Chew On It
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By Andrew Kochirka GoErie.com staff blogger
Food has been an integral part of Andrew's life from a young age; from cooking with his mother and grandmother to creating recipes in his own kitchen. Now he scours the area's non-chain restaurant scene to find the best of the best of local food from chicken wings to French cuisine.   Read more about this blog.
 Phone: 814-878-2230

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Posted: July 29th, 2014

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Inside the Bel-Aire Clarion Hotel and Conference Center at 2800 West 8th Street is Victor’s Restaurant. Amanda and I stopped in to try some appetizers on Friday night. There were only a few full tables so we didn’t need a reservation. Our server, Rebecca, told us about the featured dishes, got us some drinks, and left us to look over the menu. We asked Rebecca about some of her favorites and we ended up settling on four appetizers for us to share: Margherita flatbread pizza, Bavarian pretzel sticks, Reuben egg rolls, and coconut shrimp.

victors_MARGHERITA-FLATBREADAll of the food came out together and in good time. We started with the Margherita pizza. A thin stretched pizza crust was topped with butter, garlic, slices of roasted tomatoes, chopped basil, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese. The crust with the butter and garlic was delicious. I would have loved the pizza to feature more of the roasted tomatoes. The acidity from the tomato was a great contrast to the heaviness of the cheese and butter as well as added some extra moisture to the crust. The cheese was chewy without being tough and was perfectly salty. Basil gave a fresh pop to each bite without being overwhelming. The outer crust edge by itself was pretty plain, but it didn’t take anything away from the pizza as a whole.

victors-BAVARIAN-PRETZEL-STICKSNext came the Bavarian pretzel sticks. Three large pretzel sticks were fried to a crispy brown. The insides had the wonderful, malty, soft pretzel taste and texture. I was happy to see that their wasn’t a ton of salt on the outside which allowed me to actually taste the pretzel dough. They were served with a house-made beer cheese. The cheese was super creamy and just slightly sweet which paired well with the salt. I started to dip my pizza crust into this cheese when I was done with the pretzels and probably could have finished it off with just a spoon. I sure the pretzel sticks would be just as good baked instead of deep fried.

victors_REUBEN-EGG-ROLLSThe Reuben egg rolls were wonton wrappers stuffed full of corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut with a side of thousand island dressing for dipping. These were a bit on the heavy side. There seemed to be more wonton than filling so they ended up being doughy. The flavors of the Reuben components were delicious. The rolls weren’t overly greasy, or nearly as scalding hot as they appeared. Cutting them in half allowed the steam and heat to escape so they were edible without burning our mouths. The sauerkraut still had some of its funk to it which to me, makes a Reuben good. The corned beef was lean and fell apart with each bite. I wished there were more than just two, especially if these are being ordered as a shared appetizer. This wasn’t my favorite that we ordered, but I think it is still worth trying.

victors_COCONUT-SHRIMPFinally came the coconut shrimp. I was shocked by how large they were. Six butterflied shrimp were coated in a light coconut breading and fried till golden. These were served with three different sauces: a pineapple mango chutney, a sweet Thai chili sauce, and a pineapple coconut cream sauce. All three paired well with the light coconut flavor of the breading. I felt that the creamy sauce was too sweet for me, but I loved the texture of it. The Thai sauce was my favorite because it added some heat to the sweetness. I would also try ordering these with a side of hot sauce or buffalo wing sauce next time. The extra spice would be fantastic.

Thank you to Rebecca for the great service and recommendations. Thank you to the kitchen for the quick and tasty meal. These are all great options for smaller options or as a bite to have with a drink.

The phone number for reservations is (814) 838-9270. The hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday Lounge from 4:30pm to 9pm, Kitchen from 5pm to 9pm, Friday and Saturday Lounge from 4:30pm to 10pm, Kitchen from 5pm to 10pm, and they serve lunch daily from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm

Keep sending me your recommendations for your favorite local appetizers to akochirka@goerie.com or to the Beard Vs. Food Facebook.  Remember to come back and vote as well.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Appetizers
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 22nd, 2014

If you haven’t yet, be sure to “like” Chew On It: Beard vs. Food on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!

