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State college update

anything new and exciting in or near state college?

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  1. Dunno about exciting, or how up-to-date you are -- so "new" to you may be "not so new" to me.

    Some (relatively) recent additions I am rather fond of:

    Pita Cabana on Calder Way -- good falafel, baba ganoush and hummus
    Penn Kebab -- a VERY good shawarma/lahmaçun place run by two Turks
    The Greek - very good melitsanosalata, very decent gyros, good tzatziki
    My Thai -- good Thai & they will crank up the heat for ya
    Sakura -- likely best sushi in town if you can stay away from the crazy rolls
    Fiddlehead Café -- good soups and a very good salad bar (huge portions, too)

    I've heard of Gigi's in the former Prospector's location, but almost all reviews are terrible, and there's a crêpe place on W. College people seem to love, but I haven't been.

    2 Replies
    1. re: linguafood

      The owner of Pita Cabana was planning to open a crepe place. He told me about it earlier in the summer. Don't remember W. College though, I was thinking the other direction.

      I've been to Gigi's three times. They have some of the better "fine dining" in the area but it comes with high prices and abysmal service. Be warned if you go the tapas route to tell them in what order to bring them. Otherwise you'll get them all at once, regardless if there is room on the table or not.

      1. re: mb luvs SBH

        Thanks for the heads up, but after the shitty reviews Gigi's been getting, I have zero interest in going :-)

        I have a $100 certificate for Zola's (where I wouldn't eat anything besides apps anymore, either) that I plan on using up soon. Hard to regret free money spent, even if it's on overpriced, mediocre food.

    2. went back to Kellys steak house and had an excellent meal with 8 people. a little expensive but reasonable for what we ordered. thanks for the recs. I will try them out when I go back up to see my kids in the fall

      22 Replies
      1. re: dining with doc

        That's interesting to hear. The last few reviews of Kelly's on Yelp, for example, were absolutely awful.

        1. re: linguafood

          Is YELP where you saw the poor reviews for Gigi's too? Just wondering because our friends love it. I have never had a good meal at Kelly's except for apps or sandwiches. Your list above includes all of our State College "go to" places. We just moved away a month ago and one thing I don't miss is the lack of good dining.

          1. re: mb luvs SBH

            Yes, on Yelp. Nobody on CH ever reviews any SC restaurants '-)

            1. re: linguafood

              We might head that way this weekend, if we do, I will report back.

              I was pleasntly surprised by our last lunch at Kelly's but that was a few months back.

              Mr. CB and I have the same conversation each time we go to town, why doesn't State College have better restaurants?

              1. re: cleobeach

                I think we're lucky to have what we have, and the places I mention in my first post are all well worth a visit -- though, if atmosphere is as important to you as the quality of the food, I'd stick to the Greek, My Thai & Sakura.

                Chopstick Express remains my absolute favorite in town, but you better like styrofoam plates and neon lights.

                1. re: linguafood

                  Enjoyed China Dragon on Allen St. this week; I got some pork belly with spicy peppers and onions (lajiao xiaochao) as well as a simple stirfry of Shanghai bok choy that had good wok hay from their Specials menu. Also tried some of their spicy chicken from their dinner buffet and was pleased with the spicing, but the sauce was nothing special. It's not quite in direct competition with Chopstick Express, but it's a nice alternative when the latter is full!

                  1. re: mookleknuck

                    I haven't been, as I've only heard bad to very bad reviews of this place. Haven't felt the need to check it out b/c of the reviews, and of course, our group always makes sure to reserve a few tables in advance when we go to our jour fixe at CE :-)

                    1. re: linguafood

                      I've only ever ordered from their "China Dragon Special" list, not the rest of the menu or "Our Chef's Specialties." The food on that list, thus far, has been authentic; I cannot attest to the rest of the menu or most of their dinner buffet.

              2. re: linguafood

                Well, I've been to Fascia Luna two years running. Nice place.
                I also recommend Herwig's, particularly if you get their desserts.

                1. re: Chowrin

                  It's decent pizza, for sure. Better pizza can be had at Nola's, but the owner's a bit of a weirdo, and the service can be exasperatingly slow.

                  Not a fan of Herwig's -- I know, I know, it's a local fave.... but as a German, I find it mediocre-to-downright bad (the sauerkraut is horrid). Their salad dressing, OTOH, is nice. But not reason enough for me to go.

