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Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2012 – Best Restaurant

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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!

Wordless Wednesday – Raw Roots

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Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards – Bring on 2012

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards – Bring on 2012

We couldn’t resist a meal at Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks after a long day at work. We were introduced to Chef Mark Johnson and were honored to place the Pennsyltucky Veggie Award – Best Restaurant of 2011 sticker on the front door of the restaurant with the proprietor, Tim Bowser. I didn’t do too badly getting it straight even after a couple of quality brews (Anniversary Ale & Olde Millheim Strong Ale).

Supper was an amazing vegan plate of Quinoa and Beets Stew with Pickled Turnips – hella yum! How any other place is going to beat Elk Creek in 2012 is going to be an amazing feat. I am looking forward to every tasty moment.

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Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2011 – Best Restaurant

Hideaway Latte Café, Lewisburg, PA

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. 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 it has been interesting and maybe even helpful for a few veggie folks who may want to eat out in this area.

Many hours on the road this past week allowed us to weigh our opinions on which one restaurant gave the best vegetarian/ vegan dining experience in the Pennsyltucky region. We included restaurants in any of the 27 counties that even brushed up against the boundaries of our designated area (see map here).

Marzoni's in Holidaysburg- to beer or not to beer - that was one question.

We debated for hours, each of us playing devil’s advocate to the other’s argument; “They have regular entertainment,” was countered with “I prefer to dine where I can have a conversation,” which was met by “They don’t always have bands.” Then there was the bar and alcohol arguments; does serving alcohol make a place less family friendly – not always but sometimes. Price arguments were tempered by quality, portions size was confuted by presentation. Decor, hospitality and serving food that is locally produced were all factors in choosing what we felt was the best dining experience for vegans and vegetarians of any age.

I have raved about it all year so it will be little surprise to regular readers of this blog that Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks tops out every other restaurant in the region for best vegetarian/ vegan dining experience over all. I think of the great meals I have had at Elk Creek over the past year; an abundance of great vegan flavors, cozy conversations over a snack, chummy family brunches and laughs with quality crafted brews in hand and foot tapping tunes lifting my heart.

Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks (you can read my full restaurant reviews here and here) started off 2011 offering hearty Vegan Bowls of grain, legume, root veggies and greens. That’s when they got their hooks into my heart. Or was it? Maybe it was how Tim Bowser and staff always greeted me and every member of my family as though we were all welcome friends. No, it was the fresh local veggies Chef Mark used in his soups and salads. Wait! I forgot they also won the Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2011 for Best Specials so it has to be for that!

If you are overwhelmed with the many great things Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks has offered up this year, you can understand how they beat out every other restaurant (including strictly vegetarian ones) for hundreds of miles surrounding them. For all that I applaud them, congratulate them and award them with the Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2011 – Best Restaurant. It’s also great to be able to congratulate them on their 4th anniversary this month. With all of that also comes the challenge to do it again next year and I will enjoy every moment of judging that they can.

Have you eaten at a better restaurant than Elk Creek Cafe? Share it with me so it can challenge the best for 2012! 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!

Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2011 – Best Specials

Tomato Panzanella Salad - Vegan Entrée Special

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 Jayyid Harvest do have occasional specials but they are still getting in the groove of even being open. Longer established restaurants can use their most popular specials, like Luna 2 did with their award winning Woodgrilled Portobello Sandwich, to become favorites on their regular menu. Small cafes or food trucks where the entire menu changes almost every day or week can offer surprises but you can’t really call them specials.

Chickpea Spread, Smoked Tempeh and Marty's Sprouts - Vegan Sanwich Special

I can’t imagine the wonder of living in a place where I could just walk into a restaurant and throw all caution to the wind and say, “Give me the special.” Without looking carefully at the menu and asking meticulous questions about everything on the special, right down to the toppings and garnishes. Bacon, when wrongly used as an herb, is rarely mentioned and can be thrown on as a final flourish on any given special.

With the recent closure of The Enchanted Kitchen, we have no easy access to any vegetarian only restaurants in Pennsyltucky, the closest is Jayyid Harvest and in Harrisburg. When visiting vegan restaurants like, Eden or Quiet Storm (vegetarian), it’s overwhelming to even look at the specials when the entire menu is, well.. special. Even then I do try to order a special in case I am ever fortunate enough to return and can try something different.

