High quality ingredients are the key to the beloved Hofbrau pizza. (Photo by Chuck Fong)
When you enter the Hofbräu in Belfont, it’s like stepping back in time. The structure of the building, seating and decor have hardly changed in several decades.
More importantly, however, the food hasn’t changed much. According to restaurant owner Ruth Sampsel, Hofbräu never skimps on ingredients.
“This is definitely the high quality of the ingredients we get,” Sampsel says. “We get a lot of ingredients from Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in Pittsburgh, Italian market in Pittsburgh. All our cheeses, our sauces, our olive oil, even our pepperoni, are from there. It’s all quality stuff.”
There are many pizzerias in Bellefonte. In fact, most of them are just around the corner from Parc Talleyrand. While many have changed their recipes over the years, Hofbräu has stayed the same. If you remember what a slice tasted like in the past, chances are that a bite today will take your taste buds back to the past.
“We make our dough fresh every day. We make our sauce fresh every day, and we grate our fresh cheese and mix it ourselves—it’s a special blend of provolone and mozzarella,” explains Sampsel.
She points to cheese as the key ingredient. According to her, if Hofbräu ran out of dough, they could repeat it. The same goes for the sauce. But cheese? This is something that cannot be faked.
“If we run out of cheese, there is nothing I can replace in this area that can compare. Cheese, no doubt… the cheese that is grated… it melts differently. If a pizza comes out and it doesn’t have our cheese, I can tell. It doesn’t seem to be the same. It has a different taste,” says Sampsel.
When it comes to toppings, pepperoni is definitely the number one topping.
“Our pepperoni is cut to a certain thickness, which is fantastic,” says the owner.
Samplel knows his stuff. She and her husband Brian recently took over the Hofbräu from former owner Tim Glunt. Many years ago she worked at both Hofbrau and The Gamble Mill before leaving to run The Gamble Mill for three years; then she returned to Hofbräu 10 years ago. When Glunt announced he was retiring, Sampsel had a decision to make.
“Did I ever think that I would own it? No, Sampsel smiles. “I wanted a little more skin in the game, but I was thinking about a small partnership. This is madness.”
But Hofbräu is more than pizza. Wings, according to Sampsel, are extremely popular. There are several different sauces to choose from, including mild, spicy, rum and butter barbecue, Texas ranch, southwestern pepper, Italian parmesan, and Tima blue cheese.
“We fry them twice to make them crispy,” she says. “All of our wings have a bit of spice, except for the Italian Parmesan. But they are all really great sauces.”
They get their pepper flakes from a loosely organized group of State College vendors called “pepper kings”.
“They take peppers, smoke them and grind them. They give off a little smoke and we use these flakes in the sauce,” Sampsel says.
The Hofbräu menu is small but powerful. In addition to pizza and wings, there are oven-baked mincers, sandwiches, cheesesteaks, stromboli, calzones, salads and appetizers. Sampsel recently added french fries and hash browns (for Wedgie Wednesday) to the menu.
“It’s better to do 25 good things than 100 mediocre ones,” Sampsel says matter-of-factly.
Everything, according to her, is fresh and never frozen.
“It’s about keeping everything fresh and homemade every day,” Sampsel says.
Hofbräu sausage, chicken and beef come from Lajo in Altoona.
“They are family owned and local. They are just great. Everyone in Altoona knows Layo,” Sampsel says.
Hofbrau has been operating since 1954. It all started, according to Sampsel, with a hamburger and steak shop. Bill McFadden owned Hofbräu before Glunt took over. McFadden now owns and operates Faccia Luna at State College.
“Bill is the man who switched him to pizza,” Sampsel explains. “It was his first pizzeria.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
In terms of drinks, Hofbräu features Otto’s beer and Barrel 21 liqueur. In fact, Otto’s produces a special beer called “Ottobrau” that is exclusive to Hofbrau.
“Otto never made light beer and when they came here they knew we sell a lot of light beer. So they made a special beer for us, and it’s definitely our number one selling beer,” Sampsel says.
Hofbrau is located at 106 Bishop St., in the heart of Bellefonte. It is open Monday to Thursday from 16:00 to 21:00, Fridays and Saturdays from 16:00 to 21:30, and Sundays from 16:00 to 20:00.
So, if you’re in town for a visit and want to be reminded what great pizza tastes like, stop by Hofbrau.
“I can’t believe how many people come back and say, ‘I can’t order pizza like I did at Hofbräu,’” Sampsel says. “They say there’s nothing like it.” T&G
Chris Morelli is a Pleasant Gap resident and news editor for The Express in Lock Haven. He has been eating Hofbrau pizza since he moved to the Central District in 2006. This story appeared in the May 2022 issue of Town&Gown magazine.