                  1. re: linguafood

                    With you on Herwigs. I am an American born by birth but have lived in Germany. But then again, I was never a fan of even the best German food while eating in Germany and Austria.

                    1. re: cleobeach

                      Ah, well. I dream of a Krustenbraten vom Spanferkel (crackling roast of the sucking pig) I've had at one of our fave Austrian places. There's some great stuff to be had, just not at Herwigs.

                      Thank goodness for the Turkish/Lebanese invasion of State College :-)

                    2. re: linguafood

                      but their desserts! (liquor... filled)

                      1. re: Chowrin

                        Ha! I remember the shivers as I forced down the chocolates filled with booze as a teen. I hated the taste but the access to booze made me put on a good face when Dad put those on the table.

                        1. re: cleobeach

                          the good german ones are quite good.

                          1. re: Chowrin

                            Back in the day, my parents would check extra luggage full of treats when they returned from visiting relatives. If they ran low between trips, there an importer outside of NYC that my dad would visit. I haven't had that stuff in years. I didn't know how much I missed it until this thread.

              3. re: linguafood

                Excellent heirloom tomato, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil balsamic reduction, very fresh with nice vinegarette house salad, very good lobster ravioli in a truffle cream lobster sauce, good grilled prawns, good peppercorn encrusted salmon, very good prime rib, ok tenderloin.

                1. re: dining with doc

                  I think the best fine dining in State College is at Harrisons.

                  1. re: mb luvs SBH

                    Interesting. I'd say Zola's is better, despite their continuous downfall -- but I'm also not too fond of eating in a hotel lobby :-)

                    1. re: linguafood

                      Yeah, you will notice I said the dining...definitely not atmosphere. Lunch is great, their wine list is well done and I've had good dinners there too. I like places that do local foods. Elk Creek is my favorite in the area. So glad I moved to Pittsburgh, where there are MANY more choices.

              4. I would include Billy's Bar B Que as notable near State College. The main location is near Reedsville, handy for anyone approaching State College from the direction of Harrisburg and Lewistown.

                They do dry rub, low and slow smoking, with no pre-cooked meats hastily finished over a wood fire like some others do. We tried the pulled chicken and a half rack of ribs, both were excellent. Sides included delicious smoked potato salad and some savory baked beans, and great hush puppies. They offer pulled pork and brisket as well, which we will try next time. Multiple sauces are offered on the side, including house, spicy, mild, mustard, and vinegar, though the meat was good enough that sauce was hardly required.

                They have opened a second location at a hotel in Milesburg, I understand, Sheraton maybe?

                Finally, some really good BBQ in Central PA

                2 Replies
                1. re: Dan D

                  That's some great information, though I'm not sure I'd drive out to Reedsville specifically to get food. That said -- on the way home, passing through.... absolutely! It *has* to be better than Clem's, no?

                  1. re: Dan D

                    So I finally had a chance to try Billy's BBQ en route home from Philly.

                    We got "1lb." of pulled pork (once arriving at home, it was obvious that the portion was closer to half a lb. -- so much for truth in advertising), brisket (three meager slices), and a full rack of ribs (decent portion). Sides were minuscule -- cheesy corn & cole slaw.

                    While I liked the meat, I thought it was pretty expensive given the tiny portions. The ribs were pretty great, and their house BBQ sauce is nice.

                    Just don't give me half a lb. of pulled pork if you advertise it as a whole pound. Really.

                  2. Have you tried American Ale House in Toftrees? It's sort of an upscale casual and on Friday nights they have music, usually Tommy Wareham, at the piano bar. They do have several new orleans dishes such as pan roast, jambalya etc.
                    I really like Gigi's. I've been there several times. Rather on the pricey side but for State College it has a pretty cool bar.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: luvstobake

                      I really like American Ale house. If you care to sit at the bar on the far end, they cook the fresh seafood right in front of you. I always enjoy it and it makes for a fun happy hour, with pretty good food.


                    2. Not new, but most locals don't know about Seoul Garden in State College which is a surprisingly good Korean restaurant for a central PA college town. Zola's also not new but worth repeating as one of the few non-chain upscale places in town. Some people like Herwig's, but the guy who runs it is an insulting jerk so I won't go back there again. And that's honestly about the complete list of places worth eating in State College. Next on the list would probably be the prepared food bar at Wegman's.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Mangiaperfavore

                        the insulting jerkiness is part of the shtick...
                        They seem quite friendly.

