Eat, Play, Live

Open wide and try something new

Food choices in Centre County abound — from barbecue to fine dining, there’s something for every palate.
Food choices in Centre County abound — from barbecue to fine dining, there’s something for every palate. Centre Daily Times, file

Editor’s note: This story is part of the Eat, Play, Live special section.

“Wanna eat?”

Uh, yeah.

Those two words get my attention every time, and I’ve always heard David Panko say them at Patton Township Business Association meetings. The first one I attended gave me my first real taste of Centre County’s food scene, at least outside of downtown State College. Otto’s owner Roger Garthwaite catered the lunch, and I went back for seconds.

It would have been worth being charged double, but they let it slide.

I was new to the job back then. It was the summer of 2014. In settling into the beat, everyone asked that same question for meetings. Maybe they were available in the mornings, so we’d choose a cafe and breakfast joint. Oftentimes business people wanted an hourlong lunch to discuss their ventures, and dinner was usually not on the menu for a get-together.

In doing so I carved out a niche, writing daily stories about businesses opening and closing, because most people are ready to dish on the latest rumor. The most well-read business stories have been about restaurants. People gravitate toward them, always wanting something new, something fresh and sometimes longing for something delicious that shut down.

There is also a common theme — and maybe it’s only a vocal minority — with those tales. They are the complaints in the comments below, a perceived frustration that there aren’t enough places to chow down.

Cue the airplane sound effects, Centre County, and open wide. Our food scene is pretty good.

Think of Cafe Lemont, uniquely situated in the small village where Michael Beck and Jodi McWhirter saw the potential for a coffee shop when they stopped at the red light on Pike Street. It was one of the most recommended coffee shops in the county. And there are more like Saints Cafe, Inglebean and Cool Beans.

Those are just a few of the coffee-centric hangouts.

A small treasure for breakfast can be found in Pine Grove Mills where The Naked Egg opens early every morning to the same rush of customers on their way to work and later for lunch.

You’d have thought Patton Township residents were starving during the opening weekend of Jersey Mike’s Subs off North Atherton Street. The line went out of the building and onto a parking lot covered in a half foot of snow. It was an example of how much everyone craves something different.

And that’s just it — each eatery has its own unique quirks.

There might be a Pizza Mia, Hofbrau, Brothers and five more pizza places in Bellefonte, but each has its own signature. Each one distinguishes itself from the others.

As Jim Boscaino, Jim’s Italian Cuisine owner, once told me, “Taste buds don’t lie.”

And they really don’t.

You can love Rotelli, Mario’s Italian Restaurant and Faccia Luna, all in the same category of the most reader recommended slices of Italian treats. You can’t go wrong at Hog Father’s Old Fashion BBQ or Dickey’s when you’re craving some meat. And do you know how many Chinese and Mexican restaurants we have?

Take a bite at The Corner Room or The Deli. Get in some fine dining at The Tavern. Take a swig at Lettermans Sports Grill and The Arena Bar and Grill. While we’re on the topic of booze, we’ve got wineries and wine shops in every corner of the county.

So, get out, try something new and open wide.

There’s always a hidden gem you’ve never tried.

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli