State College's new Middle Eastern / Mediterranean venues -- worth checking out!
Good news for Happy Valley dwellers -- not every single new restaurant opening up these days is "Asian" anymore.
Nope -- within the last year or so, the town has thankfully seen a good number of places not owned by the same family offering variations on the same food (I'm looking at you, Fuji/Jade Garden/Sakura/Penang/My Thai etc. etc. -- not that these are all bad, but there comes a point when a certain niche seems oversaturated, and "Asian" food has reached that point a couple years ago).
It all kind of began with the falafel cart on Pugh & Beaver, which was started up a couple years ago by overly enthusiastic PSU graduates who wanted to offer similar food to what is readily available on near every street corner in NYC. Unfortunately, good ideas & good execution are two different things, and perhaps due to the lack in quality and thus lack of customers, the cart seems to be closed more often than not.
Luckily, there is now the aptly named "The Greek", located off of N. Atherton in a former real estate office building. The interior is rather kitschy, and for some strange reason, one has to order at the counter coming in, take a number for a table, go to said table and wait for the food to be brought out. Now why one couldn't just order at the table if there is waitstaff is beyond me, but perhaps there's some interesting philosophy behind it. Who knows. What I do know is that they crank out some pretty damn good food -- the fava is a thing to behold, as is the melitsanosalata -- studded with feta and with a smoky flavor that'll have you ordering a second portion. Even the pedestrian tzatziki is delicious. The spanakopita, tho not my thing, is also done very well: flaky crust, *fresh* spinach and a good hit of dill, just like yaya used to make '-)
The fact is they actually flew in a cook from the homeland who trained the staff for a month or so, which is nice - the quality has remained the same since he left. The gyros is tasty, the sandwich even comes with fries in it, Athens-style, and the lamb souvlaki (called kebab for unknown reasons) is great when it comes out med-rare.
Misses are the calamari -- overcooked and the saganaki, which is deep-fried (!) haloumi. The baklava is pretty good if you're a sweetie. I am not.
The other wonderful addition to the local dining scene is Pita Cabana, which now operates two locations (the original basement location on E. College Ave. & a new, slightly larger and -- dare I say -- more welcoming place on Calder Way). On the menu are what one would expect from a Lebanese/Middle Eastern place: hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, tabbouleh, and various meats.
I had the falafel sandwich for lunch today (the "small" one is $5.29 and is easily enough food for one person), which comes with two freshly fried falafel and your choice of a huge buffet of condiments/ingredients like pickles, slaw, various sauces & vegetables, and is wrapped in a soft flatbread which then gets toasted. It was fabulous, and made me miss Berlin just a little bit less for a while....
Did I mention they have Ayran?
Go. Support your local businesses.