                        1. re: Chowrin

                          Yes, a shtick. See my response below.

                      2. Well, I have to say my 2 experiences at Gigi's so far were pretty damn excellent, including the service: attentive, professional, friendly.

                        While I still think their entrees are WAY overpriced (we're not in NYC, after all), the small plates are reasonable & very tasty.

                        The trio of scallops was actually fantastic, the elk carpaccio nice, the lamb chops really good. I'd go back in a shot, and I like the atmosphere in the bar room -- the restaurant area, OTOH, is pretty kitschy.

                        Blowing our $100 coupon at Zola's recently was also a surprisingly good experience. Southern-fried quail on grits with andouille gravy was plate-licking good, as was the truffled mac & cheese.

                        Fuji Garden has added some interesting Shanghai and Sichuan dishes as of recent (braised pork belly over mustard greens, stir-fried pea shoots, braised fish belly, just to name a few), and still serves the best sashimi in town. Fantastic cocktails from an incredibly knowledgable bartender at that.

                        An "upscale Cajun/Creole" (their own description!) restaurant, Duo, opened up late November.

                        Went there with a small group shortly after they've opened, so I'm loath to review them at this point... but the food definitely needs work (almost all dishes were luke warm). Maybe I'll give them another shot next year.

                        As for Herwig's -- good god, it's a shtick. Anyone offended by that needs to relax. That said, I'm not a fan of the food at all.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: linguafood

                          Recommending herwig's desserts for any college students out there. Specifically those wanting to consume alcohol without being of age. (might want to tip a bit extra...)

                          1. re: linguafood

                            So glad you tried and liked Gigi Linguafood! And glad to hear the service was good. It definitely improved the fine dining scene in State College. Sorry to hear we left town before someone started doing creative cocktails, too. And at an Asian joint, to boot.

                            Where is Duo?

                            1. re: mb luvs SBH

                              We will be in town during the day New Years Eve and I think we will try Gigis

                              1. re: cleobeach

                                Our day went sideways on us (in a fun way) and we ended up in Lewisbrg instead. I will check out Sichuan Bistro next time in town.

                              2. re: mb luvs SBH

                                Duo is in the former Tony's Big Easy location, across from Pugh Street garage.

                            2. Get thee to the new Sichuan Bistro, situated in the building that used to house Golden Wok. It's been open since mid November, run by two dudes who used to work at Chopstick Express.

                              The sweet and sour lotus root is absolutely fantastic, and both the fish hot pot and the diced chicken with hot pepper are just as good as the CE versions.

                              I will have to go back with a larger crowd so we can try more dishes.

                              While this place likely won't replace our weekly jour fixe at CE, it's a nice alternative -- especially on Sundays, when CE is closed.

                              Also, a much nicer atmosphere (good for speakers or job candidates coming to town) AND a restroom.


                              7 Replies
                              1. re: linguafood

                                TL;DR Competent hand with Sichuan classics. Thanks for mentioning this place, linguafood.

                                Finally made it out here tonight and ordered, as listed on the menu: beef tongue and tripe (fuqi feipian with a request of extra ma or numbing), wood ears with Japanese peppers (shanjiao muer), dumplings with chili oil (hongyou shuijiao), diced chicken with peppers (lazi jiding with a request of extra ma and extra la or spicy and changing the normal dried chilis with niujiao jiao - not sure of the translation, but maybe longhorn peppers?), and the house special fried rice (with a request of extra la with added peppers).

                                All were competent and tasted good. The cold appetizer, fuqi feipian, was blanketed with spices, scallions, crushed peanuts, and garlic. The cold appetizer of wood ears were cold and the Japanese peppers were light yellow and pickled. The dumplings with chili oil had an enjoyably sweetened sauce, but the skins were quite thick (which are fine, given that they are dumplings). The house special fried rice had large pieces of chicken and scrambled egg along with small pieces of roasted pork (chashao/charsiu) and shrimp. (The server said that there would be beef, chicken, lamb, pork, and shrimp, but I didn't notice all that.) The peppers were a necessary addition, but the fried rice was very wet. The diced chicken with longhorn peppers were the star with small, very crispy chunks of chicken and large, diagonally sliced peppers.

