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.
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Bacon

Places where the Beard ate Bacon
Posted: May 15th, 2012

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I chose to approach the bacon tour of Erie a little differently than what I normally do with my reviews. I will be taking suggestions on locations as much as possible, but with limited choices, I will be choosing one food item involving bacon and sampling it from multiple locations in the area.

For this first week, I focused on BLTs. Last Friday, my coworkers, Amy Izbicki and Jenny Sholtis, helped me compare BLTs from Three B’s Saloon, The Whole Food Co-op, and The Summer House Café. With bacon being one of the B’s in Three B’s Saloon, we knew this sandwich was going to be good. It was served on buttery Texas toast with fresh mixed greens and thin slices of tomato. There were probably ten strips of bacon on the sandwich, and each one was perfectly smoky and salty. I was a little surprised the sandwich didn’t come with any kind of condiment on it. There was, instead, a side of mayonnaise to accompany it. The up side of the sandwich being served that way was that it allowed us to add as much or as little mayo as we wanted.

The next sandwich was the TLT from The Whole Foods Co-op, which is a bit of an “apples to oranges” comparison, but it received so many recommendations, I had to try it. The sandwich is made with Tempeh bacon, organic spring lettuce mix, and thick cut tomato on whole wheat bread. I did make one non-vegan substitution by opting for regular mayonnaise as opposed to the Vegenaise it is normally served with. You may be wondering what Tempeh bacon is. Tempeh is a soy product that is high in protein, fiber, and vitamins, and is therefore a favorite among many health conscious eaters. The greens and the tomato were fantastically fresh and had a ton of flavor. The only problem with using such high quality produce was that their flavor slightly overpowered the Tempeh. The sandwich also lacked the saltiness that a traditional BLT gets from pork bacon, and I did miss that extra layer of flavor. Don’t get me wrong, it really is a great sandwich, but for someone who enjoys bacon made from pork, it doesn’t quite compare to the traditional BLT that I love so much.

The final sandwich we tried on Friday was from The Summer House Café. I ordered the sandwich on sourdough bread and I was so glad I did. The bread was toasted to a perfect golden brown and gave the sandwich another crunchy texture in addition to the bacon. Speaking of which, the bacon was piled high and cooked to crispy perfection. The sweet and salty bacon sat on a bed of thin sliced tomatoes and fresh lettuce. This sandwich had just a light spread of mayonnaise, which helped keep the sandwich moist. I should also note that if you like the BLT on their lunch menu, try the breakfast option that is served with a fried egg atop the bacon; you won’t regret it.

On Monday, I split two more BLTs with my coworker, Karen Burchill. The first was from Gerry Urbaniak’s 8th Street Deli and the other came from The Plymouth Tavern. We started with the “Bacon Your Pardon” BLT from Gerry’s. I’ve reviewed Gerry’s incredible sandwiches before and this one was no exception to my previous experiences. This is a sandwich I could eat all the time and never get sick of. The bacon is sliced thick and is smoked perfectly. The fresh lettuce and tomato were great, but what really set this sandwich apart from all the others I tried was the horseradish mayonnaise (that was given on the side). The creamy texture of the spread mixed with the bite of the horseradish offset the saltiness of the bacon with the perfect amount of tang and heat. It took the sandwich to a whole new level that was totally unexpected.

The BLT from The Plymouth was good, but after the fantastic sample from Gerry’s, it seemed rather ordinary. My favorite part of the sandwich was the perfectly grilled French bread that was home to several slices of fatty, salty bacon, crisp lettuce, and thick sliced tomatoes. I found myself wanting just a little bit of mayonnaise to add some creaminess and moisture to the sandwich. It wasn’t a dry BLT, thanks to the juicy slices of tomato, but the extra level of flavor that mayonnaise provides would have been appreciated.

BLTs are a menu item that you’ll see just about anywhere you go, and Erie is no exception. I know that there are many more restaurants in the area that serve this classic sandwich, but these were the five that were recommended to me by my readers. I should mention that of the sandwiches I tried, my two favorites were from The Summer House Café and Gerry Urbaniak’s 8th Street Deli. If you like BLTs, definitely try the ones I reviewed, but sample some of the others in town as well. Thanks to Three B’s Saloon, The Whole Foods Co-op, The Summer House Café, Gerry Urbaniak’s 8th Street Deli, and The Plymouth Tavern for providing me with your best BLTs. I can’t wait to continue this tour of Erie’s best bacon dishes!