Last Wednesday evening, Amanda and I had our first visit to the newly opened Cloud 9 Wine Bar at 25 E. 10th St. We arrived, without reservations, around 6:30 and had no problem getting a table. Our server, Cassie, came by with menus and left to get us some drinks. We spent some time looking around the restaurant, checking out the decor, wine tap system, and the chalkboards above the bar advertising wine, beer, specials, and desserts. Appetizers were our main focus so we took a few minutes to decide on some starters to share. We settled on the Crispy Duck Egg, Crispy Pork Belly, Duck Wings, and the Spring Salad.

cloud9_duck-egg

Our food took some time getting to our table, so we sat patiently, observing other patrons’ menu selections. Cassie brought all of our dishes to the table and walked us through each one. The first item up was the Crispy Duck Egg. A golden brown breaded duck egg was nestled on a bed of risotto that contained chunks of pancetta, burnt onions, and whole sprigs of thyme. It looked fantastic, but then things went a bit downhill. She picked up a small pot of bouillon and poured it over the crispy egg. Liquid and fried food don’t mix, so the egg ended up being anything but crispy. I wanted to try the risotto alone before I broke the egg open. It was creamy with a wonderful al dente texture. The pancetta added some saltiness with a touch of crunch. The burnt onions seemed out of place, but the sweetness that came from the caramelization was nice. I broke into the egg with my fork, causing the yolk to coat the risotto in even more creamy richness. Unfortunately, the egg itself was almost flavorless. Due to the moisture from the bouillon, the breading slopped off with every forkful. I would love to try this if it was kept crispy, but the risotto was delicious enough on its own.

cloud9_pork-bellyNext came the Crispy Pork Belly. A piece of pork belly was placed on top of a slice of burnt pineapple and served with shaved fennel, pickled green tomatoes, and a balsamic reduction. There was a dusting of some chili powder, but it wasn’t enough to really impact the overall flavor of the dish. The belly itself had great flavor, but was definitely approaching a “too dry” level of texture. The crispy top fat layer had the crispness that the duck egg lacked. I would have loved a creamy or sweeter element on the plate with the pork belly to help balance out the acids from the combination of vinegar, pickled vegetables, and pineapple.

cloud9_spring-saladWe moved on to the salad. The Spring Salad was a mixture of arugula and spinach mixed with chopped asparagus, sliced strawberries, feta cheese, and spicy cashews, all tossed in a caper-tarragon vinaigrette. This was a simple salad that I could easily eat again. Everything was fresh and well-balanced. The sweetness from the strawberries and asparagus, the refreshing spinach, peppery arugula, the spice from the cashews, creamy feta cheese, and the bright acidic dressing. Every bite was packed with flavor and the last few forkfuls were the best part.

cloud9_duck-wingsFinally were the Duck Wings. Five duck “drums” were fried and coated with cassis blackberry jalapeño sauce which is the medium heat option of the three sauces available (Ghost Honey Garlic and Maple Mustard Stout are the other two choices.) The duck itself was succulent and tender. However, the sauce was lacking in heat and overall flavor. It was overpowered by the oil flavor from the fryer. Next time, I would ask for a side serving of sauce so I could add more or even mix flavors.

Certainly nothing we ate was bad, but our experience did have its ups and downs. Attention to detail is absolutely crucial to make sure every plate is balanced, flavorful, and executed with correct technique. Hopefully the issues we experienced are just new restaurant kinks that will be worked out as the menu and restaurant move forward. The number for information is 870-9007. The hours of operation are daily from 11 a.m. to midnight (or later) with dinner being served from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

Keep sending me your recommendations for your favorite local appetizers to akochirka@goerie.com or to the Beard Vs. Food Facebook.  Remember to come back and vote as well.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Appetizers
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 15th, 2014

If you haven’t yet, be sure to “like” Chew On It: Beard vs. Food on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!

