• The Vegetable Hunter

Rustic Row House Ales at The Vegetable Hunter

It’s been just over a month since we made our announcement that Derek was taking on pro-brewing for The Vegetable Hunter (formerly Crave & Co) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And, I’m pleased to say his lovely, small-batch, rustic brews will soon be ready for you to enjoy.  

For those of you not familiar with The Vegetable Hunter, it’s a tiny, award-winning cafe that’s been open since June 2014 in Harrisburg’s historic Restaurant Row. The downtown row house is just a few doors down from The Firehouse Restaurant. The vintage brick facade is often decked out in chalk drawings that change from time to time. 

Multicultural vegetarian and vegan food make up the menu as well as homemade root beer, many flavors of kombucha and a variety of shrubs. Everything is handcrafted from scratch in this 20 seat establishment owned by Kristie Messner-Baker and John Baker.

“Adding a brewery on to our restaurant became a part of our vision shortly after we opened in 2014,” says Kristie. “We were fortunate to have had the time to continue to develop our restaurant while we were in the licensing application process. Opening the brewery is a way for us to add new amazing tasting beverages, but this time with alcohol.”

The space, the food and now the beers exude the creative energy that flows throughout The Vegetable Hunter and inspires all those that step inside to be a part of the experience.

The Beers

The main focus is on approachable, yet very aromatic and flavorful ales. They refer to it as: “Rustic Row House Ales”. Think tart saisons, grisettes, robust stouts, unfiltered pale ales/IPAs and whatever else they can dream up in their little, boutique brewery. The goal is to incorporate the same idea of great flavor and unique ingredients in their brewing that complement the seasonal and colorful food served.

“It’s small batch brewing using fresh and unexpected ingredients,” says Brewer, Derek Markel.  

“The small size of the brewery allows us to get creative and experiment with unique, high-quality ingredients. We also plan to feature PA malts and hops as well as fruits, herbs and vegetables from local orchards that are plentiful here in Central PA.” And, when Derek says “small,” he means small. The whole brewing area in the basement is just 9 feet x 9.5 feet. Just a half barrel of brew is made at a time. A fresh rotation of brew on tap will be the standard.

Here’s a sneak peek at the 2 brews that will be served up first.

Geiger’s Punch Pale Ale (NE Style Pale Ale) 4.7% ABV

  • Flavor Notes: Papaya, lemongrass, mild pine, coriander & crackers.
  • Aroma: herbal rainy day
  • Features spelt and Twilight wheat from Deer Creek Malthouse


Punk Rock Girl (Hibiscus Saison) 5.6% ABV

  • Flavor Notes: Hibiscus, pomegranate, lemon, pink peppercorn, funk & toasted bread.
  • Aroma: tropical hop explosion
  • Features spelt from Deer Creek Malthouse

When Will They Be Ready to Serve?

Getting thirsty, aren’t you? Be sure to follow The Vegetable Hunter on their Facebook & Instagram spaces to get the scoop on which day the taps will begin flowing. Hint: It’s very, very soon. Like really soon. And since the beer is in limited supply and will rotate quickly, you’ll want to be dialed in to their announcements.

The Brewer

Derek Markel has travelled throughout the Northeast experiencing beers from some of the best breweries in the country. Collecting ideas, following trends and creating new twists on classics. He’s been homebrewing for over 8 years and has won numerous local awards as well as co-created the All-Grain Gangsters homebrew club where he mentors and info shares with its members.

How did you get connected with The Vegetable Hunter?
I actually went to school with Kristie and John – as well as Terry Hawbaker who’s the head brewer over at Pizza Boy Brewing in Enola, PA. Fast forward some 25+ years after graduation our paths crossed when I stopped in to check out their restaurant during a 2016 ‘3rd in the Burg‘ evening. It was then that I became aware of their vision for quality beer to be made exclusively for their restaurant patrons.
What do you love about brewing small batch beer?
Small batch brewing allows us to use higher quality ingredients. It also allows us to experiment with new ingredients and new techniques which we may not be able to try on a large scale system.
What inspires your beer creations?
My recipes are inspired by the many great beers I have been fortunate enough to taste both locally and throughout the country. Some of my favorites include those from Tired Hands, Hill Farmstead, Suarez Family Brewery, Foam Brewers, Oxbow, Tree House and Trillium. The goal is not to clone specific beers, but rather to take bits and pieces of information and incorporate it into my own recipes. I also try to stay current on emerging trends on both beer styles and brewing techniques.

The Food Visionary

Kristie Messner-Baker, lawyer turned cook, is the driving force behind the food menu. She loves experiencing the foods of many cultures, learning about healthy ingredients and the medicinal benefits of food.

The Vegetable Hunter

Photo Courtesy: The Vegetable Hunter

What inspired you to open The Vegetable Hunter?
I worked in the restaurant industry for many years when I was in high school and college and then went to law school. I became a lawyer and was practicing law for several years and raising my kids but couldn’t stop thinking about owning a restaurant. I always had a passion for music, art, travel, cooking, and the healthy benefits of food and felt like this was the atmosphere where I would thrive. I literally had reoccurring dreams about owning a restaurant for years so I felt like it was something that was a part of me even at a subconscious level. I took a risk and left the law firm I was working for. We opened our vegan and vegetarian cafe in 2014 and it has been amazing.
What inspires the dishes you create?
I do a lot of reading about food and drinks to keep up with what’s new and exciting. What I look to for inspiration are new food trends from different cultures that have healthy ingredients. I immediately think about ways to make them vegan or vegetarian which can take a lot of thought and sometimes a lot of trial and error until it is perfected. We say our menu is “globally inspired” for “food explorers” because our menu is inspired by flavorful recipes from all over the world.
Why the name change?
We changed our name from “Crave and Co.” to “The Vegetable Hunter” to avoid the inevitable infringement issues that will arise when using a name as common as Crave in association with food and drink. It took about a year and a half and I finally got the trademark that I needed for our new name, “The Vegetable Hunter”. While we take making awesome food and drinks seriously, we try not to take ourselves too seriously and we think our new name reflects that. We want people to come in, enjoy their food and drinks, and have a good time.

The Space

Every nook and cranny has something visually interesting to explore whether it be art, design or music focused. Both Kristie and John share a passion for the arts and encourage their patrons to express themselves through the chalk board walls, open mic night, playful games on the table tops and such.

The Future

Although there is no formal bar area at the moment, demolition has already begun on the second floor of The Vegetable Hunter. Once the newly-renovated upstairs space is ready, it will increase seating capacity and include a bar. Look for more updates this summer on the renovation progress.

The Bar Expansion Project

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