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Taste of the Month: Chef Justin Berkebile, of Barrel 21 Distillery & Dining, brings science to the kitchen

by on April 25, 2019 12:10 PM

Get ready for an unforgettable dining experience that is as much a delight for your eyes as it is for your taste buds.

Barrel 21 Distillery & Dining executive chef Justin Berkebile’s modern cuisine introduces science to the kitchen, crafting dishes that transform ingredients in ways that enhance its flavor and texture.

“We are experimenting with spherification, a culinary process that shapes a liquid into squishy spheres that resemble caviar, as well as incorporating flavors to make sweet or savory foams to top off a dish,” explains Berkebile.

Not only are the courses beautifully plated, the combination of flavors on each dish meld so well that each ingredient accentuates the other.

“When we serve our osso bucco, we char some rosemary herb, so as it goes out to the table, the diner gets the dish with the sprig of rosemary herb still smoking and that aroma enhances the flavors in the dish,” says Berkebile.

Berkebile came on board at Barrel 21 Distillery & Dining, located at 2255 North Atherton Street in State College, in August 2018. A graduate of the Pennsylvania Culinary School in Pittsburgh, he was the executive chef at Spats Café and Speakeasy, which closed in January 2018.

“I was working temporarily as a consulting chef after Spats merged with the Allen Street Grill. Then, I heard that Roger Garthwaite, who also owns Otto’s Pub and Brewery, was looking for a chef who thinks outside of the box to create a menu that appealed to an adventurous diner,” Berkebile says.

Barrel 21’s scallop gnocchi is a unique take on the traditional potato gnocchi. Made with a house-made pate a choux French dough, marzipan, chives, Parmesan cheese, limoncello-garlic sauce, and red wine syrup, these gnocchi are served with scallops and lump crab. The pork belly appetizer is served with a banana-cumin puree, crispy oyster mushrooms, and fried parsnips. The foie gras is served in a brandy snifter and, as it arrives at the table, the lid is removed, revealing the smoke that diffuses into the air out of the glass, adding to the sensory dining experience.

“Keewaydin Farms provides us with a lot of the apples that we incorporate into our dishes. Our beef is local from A.V. Cattle Farm, pork from Hogs Galore, and the restaurant operates four gardens to grow a lot of the produce that we use,” Berkebile says.

“So, when we have bone marrow on the menu, it’s only available until we run out, because there is only so many that we can get from our farmer. And what makes our bone marrow dish so popular is we actually do three bones with three different accompaniments, such as bacon-panko-mushroom, smoked pineapple misted with old fashioned with pink peppercorns, and chive puree with preserved lemons and fried shallots – all served with our fried sourdough bread.”

As a distillery, Barrel 21 proudly produces 13 spirits, including bourbon, whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, and locally sourced fruit brandies such as the apple eau de vie (water of life) and a limoncello. The restaurant features a full-service bar with a wine list, craft cocktail menu, and beer taps, including nine Otto’s Pub and Brewery beers. Barrel 21 is open Tuesday through Thursday, 4-11 p.m. for dinner only; Friday and Saturday, noon-11 p.m. for lunch and dinner; and Sunday, with brunch from 9 2 p.m. and dinner from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

For $20 per person, Sunday brunch features a variety of entrees, including a vegetarian option, a meat-carving station, and a dessert table. Add carafes of Bellinis or mimosas to your brunch experience, or create your own bloody Mary to indulge.

With seating for up to 50 guests, the back room is available for private events, or the entire restaurant can be rented for a special demonstration of Berkebile’s modern cuisine paired with Barrel 21’s own spirits.

For more information, visit Barrel 21 Distillery & Dining on Facebook or check out the website

Vilma Shu is an editorial consultant for Town&Gown.


Chef Justin Berkebile’s special recipe for Parisian Gnocchi:

12 oz Flour

4 oz Butter

1/2-quart Water

2 tsp Salt

3 Lemon zest/juice

1 oz Chives (minced)

2 oz Mascarpone cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

6 Eggs (approximately)



  1. Place butter, water, salt in medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Add flour and stir until it forms a dough and cook while stirring for 5 minutes after.
  2. Take dough and place in mixer with paddle attachment and mix on speed 2 for 1 minute.
  3. Add lemon juice/zest and both cheese until combined.
  4. Add eggs one at a time until the dough spiderwebs around the bowl.
  5. Put in pastry bag with round tip. Take double handled pot filled with heavily salted water, with butcher's twine tied tightly across the pot on the handles. Bring to a boil.
  6. Pipe out gnocchi.
  7. Cook gnocchi in multiple batches so they do not overcook.
  8. When gnocchi float, take them out with a fryer spider and place on oiled sheet tray.
  9. Chill completely.
  10. When ready to use, take a sauté pan with enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan on high heat. When pan is very hot, sauté the gnocchi until the gnocchi slightly browns. Add gnocchi to any sauce.


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