Rory’s Ristorante, formerly known as L’Olivo, is located inside of La Nuova Aurora Society at 1518 Walnut St. Amanda and I had the first reservation at 6:00 on Friday evening. Just as we were being seated, patrons from the club side were coming in for dinner as well and the place began to fill up. Our server, Jordan, came by with menus and left again to get our drinks. We looked through the menu and decided on two appetizers, but knowing how good the rest of the food is, a full dinner was a tough thing to say no to. For our appetizers, we went with the Clams Picatta and the Risotto Margherita.

Rorys-Ristorante_clams-picattaFresh bread from the Majestic Bakery paired with olive oil and balsamic vinegar arrived at the table first with the appetizers following shortly behind. The Clam Picatta was a large bowl of littleneck clams in a broth of white wine, lemon juice, capers, minced shallots and garlic, and topped with anchovy fillets. The broth had a fantastic balance of sweet and savory. The shallots and garlic gave it a touch of sweet, the lemon and wine added the acidity, and the capers and anchovy added to the briny flavor of the clams. The clams were tender and well seasoned. I used the fresh bread to soak up the broth and could have easily made an entire meal out of this. A Caesar salad would have been a fantastic accompaniment.

Rorys-Ristorante_Risotto-MargheritaNext was the Risotto Margherita. A wonderfully creamy combination of rice cooked with broth, wine, and butter was topped with the house tomato sauce, fresh slices of mozzarella, a chiffonade of basil, and a little drizzle of white truffle oil. The contrasting textures of velvety creaminess with the al dente rice was irresistible. The rich yet subtle flavors of the risotto are elevated by the margherita aspect of it. The acidity of the tomato sauce with the melted mozzarella cheese was delicious. The basil was a bright and fresh burst while the truffle oil added some earthiness to it. Amanda and I each went back to this plate for seconds and I was actually sad when I looked up and the plate was clean. This is a must try.

We also got some pizza and pasta as entrees, but seeing how much we brought home with us, the appetizers could have been enough. Thank you to Jordan and Rory for the great meal. The food, service, and prices were all fantastic and we both are looking forward to returning again.

The phone number for information and reservation at Rory’s Ristorante is (814) 449-2597. They serve a bar menu Monday through Saturday, but their full dinner menu is available on Friday from 6:00 to 9:00 pm and Saturday from 5:00 to 9:00 pm.

Keep sending me your recommendations for your favorite local appetizers to akochirka@goerie.com or to the Beard Vs. Food Facebook.  Remember to come back and vote as well.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Appetizers
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 8th, 2014

If you haven’t yet, be sure to “like” Chew On It: Beard vs. Food on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!

It has been a few months since I have been to Pineapple Eddie. I made reservations for Amanda and I at 6:30 on Thursday night and when we arrived, were seated in the lower dining room by the bar. Our server, Shay, came by with menus and walked us through the nightly specials. The sound of whole red snapper or a plate of chicken and waffles sounded amazing to me, but I had to focus my attention on the small plates. We settled on a meal full of seafood appetizers and we couldn’t wait to get started. We ordered catfish planks, Creole shrimp, and crab hushpuppies. Dinners also come with cornbread muffins that were drizzled with a melted honey butter.

pineapple-eddie_catfish-planks

Our food came out quickly and all smelled and looked fantastic. The catfish planks were thin cut fillets of catfish in a light seasoned cornmeal breading. The outside was perfectly fried. The cornmeal was thin and crispy while keeping the fish flaky and moist without being oily. They were served with a side of hot sauce and homemade tartar sauce. The creaminess of the tartar mixed with the vinegar and spice of the hot sauce is my perfect combination for fried fish. We got through the four planks quickly and I could have eaten an entire fish worth.