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Bacon
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: May 22nd, 2012

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The second week of my bacon-themed tour focuses on small plates, for those of you who are just looking for a little bit of bacon. I didn’t receive any suggestions on appetizers or starters to try, so I found a few on my own. Throughout the week, I sampled food from Chovy’s Italian Casual in Meadville, and Jekyll and Hyde’s, 1201 Kitchen, and the Summer House Café in Erie. Finding appetizers containing bacon was tough, but the ones I did find were great.

As you may remember from some of my previous reviews, Chovy’s Italian Casual serves fantastic food for every course of a meal, but this trip was dedicated to one particular dish- bacon wrapped scallops. The appetizer is simple, featuring four small sea scallops, lightly seared and wrapped with bacon. The bacon is fatty and crispy and melts into the scallops. Each scallop sits in a small pool of teriyaki sauce and is garnished with Mandarin oranges and a lemon wedge. I thought the buttery scallops were slightly overpowered by the salty bacon, so I found myself wishing that the scallops were larger in order to stand up to the bacon. The teriyaki sauce and oranges added some welcome sweetness to balance out the saltiness from the bacon. The appetizer was good, but for $10, I thought the portion size could have been bigger.

I have written about the next appetizer before, but Jekyll & Hyde’s deserves another look. For a while, their Devils on Horseback were only available for dinner. Now, you can get an order of six of them for lunch. This dish features dried, sweet dates that are stuffed with goat cheese and pickled pears. Then, they are then wrapped in Smith’s delicious bacon, and topped with balsamic vinaigrette on a bed of mixed greens. The dates are chewy and sweet, the goat cheese adds a level of creaminess and tang, and the bacon wraps it all in a crispy, salty, tasty hug. The sound of dates and goat cheese together might turn some away from trying this dish, but trust me, try it and you’ll be glad you did. I could eat them by the dozen, they really are that amazing.

Chef Dan Kern at 1201 Kitchen just released the restaurant’s new spring menu and it is full of phenomenal plates of food, including the dish I tried, the deviled egg appetizer. I assure you, this is nothing like the traditional, run-of-the-mill deviled eggs you find at picnic after picnic during the summer. This dish starts with three egg halves, filled with smoked blue crab and topped with caviar and micro arugula, served with slices of crispy, maple bacon. The entire plate is sprinkled with crumbled egg yolk, chives, and pickled corn kernels. Each bite of this dish is delicious and perfectly balanced. The flavors don’t overpower each other at all; everything from the saltiness of the bacon, to the light smoky flavor of the crab, has a chance to shine. The crab and caviar add just the right amount of seafood flavor without being too much. The pickled corn kernels add a wonderful, acidic bite that balances out the sweetness of the bacon. I highly recommend this appetizer if you’re looking for a fun twist on a classic favorite. Another dish on the menu at 1201 Kitchen, the pressed pork belly sushi roll, is one that could be eaten as an appetizer. Sushi rice is tightly rolled around hand cured, smoked pork belly, “smoked” pepper jam, bibb lettuce, and basil mayo. The orange-colored cream sauce that is served as an accompaniment to the roll is sriracha mayonnaise, and the other sauce is a white miso cream. The pork belly has amazing flavor and even better texture; it’s salty, rich, and wonderfully decadent. I enjoyed getting to play with different combinations of the sauces and wasabi to make a few great combinations that bring out the flavors of the roll in different ways. I should also mention that this sushi roll not only makes a fantastic appetizer, it can easily be eaten as a meal.

