Fresh from Happy Valley: Locally sourced and farm-to-table food
It is 11 a.m. Wednesday, as Pizza Mia owner, John Jennings, walks into his restaurant cradling an oversized bag of tomatoes, freshly picked at Hilltop Farm in Bellefonte. He pauses to talk to a customer before hurrying to the back.
“You’ll have to let me go because we have to wash these off; they’re the fresh tomatoes for your salad!” said Jennings.
That scenario, as described by Jennings, is common at Pizza Mia, where all of the ingredients — from tomatoes delivered from vine to salad within hours to locally raised livestock and flour made from wheat harvested in Centre County — are, as Jennings’ kids would call them, “legit farm-to-table.”
In the last decade alone, that phrase (more commonly used without the Jennings kids’ “legit” addition) and others such as “locally sourced” and “farm-fresh” have seen an exponential increase in use — and with good reason.
By turning to local farmers, growers, and merchants to source their ingredients, restaurants are able to offer fresh flavors, support their local economies, decrease their carbon footprints and give their customers peace of mind in knowing exactly what they are putting into their bodies. Today, many businesses in Happy Valley are doing just that. Here are a few of our favorites.
Maine Bay & Berry Co.
For Shaun Knight and Christa Stofferahn, the desire to supply State College with fresh food began thanks to requests from friends and close connections.
Each year, Shaun would make multiple trips to Maine to see his grandmother, and when he did, he would send out an email.
“He would say,‘hey, I’m going to Maine; would anybody like any lobster, or blueberries, or scallops?” explained Christa.
On a July 2017 trip home from Maine in a rented pickup truck loaded down with coolers full of requested seafood and blueberries, Christa and Shaun quickly recognized a demand for fresh seafood in State College.
So, in August 2017, the Maine Bay & Berry Co. was born, and now, less than two years later, their State College-based shop is thriving. Initially strictly selling live lobsters, scallops, and fresh pies, Maine Bay & Berry today offers more than 20 varieties of fish each week — delivered fresh every Tuesday and Friday.
“You don’t really find that anywhere else in Central PA — fish coming right out of the water yesterday and into our case the next day fileted and ready to go!” said Christa.
“We had everything from Maine, but we wanted to support our local economy as well,” explained Christa. They recently welcomed Moody Culture Kombucha of State College and Countryside Land and Cattle of Port Matilda as two of their local suppliers.
“We have our fresh butcher who is doing dry aged beef which is something that you can’t really find around here that brings a unique flavor to the beef,” said Christa. “We thought it was a great addition — surf and turf!”
Maine Bay & Berry Co. also offers local pork, homemade breads, and more from throughout the area and will soon feature both a brewery and a winery, with beers brewed in Meadville, PA and wines from nearby Lewistown.
Just 20 minutes away from Maine Bay & Berry Co., the Inn, located at 449 Road, is serving up its own fresh selections.
The restaurant and bed and breakfast location founded in 1827, and while the rich history remains the same, the menu is continually changing.
By offering seasonal menus, based on what is being grown locally at the time, the Inn and Chef Cody Pierce are able to provide guests with the freshest flavors sourced locally — including from within their own gardens.
In 2018, the Inn worked with Homegrown Flavor Co., to install organic vegetable and herb gardens, allowing the inn to grow much of the fresh produce routinely used in its seasonal selections. And if it’s not grown at the Inn, there’s a good chance its source can be found less than five miles away, with berries picked from Bee Tree Berry Farm in Bellefonte, potatoes grown at nearby Ardry Farms, corn harvested from Nolan’s, and cheese produced at Goot Essa just outside of State College.
The Field Burgers & Tap
At Golf Resort in State College, there’s another restaurant bringing seasonal, locally sourced selections to Happy Valley: The Field Burgers & Tap.
Opening less than five years ago, The Field quickly made a name for itself as a top State College dining option, in large part thanks to the restaurant’s ability to craft fresh, locally produced food into mouth-watering burgers, salads, and sandwiches.
In recent months, seasonal burgers have included the Happy Orchard, topped with apples, brie, arugula, tomato, and onion, and the Monster Burger, made from two patties laden with cheddar cheese, venison chili, smoky cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Available more frequently year-round are popular choices such as the Lancaster Burger, the menu description of which hints at The Field’s desire to provide fresh, local food, with its mention of the Lancaster, PA produced bacon and the Amish smoked cheddar cheese that top the burger.
If you’re craving pizza rather than a burger, you will want to pay a visit to Jennings at Pizza Mia, with locations in Bellefonte, State College, and Lock Haven.
There, providing pizzas, salads, wings, and more made entirely with fresh, locally sourced ingredients is what drives Jennings and his wife, Mel.
“That’s what we’re about — not just love of each other but love of what we do for a living, the love of making sure that what I put in any one of my kids’ mouths, I know where it came from,” said John, a father of six. “If you can tell positive stories about the food that you’re preparing and where it comes from then you’re probably doing it the right way!”