pineapple-eddie_Creole-ShrimpFour large tail-on shrimp were tossed in the Pineapple Eddie Creole spice. They were topped with sautéed bell peppers and onions and served with a side of cocktail sauce. The best description I have heard of a perfectly cooked shrimp would have to be “snappy” and these were. Firm on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside with just the right burst of texture and flavor. The Creole spice had some heat without being over powering. The vegetables gave them a hint of sweetness that paired perfectly with the horseradish in the cocktail sauce. This is also served as an entree if you want more.

pineapple-eddie_crab-hushpuppiesFinally came the crab hushpuppies. A basic combination of cornmeal, scallions, herbs and spices, eggs, and milk makes up a hushpuppy. Adding crab meat to it elevated it to a whole new level. A half dozen of these golden beauties were served with a spicy rémoulade. The outside had a great crust to them with the steaming hot and pillowy insides waiting. My only problem with these is that they didn’t come with free refills. I would gladly make an entire meal from these.

Thank you again to everyone at Pineapple Eddie Southern Bistro for the consistently delicious food and friendly and welcoming service. Our experiences here have been nothing but superb and we can’t wait to return.

The phone number for reservations and information is 814-454-0700. The hours of operation are 11:00 am to 9:00 pm Wednesday through Friday and 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Saturday.

Keep sending me recommendations for your favorite local appetizers to akochirka@goerie.com or to the Beard Vs. Food Facebook. Remember to come back and vote as well.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Appetizers
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 1st, 2014

beardvsfood_genericIf you haven’t yet, be sure to “like” Chew On It: Beard vs. Food on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!

Summer is starting and my second burger tour is coming to an end. I had the opportunity to try 27 different burgers during my eight week tour.  There were some that I was glad to have gotten to try and some that made me sad that they were gone.  There weren’t many that I wouldn’t order again, but I picked some of my favorites to highlight below.  Click the links to see the full reviews.

Jekyll and Hyde’s - Dr. Jekyll Steak Burger or Mr. Hyde Black Bean Burger…depending on my mood.
Roff School Tavern - The Brown Bag Lunch and The Mexican Radio.
Hunter’s Inn -  Six Napkin Burger.
Ruffed Grouse Bar & Grille - Cali Burger.
The Pittsburgh Inn - Pops’ Jalapeno Burger.
McKean Tavern – The Molly Burger.
Freeport Restaurant - Bacon Cheeseburger.

A few of these are on the charts for the best burger I have ever had and I am glad that I was able to try them.  Thank you to all of the cooks, servers, and bartenders for making these last eight weeks fantastic.  It was a great way to start summer and I am already marking my calendar with return visits.

Keep sending me recommendations for your favorite local appetizers to akochirka@goerie.com or to the Beard Vs. Food Facebook. Remember to come back and vote as well.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Burgers 2
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: June 25th, 2014

If you haven’t yet, be sure to “like” Chew On It: Beard vs. Food on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!

For my last stop on my second burger tour, I ended up at the Freeport Restaurant in North East.  I was joined again by my coworker, Steve Anthony. We made our way through the vineyards on Route 5 and arrived just after 11:30 to beat the lunch rush. We had scoped out the menu online before we arrived so when our server came to our table, we were ready to place our order. I decided on the bacon cheeseburger with a side of onion petals and Steve ordered the spicy black bean burger with fries. As our order was being sent in to the kitchen, cars started pulling up and tables started filling. I am glad we got in when we did.

freeport-restaurant_bacon-burgerOur food was out in good time and looked terrific. The bacon cheeseburger was a char-broiled 5 oz. all-beef patty with two pieces of crispy bacon that is smoked in-house. It was topped with a slice of cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and came with mayo on the side. The buns used were standard kaiser rolls.  Pillowy on the outside without being too heavy and toasted on the inside which gave it some texture as well as a solid layer of crust to hold everything together. The burger was charred on the outside with a perfectly juicy center. The bacon was salty with a hint of sweetness. The cheese was nice and melted added creaminess without making it super messy. The tomato slices were huge so I took one of the two off. It added some extra moisture, but overall, it wasn’t as acidic as they normally can be. The lettuce acted as a barrier to keep the top bun from getting soggy, but like the tomato, it was just kind of there, nothing special. Overall, it was a standard and delicious burger. The smoked bacon is what really made it for me.

