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Taste of the Month: The Tavern Restaurant

by on March 30, 2017 4:09 PM

For almost 70 years now, The Tavern Restaurant, located at 220 East College Avenue in State College, has been a Penn State tradition. The walls are a treasury of Pennsylvania and Penn State history, highlighting old photographs and rare lithographs.

Originally opened in 1948 by two Penn State graduates John O’Connor (1938) and Ralph Yeager (1942), the restaurant has come a long way from its simple menu of spaghetti, steaks, a crisp tossed salad, French fries, and fresh French bread. Diners can now enjoy an array of fresh seafood, veal, prime rib, and pasta dishes. But the restaurant’s claim to fame is the unlimited side dishes with your entrée.

Pat Daugherty and Bill Tucker, who had waited tables at The Tavern in the 1960s, bought the restaurant from O’Connor and Yeager in 1980. Sadly, Tucker passed away in 1995. Daugherty continues to hire all student servers.

            The Tavern has expanded seven times, and the building is actually three different buildings, built at different times, which are now connected. In 1982, the Adam’s Apple bar was added to The Tavern. A lot has changed over the years, but it’s still a favorite among alums and visitors alike.

In September, Altoona native and Culinary Institute of America graduate Curtis Biesecker joined the well-established staff as The Tavern’s new executive chef.

“The goal is to continue serving diners what they have come to expect, but also freshen up the menu with new twists on old favorites,” he says. “We are concentrating on fresh seafood and using as much local produce as possible.”

Biesecker has worked under world-class chefs at restaurants in Key West, Telluride, New York City, and Pittsburgh before returning back to Altoona where he went on to become head chef at the Casino at Lakemont Park, the US Hotel in Hollidaysburg, and The Phoenix in Altoona. In addition, he taught culinary classes and ran his own catering business for many years. His passion for food and love of travel has taken him and his family around the world sampling different cuisines. He is excited to bring that food experience to the Tavern.

“My sister and brother-in-law were both Penn Staters who worked for Pat in college and stayed in touch with him over the years. They found out that Pat needed some help in the kitchen at The Tavern and asked me to reach out to him,” he says. “In my past head chef positions, we did everything from scratch, had a garden, made bread daily. So my approach to the Tavern’s menu is to gradually introduce new items like our porchetta, chicken Romano, and roasted beet salad.”

Opened for lunch and dinner, The Tavern makes fresh soup every day from a French onion to the seafood bisque. New lunch specials may include house-made pulled pork BBQ sandwich and Yuengling beer-battered Lake Victoria perch sandwich.

In the coming months, Biesecker wants to introduce diners to different varieties of unique seafood dishes such as sting ray.

Other entrees may include risottos, cioppino, a classic seafood stew, pasta with Arrabbiata sauce, and pork osso bucco with creamy, parmesan polenta.

Biesecker envisions a late-night bar menu that features Spanish tapas-style foods.

“During the week, we would like to do some bourbon or wine pairings,” he says. “And then, for Sundays, expand our brunch buffet offerings to be more seasonally inclined.”

For more information about the restaurant, check out The Tavern Web site at thetavern.com. For reservations, call (814) 238-6116.

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