My next stop, The Summer House Café, serves dinner on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday only. One of the appetizers served as part of the dinner menu are bacon macaroni and cheese fritters. Balls of a comfort food favorite, macaroni and cheese (theirs is made with six cheeses), are mixed with chunked bacon, and are then rolled in crunchy Panko breadcrumbs before heading to the fryer. The fritters are served with a Chilean sour cream salsa. Macaroni and cheese is something I already love, so when the large chunks of bacon were added, it got even better; the bacon gave the cheese blend a great smokiness. All too often, a great appetizer can be ruined by improper frying, leaving a greasy, drippy mess that isn’t appetizing at all. This is not the case at The Summer House Café! The outside of each fritter was perfectly crunchy and not greasy in the slightest. I did want to try the salsa dipping sauce, and it was fantastic, but the fritters are so incredible on their own, I found myself eating more of them without it.

Original appetizers that contain bacon were definitely tough to come by in this area, but the ones I sampled were all wonderful. I recommend any of these appetizers if you’ve got a craving for bacon! Thank you to all of the chefs and restaurants for the wonderful food and great service. I’m excited to see (and taste) what next week’s continuation of the bacon tour brings. Don’t forget to send me suggestions of some of your favorite bacon dishes!

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Bacon
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: May 29th, 2012

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

Bacon on a burger is a very common thing, but doing it well is an accomplishment. This week on my bacon tour, I tried three different burgers from around town as well as an extra dish that was really something special. My coworker Steve Puskar drove around with me to pick up all of the food and we brought it back to the office to share. We visited Andy’s Pub, Steel 12, and the Thunder Road Burger Company.

The first burger was the Western Burger from Andy’s Pub at 3866 Peach Street . This burger was close to a half pound and was smothered in BBQ sauce. Topping off the burger were bacon and cheddar cheese. As I bit into the burger, I noticed that the meat itself was not only tender and juicy, but fantastically seasoned. The next layer of flavor that came to the forefront was the BBQ sauce. It was tangy with just a hint of sweetness and it added wonderful moisture to the burger. The flavor I tasted next was the bacon, which was cooked well and had some crispiness to it, though I definitely would have liked more. I felt as though the smokiness and saltiness of the bacon was fighting with the BBQ sauce to be the highlight of this burger, and I think that adding bacon or taking away some of the sauce would make it a true bacon smash hit.

The second bacon burger was from Steel 12 at 24 North Park Row. I have reviewed this burger before, but it deserves another look. The Double Teamer burger is a 1/3 pound Angus beef patty resting between two gooey, bacon grilled cheese sandwiches. A burger AND grilled cheese probably sounds like a lot to handle, but each individual element is handled in a way that creates a delicious, albeit sinful, indulgence. The meat of the burger itself is of such good quality that it doesn’t need more than a light hand with salt and pepper to highlight the flavor, and that’s exactly what it got. Up next, the bacon, which was crispy and salty, but the gooey melted cheese had the same effect on the bacon in this sandwich that the BBQ sauce had on the burger from Andy’s. Please don’t misunderstand this though, because the cheesy, bacon-y, messy goodness inside of each sandwich is a little piece of heaven, it could just use more bacon. I recommend asking for additional bacon on top of the burger to give it that extra punch of salty perfection.

My final burger was a brand new stop for me, as it is a fairly new eatery in town. The Thunder Road Burger Company can be found inside of Cougars at 1325 State St. I was so glad to see a place like this open in Erie, one that focuses primarily on one thing and doing that one thing really well.I knew this choice was a good one when I saw the insane selection of burgers that all sounded fantastic and actually made my mouth water. I’ll admit it was difficult to stick to the bacon-themed choices when there were options like the ahi tuna burger calling my name, but I regained composure and ordered the Stingray a.k.a. the Southern Bell burger. This huge, 1/2 pound steak burger featured high quality beef that had been very lightly seasoned and char-grilled to perfection. The burger is then topped with bacon, thick-cut ham, three cheeses, and an over easy egg. The bacon was salty, crispy and smoky, but had a hint of sweetness. The ham was juicy and paired perfectly with the velvety texture of the egg. I have no hesitation at all when I say that this burger is one of the best I have ever had, in Erie or elsewhere. Every layer of topping added fantastic flavor to the sandwich. I was worried that so many strongly flavored elements would be completely overpowering for my palate, but I really did taste and appreciate each individual element and what they did to make such a delicious and exciting burger as a whole. This really was a home run. Plus, on Mondays, burgers are just $5.00.  They are open for lunch and dinner.

