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New Veggie Options in State College!

Just because I am busy in my last month of training for a full marathon doesn’t mean I have given up eating, nor being vegan. On the contrary – I have become an eating machine. I just don’t have the time to write down and photograph, let alone blog, all of the great fuel that has been giving me super veggie energy as I pound out my long runs. I have been cooking at home and dining out and as I spend hours on roads and trails I think of creative recipes and places to eat. Let me tell you, over 12 – 20 miles gives you a LOT of time to think and vegan food is almost always on my mind.

Other the the super vegan fueling option provided by Hammer Nutrition for my long runs, I want to quickly share some new local dining options that I hope to eventually review in full. Although this won’t be detailed, I don’t want to delay from sharing these new State College delights so that more people can support and enjoy them.

This week, Lemongrass opened at 432 E College Ave. This Vietnamese Cafe has a focused menu of Pho (noodle soup), Bun (vermicelli noodles with savory dressing), Com Tam (rice platter with savory dressing), and Bahn Mi (sandwich). There are vegetarian choices for each and the portions are immense. The ingredients are fresh and prepared as you wish in front of you. Do ask for the vegan broth in the Pho and choose tofu as a protein option in any of the items to make for a great veggie feast. The staff was caring enough to check and double-check that we were vegan when preparing all of our dishes. The place has a grab-n-go feel to it but has plenty of seating even in an upper loft. Very nice and filled my ever aching void post 12 mile run.

Similar Vietnamese cuisine with a warmer sit-down environment is provided by Pho11 at 146 N Atherton St. I can’t say enough about this kind and attentive staff, that checked on every menu item we had questions about. Vegetarian Salad with Tofu was vegan and large enough to share. We also got vegan menu items, Vegetarian Vermicelli with Tofu and the Lemon Tofu (Fried tofu prepared with fresh cucumber, radish, carrot, onion & celery). This was a nice meal we had back in April and I waited to be able to compare it to what Lemongrass had to offer. I would say Pho11 is better for groups and relaxed dining but you can’t beat the freshness and portions of Lemongrass.

A total culture shift but still right in downtown is the new Joie de Crêpe. I know all of you hard core strict vegan types just raised an eyebrow when you read “Crêpe”. Before you blow by this paragraph remember this blog is for vegetarians and this little nook has vegan crêpes! They also can use Tofutti cheeses, offer a savory vegan sauce option, plenty of sweet fruits, spreads and the like. It is tucked way downstairs at 428 E College Ave. and has even more ever changing menu items if you are vegetarian.

Opening today is yet another carb loading option option for me at the chain Noodles & Company. Vegetarians have tons more options at this place so take a look at the nutritional breakdown for all of their menu items if you want to know the details (check the allergens columns). Last time we were in Pittsburgh we found that we could eat the Japanese Pan Noodles and Indonesian Peanut Sauté but I see a few vegan salad options too.

For literally the icing on top, don’t miss *ndulge Cupcake Boutique. This one takes just a little more foresight (vegan cupcake orders take 72 hours advance notice) but is well worth it! We placed a special order for vegan Coconut sCream cupcakes to share with friends from Green Street Vegetarian Club and they were beyond splendid!

With so many more people being sensitive to vegan and gluten-free needs, you have no need to walk more that a few steps in downtown State College without finding another impressive vegan choice or two. We will be traveling more beyond Centre County in the coming month to make the final decisions for the 2012 Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards in the categories of best Portobello, Veggie Burger, Soup, Salad, Chili, Specials, Ethnic Restaurant, Vegetarian Restaurant Best Restaurant and Peoples Choice. If you want to nominate a place or menu item to be considered for any of the mentioned categories, please leave a comment below or email to See the map below to know the entire region we cover.


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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, 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

Cozy Thai Bistro / Galanga

Panang Curry & Drunken Noodles

I promised this review to someone in December 2011 when I went with (now defunct) State College Vegetarians meet-up group. That is how backed up I am, so I am writing two restaurant reviews in the same post! Never to worry, they are both in State College, both part of the same ownership and the one is in that same location as the other was. Allow me to back up in time and explain a bit.

During the week of Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in 2007, Cozy Thai Bistro first opened its doors. The style inside was classy and made up for the amount of space. They weren’t kidding when they chose the word “cozy” to describe themselves and even the fact they crammed tables into every usable space didn’t eliminate an almost guaranteed wait during the first couple of years.

Spring Rolls

The staff was always friendly and accommodating, the food quite good and it was much appreciated when they added a separate vegetarian menu. Even now, we still make it really clear that we don’t want fish/oyster sauces because it is still listed on some menu items in the vast vegetarian section.

