milers. It made me feel almost legit as I stayed up with a woman who looked like she could be in my age group as long as I could. I had to let her go after the first mile and she came in 6 runners ahead of me by averaging an 8:25 minute mile. She took first in the 55 – 59-year-old women. Luckily I am only 50; she took veterans but I got 1st in my age group of 50-54!

As we waited to collect my award, a cool ceramic mug with the race logo and year printed on it, Jim entered a raffle for a basket of local goodies. I told him that I hoped they would choose his ticket since I wanted him to come away with something since he didn’t run that morning. I screamed with delight when they called his number. He was such a good sport about letting me still run the race and driving to the city, his support is unbeatable and he deserves prizes like this all the time.

Season’s Splendor

Autumn is such a beautiful time of year. Nature’s colors and annual harvest of produce are a feast for the eyes. It was so gratifying to be able to take an afternoon last week to hike Nittany Mountain. It has been a couple of years since I was able to and that made it a very special outing for me. I biked to the trail head, hiked to the top and committed to the entire white loop of trails that treated me to a couple of vistas. The leaves were close to peak but because it was a weekday I ran in to very few other hikers. The solitude on Nittany was an added bonus before I biked home.

Although artichokes are not a vegetable of autumn, I got a couple on sale at our local grocery outlet. I quickly steamed them and served them with a Creamy Vegan Dipping Sauce that doubled as a salad dressing. This was delightful recipe I found for one of the warmer days last week.

Jim and I ran a local race last weekend called the Clearfield Pumpkin Run 5k. It started early on a super chilly morning. but we both had a really enjoyable time. We didn’t run together and I saw Jim speeding ahead before I settled into the groove. This was my first race since my full marathon last month. The course had a mile loop through downtown Clearfield where they were also having a fall festival. Then we ran along the river and cut across a bridge. The next couple of miles were in very pretty residential areas. Finally we cut back across the bridge to the finish line and I met up with Jim to walk a bit and “cool down.”

We always like to try to stay and cheer the award winners but it was still quite chilly. I saw that I had won first place in my age group so I found a place to stand in the sun and happily waited to receive my cute medal. They also gave some awards to people who ran carrying pumpkins for the whole race, that was a lot of fun.

The day before had also been chilly and our lunch was full of colors of the season and a pumpkin-like squash was one of them. I steamed some butternut squash and brussels sprouts and blended a little hoisin sauce in with them. That and a side of rice warmed our bellies and tickled our taste buds.

Autumn frequently makes me feel nostalgic for some reason. On our return trip from Clearfield we stopped at a cute diner in Philipsburg that was like trip down memory lane. We made a stop at the Retro Eatery specifically for their veggie burger, the Ritchie Valen Burger. As far as I know, Ritchie Valens wasn’t a vegetarian but all of the menu items are named after famous icons of the 1950’s. This burger was a homemade, super thick, black bean cake grilled on both sides, nestled in a thick soft bun and topped with lettuce, tomato, and guacamole. We got ours without the cheese it normally comes with but it was a quite a hearty sandwich without it. Clearly a front runner in the race for the Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards – Best Veggie Burger of 2012.

We also ordered some extra appetizers to go along with them. We got the sample Somewhere Over the Rainbow Platter (choice of 3 apps) and tried the French Fried Zucchini Sticks, Fried Green Beans and Rocky Graziano deep-fried cauliflower. Each of these normally comes with ranch or cheese dips but we opted for good ol’ ketchup for ours.

The Retro Eatery opened spring of 2011 and seems to have a steady clientel. It doesn’t have that greasy diner smell that you might expect. The interior of the dining and public areas are all bright and very clean. We enjoyed the free Wifi, loved the pinball machine and jukebox and thought it was cute they had Loony Tunes on one of the 4 tvs.

The service was prompt, appropriately friendly and most helpful. When we ordered the sample platter, we had originally chosen fries as one of the choices. She let us know that, just in case we were thinking of getting burgers that they all came with fries. Thank you very much, we WERE getting burgers and changed our order to include the cauliflower instead. She also checked back and asked if we were enjoying the platter and we assured her that it was fun to try a few of 3 different things instead of full orders of all three. She agreed and shared that she felt a full order of the green beans is sometimes a but “waxy” for her. Like I said, appropriate comments and very helpful.

So much to enjoy this autumn, we hope you are enjoying the beauty and bounty of this season too.
Retro Eatery on Urbanspoon

Fiddlehead

Posted on

11 Bean Soup (vegan)

Just after Penn State’s Spring Break in 2012 a fresh new restaurant opened downtown 134 W. College Ave., State College. After some hands on researching of similar dining establishments like Sweetgreen and Chop’t, owners Marya, David, and Jack Schoenholtz opened Fiddlehead.

