Crispy Fried Calamari w/ Roasted Red Pepper Coulis & Pepperoncini Relish
Appetizer Runner Up
- Otto’s Pub & Brewery | State College, Pa.
- Eastern PA Division
Instead of getting breaded, frozen calamari, Otto’s Pub & Brewery’s chef, Chris Mohr sought out fresh calamari — rings and tentacles — that gets soaked in buttermilk breading and offers a nice, crunchy exterior. He flash fries it to get that crunchy outside while keeping the calamari tender. It is served on red pepper coulis to offer an acidic punch that sets it apart from a typical cocktail sauce and tops it with pepperoncini relish for some heat and capers for a little saltiness. And, of course, it goes great with Otto’s beer.
"It's all about balance," he adds. "People are happy to see these pub items done a little bit nicer, taking it one step above what they're expecting. They just love it."
Otto’s Pub & Brewery, a 250-seat restaurant, which adds another 75 with the seasonal patio and is separate from the brewery side of the space, is family-friendly, casual and welcoming. While the menu may come off as "pub grub" with a lot of burgers, sandwiches and pizza, the devil is in the details.
"We get high-end product and source from local vendors and others to put together a diverse menu that's pub fare, but a step above," says Mohr. "We have everything from reubens to gyros to burgers, but we also have togorashi tuna with lemon sticky rice. Everything is made from scratch. You pay attention to what you're doing and even the simplest things can be made very nicely."
As the first brewery in central Pennsylvania, Otto’s was ahead of the larger craft-beer movement that can now be found across in the country. It opened in 2002 after co-owner, Charlie Schnable, saw the rising interest in craft beer in State College following the opening of his first place, Bullfrog Brewery, in 1996 in Williamsport, Pa., about an hour away.
"When you look at this area in 2002," says Mohr. "We were the first brewery in [State College]. Since then others have opened. I feel a lot of people look at Otto's as the gold standard, the measuring stick."
Since then, Otto's has continued to grow in popularity, size (there are 10 fermentation tanks in its 3,000-square-foot brewery) and influence over other brewers. It’s won numerous awards. To date it has collected a record 17 "best of" categories from State College magazine's annual polls and was at the top of 13 categories in 2015 alone, including best kids' menu, best burger, best wings, best vegetarian menu and, not surprising, best beer selection.