Tomato & Cheddar Pie, Vegetarian Entrée Special

It takes a distinctive place to commit to vegetarian specials and this year Elk Creek Cafe + Alewroks has done just that. We knew if we would take the time to venture over Nittany Mountain and drive up the valley to Millheim that we would be treated to a Vegan Bowl with grains, greens, root vegetables and perfect seasonal seasonings or a vegetarian creation that would always please our palettes. The Tomato & Cheddar Pie was unbeatable this year. A special or two, like the Chickpea Sandwich, seem to have made their way to the most recent menu update but we look forward to what they will surprise us with next year.

Hooray for Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks (restaurant review in full here) for being awarded Pennsyltucky Veggie 2011 Best Specials.Do you know of a Pennsyltucky restaurant’s specials that you think can beat Elk Creek’s 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 2011 – Best Salad

Espresso Yourself House Salad with Vegan Creamy Jalaepno Dressing

Vegetarians and vegans eat a lot of salads whether they intend to or not. I think it’s almost safe to say that we eat more salads than we really want to because we are occasionally forced into salad as our only dining option in situations where the only diversity in choices are focused on omnivores. It has been a joke in our family because when my mother-in-law would be bragging about some new restaurant she really liked she would realize that she was talking to a family of vegetarians and would add, “They have salad.”

Roasted Beet Salad at Elk Creek Cafe

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 over romaine or *shudder* 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.

Chefs have gotten a lot more creating 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 onion rings topped on a huge bowl of crunchy white lettuce. Along with the change in greens are the quality of even off season ingredients. The Green Room Bistro & Café in Carlisle made good use of Golden Delicious Apple and Candied Walnuts on a salad I enjoyed there in the middle of winter.

The Green Room, Apple & Candied Walnut Salad

It was difficult to choose between so many salads with different and seasonal ingredients, Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks in Millheim was a close second with it’s consistent Roasted Beet salad.

Props go to the Spats Cafe and Speakeasy in State College for their Creole Chopped Salad. The entrée sized salad is currently $8.00 but is huge, hearty and rib sticking. It can also be ordered demi de partie for a reduced size and price.

As I mention in my restaurant review of Spats (can be seen here) the Creole Chopped Salad always comes out super chilled with a wonderful range of textures, veggies and flavors. It does include a cheese, lettuce and a sweet creamy dressing. There is nothing else like it anywhere in the area and we both really enjoy it.

Creole Chopped Salad @ Spats

Although it is not vegan, it packs in so many different vegetables like broccoli, corn and tomatoes. I had to look hard to determine that there was actually some romaine lettuce in it. It comes ungarnished and really doesn’t photograph as well as some other salads but the flavors are grand and has been consistent over the past decade.

Congratulations to Spats Cafe and Speakeasy for their Creole Chopped Salad beating out so many other diverse salads in this region and being chosen to receive Pennsyltucky Veggie 2011 Best Salad.

Do know of a Pennsyltucky restaurant whose salad 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!

Breaking Fast, Vegan Style

Breaking Fast, Vegan Style

November has been packed full for me, allowing little time to post the wonderful recipes I have tried, restaurants I have visited and many other good things related to being a vegetarian in Pennsyltucky. I have an nice backlog of photos, stories and even a plant-based milk taste test I have yet to post.

One thing taking up my time has been training for the local Nittany Valley Half-Marathon, now just 2 weeks away. With my plantar fasciitis still under control, I was able to trot out a very speedy 13 miles in Poe Valley last weekend (see video below). This allowed me to blow off a lot of the local stresses of the Penn State scandals and reward myself with some carbs at Elk Creek Cafe after a quick healing ice bath.

Since then, we have again been unsuccessful in trying to cook our own Crispy Potatoes at home. That was tolerable since we had enjoyed multiple servings of wonderful vegan food the day before while attending a fund raiser at the Pancake Barkfast and then visiting with many members of the Green Street Vegetarian Club at Broad Street Market and Espresso Yourself Cafe.

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The weekend before that, I didn’t get to photograph any of our trip to NYC to see Arron perform at New York City Center. His performance in Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room was well reviewed in the New York Times here (read the second to last sentence). We saw the closing night performance which was so amazing that we all went to celebrate with some tasty food across from the stage door at Topaz Thai. Lunch had been at Jekyll & Hyde Club prior to the ballet and I reviewed it in detail a few years ago here.

Here comes Thanksgiving week and another trip to NYC is planned! This road trip will include hearing vegan/ artist Dan Piraro speak at The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. I know Jim is excited for this and then the highlight of getting to visit with Arron & Amy. Maybe even a trip to Terri is in store. Life is crazy busy and very good.

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