With a focus on fresh ingredients, large serving sizes, and overall sustainability, Fiddlehead has filled a niche in the jungle of pubs, pizza and burgers on College Avenue. The focus is soups, made from scratch daily using fresh stocks and preparing their salads made to order using fresh and locally sourced ingredients. All foods are served in environmentally friendly packaging and they are happy to fill your own to-go container.

Literally their first paying customer, I have enjoyed Fiddlehead from day 1. The interior is clean and set up in an efficient way to minimize waiting time for those on the go. There is limited counter seating and a few token tables by the window for those who need to take a break and enjoy the healthy offerings of this restaurant. The interior isn’t just nice to look at, the materials from which it was constructed were carefully chosen with the health of the environment in mind. Read all about their green philosophy here.

Care has been given to the flavors that come together in each of their 6 suggested salad combos but us veggie folks want to focus on the Own It! option. I can just imagine a lot of you thinking, “Salad? I can get that anywhere.” I will try to make it clear through my descriptions and photos that the ingredients are all crispy fresh, no slimy nasty greens to be found, the choices are varied enough that you can put together myriad salad combinations and the portions are immense.

The Own It! allows for a choice of leafy greens (romaine iceberg mix, baby spinach or spring mix) a choice of 4 toppings plus a dressing. Toppings for vegans include: Artichoke Hearts, Banana Peppers, Beets (raw!), Black Beans, Broccoli, Carrots, Celery, Cherry Tomatoes, Chick Peas, Cucumber, Dried Cranberries, Edamame, Frizzled Onions, Grapes, Kalamata Olives, Mandarin Oranges, Mushrooms, Pears, Radishes, Red Bell Pepper, Red Onion, Roasted Corn, Roasted Potatoes and Sundried Tomatoes. Lacto-ovo vegetarians also have the choices of: Bleu Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Hard-boiled Eggs, Feta Cheese or Asiago Cheese. If 4 toppings isn’t enough for your hungry belly, for an up charge you can get extra toppings for an additional $.50 each, Avocado ($1.25) or Seasoned Tofu ($1.75).

Tomato Basil soup and Own It salad.

Initially, it was unclear which of the more than a dozen of the house made salad dressing was vegan. Upon discussing the options with Marya on the opening day, she was surprised to learn that vegans typically don’t eat honey thus eliminating the Honey Mustard and Grapefruit Honey dressings as vegan safe. It was on my second visit of many over this spring that the owners had clearly marked which of the dressings were vegan, eliminating all confusion. The dressings containing honey were not included. This is a business that clearly cares about getting things right.

I have enjoyed the Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette , Lemon Tahini and Fresh Lemon Squeeze as dressings. When the time comes to choose your dressing, they also allow you to choose how much dressing you like on your salad; light, medium or heavy. I have found light to be plenty even when I get as many as 4 extra toppings but they will be kind and ask you if it is enough before they move the salad to the cashier station.

Sweet Potato soup and Own It salad.

The reasonably priced cups and bowls of soup have been so various. Each we have tried have been delicious. Top vegan choices for me have been the 11 Bean, Hearty Bean, Carrot Curry, Tomato Basil and Sweet Potato. Other vegetarian options over the past weeks 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 a full list check out their Twitter Feed. I think it is obvious that Fiddlehead is strongly in the running for the Pennsyltucky Veggie Best Soup of 2012 award.

The owners are no newcomers to the game of successful restaurateuring. In 1993 they successfully launched and eventually relocated Irving’s to E. College Ave. It is known for its bagels and baked goods. They also took the same care in researching both east and west coasts before bringing the beloved Green Bowl to downtown State College before selling it. Their fresh ideas have added so many veggie dining options to downtown State College and I salute them for their care and good business practices.

Grab it to go or sit, listen to the mellow music while taking advantage of the free Wifi. Fiddlehead is set up for a streamlined, green and healthy dining experience via counter service leading to a clear self-service station for utensils and drinks. I haven’t explored the options that their Gelato offers, vegetarians may want to check this out too. The menu is limited to soup and salad but you can make it as delicious as you can only imagine. The staff is friendly, well-trained and have no problem in asking management for clarification if they cannot directly answer any questions about the menu. Parking is not free, either metered on street or nearby garages but it is worth it to experience this bright new place.Fiddlehead on Urbanspoon

aardvark kafé

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CLOSED 05/01/2016

State College has been blessed with more vegan options since early February of 2012 when the Original Italian Pizza on 906 West College Ave. dedicated a section of its kitchen and menu to 100% vegan food preparation. Many improvements have been made over the past 3 months, with the menu is still changing and expanding. It is a sincere wish on my part that it will continue to improve and be a wonderful place to dine for many years to come.

