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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!

B’s Best Bites – March 2012

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This month has been filled with some of the greatest injustices a cat can ever endure. I have been shut away multiple times in a single room, for hours while a stranger bangs around in our bathroom. Every evening, when I am finally allowed to come out, it has all been changed again and again. I have no idea what was wrong with the old bathroom, it smelled much better, less like fresh paint.

The sights I saw one day were enough to keep me hiding under the bed until after my people came back from one of their many Wednesdays that they visited Otto’s Pub & Brewery. Oh yes, that brings me to the topic at hand, the best bites my people had this month.

They were all focused on Otto‘s this month. Every Wednesday, when the daily menu would go up, they would make plans how they could meet after the stranger wrecking my bathroom left. One day, Millie ran 8 miles to meet Frank there. They didn’t get to take pictures of that meal and Millie came home with an ear ache but they also brought the food home boxed. They weren’t letting any of it go to waste.

One Wednesday, they had a vegan dish of Root Vegetables and Rice that had fancy mushrooms in it. The sauce was so good, I could smell it on their breath when they came home! I acted like I wanted a kiss but really wanted to smell that sauce.

Another Wednesday, they shared a Stuffed Pepper with Provençal Sauce and a plate of Beets, Tempeh and Grilled Tofu in a Tarrgon and Citrus Demi-Glace. Millie was all geeked out because Chef Pete allowed her to come back to what the kitchen calls the lineup. It is when the chef describes each of the specials of the evening to the staff so they know just what has gone into it and how to describe it. They each then get to taste it so they can be knowledgeable servers for the evening meal. She heard Chef Pete share that his black bean soup was thickened with a bean purée as opposed to a roux of butter and flour. She was heartened to know such care was being put into making meals vegan and knowing the difference from being vegetarian. Millie bowed out of the tasting since she knew that she was ordering many of the tasty bites later. She ended up loving the pepper filled with grains and black beans and the chefs have a great way with every tomato sauce they touch.

Some of the other things Otto’s has had on their Vegetarian Wednesday Specials I know I would have liked even more since they have cheese in them. They have had lasagna and pizzas, all very creative in flavor combinations. My people won’t eat cheeserz pleaserz any more since they have become vegan but I would be much pleased if they brought some back for me! The Asian Tofu Pizza this week would have been great (they heard people loved it) and I would have picked around the tofu for that Amish Cheddar they put on it!

Grilled Polenta - best app ever.

My people say that Chef Pete and the newer Chef Steve have been out-doing themselves with the vegan and vegetarian specials every Wednesday. They had the most scrumptious Grilled Polenta this week that they could hardly believe it was vegan! It came out piping hot, that gave it a crisp grilled exterior and the interior was a perfect texture. It wasn’t oily nor not too dense and seasoned just so. The tangy acidity of the slow roasted yellow and red tomatoes along with a premium olive oil made this maybe the best appetizer they have ever had. For $7.00 it was priced just right and they were so glad to have decided to share a little something extra at the beginning of the meal.

They usually just get the main vegan special and, even after their delicious appetizer, decided to do as they normally do. They each got a different vegan special and shared a bit with each other. The first special was Jerked Tofu. The extra firm tofu was not marinated but seared with peppery Caribbean spices so that its exterior was crisp and spicy. Eaten on its own would have been a bit much but balanced the hot with some sweet in a salsa of tiny diced mango, pineapple, red onion and sweet red pepper. The side mash of rutabaga and vegetables added a complimentary starch that stayed with the theme of the dish gave symmetry to the over-all palate.

You can see this isn’t your everyday gastropub fare; the second vegan special this week was a Vegetable Panang Curry. I have heard from many Abyssinian cats that curries in the middle east are nothing like what we American cats ever experience. This curry was along the lines of what any central PA diner would expect, not blistering hot, a little sweet and coconut based. That said, it was as good as, if not better than, any Panang Curry sauce that any of the local Thai restaurants serve. Along side a fluffy jasmine rice timbale, the sauce covered a bricolage of vegetables. The colors were well-balanced with cute little peas and broccoli florets adding the green and the textures reminded my people of what is usually served with a Massaman Curry.

Other things that they carried on about after they got home were how nice it was that the green beans were seasoned and hot but not over cooked. They also liked the micro greens that have been topping many of the specials this month. They were sad not to have had room for the dessert, Mango & Sticky Rice nor the Gazpacho soup. So many good things on Wednesdays at Otto’s and the chef shared that it would continue even after the religious season of Lent.

Because of all of this good news, I have been given the honor of announcing that Otto’s Pub & Brewery BiNah Rating has gone up not just 1/2 but a whole star. The kitchen and wait staff seem so much more in the know about what a vegan or vegetarian can eat and the Wednesday Vegetarian Special are currently among the best in the region of Pennsyltucky.