The menu has not changed much since those early years and the quality has stayed the same. Because of the nature of this college town, the waitstaff changes over time but they are always good about checking as to what can or cannot be made vegan if they don’t already have that knowledge set to memory.

Drunken Noodles

One thing that changed in late 2009 was that Cozy Thai Bistro moved to a larger location from 454 E. College Ave. to 232 S. Allen Street. Neither location has off street parking but there are more metered municipal lots by their new location.

Cozy Thaiis now a bit brighter with more and larger windows in the front. Their decor and food is still very nice but it there is still frequently a wait for seating and the payoff for that isn’t quite as “cozy” as the original location. It’s actually quite noisy most of the time.

Mee Ka Ti @ Cozy Thai

So what happened to the old spot on College Avenue? In the second half of 2010, the same owners opened a short-lived restaurant called Tana Asian Cafe that only had 3 vegetarian options. They must have learned from any mistakes they made so tried yet again in June 2011 by opening Galanga by Cozy Thai in the original College Avenue location.

It took us over 6 months to finally visit Galanga by Cozy Thai. We wondered just how different their menu would be and if they were also tuned into the needs of vegetarians and vegans. Without a microscopic inspection of the menus, side by side, I would say that what Cozy Thai Bistro and Galanga by Cozy Thai offer is identical.

Crispy Tofu Appetizer

Galanga’s interior has the same charm that we remember it having back in it’s Cozy Thai days but the crowds have thinned just a bit. This may be because their sister restaurant is so well established downtown that it takes some of the urgency off of needing to get your Pad Thai on in only one location. Also, a little after Cozy Thai made its move to Allen St., My Thai opened up across town in Westerly Parkway Plaza and it was only recently that Viet-Thai finally closed its doors at 149 North Atherton.

Don’t be confused or lured by other State College Thai places. If you in the area, are vegan or vegetarian, either Cozy Thai or Galanga are going to serve you the same delicious dishes with the same care to your dietary needs. Neither offer Wifi and the larger Cozy Thai is a lot more family friendly that the more romantic Galanga. From the sweet and hearty Mee-Ka-ti (cannot be made vegan) to the earthy and verdant spirited Pad Khing you can find over a dozen entrées to choose from. If you really like the heat, ask for it Thai Spicy. When you add to that the various appetizers and salads, you can be assured to find something you like every time you visit, either location.
Cozy Thai Bistro on UrbanspoonGalanga by Cozy Thai on Urbanspoon

Indian Pavilion

Indian Pavilion has been down in the basement of 222 Calder Alley in State College for almost as long as I can remember. Many years ago it was a Chinese restaurant called Canton and in the late 80’s the place to go for the best vegetarian Indian cuisine was Vegetarian Delight at 114 Hetzel St.

Sadly I can’t dine at nor would reviewing vegetarian restaurants that are only memories help anyone very much. Indian Pavilion is closed Mondays also from 2:30 – 5:00 on other days. It is a popular spot for the downtown working crowd since its lunch buffet is hot and ready to go by 11:30.

I accidentally arrived about 5 minutes before lunch and was not the first to be seated. The lunch buffet has a big following and by the time it was 11:30, 5 of the 20 tables in the main dining area were already seated and waiting for the Mattar Mushrooms to be brought out.

There is more seating in the separate room where they set up the 9 large copper lunch buffet pots but I am not certain it is used during lunch. A smaller salad and dessert bar is also set up in that room. It gets to be very busy rather quickly.

Typically 2 of the main dishes served are not vegetarian at the lunch buffet and they are clearly marked. They are also usually the last 2 pots on the buffet line. The lacto-vegetarian dishes take up most of the other pots (Basmati Rice with peas being the only vegan dish at lunch) and are labeled by name of the dish. I sampled each and along with my Naan that had been served directly to my table, just a sample of each was a lunchtime feast.

The rice was warm and fluffy, the two 1/4 wedges of naan were warm and quite nice. The Vegetable Pakoras (like Indian Hush Puppies) tasted mostly of onion and were crispy. The Dahi Vada were cold fluffy lentil dumplings in a tangy yogurt sauce. The black lentil Daal Makkhani was very mildly spiced. The Vegetable Fritters were soft and hot and a base of potato and cauliflower in a mild/medium spiced creamy red sauce. The Mattar Mushrooms (peas and mushrooms) were very warm in temperature in a medium spiced curry sauce with cooked onions.

