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Jan 29, 2010 08:12 PM

State College, PA Recommendations?

Hey folks,

Coming to State College, PA in a week. Any local spots for a chowhound? This is my first time there. Looking for any kinds of good eats, here's a list of what I read on so far:

Herwig's Bistro
Gemelli Bakers
Cheese Shoppe
Seoul Garden
Big Bowl Noodle House

Opinions, on any of the above or if there's something that should be included in the list would be much appreciated.

A few things to note, I'll be attending a farming conference, so probably places that would be open for later in the evening would be good, or if it's close to Penn State and I can just duck out quickly would be a plus. And unless it's Frank Pepe's New Haven pizza comparable, I'm a bit pizza-ed out lately.

Also, I brake for pastries, so any places with great baked goods there or on the way would be a bonus - I will be driving through York, Harrisburg, and Lewistown on the way to State College.

Thanks much!

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  1. I would highly recommend Herwig's, if you like Austrian food, big portions, and an entertaining staff. After living in Germany for a year, Herwig's still has the best sauerkraut that I've ever had. Otto's Pub and Brewery is also quite good; great beer and good to very good food. I would recommend either the IPA or the barleywine.

    If you want something more upscale, Zola's and The American Ale House both have excellent food.

    Big Bowl Noodle House I would say is only remarkable for it's value, not bad food, just not standout. Cozy Thai has the best Asian food in town.

    The Cheese Shoppe has a fair selection of cheeses and probably the best coffee in town, plus other high-end food items.

    Herwig's and Cozy Thai are BYOB and the Herwig's staff appreciates donations. Have fun in State College.

    2 Replies
    1. re: BeerBoy

      I am guessing you are at the Penn Stater Conference center so you will need to drive to everything unless you eat on the premises (NOT advised.)

      Agree with the recs for Herwigs for a fun time and Zola (if you are interested in upscale prices.) Another good one downtown is Spats Cafe.

      While I love Cozy Thai, we just tried and would recommend Viet Thai, not as nice an atmosphere but excellent, fresh food.

      Otto's has great beer but their food is just average (we're members so I feel qualified to judge!) We stick to the sandwiches and apps.

      If you don't mind a drive, the Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks in Penns Valley (about 20 miles outside of town) has great food with local ingredients. The drive would take you through some of the smaller farming communities around State College. They also do craft brews.

      1. re: mb luvs SBH

        Another enthusiastic recommendation for Herwig's! Best. Sauerkraut. Ever. One thing though: they're not open late. They say they don't seat people after 8 pm; I don't know how strict they are about that. (I've seen the infamous wooden beating spoon, but I've never seen it used on a person....)

        I used to go to Otto's strictly for the beer. For the first time in years, I had dinner there last Wed., and I can vouch for the bacon-wrapped meatloaf. Don't know if this is a sign of an across-the-board upgrade in the food, or just that one item....

        I'm also fond of Kelly's Steak and Seafood in Boalsburg, just down Atherton St. from State College proper.

    2. This is what I wrote a year ago about an August 2008 stop in State College:

      When we drive across Pennsylvania, we try to stop in State College at least once a year. Last August, after seeing Cafe Zola Bistro recommended on CH numerous times, we definitely had to try it. We were very disappointed. I had the lemon Thai sole which was basically what I have had at Thai restaurants anywhere but this time at a higher price. Nothing special. My wife had the black truffle encrusted chicken. Way too salty. She has had similar dishes elsewhere with much better results. For dessert, she had the mango orange sorbet. It was not described as having nutmeg sprinkled on it, which she felt detracted from the combination of mango and orange. While you will probably see several people praising this place, we won't be going back. As they say on CH, this is what makes things interesting.

      From more recent stays, Faccia Luna is stil good. On another stay, my wife wanted to see something on HBO, so I got take-out pizza from Home Delivery Pizza which was pretty good but probably not the Chowhound place for pizza in State College (but it was convenient to our motel). Our next place to try is Kelly's -- hopefully, it will come closer to the expectations raised from CH than Zola's did.

