Pennsylvania is a freaking long state. Even though we crossed the border well before noon, we had another 6-plus hours to go.
It’s funny to see what the marketing department of each state comes up with as their slogan. We’ve got “Pure Michigan” and Tim Allen voiceovers. For Pennsylvania, it’s “Smile, You’re in Pennsylvania.”
We avoided fast food, but our approach to picking restaurants was haphazard. When hungry, we’d ask the locals for suggestions, and if we couldn’t find a place, we’d stop at the nearest pub or diner. This gave mixed results, as illustrated by our first choice, an all-you-can-eat buffet.
There are two things I expect from a buffet. One is variety. The second is speed. Variety they had. Speed, they did not.
There was plenty of food, but it was bland. Even the fresh-baked fruit pies were boring. The only two standouts were at the cold bar. There was some feta cheese in the potato salad, and the three-bean salad was a tasty balance of sour and sweet.
For a place where the food was hot and ready, which had maybe half a dozen customers, the service was glacial. We were invisible our first five minutes in the diner. In fact, we had to move tables before someone noticed us.
One last observation on the meal: The sausage and saukraut was disturbingly tender. If I applied any pressure with my fork tines, the sausage gave way. It was as if it was made for someone with no teeth.
Thankfully, getting some expert advice later in the day made for a much better meal.
Surfing the Web with my phone, I found a place near Penn State called Otto’s, which looked promising. Given our earlier meal, we wanted a second opinion. I tweeted a friend who’s a Penn State alumnus, and he seconded Otto’s. That cinched it. We took a 20-minute detour for beer and snacks.
We had fondue, crab dip, and two beer sampler trays. It was great pub fare: Not too fancy, but distinctive and delicious.
Otto’s brews their own beer on site—about a dozen varieties. The samplers were a great way for us to try many styles without getting sloshed.
The fondue was a beer-cheddar variety, served with chewy, crusty sourdough. I love this type of fondue anyways, but the added dill seed was unexpected and delicious.
Crab dip is so simple that it’s easy to mess up. This one was well-balanced: It started with a full block of cream cheese, plus a hefty portion of real crab, and a liberal amount of Old Bay. Spicy, creamy, crabby, and rich.
We left Otto’s, dreamily, our arteries leaden, the smell of hot mash drifting through our nostrils.