A woman from our region reviewed the atmosphere of aardvark kafé as “homey” but other than the fact employees eat and surf the internet in the dining area, I am not quite understanding that description. Unless she was referring to the dying poinsettias that were on a cart in a corner from the first time I visited or the large screen tv, but I am thinking not. The interior has been simplified somewhat over the past months and it gives a clean feel to a typical OIP restaurant with a counter. The only thing that has ever been displayed on the television on my visits was titles of the music being played – it is a monster of a tv for such a small place and seems totally out of place.

Teriyaki Mushroom Pocket

No customer Wifi seems to be had at aardvark kafé and upon my first visit the only way to access the vegan menu was online. Facebook is the main way the owner/chef communicates the menu changes, price changes, or when he decides that he wants to close early. This is closer to fine for those who are techno savvy and it certainly was no good to me the time that aardvark kafé closed while I was on the bus. I was meeting Jim there for lunch but our second visit to the restaurant was a complete washout.

Vegan Chili

The third time found the food improved from the overly salty Teriyaki Basil Mushroom Pocket we shared the first time. The Crab Cake with red pepper “aoli” (no garlic in it) was no longer on the menu but we were there for the Chili. Just like the first time we visited, we were told it would take about 20 minutes for the menu items we chose. The Chili came out well seasoned, a nice temperature and decent portions. Twenty minutes is a bit of a long wait when you are 2 of only 3 customers and the other was an employee and/or had already been served.

The prices have always been higher than what we normally pay for a vegan only cafe or diner style menu in the Pennsyltucky region. To compare, Eden – a Vegan Café (100% vegan cafe) has a similar Hummus Platter for $5.75 (aardvark’s is $8.00) and a portion of Mock Buffalo Bites for $4.25 (aardvark’s is $7.00). Once on Facebook, aardvark was trying to get a feel for how customers would respond to a brunch for $18.00 a person. I compared an almost identical brunch at Broad Street Market in Harrisburg for 1/3 the price, $6.00.

Veggie Crab Sandwich

It is only here that you will be able to read about my brunch price comparison post since the owner/chef deleted it from their Facebook wall, as they are more than welcome to do. By bringing it up on this review, I want customers (current and potential) to know how the establishment takes solicited information and criticism. Other examples on Yelp, Urban Spoon, Happy Cow, when a dissatisfied customer posted their review, it elicited knee jerk defensive responses (now changed to syrupy sweetness on Urban Spoon) and a plea on Facebook to rally supporters to post reviews to balance the negative. Keep all of this paragraph in mind if and when reading any comments that might get posted at the bottom of this candid and comprehensive review.

Almost Raw Veggie Sandwich

I think it is only fair to mention that, especially in this case, it is not just myself whose opinions are weighing in on this specific review. Ultimately I take the credit and the blame but this allows their honest opinion to be added to my review with only myself taking the fallout. Along with myself, this review represents the experiences of 6 separate diners. I will eventually excerpt this review for the above mentioned restaurant review Web pages. Do note, I was the one who added aardvark kafé to Urban Spoon.

$30.00 Special

In the case of this review, it has been a total of merely 3 months since the opening. The enthusiasm of the owner/chef can be contagious but also overwhelming. He has been known to announce a special for $20.00 but after a only a couple of hours increase the price to $30.00 and encourage diners who can’t afford it to split it. That would be unfortunate for those who read the first price, jumped into their car to come across the Seven Mountains and were in transit to take advantage of it when the price changed. It is poor business practice to announce prices of specials before it has all been settled.

Mick Mick Mick with regular fries.

Since the time the “kafé” has opened, a few of my secret diners (not all vegan) and I have tried 9 separate regular menu items. Most of the food is quite good in spite of having awkward names that don’t describe the dish. At least menu items like Jayyid Harvest’s Simple Heat or Humana Humana Hummus at Brew’s n Bytes give you more of a clue to what the dish with be compared to aardvark’s names like The Merrick or Mick Mick Mick.