      3 Replies
      1. re: jfr

        Don't get your hopes up too high for Kelly's. I had steak there (their specialty, no?), and it wasn't great. You're better of cooking your own, or heading to Outback. Seriously.

        1. re: linguafood

          We ate at Kelly's on Parents Visiting weekend. We didn't know what to expect and were most plesantly surprised with some of the best steaks ever. Maybe you hit an off night, but our meat was so wonderful from beginning to end and I am EXTREMELY fussy about my steak. We started with the fired calamari and although a little light on size it was nonetheless delicious. We followed with a pear and goat cheese salad which had the most fabulous dressing on it....couldnt quite figure all the ingredients. we asked the chef to share it with us, but I understand about chef's secret recipes. He did say however that it was a ginger lime dressing.....great. My daughter and shared a Rib Steak and a grilled shrimp dish and my husband had a Strip steak. All the steaks were tender and perfectly cooked and worth every penny. I dont mind paying the price as long as the quality is there...and it was. the shrimp were a bit salty, but I would go there for the steaks again in a heartbeat. I know where we are eating next year......its a no brainer after eating all the totally mediocre food in town.

          1. re: charmel

            Glad you had a better experience at Kelly's than I did - granted, I only went there once (I don't tend to return to places that are underwhelming the first time around).

            As for "all the totally mediocre food in town" - perhaps a read through this thread will convince you otherwise. It's not nearly the chain resto shit storm it used to be. Far from it.

      2. Herwig's is decent, but I cannot recommend you go there for lunch, lest you want to spend the rest of the afternoon with gastro problems...

        Gemelli has fantastic bread and some cookies, but it's not like they sell sandwiches or anything, so unless you want to buy yourself a loaf (the seedy boule and the pane pugliese are my personal faves) and grab some cheese at the Cheese Shoppe afterwards, it's not a real eating destination.

        Zola's has steadily been going downhill; my guess is that the chef/owner has taken on too many other venues lately (he's not even cooking at Zola's anymore) to focus on quality control. IMO -- over-priced for what's being offered. However, the bar is well-stocked, and they have some knowledgeable bartenders. Especially if you want to have an adult experience... the rest of the bar scene here caters to undergrads.

        Seoul Garden is a better bet than Kim Chi.

        For the BEST Chinese food in town, head to Chopstick Express on College Ave. for dinner. At lunch, they only have American-Chinese buffet food, but at dinner, Sichuan dishes worthy of being in Chinatown of any larger city are just waiting to be inhaled. It's pretty much a hole in the wall, and they are only open until 9 pm. However, this is HANDS DOWN the best restaurant in town, foodwise.

        While Otto's has great beer, the food is sub-par in my experience, and over-priced. You can get better bar food (burgers, sandwiches, etc.) at Champs.

        Spats is totally overpriced, and most of their dishes contain a good lb. of butter. But maybe you like that '-)

        Go to Cozy Thai if you want bland, americanized and mostly deep-fried food. Ask for spicy, and be ignored. Same goes for Viet Thai, spice-wise, though their fare is slightly above Cozy.

        5 Replies
        1. re: linguafood

          It really depends what youre looking for. I've had ups and downs at all of the restaurants mentioned.

          With regards to Korean, I used to love the kimchi jigae from Seoul Garden, but truly fell in love with Kim Chi's (the restaurant) haemul soondubu jigae. Of course, sometimes both places disappoint... Seoul Garden is much more homey in its presentation and taste. Kim Chi I find can be highly variable week to week but the soondubu jigae is always sooooo goood. I havent had as many good experiences at Say Sushi but havent explored that menu fully. Terminal Cafe just opened in town this past February and provides something much different from these restaurants. It used to be open very late, but I dont think so that much anymore. Its more of a lunch/cafe/coffee place but I absolutely love the kimchi jeon there and the spicy pork/chicken isn't half bad.

