On the way into town on my recent trip to State College, I passed the new location of Otto’s Pub and Brewery on Atherton Street. Since I’m a sucker for brew pubs, I vowed to make it my lunch stop on the way back out-of-town. On my return, the first thing I noticed was a red vintage stake bed truck parked outside. Definitely an eye catcher. Upon entry into the building you find yourself in a gift shop. I have nothing against a little marketing, but I found it odd that a nondescript retail space would be the first impression the owners would want to make on a patron. This is especially puzzling given the rest of the building is so richly appointed with wood, brass and vintage Pennsylvania brewery signs and photographs. Two gorgeous and personable young ladies were at the hostess station and after a brief conversation, I proceeded to the bar.
Being noon on a Sunday, the restaurant was just beginning to attract a crowd, allowing me to converse with the bartender. He informed me they were currently offering 14 of their own brews on tap and recommend the Nittany Mountain American Pale Ale after I had described what style of beer I was looking for. An Indian Pale Ale would have fit my description a little better, but since they were out of their IPA the APA filled in nicely. The color was a bit darker than one would expect from an APA and the nose was a bit light, displaying just hints of spice and citrus. The finish was clean with a moderate, bitter after taste. Over all, well-balanced and a good choice to serve with food. In fact, it was clean and light enough to drink without accompanying food. While enjoying the first ale I checked out the menu and saw quite a few interesting items. The restaurant has made a commitment to local producers and feature numerous ingredients from the area, even listing their names on the menu. I settled on In House Smoked Chicken Thighs ($6) as a starter and a Smoked Brisket Cheesesteak ($11) sandwich. Several sides were offered with the sandwich and I settled on the fresh-cut fries, just to see if they knew how to make them properly. The chicken thighs arrived with the habañero-mango sauce as ordered, accompanied by celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. The thighs were awesome, having a deep smokey flavor yet remaining moist on the inside with crisp skin. However, the habañero-mango sauce was a bust. It exhibited none of the distinctive habañero taste and the color was red rather than the orange you would expect from an item made with mangoes. Unless the chef is familiar with xanthan gum, I feel fairly confident in stating this was a commercial bottled sauce and is simply not worthy of being served with the thighs. At least the celery was very fresh and had no dried or browned ends.
The “cheese steak” arrived shortly and I was surprised to see a total lack of presentation. When all you see is the brown from bread and fries and there are pieces of onion on top of the bun, it doesn’t exactly get the juices flowing. All they would have had to do is uncap the bun or throw a pickle on the plate to give it a little color. Fortunately the sandwich tasted better than it looked. The locally baked roll was fresh, warm and had a slight crust. The peppers and onions were fresh and nicely cooked if a bit haphazardly cut. The brisket was flavorful but slightly overcooked so that it came across as shredded beef rather than sliced. One of the joys of a properly cooked brisket is the slight chewiness it normally has but was lacking here. I could clearly taste the locally produced sharp white cheddar, but it would have made more sense to place in on top of the meat rather than below where it couldn’t be seen. I’d give the fries a 5 out of 10. The cooks clearly know how to blanch the potatoes unlike some restaurants I’ve been to lately. However, they were cut from very small potatoes, leading to very few fries over an inch or so in length. They also had sat too long after frying (likely under heat lamps) so they lacked the texture of a freshly fried potato. Unlike many frozen commercial fries, fresh-cut ones cannot sit very long after cooking. The conception of this restaurant and menu is great but the execution shows a lack of attention to detail, a fact which is surprising given quality of the beer. Any brew master knows that attention to detail is crucial to maintain quality and consistency. Someone needs to teach this concept to the kitchen staff.