Now I have to take a nap and prepare for a great weekend with my people hanging out and cooking at home. The bathroom is to be completed today and I will get to show it off to Amy when she visits. As I mentioned in February, I love when she holds my dish for me while I eat. Life is good and my people are very happy with the food in their town.
Otto's Pub & Brewery on Urbanspoon

Otto’s Pub and Brewery

Vegetarian Chili

Here I am, forced by a new listing on Happy Cow into finally reviewing my favorite watering hole. Who better to review Otto’s Pub and Brewery for Happy Cow than a vegetarian Pub Club member? I have hesitated to do so because, although the times I have spent at Otto’s are most enjoyable, it falls short as a vegetarian dining experience.

In just a couple of weeks Otto’s will celebrate the first anniversary of its bold move to a bigger location. It has paid off in some ways but a lot was lost in and around the time of the move. The cozy, sometimes crowded, wooden pub was left behind for not one but two huge bars. The main, Arthur’s Bar, snakes around the one dining area that has a few high top tables and booths that line the windows. The overflow, Otto’s Bar, is open during the busiest times for bands and Firkin Fridays. Gone are the days of literally rubbing elbows with everyone you did(n’t) want to raise a glass with. Now, if you so choose, you can be nearly invisible, down one of the many excellently crafted micro brews (filtered with isinglass, I presume), and exit into the ample parking area before anyone you know can make it around to slap you on the back and buy you one.

Nachos no Black Bean Ragout but finally heated

Prior to the big move, Otto’s would have seasonal menu changes and with each came the excitement of what new vegetarian creations Chef Tim would be adding. I fondly remember the Helles Battered Tofu that went perfectly with a side of Asian Slaw. Appetizers of the past like the Hummus Plate or (for lacto-vegetarians) Cheese & Fruit Platter are but distant memories.

Tiny Bruschetta

As reflected in my End of Summer mini review or Soups & Suds, you can get an idea that I have eaten plenty of times at Otto’s and have a history there.

The new location is decidedly family friendly with some thirsty parents not bothering to get a table for their kiddos but having them sit at the bar with them. Note to those patrons, a bar stool not the most comfortable place for someone under 5′ to sit and eat. I am under 5′, when I am at the bar, I drink – if I really want to eat, I get a table.

Veggie Quesadilla, one of 4 slices

The Wi-Fi has been really reliable since late July and it even reaches out to the cute patio area. There is a vast lobby and gift area to wait if you come at a high traffic time and plenty of seating so the wait is never all that bad. The new large screened tvs in all 3 dining areas always have a variety of sports to watch. The back dining area, best suited for families in my opinion, allows you a great view of the wood fired pizzas being made.

Gladly, they have more than settled and as of March 2012 have added multiple vegetarian and vegan specials every Wednesdays. Read the updated review here and let it be known Otto’s is much more vegtarian friendly because of their efforts.
At the time of the original review, I could go back and forth on the good and the bad longer than a Wimbledon tennis match. They have a veggie burger (good) but don’t offer it in the “Quick Lunch Menu #4” even though it says any style burger (bad). They have regular veggie options (good) but they aren’t clearly marked as you try to sort them out on the vast menu (bad). The wait staff is attentive and friendly (really good) but they can’t always get information from the kitchen if a special is vegetarian (really bad). The new brunch items have a vegetarian option (good but not if you are vegan) but were poorly prepared (bad, not grilled as described and important veggie ingredients missing). Otto’s has had plenty of time to settle into the new digs.

Winner Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2011 Best Veggie Burger.

Soups & Suds

Soups & Suds

Over the past week I have finally been enjoying some good autumnal soups and locally crafted brews. The ones I will touch on today are from the best micro breweries around, Otto’s Pub and Brewery and Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks.

Both locations have very fine brews and one of my favorites this summer included Otto’s Pilsner Lager. Yeah – don’t expect me to go on in the traditional fashion about how it has a beautiful golden color with a 1cm crystal white head that laces beautifully as I enjoy the saaz hop aroma and the crisp finish. All that is true but more importantly is that it’s a wonderfully drinkable summer beer. My heart sunk the other day when I saw it was taken off the board; goodbye summer, goodbye Otto’s Pilsner.

On to Oktoberfest beers of which I have none photographed in my slideshow below. Between these two breweries this season, I am preferring Elk Creek Cafe’s Crick Fest. Copper with a nice malty nose, I tend to like it because of the lesser carbonation and bready grains. It makes the coming of the colder months much more acceptable when I warm with a few mouthfuls of Crick Fest.

