Food & Drink

Vegetarians have fresh options in State College

As warmer weather approaches and Centre County diners begin looking for fresh options, the vegetarian (or just veggie-lovin’) crowd is in luck. Several restaurants around the area are offering new vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options that are sure to tempt even the most ravenous carnivore.

The newest player on the scene is all-vegan eatery Cafe Verve, which opened late last year. Heather Jones, the creator behind the cafe, says she knew the area was in dire need of a vegan venue, so she jumped once the opportunity arose. While the unfamiliar may be slightly hesitant at the term “vegan,” Jones said there’s nothing to fear in regards to the menu.

“I wanted to make sure that I had something that would appeal to everyone. Some healthier options, but still the sugary baked goods, French fries and other fried foods. I was also super excited to offer smoothie bowls,” she said. “I wanted everything to be as fresh as possible while making it exciting at the same time.”

Her favorite that you can’t miss? The cheezecakes, made from nuts, dates and coconut milk, among other ingredients. On the more savory side, the SW Buddha bowl, with quinoa, avocado, corn, black beans and salsa, is one of the best-sellers.

When creating Cafe Verve, a “live and let live” philosophy was important to Jones.

“Every single item is vegan, therefore no animal product(s) or by-product(s), no eggs, no honey (we have Bee Free Honee, which is made of apples and purely amazing), no meat, no cow’s milk,” Jones said. “We try our best to tread lightly by using eco-friendly products and minimizing waste.”

For vegetarians dining alongside those who aren’t quite ready to give up their beef and bacon just yet, several eateries have added new meatless choices to their menus. Sauly Boy’s — another new downtown State College restaurant known for its decadent burgers and hot dogs — is one of these.

Opening last year, Maura McConnell, manager of operations for the Irving’s family of businesses, noted that the menu needed some other options, leading to the introduction of the now highly popular bella melt and veggie burger. The former includes a perfectly grilled portabella mushroom topped with melted mozzarella cheese and a mouth-watering roasted rosemary garlic aioli. The veggie burger, which frankly is tasty enough to eat on its own — no buns or toppings needed — is made from a special blend of brown rice, black beans and walnuts, topped with a cucumber yogurt sauce, tomato and lettuce.

One of the original menu items, however, continues to be a hit with everyone, vegetarian or no. The grilled cheese — gooey, buttery and a far cry from the bland grilled cheeses of childhood — stands apart as a much-appreciated take on a meatless classic.

Nearby, at classic State College breakfast spot Irving’s, the newer breakfast wraps are enjoying popularity. The peanut butter banana crunch variety is specifically tempting. Bananas are covered in honey and grilled until slightly caramelized, and then paired with candied walnuts and peanut butter. Other options include the very veggie wrap, with spinach, asparagus and broccoli, and the Southwestern wrap, with black beans, corn, red peppers and tomato. At lunch, vegetarians continue to love the house-made hummus sandwich, topped with roasted red peppers, cucumbers and sprouts.

The Irving’s family of businesses includes not only Irving’s and Sauly Boy’s, but also Fiddlehead, where anything on the menu can be customized to fit a vegetarian diet. New additions to the menu include quinoa and kale, both of which have been welcomed by the downtown lunchtime diners grabbing a healthy meal on the go.

“Fiddlehead lends itself wonderfully to vegetarian (diets), and it continues to have a loyal following,” McConnell said. “You can go down the line and make whatever you want. Some of the nontraditional proteins we have are seasoned tofu, quinoa, toasted pine nuts and candied walnuts and eggs.”

Despite the highly varying menus each of the three restaurants offer, they all carry a common theme.

“The quality of the food is so important to (us) ... we didn’t just buy a veggie burger, we developed a recipe and we made it 20 different times until it was exactly what we wanted,” McConnell said. “What (we) stand by is, if you have good food and you have good service, that’s what people want.”

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at