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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 – Kale Pesto & Friends

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Crispy Potatoes²

It must have been some time in early September that I made a deal with myself that if I could build back to running 15k or 10 m that I would order myself a double helping of Crispy Potatoes from Elk Creek Cafe.

5 miles = one order of Crispy Potatoes

On and off for over a year and a half I had been struggling with plantar fasciitis. June of this year, after running poorly in a 10k race, it became enough of a problem that it was impacting my normal daily activities like walking uphill or carrying heavy loads. In August, I started physical therapy for it and slowly started running again around the same time.

A couple of weeks into September I was back up to 8k (5.4 miles) with no foot pain at all. I celebrated that victory with one order of Crispy Potatoes and hoped to keep working toward my goal.

Last spring I had been able to gimp out a painful ten miles from Sand Mountain Road to the tunnel past Poe Paddy State Park. It wasn’t pretty, nor fast but I am never really all that fast so I felt it was fine. Late May, I ran a 10 miler out in Poe Valley. I finished in 1:43 and my pace was an average of 10:22/mile. I was pretty pleased, except for the pain. I was stupid to put up with it and not do anything about it for so long but I didn’t want to have to stop running to heal. That is what I had to do in the end.

Last week found me in a pretty good place. I had chased away quite a few inner demons, finally got a good night’s sleep, ate a decent sized meal and my foot was still cooperating. I set out to tackle about 8 miles or 13 k. I finished slow but strong on a really windy but beautiful day. I ran through Spring Creek Canyon and finished well at the commuter lot at the top of a long hill on Shilo Road.

This past week, I thought about all of the hills I tackled over those 13k and I realized that adding 10% distance would allow me to reach 15k on my next long run. I chose Poe Valley route today for my first 10 miler since May 22.

Jim and a Mango Mimosa

The day was quite similar; sunny, cool and beautiful. The biggest difference was no pain. I ran strong on the downhills and saw that even on my uphill miles I was still averaging just a hair over a 10 minute mile. I have no GPS and my iPod is really just an estimate of my average pace/footfalls. I went mostly by the time on my watch and the awesome chalk mile markers my dearest love left for me the whole course.

Jim drove the whole way to Poe Paddy, marking the miles in chalk, dropping a water bottle for me at 10K, parked then got his run in by timing it to meet me about half the distance he planned to run. We met up soon after mile 8 for me, it was about 2 miles for him.

I was running really well at that point and knew I had dipped below a 10 minute mile (even with a 57 second dart into the thicket to… well, you know). I was pleased to have no pain the entire run and finished at the 10 mile mark in 1:36:02, an average pace of 9:36 mm.

10 miles = double order of Crispy Potatoes

The next thing I thought of was how I had finally earned my double order of Elk Creek Cafe’s Crispy Potatoes! I took my change of clothes, soapy wash cloth and towel into the cold rest room at Poe Paddy and changed as quickly as I could.

It was past noon by the time we rolled into Millheim and were shocked to see the old Millheim Hotel’s porch and balcony had been taken down! No balcony party tonight and we bee-lined it to Elk Creek anyway. Going late has the disadvantage of some of the best menu items are already gone but, thank the goddess, they never seem to run out of Crispy Potatoes!

I was hoping for a Mango Mimosa but the double order of potatoes was my victory treat. Did I eat them all? I had help – thank you Jim, for helping me with and supporting me in everything I do.

Crispy Potatoes = bliss

Roasted Beet & Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Dressing

Roasted Beet & Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Dressing

I can’t help but order any Beet Salad if it’s on the menu of a restaurant I visit. The only reason I didn’t at V-Note in NYC was because Amy did and was generous in sharing it with me. That salad even had the delicately textured yellow beets in it – such a nice touch!

My favorite salad with beets is the one I get at Elk Creek Cafe that has thin slices of fennel and a mellow grapefruit dressing. I did my best to make it for lunch and started of by roasting the beets, Post Punk Kitchen style, in tin foil.

Jim found the PPK recipe quite a while ago and posted it on his very first blog that accidentally got deleted. That was the one link that got our family hooked on beets last year and I made sure to post the link again on Jim’s new blog since it was our “go to” link for perfect beets. Thanks PPK for being a wonderful resource for our family.

One modification I made was to stand the tin foil wrapped beets upright in a cupcake tin. I think I tipped a beet over once and the juices started seeping out so I learned to secure them. Six is a good number for roasting beets I think, eat some now and refrigerate some for later.

I cut up half a bulb of fennel into really thin slices and split it between our two salads which were a base of field greens. I also added some of my Red Pickled Onyums since the salad I was trying to replicate had red onions on it too.

The most challenging part for me was the grapefruit dressing. Jim said I got it just right so I will share exactly how I made it.

Grapefruit Dressing

Ingredients:
1 Ruby Red Grapefruit
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Organic Sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed Fennel Seeds
1/4 teaspoon Caraway Seeds

Prepare:
(prep time 1 1/2 hours while you roast the beets)
Zest the grapefruit and juice half of it (reserve the other have in a container for any other use). Combine the zest with the olive oil and crushed fennel seeds and allow to sit at room temperature for at least an hour. After the zest and fennel have infused their flavors into the oil, pour in the juice and strain it all through a very finely meshed sieve. Add the sugar and caraway seeds then allow the dressing to sit for at least another 1/2 hour.

I used a small funnel and put it into a little St. Germain’s bottle to shake it up to pour over the salads and even have a bit left over for later.

Late Summer Food Reviews

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We had the great fortune to enjoy many meals with our family this summer. Of the places we dined out, I am sharing a few food reviews from My Thai and
Home Delivery Pizza
and Otto’s Pub and Brewery in State College, J.P. Edward’s Bar and Grill in Burnham and a brunch at Elk Creek Cafe in Millheim.
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My Thai
I have had mixed luck with service at My Thai as I blogged in the past. This past visit was a good one and we all shared some Drunken Noodles, Pad Thai, Veggie Spring Rolls, Thai Basil Tofu and Red Curry Tofu. My favorite is to mix the Red Curry over the Pad Thai. The Vegetable Spring Rolls (Poh Pia Tod) aren’t bad either.
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Home Delivery Pizza
Thanks to our cat being featured in PAWSitivly Pets Magazine, he scored us a gift certificate to Home D. We all enjoyed different salads, at least 5 big entrée sized salads for vegetarians, but I can’t say any of them were outstanding. We filled up on Mediterranean, Milan Pasta and Portabella Grill salads along with fresh iced teas as a huge storm blew through the area.
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Otto’s Pub and Brewery
Oh Otto’s, I really like you but your food just isn’t something I can count on anymore. Is it the difference between the departure of your talented Chef Tim and the arrival of your friendly Chef Pete? I know you have a some salads and pastas but now even your soups that sound vegetarian (Cream of Corn) will frequently have animal stock in them. As a Pub Club member, it really stung to have the message “A Vegetarian Alternative will not be available” tacked onto the Oktoberfest Pub Club dinner. Fifty bucks for beer, Cucumber Salad and Apple Crisp? I guess I will just go back to having folks poke at me that I am not a “real” Pub Club member since I don’t go to the events.

Your Baba Ganoush and Pita Points the other night were fun but a little skimpy even as an appetizer and your Tomato Bruschetta was the sorriest we had been served in town. It was twice the price and half the portion that Luna 2 offers.

Thanks for finally bringing back vegetable of the day and thank you for using local farmers. Thank you so much for, grudgingly, listening to your customers and bringing back the Nachos with melted shredded cheese as opposed to cheese sauce. Thank you also for keeping the Cheese Quesadilla but we really miss the Black Bean Ragout we used to be able to get with both.

Other things we really miss were the Helles Batter Dipped Tofu, Hummus Platter, Asian Slaw and the never ending list of vegetarian soup specials (AND chili). Even the Kimchi Soup that we joked tasted like Mrs. Weasley’s wand broke when making it was a welcome meal.

Lovin’ your beers Otto’s but lately your vegetarian options… not so much.
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J.P. Edward’s Bar and Grill
After cruising the Belleville Farmers Market this past Wednesday, we stopped in Burnham to have lunch at J.P. Edward’s. It is a rare occasion when we stop and there isn’t an aggressive-looking element to at least one table full of patrons. I refused to allow my Mom nor Daughter-in-law to go the bathroom by themselves because this restaurant draws in an element that seems to be looking for a barroom confrontation by the slogans on their t-shirts and slanderous conversations. It’s surprising because it’s a big, open and friendly looking place with more than the normal vegetarian options, a nice outdoor area and free Wi-Fi.

The big Greek Salad has a surprising portion of mild potato salad secreted at the bottom. I have gotten it a few times and it fills me up before I get tot the potato salad!

They have Vegetable Fajitas (also huge) that says it comes with rice (mine didn’t). The veggies are served on a hot griddle flavored with a garlic ginger sauce. It’s strange they would flavor these fajitas with an oddly friendly Asian theme since a good number of their customers give any ethnically diverse patrons the hairy eyeball.