          In terms of Chinese, Big Bowl certainly offers a great deal of food for 6-7 dollars and the food is consistently tasty, but nothing fancy. Its certainly less Americanized than typical Chinese fair. I like to order one of the day's specials for something new. Okiniawa (Japanese/Chinese) has begun to offer a Big Bowl style meal for even cheaper. There you will find some truly un-Americinized choices (pig's ears, offal, etc) to add to your soup or noodles (which you create yourself). If you ask for the right ingredients and dressings (cilantro, hoisin sauce, etc) you can make a really tasty, LARGE meal for under 7 dollars! I admit that I havent ate at Chopstick Express as much as the other places. It definitely offers some nice Sichuan style dishes, but I was mega-disappointed by the spicy eggplant there. I'd like to try more items there though. I have had fairly good success with Fuji Jade Garden as well. They offer mostly typical Americanized-Chinese menu items but on the last page they have some really good dishes such as hong shao huang yu (whole fried yellow fish) and pigs belly with baby bok choi (one of my favorites although it is exceedingly rich).

          I am a big fan of Vietnamese and Thai food both and have been disappointed by both Cozy Thai and Viet-Thai. They certainly suffice when you are craving either cuisine, but I havent found any stand out dishes that I'd like to come back to AND I am always disappointed with the prices and portions (especially so with Cozy Thai). I do like the Pad Iee Sew (spelling?) at Cozy Thai though and they offer a nice lunch special with soup and salad.

          I'm surprised no one mentioned Indian Pavillion, its a decent Indian restaurant which offers a lunch time buffet for around 8-ish dollars. The food is pretty good for a buffet if you are reallllly looking to stuff yourself. The dinner menu can be a little expensive but the food is mostly good, I especially like the eggplant bharta. Can't remember the biryani being anything special (its one of my favorite dishes I like to cook).

          Herwig's I really enjoy, but I like to go with friends so that we can order dishes and share. It is a bit pricey but makes an excellent rejuvenative post-drinking. I especially like there special sweiser - something weiner schnitzel (a good weiner schnitzel covered in brie with a tasty salad and delicious potato salad).

          Sorry most all of my input is for ethnic cuisine!

          With regards to pizza, I really like Faccia Luna (although pricey). For cheap good pizza I like to go to Bell's Greek Pizza (open to 4 am and often later!!!!!!!). The pizza is very distinct with a thick crust and TON of cheese (also very greasy). The spinach and feta is great, but Ive recently become infatuated with the buffalo chicken pizza with banana peppers on top. Totally delicious if youre a fan of buffalo style dinning.

          GO WITH YOUR GUT!

          1. re: aatoratog

            Thanks for all the input!

            I'll add Otto's and Indian Pavillion to the list.

            If it snows on the weekend, and I get delayed going back home I may get to try more places on the list!

            Any good desserts anywhere?

            Thanks again!

            1. re: cakewalk

              the ONLY place for desserts is the Penn State Creamery. Best philadelphia style ice cream anywhere (regularly takes top prize in the big competitions), and a real local treat!

              Penn State
              215 Innovation Blvd, State College, PA 16803

              1. re: Chowrin

                Penn State Creamery is something of a tourist trap IMHO, although if you are on-campus it is handy. Personally, I always liked Meyer Dairy out on Business 322 just before Boalsburg as my local go-to place for ice cream items. Plus last I checked they still have milk in glass bottles, along with those little metal handled carriers for holding the bottles. Milk always tastes better in glass bottles !


            2. re: aatoratog

              Yes, Indian Pavillion is pretty decent, plus they will crank up the heat if you ask them and not ignore your request. Big plus in my book.

              I've frankly had it with Fuji Garden. While their sushi is probably the best available quality in town, I've found the service to be abysmal. I have yet to have any edible "Chinese" food there, but must admit I've never ventured all the way to the last page on the menu. Perhaps I've been missing out, but I've had too many shitty experiences there that I like to take my money elsewhere. If that means Wegmans sushi to tie me over, so be it.

              And for Chinese, Chopstick Express simply cannot be topped. Try the cuke appetizer, the ma po tofu, the diced chicken with hot peppers, the hot & spicy pork, the cumin beef, the sliced fish in fresh pepper, the green beans, or the shredded potatoes. Heaven on a (styrofoam) plate.

          2. Well, cakewalk -- where'dya end up going/eating? Let's hear all about it!!