If judged on food alone aardvark kafé would be pretty darn good. The Almost Raw Veggie Sandwich was good except for the teeth numbing cold roasted red peppers, and the marinara on the Sweetball Sandwich was perfectly balanced and thick enough that it doesn’t ruin the signature OIP bread that my omnivorous sister loves. The Buffalo Tofu Bites our neighbors shared with us were just hot enough to enjoy and the cubes of tofu were a good size unlike the sorry ones served at Bullfrog Brewery. Regrettably, no foods seem to be locally sourced.

The Cheese Pizza is sadly nothing special. One friend of mine called it “roller rink pizza.” It may be because the chef admits to not tasting anything that isn’t vegan, relying upon the recipes from the prior ownership and other employees that work at there. To quote the infamous chef Gordon Ramsay, “A head chef who doesn’t taste his food is asking for trouble. It’s the only way to maintain control and keep up standards.”

Marinara Sweetball Sandwich

Our neighbors got the Hand Cut Sweet Potato Fries for their kiddo and I counted on observing their experience to help me determine the “family friendliness” of aardvark kafé. I noticed the 1 1/2 year old kept trying to eat them but putting them back onto his plate. Those fries could be a perfect finger food but as it turns out, peels left on those sweet potato fries–not delicious. It might have worked if they had a crispier exterior like the tofu bites. The fries, not being offered a high chair upon sitting down and wrongly relying of hydrating their kiddo on a little cup of tap water reflects that the place could seriously do better for the under 2 crowd. Hipster vegans are now growing their own kids and it is a demographic that should be catered to in a restaurant like this.

To clarify about the tap water, it is another atypical thing to know before going. There is no free water, only water to be purchased in bottles. Patrons are welcome to bring their own neoprene or bike type bottles (or even BYOB after 5pm). I feel badly for people who haven’t researched this information before visiting and have to make the decision whether or not to purchase an Aquafina(!!) bottle of water. I have actually chosen to go without drinking anything until I got home the one time I forgot.

I don’t rate a place on the food alone; service, accessibility and overall vegetarian dining experience all matter. I think it is really important for vegetarian diners to know this restaurant is NOT 100% vegan. When I read “Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant” at the head of their Facebook page it gave me the impression that EVERYTHING in the restaurant is at least vegetarian. This is not the case. Separate vegan food prep station, menu and food – yes but the restaurant serves meat and the label is misleading.

To add to the confusion, there is no storefront sign directing you to find aardvark kafé from the road. You have to know that it is inside the Original Italian Pizza and the parking lot is easy to miss. I suggest when heading from town, heading West on W. College Ave., that you be ready to turn left as soon as the traffic becomes 2 way. This is across from where the old O.W. Houtz used to be (now leveled). On the entry door is an 8 1/2 x 11″ paper sign on the door assuring that you are at the correct place.

That same paper also directs you to order at the counter. If the staff is busy and is unable to greet you, it is easy to miss. Prior to the sign on the door, one of the few employees was the only person in the dining room as we stood in confusion upon our first visit… he was eating and didn’t alert anyone that we were waiting. Customers are asked to order at the counter, yet the staff bring your food to your table. They don’t readily direct you to forks and knives from the self-service station yet there are no trays or anything that tells you to bus your table. I have seen orders taken at table too if that helps make things even less understandable. It’s hard to learn the drill when things aren’t consistent.

At the top of the list alphabetically but nowhere near that quality wise; this is a restaurant I selfishly want to succeed. Unfortunately I have, as of September 2012, had some really lousy food at this place as well as more inconsistent advertising and food prep practices. I have dropped the rating to less than an average dining experience and can not recommend it to vegetarians nor vegans.

Over-sized portions of gross, undercooked food with missing advertised ingredients (crunchy raw onions, anemic slices of tomato and no vegan mozzarella in the 20″ long Veggie Calzone that was so soggy that the bottom fell off when I tried to cut a human sized portion) is not what I want to spend $20 on. That includes the tip to the non-vegan cook. When I was introduced to Less he was not a vegan and, as far as I could see, he did not use the vegan work station. So much for the advertised “everything on this menu is 100% vegan – prepared by a vegan – at 100% vegan workstations” (Oct. 2012 the verbage was changed to “created by a vegan”).

I have the photos and even more details if anyone wants to contact me privately, PennsyltuckVeggie@hotmail.com. I am tired of wasting time even typing about this place and yet need to update Happy Cow, UrbanSpoon and Yelp. I can’t see ever wanting to go back. If I want an OIP style veggie sub, I’ll go to the Brother’s Pizza & Pasta near Luna2 and tell them to hold the cheese.

Aardvark Kafé on Urbanspoon

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