I think we are going to have to pass on this place from now on. Between the feeling like a fight might break out, having to look at pro Hegin’s Pigeon Shoot t-shirts and the fact the place has a veal sandwich, I am going to have to look harder to find a Mifflin County restaurant that fits my BiNaH criteria to review.
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Elk Creek Cafe
I think you can see where this is going; I saved the best for last. If you haven’t yet read either of my reviews of Elk Creek Cafe, you can find the good review here and the better review here. If you haven’t visited Elk Creek Cafe yet, put it on your bucket list.

Some of my favorite Sunday plans have included filling up on their brunch foods after a nice long run through Poe Valley. My plantar fasciitis has limited my running distances lately but, thankfully, not from eating in Millheim. This past Sunday was just delightful.

We all started of with Mango Mimosas and, good golly, I can’t believe I had lived without them for 48 years of my life.

Amy got a thick stack of pancakes and a bowl of Mushroom and Squash Soup that just a taste made my knees go week. Jim and Arron were teased by some old menus that had the tofu scramble on them but settled on some very nice eggs scrambled with local squash.

I chose a Chickpea Spread Sandwich that was blessed by Marty’s Sprouts. I was on my second mimosa when I started mentally composing an ode to Matry’s Sprouts and I think it was the former that made me not remember the poem. I thankfully I remember the multi sized and variously flavored sprouted beans and seeds that made me look like I had happy cat whiskers each time I bit into my thick tasty sandwich – so much fun with food.

I wasn’t kidding when I said I was saving the best for last. I haven’t yet mentioned the Crispy Potatoes! I dream of them. When I mumble and Jim cannot tell what I just said, 60% of the time it has something to do with these potatoes. I have tried to replicate them at home and have failed. They have ruined The Waffle Shop’s home fries for me because they fall so short of Crispy Potato perfection. Someday, when I am able to run 15k again, I am going to return to Elk Creek Cafe and order a double portion of the Crispy Potatoes and that will be bliss.

Elk Creek Cafe Redux

We just can’t stay away from Elk Creek Cafe. I was heading into my physical therapy appointment when I got a text from Missy who threw out the idea of getting together at Elk Creek Cafe. Her main interest was the band, The Poe Valley Troubadours and I immediately thought of the chance to take Arron and Amy along to enjoy more of their delicious vegetarian food!

The staff greeted and seated us cheerfully and we joked a bit with Tim Bowser. I clued him in to my authorship of my past Elk Creek Cafe review and he got a chuckle knowing who was behind it. Heartfelt and sincere, I think this place is just the best and got it listed on Happy Cow as a top vegetarian friendly restaurant in this area.

We ordered our drinks and opted to share the cheese platter as we chatted and decided what we were going to order. So many temptations were being served all around us, most noticeable was the thick slabs of Blueberry Bread Pudding dessert. We kept seeing it walking by us like the beautiful girl from Ipanema, never stopping at our table yet we admired it just the same.

I decided on another refreshing summer soup that was a special on the chalkboard, the Cantaloupe Cucumber Gazpacho would go perfectly with my favorite Roasted Beet & Fennel Salad!

Amy and Arron also split a Roasted Beet & Fennel Salad and Amy got the Grilled Cheese Sandwich that I had been coveting for a long time. It came with the house made chips and looked like a plate of classy comfort food, warm and cheesy on 2 thick slices of the house made bread.

Jim got the vegetarian entrée special of the evening, Tomato & Cheddar Pie and a Tomato Salad. The salad was much like a light version of the Tomato Panzanella Salad he had before, same dressing on a side salad without bursting with soft croutons.

It’s hard to pick what we liked best. The soup was again the model of a unique gazpacho, chilled and a tiny bit peppery, lightly sweet this time with the two subtle flavors that have been grossly bastardized by soap and hand sanitizers – cucumber and melon. No phony fragrance or flavor in my bowl, a little fresh oil and I was smiling with every reviving spoonful.

Jim’s meal had my fork aggressively stabbing onto his plate for more than just a taste. The flaky exterior of the Tomato & Cheddar Pie wrapped itself around a warm, eggy, cheesy custard that hugged big toothsome hunks of local tomato. “It’s like something my grandmother would have made,” Jim noted approvingly. Mammy Gable might not have added the hint of basil but it was the perfect touch to this hearty dish.

