by Sami Hulings/Centre County Gazette
Wood smoke and the smell of meats cooked over a fire will soon fill the parking lot of The Autoport.
The tiki hut will be replaced with a wood-fire grill.
The menu will include Southern comfort food. In just a few days, The Autoport restaurant will transform into Clem’s Roadside Bar & Grill, a restaurant featuring Clem’s BBQ, collard greens, catfish and other favorites from below the Mason-Dixon line.
Since Greg Mussi purchased The Autoport with his wife, Lynda, and close friend Katy Punt six years ago, he felt as though the name never lent itself to the restaurant part of the business.
“We have a bit of an identity crisis using that name, the name of the motel, for the restaurant as well,” he says.
And so, when Clem Pantalone was brought on board, Mussi says it seemed right to re-invent and re-brand the restaurant by combining the reputation of its homemade comfort food dishes with Pantalone’s famous barbecue. While the motel will continue to be known as The Autoport, the restaurant will now be known as Clem’s Roadside Bar & Grill.
Mussi says in Pantalone’s previous roadside barbecue business, customers would often express their wish for more side options and alternatives to barbecued meats. The Autoport’s menu offered those alternatives in the form of sandwiches, steaks, burgers, salads and other food items.
“We thought this would be a nice marriage between those two (The Autoport menu and Clem’s BBQ),” he says. “I think the food that he (Clem) brought and that he had created under Clem’s BBQ and the food that we have created, they work well together.”
Because Clem’s Roadside Bar & Grill will offer these alternatives, Mussi says customers won’t have to be in the mood for barbecue to eat at the restaurant. Now though, all meats will be wood-grilled like barbecue often is.
“At most places, meat is done on a grill or done on a gas broiler. Ours will actually be cooked over a hot fire, hot coals,” Mussi says. “That’s what’s probably going to make us a little more unique than other places around.”
The new menu will also feature Southern favorites such as gumbos, various Cajun dishes and a unique BLT option with fried green tomatoes.
“It’s primarily what you would get if you were down in Memphis and you stop off at a roadside rib-joint. It’s going to be that type of food. It’s going to have that type of flavor,” Mussi says. “It’s a little bit of a twist of Southern favorites with our way of doing them up little bit.”
Mussi hopes State College and the Centre Region respond favorably to this unique twist, as it is something he is looking forward to providing the community with.
“I just wanted to have an opportunity to do something a little different in State College that State College doesn’t currently have,” he says. “It’s more about growing as a restaurant, growing as a restaurateur, growing as a chef. You evolve a little bit. From a chef standpoint, it’s fun not to get stagnant and not get into a rut where you are sleepwalking through your menu. It’s just a good idea for every restaurant to re-invent itself every once in a while, re-think itself and try to bring some new things onto the menu. It keeps you fresh and young and vital.”
Throughout this evolution, The Autoport has remained open. Renovations and an overhaul of the menu are taking place now. Mussi hopes to re-open the restaurant as Clem’s Roadside Bar & Grill by Monday, Jan. 27 or Tuesday, Jan. 28.
One of the biggest changes will be the installation of two wood-burning grills.
The grills are currently being designed and fabricated. One will be located in the patio area where the tiki bar was previously. A second will be in the kitchen for inclement weather or for barbecue alternatives like hamburgers, steaks and chicken meals.
Mussi says when many think of barbecue, they think of a slow-smoked flavor that can oftentimes be strong. He says though the wood-burning grills will create a smoked, fire-cooked flavor, they will do so in a way that won’t be overpowering.
“The process that we use is a very, very high heat over wood. I say the fire kisses the food; it kisses the meat. It’s not an overwhelming smoked flavor to it, but it definitely has the flavor profile that says ‘this was cooked over natural wood, not over gas.’ That’s a little bit different than what most people are experiencing, just the method of cooking we are using,” he says. “Clem really deserves the credit for coming up with this unique cooking method.”
In addition to the new menu and new name, Clem’s Roadside Bar & Grill will include a whiskey bar, featuring micro-distillery brands of whiskies and bourbons, and moonshine martinis.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be one of those places where you come in jeans and a flannel shirt. It’s going to be a nice, enjoyable experience for people,” Mussi says. “It’s going to bring a little bit of the South up to Central Pennsylvania.”