                                Prices are slightly higher than those at Chopstick Express, but the restroom and ability to pay with a credit card make it worth it for us. I also appreciated leaving and not smelling like hot grease. The menu also seems to have more Chinese offerings than CE's. The parking lot behind the restaurant will make this even more convenient dining than CE come the fall when parking meters are enforced until 10PM.

                                On an unrelated note, I am looking forward to the hot pot restaurant that is currently slated to open in the fall.

                                1. re: mookleknuck

                                  Don't know if you know, but the same guy who's opening the hot pot restaurant has added a Sichuan menu to Fuji Jade, and some of the dishes are downright fantastic -- the fact that the bartenders really know what they're doing helps, too...

                                  Just a few days ago, we ordered a ton of food -- their pork dumplings in chili oil make me swoon, the sizzling tofu is great, there's a fabulous braised pork belly appetizer, the beef tendon salad is usually good, but was lacking in ma and la last time, there are whole fried shrimp, great diced chicken with peppers, wonderful dry hot pots....

                                  I gotta say, I'm pretty happy about the variety of Sichuan places in town these days. I woulda preferred a dim sum place over the hot pot place, tho.

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    Previous visits to Fuji Jade hadn't revealed anything memorable nor any Sichuan slant to their menu, so maybe it's time for a revisit. Dry pot bores me, but I'll look forward to trying their chili oil and sizzling tofu. Perhaps I could ask for extra mala on their beef tendon. Thanks for these recommendations.

                                    There's no way State College could support decent dim sum. Many years ago, there were two restaurants downtown that would serve some on the weekends, IIRC, but nothing was any better than what I can make at home (but won't). I don't know that State College could any better support hot pot, but I think it (slightly) more likely that the hot pot will be better executed.

                                    1. re: mookleknuck

                                      You don't think SC could support a good dim sum place? With the large Chinese population, any number of whom live nearby -- which has resulted in the "ghetto" Weis actually having a decent selection of Asian vegetables, so demand is clearly there, I think at least offering dim sum on weekends would be a massive success. I know I and many friends would go there on a regular basis, just as we do with Chopstick Express and Fuji Jade.

                                      Now, if we could just get some good Italian food in town (besides making our own)....

                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        While the Chinese population has increased in the area, so much so that there seems to be a mini-boom in more authentic Chinese food becoming available (eg, East Asia Food Market, China Dragon, Fuji Jade, Sichuan Bistro, a purportedly-fall-opening hot pot place), I don't think that State College will be supporting decent dim sum any time soon. It's a multi-faceted problem.

                                        Good dim sum is hard to find in the States, especially on the East Coast. It's typically produced by good Cantonese restaurants, although little plates are offered by both Dongbei and Taiwanese places. State College doesn't have any of the former. The training required of the staff to make a plethora of delicious dumplings would make those staff too expensive to hire and retain; many workers here are poor, not very skilled Fujianese "supplied" by different companies based out of NY. While some restaurants buy frozen dim sum and reheat to serve, this, I think, would diminish the demand. (As we can all do this ourselves, no?)

                                        Furthermore, dim sum isn't trendy any more with Chinese people (I am not including the amazingly creative dim sum which aren't really trendy from Hong Kong); it's really just a meal and a place to hang out with your friends and family. We've got that already at people's homes and restaurants for dinner. Finally, State College's Chinese population has not increased to the density needed to support any dim sum, let alone good dim sum. I don't think that dim sum has gotten to be trendy enough with the non-Chinese population in State College to be supported, despite you and your friends' good taste.

                                        Heh, there's "Italian" food in town. Or should the quotes be placed around food? Really, the surprise for me isn't that there isn't better Italian around, but rather the scarcity of Pennsylvania Dutch (understandable) and other home-cooking kinds of cuisine. Somewhat unrelated, thanks for your note on how disappointing Penn Kebab continues to be.

                                        1. re: mookleknuck

                                          Yeah, I wish it hadn't been so.... damn mediocre. That said, I plan on going to the Greek again soon -- they added a few new items to their menu, kolokythokeftedes (zucchini fritters) and another thing I can't recall right now.

                                          At least they do their stuff well!

                                          1. re: linguafood

                                            Thanks! I've been meaning to get there, too!