More libations were ordered, good friends Missy and John showed up and The Poe Valley Troubadours added their good energies to the dining room. All was right with my world; I was surrounded by my much-loved family, dear friends, best vegetarian food in the region and happy tunes. It couldn’t get any better…

OMG – it DID get better. We ordered the most blissful couple of slices of central Pennsylvania heaven, the gorgeous Blueberry Bread Pudding! Beautiful upon the plate, yes but the real delight was the eating of it. Cut like thick slices of pound cake, the demi sweet bread pudding was hot and energized with huge tart and juicy blueberries. The topping wasn’t whipped cream nor ice cream it was a delicately sweetened dollop of butter that melted in a dreamy way all down the sides. If the description hasn’t gotten you drooling, let me convince you by saying I do not like bread. I gag at the thought of pancakes and french toast, I throw half of my sandwich bread away regularly and would have never ordered bread pudding from any other restaurant. Leave it to Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks to make a perfect ending to a perfect evening.

Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks

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What started as a much smaller cafe in less than half the space it now occupies, Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks is now the live and beating heart of downtown Millheim. Located on Main Street at the only light in town, what hasn’t changed is that you will still be treated like a good friend who is welcome to sit and chill, enjoy a meal or sip your drink as long as you like as you watch the Amish buggies clip and clop past the big picture windows.

The days and hours they are open are a bit odd (closed Mondays & Tuesdays, no lunch Wed & Thur) and there are also different bands featured to perform in the main dining area many evenings so check the web page and FaceBook page. Parking is on the street or behind the building.

What does this small town brew pub have to offer a vegetarian? Plenty! It’s exciting to say they have always had a nice vegetarian sandwich or two and a vegan hummus plate. Now I can add they are dedicated to all of that plus a vegan entrée and vegetarian soup choice every evening meal. Sitting at a high top table or on one of the elevated stages with good food and a local drink makes anybody, loner or huge family, feel like they belong at the Elk Creek Cafe. They feature Tait Farm Shrubs and local wines as well as their own established list of beers.

Belgian Cut Fries & Watermelon Gazpacho!

The food menu, self dubbed Nouveau Dutchie Cuisine™, is dedicated to fresh, local foods and we have enjoyed many a wonderful soup and “vegan bowl” with a house crafted micro brew. On our last visit, we started with some of the Belgian Cut Fries with the Tabasco Catsup & Aioli and shared a bowl of the vegetarian soup of the day, a vegan Watermelon Gazpacho!

The soup, as are ALL of their vegetarian soups, was crazy good. It was super chilled and had a great balance of tangy sweetness with onion in it’s to the deep pink broth. A thin chiffonade of flat leaf parsley added contrasting color as did the large halved blue berries that were floating in it. We both agreed that the little cubes of watermelon may have been marinated. We detected a bit of basil along with the peppery mustard seed we found on the bottom of the bowl.

We typically choose not to go when a band is scheduled because we like to chat and enjoy our meal. The dining area wasn’t full but about 1/3 of the 30 tables were being served in the cheery glow of the bright walls. We enjoyed peering around at the artwork of the month as we dipped our fries and sipped our soup. I even used my iTouch to pop online and touch base with Arron, just back from Japan. The Wi-Fi is free and no tvs even near the 16 seats at the bar to distract from the warm and woody ambiance of the place. I could hear a large meeting or gathering in the separate back dining area but it wasn’t keeping the wait staff from being on top of what we had ordered.

Our salads were served next. I got my favorite Roasted Beet + Fennel Salad and Jim ordered the vegan special of the day, the Tomato Panzanella Salad. Both were served with generous portions of tasty mixed lettuces and thinly sliced red onions in large shallow bowls. Jim’s was dressed with a sharp red wine vinegar which offset the sweet hunks of local tomato and saturated the large soft croutons. He loved the hint of dill he would taste with every other mouthful.

I just can’t get enough of the roasted beets nestled in those same greens and coated with a delicate grapefruit dressing. The sweet bites of mild and crunchy fennel are a wonderful counterpoint to the pieces of radish and red onion. It’s that little bit of fennel seed (caraway?) that makes me sit up and take notice and keeps me ordering it almost every time.

Over the years we have enjoyed tempeh sandwiches, quinoa and greens, mushroom soup with truffles oil, red beet latkes, artisan cheese and fruit plates and many a pint of good beer at Elk Creek Cafe. I cannot think of any meal I have not enjoyed every bite of and that includes their Sunday brunches (I dream about the tofu scramble and crispy potatoes.) Service can be a little slow at times but it’s not that any employee is dawdling. If you look around the staff are hustling to meet everyone’s needs and that includes knowing or being at the ready to check if a menu item is vegan or vegetarian, they care to know. We have taken family and friends, large groups and snuck off just the two of us, we have come for the bands and for the beer. Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks has never let us down.

Winner Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2011Best Specials & Best Restaurant.

Elk Creek Cafe on Urbanspoon

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