Maine Bay & Berry Co. has long been a destination for seafood lovers throughout Center County, providing the region with fresh seafood sourced directly from New England, but space cafe from Retail recently welcomed a new chef and, with it, a new menu that takes the Downeast Cafe to new heights.
The Downeast Cafe opened in fall 2018, both as a place to show off all the fresh ingredients available at Maine Bay & Berry, but also as a way to meet customer demands for prepared foods.
“We said, why wouldn’t we do something that would give people the Maine feel or flair by replicating it downstairs in a not-so-sophisticated way?” Said Shaun Knight, co-founder of Maine Bay & Berry Co. “I think one thing our customers will say is if you’ve been to Maine and ate at the docks or in a waterfront restaurant, much of it is never fancy in terms of presentation – it comes in a foam or cardboard container – but the quality and taste is the best you can get. This is what we wanted to reproduce.
So diners will find that laid-back atmosphere, along with a creek-side setting, at the Downeast Cafe paired with beers from Voodoo Brewery, which rents space downstairs. If, however, you’ve stopped by the cafe closer to its opening and haven’t returned this year, you might be (pleasantly) surprised with some menu changes. After closing for almost a year during the pandemic, when the cafe reopened earlier this year, Knight said it was time to ‘revamp’ it.
âIt’s a great growth area for the company,â he said. âWe started looking for someone with some chef experience and (Chef Kenny Pridgen) made a ton of menu changes. We and our customers are delighted. We love what the menu has done for the cafe. It has been immeasurable. It’s not just standards anymore. There are so many things he invented and it’s very creative.
Chef Pridgen brings with him years of experience working in the culinary industry and in restaurants in the region. He also has experience in Florida restaurants, so working with ultra-fresh seafood like those offered by Maine Bay & Berry is nothing new to him. Now the cafe menu is constantly evolving, but the most recent menus can usually be found on the Maine Bay & Berry Facebook page. So far, new crowd favorites include blackened mahi tacos (Pridgen’s favorite menu item) and seafood nachos. The menu has also expanded to include more gluten-free options and vegetarians. However, if you’re looking for some of the basic menu items the cafe opened with, like the Maine Lobster Roll, Knight says you can still find it.
Beyond the food, however, both men agree that it’s the vibe that really sets the Downeast Cafe apart.
âThe ambiance is what makes it special. â¦ It’s just a good mix of different ages and groups, all sitting here by the creek enjoying a meal, âsaid Knight. “It’s a special place that no one else at State College has and it’s all because of the geography.”
Looking ahead, Knight said customers can expect to see weekly mid-week oyster nights, featuring high-end oysters sourced from Maine and the Pacific. He also hints at some spring sushi offerings. The cafe is also focusing more on its take-out options this season, as well as food services.
âWhat we do is premium, premium food in a very relaxed setting,â Knight said.
Find the latest Downeast Cafe menus as well as days and hours of operation at www.facebook.com/mainebb. Maine Bay & Berry is located at 201 Elmood St., State College.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at [email protected]