The extra something special we tried this week were some hot dogs from Lucky Louie’s Beer & Wieners. I had the BLT Dog and Steve had the Hog Dog. The BLT Dog is just what it sounds like. A split Smith’s hot dog is topped with fresh sliced lettuce and tomato, along with cooked-to-order, crispy, maple bacon. The small amount of mayo and the tomato added some moisture, but because the hot dog is cooked well to begin with, it elevated the whole dog to a new level. The bacon really was able to shine in this particular creation.Steve’s Hog Dog featured four slices of bacon, pepperoni, and cheddar cheese atop a split Smith’s dog. Every bit of this dish was awesome. The pepperoni added some spiciness to the sweet and salty bacon, while the cheese added a luxurious layer of creamy, smooth texture. Just talking about them makes me want another right now!

Thank you to all of the cooks and restaurants for the excellent bacon deliciousness this week. I’m excited to see (and taste) what next week’s continuation of the bacon tour brings. Don’t forget to send me suggestions of some of your favorite bacon dishes!

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Bacon
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: June 5th, 2012

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

Bacon in desserts isn’t a common thing to find, especially in Erie, but I set my sights on finding some sweet treats in the area this week. Two local bakeries got creative with some bacon themed pastries and I found a few other desserts as well.

Ye Ole Sweet Shoppe at 402 State St. has been a household name in Erie for over 25 years. They are known for their cookies, brownies, and scones. New owner and long-time employee Lea Yadeski is giving the store an updated feel and creating some new, incredible baked goods. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to try a new menu item. Lea and fellow baker Lindsay created a French toast cupcake topped with maple bacon frosting and fresh bacon chunks. The cake itself was moist, sweet, and had a delightful pop of cinnamon that made the cake taste like I was biting into a slice of actual French toast. To my surprise, the cupcake was filled with a cream cheese filling that added a creamy, tanginess that was a welcome contrast to the sweetness of the cake. The bacon could have been overpowering, but instead the lightly sweetened frosting had a pure maple taste that created a perfect balance for the salty bacon.

Since their first week of being open in Erie, I have been enjoying everything that Icing on the Lake has to offer. Located at 3624 West 12th Street, Heidi and John Fette have been creating custom cakes as well as a variety of cupcakes, cookies, cake pops, and plenty of other pastries and confections. The bakery’s one year anniversary is coming up this month and they have come a long way. They have been tossing around the idea of a bacon cupcake for a while and went through a few different recipes before they settled on the one that I tasted. They created a buttermilk pancake cupcake with maple frosting and topped with a bacon strip. This cake had a looser consistency than the first, but it was every bit as amazing. It had a crumbly texture and really tasted like fresh pancakes. Mixed in with the batter were chunks of bacon that cut some of the sweetness beautifully. The maple frosting was rich and velvety and paired perfectly with the chewy, salty bacon. Each bite truly was a delicious piece of breakfast. Amanda and I have ordered many cakes from this fantastic team of bakers and definitely be ordering more in the future.

In addition to the new dinner menu at 1201 Kitchen, Dan Kern also created a new dessert menu. One new item is their Cheese Composition. Using spoons, a whipped brie cheese blend is shaped into ovals, or quenelles, and is placed onto a smear of cinnamon honey. The creamy and melty cheese is then topped with dried Asian pear, crumbled lemon snaps, fresh berries, maple bacon toasted walnuts, and crispy pork belly. When the plate was set in front of me, the first thing I noticed was that it was very beautifully assembled, and each bite was phenomenal. The combination of flavors and textures made for a sweet dessert with wonderful savory notes throughout. The walnuts were roasted in the same pan as the pork belly so the salty and smoky flavor of the pork belly was everywhere. The honey and fruit gave the dish its necessary sweetness while the brie and meaty pork belly made my mouth water. This dessert was smaller in size, but so rich with flavor that had it been any bigger, it would have been too much. It was a fantastic way to end my night.

Thank you to Lea, Heidi, and Dan for your culinary creativity. You and your employees constantly impress me and have made quite the impression on the restaurant/bakery scene in Erie. I can’t wait to come back and try more menu items from all of you!

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Bacon
Posted in: Uncategorized

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