Since it’s a buffet you won’t easily be able to carry everything but I warn you against leaving your plate to return for something you forgot, it might be taken away with the assumption your were finished with it. At the cold/fresh/dessert bar you will find a Hot Sauce that is more like a thin watered down ketchup, Mint Chutney that is yogurt based and has garlic in it, Tamarind Chutney that is like a sweet and sour sauce and a Raita which is also yogurt based and just a little too salty.

The staff and manager, Sohan Dadra, were very attentive to my needs. My water glass was frequently refilled and I was offered more naan when my bread basket was empty. I enjoyed the meal to recorded music of people singing traditional Indian songs.

As I took photos of the lovely wall hangings, it was picked up on that I was reviewing the place. Mr. Dadra answered every question I had and assured me that meals in the evening can easily be made vegan just by asking that milk and cream be left out. He is very eager to please and gave me a complicated description of how wheel chair accessibility required patrons to enter from the opposite side of the building at that it would be best to call first to make sure the florist has not blocked the way from the elevator that needs to be accessed.

As Indian food goes, the lunch buffet caters to the central Pennsylvania palette. It is very mildly spiced, a bit over-processed and very little fresh food to be had. What is great is that it is clear what it and isn’t vegetarian, the flavors are varied, ingredients seasonal, and temperatures just right. This would be a great place to take anyone who wasn’t sure if they liked Indian food, very family friendly with mango flavored beverages and desserts like Keer and Halava. There is a clear section on the evening menu for vegetarian dishes and I would encourage maybe even vegans to go since they are so open to modifying their recipes to suit, the manager was who made mention of vegan modifications. A clear thing to note is that they not only serve meat products, there are many lamb dishes on the menu.
India Pavillion Exotic Indian on Urbanspoon

Spats Cafe and Speakeasy Restaurant

What’s in a name? Before I ever went to Spats I got the impression that I was going to have to be sized up through a little sliding window in the front door, maybe give a password to let me into the self-proclaimed “speakeasy.” Prohibition is long over and State College is anything but a dry town (as described in amazing detail by This American Life’s #1 Party School) but Speakeasy’s still a cool term and might have its etymological roots in Pennsylvania.

Our first visit was years ago during a cold winter holiday. I remember sharing lunch with our son, then 15, and one of his first girlfriends, Danya. The tall ceiling wasn’t making it easy to heat the dining room but we had a pleasant and special lunch in the dim filtered light of late December. It was that day we realized they actually had vegetarian choices. Thank you to Danya for drawing Spats to our attention.

On the corner of College Avenue and Pugh Street in downtown State College, Spats sits above The Rathskeller to which I gave an earlier food review. I always like to stop outside the brick exterior and read the posted menus because they have been dedicated to always having one vegetarian special.

The interior is lovely and dimly lit with a Deco Bourbon Street theme. The wood floors, tables and chairs are accented with the rouge and black color scheme of table cloths and high painted ceiling.The selection of jazz always puts me in a festive mood and the little Mardi Gras beads wrapped around the silverware is just the best.

We almost always get the Vegetable Jambalaya but since I reviewed the same kitchen’s creation at the downstairs The Rathskeller (from which you can tap into the WiFi), we took time to really look over the menu and seek out some new things to try. We went for dinner but read over the Tapas and Amuse-Bouche menu too. So much to tempt us but it was a couple of vegetarian specials that won out this time.

You might think I was sick of chili after the week of prepping and competing in the Vegtoberfest Chili Cook-off. Not so, I am always intrigued to see how others put together a Vegetarian Chili. This recipe was quite mild but smoky with chunks of tomato, green & red peppers, corn and kidney beans. I thought they played it a little too safe but it was fine other than being too salty. I added their Spats hot sauce to make it have a little heat.

I also ordered another of my favorites, Creole Chopped Salad. It 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.

Jim took advantage of the vegetarian special of Eggplant Ravioli. It was topped with soft small cubes of mozzarella and scallions and the fresh made pasta pillows with blanketed in a red sauce. The sauce was creole inspired with the twist of adding sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives for flavor and texture. The sauce on its own was a little too salty to begin with and the olives pushed it over the edge. The raviolis were very mild, well cooked pasta around a perfectly done filling of cooked eggplant and cheese.

Although Spats has regular vegetarian specials, I can’t think of many who will want to visit regularly. It’s just a bit salty – price and palette wise. Save it for a special night with your sweety or a group of friends who are hard to impress. How many places do you know in State College that offer a between course sorbet palette cleanser?. It’s not a place to take rambunctious children and reservations are suggested. A Vegan would be hard pressed to easily sort out what might make a good meal here but it is a pretty classy place for a Vegetarian dining experience.

Winner Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2011Best Salad

Spats Cafe & Speakeasy 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.

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