State College has plenty of places to eat. There are the classic chains — Subway and McDonald’s — as well as the traditional college staples, such as Canyon Pizza and the Corner Room.
But if you are tired of mixing mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, bacon, steak and five different kinds of cheeses at Are U Hungry, State College also offers a number of restaurants that boast great food, with an added bonus of some international culture.
Herwig’s Austrian Bistro
One of these places can be found in Herwig’s Austrian Bistro. Located on College Avenue, across the street from the Sackett Building, Herwig’s has been home to a superb selection of authentic Austrian cuisine for five years.
The owners, Herwig (Brandy) Brandstetter, and his wife and son, Gundi and Bernd, have been in the State College area since the 1980s. They originally opened a restaurant at Tussey Mountain called Herwig’s Edelweiss, before moving to a small location on Fraser Street, where restaurant manager Justin Berrettini said they began to gain real acclaim among the people of State College.
Berrettini said that the Brandstetter’s, all of whom were born in Austria, original plan was to move to Australia, but they eventually ended up in America.
“They started the restaurant because they were told that in order to keep their green card in the United States, they needed to do something that would display their Austrian heritage,” said Berrettini.
Herwig’s certainly does that. With menu items such as wiener schnitzel, schlachplatte and rosemary roast pork — all of which Berrettini says are made at the restaurant by hand — the sense of Austrian culture shines through.
Lauren Spock (senior-communication, sciences and disorders) said she starts coming to Herwig’s a lot more in the winter.
“It’s one of my favorite places to come and eat when it gets colder,” Spock said. “The soup here is so good, and it’s different every day.”
State College resident Pamela Luu also frequents Herwig’s and said her favorite dish is the schlachplatte, which is a combination of nearly all of the meats Herwig’s has to offer.
“It’s a lot of meat, it’s so amazing,” Luu said. “You definitely roll out of here with a food coma if you get that.”
Berrettini thinks people should come to try the sauerkraut — which he upholds is the best around — and the homemade black-horse dressing, which Herwig wrote the recipe for.
“I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants, and out of all of them, the quality of the food here is above and beyond anywhere else I have been,” Berrettini said.
Owner and head chef Massimo Napoli of Mamma Mia’s is on a culinary vendetta.
Located on College Avenue just south from Old Main next to The Darkhorse Tavern, Mamma Mia’s has been in State College since returning to the town in 2009, as previously reported.
Napoli had originally opened a restaurant on West Beaver Avenue in 1995, but closed in 2002 to pursue different restaurants in Harrisburg and Florida.
“I returned here because I wanted to give college students great food,” Napoli said. “Everything we do here is homemade and we make it all using fresh ingredients.”
And when Napoli says “fresh,” he means ”fresh.” Restaurant manager Carla Panetta said she feels it is wrong for national chains to advertise that they use fresh ingredients in their food.
“It is impossible to distribute fresh food to hundreds of thousands of locations across the country everyday,” Panetta said. “They should say something like ‘freshly un-frozen’ instead.”
Napoli said he also wants people to stop thinking of his restaurant as just a pizza place.
“So many people come into my restaurant wanting just a slice of pizza, since that is what Americans have been taught to think pizzeria’s serve,” Napoli said. “But in Italy, pizzeria’s have full menus, and these other items are often their best dishes.”
The same can be said of Mamma Mia’s, which has a wide variety of authentic Italian cuisine, including veal Parmesan, fettuccini Alfredo, gnocchi marinara and desserts such as cannoli and tiramisu.
Napoli also stressed that the authenticity of his food is unmatched in State College. He said he challenges anyone to find another restaurant in town that has no students working as chefs.
While Napoli said he does not think there is anything wrong with having students work, he said people have to remember that just because someone is wearing a big hat and an apron does not mean they know how to cook.
Napoli, who has received extensive culinary education, and is originally from Italy, said he feels that these qualities, among others, set his food apart. Pannetta said she seconds this opinion.
“We have the only real Italian chef, from Italy, making real Italian food, using real Italian ingredients,” Pannetta said. “I think that gives us the upper hand.”
Located in a little corner shop in between McLanahan’s and Levels Night Club, Penn Kebab is a fairly new international addition to College Avenue. Opened in 2011, the restaurant has quickly gained acclaim among students at Penn State.
Owner Sait Satici said that he gets many students that come to eat after football games.
“The Yufka Kebab is our most popular item,” Satici said. “We make it fresh from bread, fresh meat, fresh lettuce, everything in it is fresh.”
Satici, who is originally from Turkey, lived in Germany for a few years before coming to America to pursue his restaurant business, he said.
“This type of Turkish food is very popular in Europe, so we often get Europeans who are travelling in State College, and who see our restaurant, to come in and eat because they can’t find many other places like this around,” he said.
Dalel Ismagulov, (graduate-international affairs) a frequent customer at Penn Kebab, said he comes for the excellent service and the great food.
“I come here often because all the stuff is fresh, the prices are good, and, because I am from Kazakhstan, so this type of food is very familiar to me,” Ismagulov said.
For those who are looking to learn something, Satici likes to explain that the Turkish name for the type of meat they serve is Döner Kebap, which literally means “rotating roast.”
Also, as is custom in Turkey, every customer is offered a complimentary cup of authentic Turkish Tea when they come into Penn Kebab, he said.
Satici, who wants to see his native cuisine and culture become just as popular in America as it is in Europe, said that this is just another one of the many ways they are trying to make the experience of Penn Kebab more authentic.