Another outstanding beer is Elk Creek’s Home Grown Hop Harvest Ale. Wet and dry hopped with local hops, it is reminiscent of Otto’s Flying Squirrel Ale. Not pretentious, downright earthy and organic in flavor.

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Now for the soups. We know we can always rely on a daily vegetarian soup at Elk Creek Cafe and have enjoyed the Mushroom Soup there lately. It is always rich with earthy goodness and just a little garnish of truffle oil on top. Tasty and classy.

We also just enjoyed a remarkable Le Puy Lentil Stew with Tait Farm Peppers, Radish Leaves and a Radish Leah Pesto(!!) on Crusty Bread. The stew was organically sweet with tiny red lentils and a tomato base. The Radish Leaf Pesto was a fresh reminder of leafy summer mellowed by sunflower seeds. Another breathtaking Elk Creek Cafe meal – really.

I have to watch the specials carefully to catch the veggie soups at Otto’s. Lately I have lucked out with 3: Broccoli Cheddar, Tomato Florentine and Vegetable Chili. I am thinking I got the very dregs of the Broccoli Cheddar (not in slideshow above)because it tasted a little burnt. It was ok, I did let my waitress know and I guess my appetite wasn’t fully there to begin with so I didn’t finish it.

The Tomato Florentine was a much better soup but seemed more like a Tomato Basil since it had no discernible dairy in it. The tomato flavors were bright and full and the basil was very flavorful. A great soup at anytime of year and my guess is local tomatoes were used since it’s September.

Best for last, the most recent Vegetarian Chili at Otto’s. We couldn’t determine the heat but our best guess was more of a powdered chili, perhaps poblano. Very nicely seasoned (included cumin, garlic, basil) and treading a tricky line with the Pennsyltucky pallete. The seasoned broth was thin but was chock full of chunks of zuchini, yellow squash, corn, carrot, celery, onion, tomato, bell pepper, black beans and kidney beans. A beautiful festival of local harvest this soup was a perfect welcome to Autumn!

A quick end of 10-2-11 week addendum, we had another amazing soup at Otto’s. You know it’s Fall when places start carrying Butternut Squash soup and Otto’s has always had a great one! Years ago, the day I became a Pub Club member actually, Leah served us a couple of bowls of this soup and tuned us on to adding a little of the Hurricane Mary wing sauce. It’s a favorite combo of ours!

Two great spots for soup and suds! We are lucky to have these restaurants so close to us!

Go Phillies

A hot pretzel at Otto’s and watching he Phils beat the Astros.


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

Pickled Red Onyums

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I am a big fan of pretty much anything pickled. Over the past couple of years I have had my taste buds tickled a few times when a serving of pickled onions has been slipped onto my veggie sandwich. Locally I can remember a hummus or Greek wrap that Otto’s served years ago and one of the current veggie sandwiches at Olde New York also uses them well.

I decided to try to make some myself and combined a few ideas including inspiration from good chef/ writer/ marathon runner Mark Bittman. He has a great section on Quick-Pickled Vegetables in his “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” Thanks to our dear Amy for giving us this versatile vegetarian cooking bible!!

A nice big red onion will give you four healthy servings. You can use them as a side dish to a carb heavy Mexican meal or top a nice falafel, tzatziki, and veggie sandwich.

My Pickled Red Onyums turned out so well that they won’t last long Stored in a closed glass container in the fridge you can keep them for about a month but I dare you to try to not eat them all within a week. The juice itself can brighten up a bland potato salad so don’t pitch it when the Onyums are all*.

I put my seasoning in a spice bag because I like the naked strands of onion to be unlittered by spice bits. When I say “spice bag” I actually mean a 6″ section of laundered old cotton t-shirt (too many race shirts have ugly logos). I securely tied the spices inside so they would not escape during the boil.

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 bay leaf
5 whole allspice
5 whole cloves
1 large red onion, peeled, and sliced thinly into rings

1. In a small, non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, and bagged spiced until boiling.

2. Let the liquid simmer about 3 minutes to let the bagged spices work their magic with the juice. This is what will change the onions into Onyums!

3. Add the onion slices, lower heat, and simmer gently for 30 seconds while giving them a stir or two. Yup, just 30 seconds.

4. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool them completely.

5. Remove the spice bag an spoon the Onyums and their liquid into a glass jar to refrigerate until ready to use.

* In this case, something being “all” means “all gone.” Having grown up in Central PA, I have the joy of being surrounded by phrases that my best friend Missy refers to as “Dutchified.” I think it only proper that I slip a little Dutchified English into BiNaH now and then.

Falafel and tzatziki with Pickled Red Onyums on naan. I ate half for lunch and I am stuffed!

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