Food & Drink

'The word's out': Pa. on the Patio is the place to be this summer

Nittany Lion Inn’s Pa. on the Patio summer series is back, with grilled entrees and a Pennsylvania-inspired bar menu every Friday starting at 5:30 p.m.
Nittany Lion Inn’s Pa. on the Patio summer series is back, with grilled entrees and a Pennsylvania-inspired bar menu every Friday starting at 5:30 p.m. Centre Daily Times, file

This summer, enjoy a gourmet backyard barbecue, where all you have to do is show up hungry and have a good time. The Nittany Lion Inn’s Pa. on the Patio summer series is back, with delicious grilled entrees and a Pennsylvania-inspired bar menu every Friday, weather-permitting, starting at 5:30 p.m.

This year’s season kicked off Memorial Day weekend to rave reviews and expectant crowds, with well more than 90 diners. According to Sean Caviston, restaurant operations manager and wine director at the Inn, “I think the word’s out that there’s a great scene (here).”

As one might assume from the event’s title, the theme is all-things Pennsylvanian, which means menu items created with produce sourced from the Student Farm at Penn State and as many protein options as possible from in-state. The beer, wine and spirits are all Pennsylvania-produced as well.

For the first weekend, the Inn partnered with Big Springs Spirits, as the distillery is not only local, but also co-founded by a Penn State alum. In addition to Big Springs Spirits cocktails, wine from Seven Mountains Wine Cellars were available, including several sangria options like the watermelon and sweet tea sangrias. Wines by the glass were also available from Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery in Centre Hall, including the winery’s Tailgate Red, which Caviston describes as “light, refreshing, perfect for summertime, with a little chill on it, while hanging out on a patio.” Beer options included Rusty Rail Brewing Company out of Mifflinburg, Tröegs Independent Brewing and Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company.

Featured beer, wine and spirits choices rotate throughout the season, but a full bar is also available. Guests may order any cocktail they please, but can expect as many Pennsylvanian spirits and ingredients as possible, such as Stateside Vodka and Bluecoat Gin, both out of Philadelphia.

“We’re fortunate we have so many local Pennsylvania products to choose from,” Caviston said. “The beer industry is strong, the wine industry is strong. From a culinary standpoint, our chefs do a phenomenal job.”

Throughout the summer, special guest vendors are invited to set up at the event, to provide samples and talk one-on-one with diners.

“We’ll have invited vendors come, set up, do samples and meet and greet the guests. We have a lot of opportunities there that we’re lining up right now (for) the summer," Caviston said. "There you have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with that owner-operator about what’s their passion and what makes them special."

The chefs cook right on the patio, giving guests a perfect view of the Santa Maria-style grill, with the Penn State Golf Courses in the background.

The mood is further set by the sounds of singer-songwriter Stacy Glen Tibbetts, a long-standing feature of Pa. on the Patio.

“Tibbetts is still the entertainment … he’s so great. He was the perfect fit. We’re fortunate to have him back for our fourth season,” Caviston said.

The seating is first come, first served and, according to Caviston, guests tend to stick around.

“People show up at 5:30 and (enjoy) grazing off the grill. The chef is there putting different items up throughout the evening," he said. "You sit, relax, grab a drink, listen to the music, digest, have conversation, then get back up, start over again. It really has that backyard casual feel; it’s not a hurried dining experience.”

The menu is entirely based on what’s in season and available, so menus are often still being finalized on Friday mornings. Likewise, the team waits until the very last minute to call off the dinner due to rain. To get a sense of the menu and, in the event of cloudy skies, confirm the event is still ongoing, diners may call the Inn’s front desk on Friday afternoons.

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