freeport-restaurant_black-bean-burgerSteve’s spicy black bean burger was a combination of beans, corn, garlic, herbs and spices, and breadcrumbs. It wasn’t overly “bready” so I assume that the filler was minimal. The beans were the rightful star of this burger with everything else offering a different level of complement. The sweet corn kernels added bright pops throughout each bite and the spices were rich and warm. The lettuce and tomato on this one added a lot of freshness as well as some extra moisture. Steve topped it with a drizzle of ketchup which brightened it up even more. As far as black bean burgers go, this one was fantastic. I know that it ruins the idea of a meatless burger, but I would love to try this with the bacon strips on it.

Thank you to our server and the kitchen staff for the quick and very tasty lunch. I would gladly make this trip again. The phone number is (814) 725-4607 and the hours of operation are from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday with extended hours until 9:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. They are closed on Mondays.

Again, this was my final week of burgers so start sending me recommendations for your favorite local appetizers to akochirka@goerie.com or to the Beard Vs. Food Facebook. Remember to come back and vote as well.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Burgers 2
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: June 17th, 2014

If you haven’t yet, be sure to “like” Chew On It: Beard vs. Food on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!

After getting multiple recommendation for the burgers at the McKean Tavern, I knew I had to get down there to try them.  I stopped down on Saturday afternoon to grab some lunch.  There were a couple of other patrons at the bar when I arrived so I grabbed a seat and was greeted by the bartender, Molly.  She gave me a menu and a few suggestions on which burgers to try. I found out that she is also the cook so I figured she knew just how to make the burgers she suggested. I asked her to make me her favorite burger as well as a Ranch Burger off of the menu. After she served some drinks and took another lunch order, Molly headed into the kitchen to start cooking.

mckean-tavern_ranch-burger

Between the music coming from the television and the sounds of the grill from the kitchen, I was content sitting at the bar waiting for my food. It was just a few minutes until Molly was on her way back out with two burgers in hand. The beef patties are all hand made fresh at around a half pound with simply a touch of Canadian-style steak seasoning to let the meat be the star.  I started with the ranch burger. The burger itself had to have been close to an inch and a half thick and was topped with ranch and caramelized onion.  Before the burger even touches the grill, ranch dressing is mixed with the meat to give it some added flavor.  The insides of the bun were toasted golden and the top was left soft which was perfect.  The sweetness from the onions, the tang from the ranch, and the savory beef made for a wonderful combination.  The patty was juicy and full of flavor.  My suggested change was to coat the burger in dry ranch mix before grilled to add even more ranch flavor.

mckean-tavern_cheeseburgerNext was what I will call the Molly burger.  The same awesome burger patty was topped with American cheese, super crispy bacon, grilled onions, lettuce, and a thin spread of mayo.  Layered perfectly, each bite was the same as the last. This was a basic, yet fantastic burger.  The bacon gave it just the right amount of saltiness while the onions added a sweet touch.  The cheese sealed in the juices even more which enhanced the flavor.  The mayonnaise added a bit of a creamy texture to go with the crunch of the bacon and the toasted bun.  Ketchup and mustard were available to me, but both of these burgers were delicious without the extra condiments.

The burgers were served with chips, but you can substitute fries or onion rings as well.  Thank you to Molly for the great service and even better lunch.  The 15 minute drive from Erie to the tavern is well worth it for these burgers.  I can’t wait to come back down.  The phone number is (814) 476-1195.  Although the bar itself is open nightly until 2 a.m., the kitchen is only open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Send me some new ideas on what type of food to do next to akochirka@goerie.com or to the Beard Vs. Food Facebook.  Remember to come back and vote as well.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Mc Kean Tavern on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Burgers 2
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