Chew On It
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By Andrew Kochirka 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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Breakfast Foods

Places where the Beard ate Breakfast Foods
Posted: September 28th, 2010

Heigh-Ho, Breakfast! Away!

Breakfast really is my favorite meal.  I could eat it three or four times a day if it were available to me.  This past Sunday was my first of many weeks to sample the great breakfast fare Erie has to offer.

So, two Steelers fans and a Browns fan walk into a diner … wait, no.

It was homecoming weekend for Mercyhurst, so a lot of alumni were in town.  My friend Amanda Harnocz was visiting from Cleveland (the Browns fan referenced above) and decided to join Amanda Flick and me at the Zodiac Dinor, 2516 State St.  It was my second visit and both of their first, so we all were pretty new to this.  Our server didn’t pull any punches and let the Browns fan know where his loyalties were.  On the menu, a certain omelet caught my eye: the Zodiac Stuffed Omelet.  It wasn’t what was in the omelet that intrigued me; it was the challenging sentence after the description.  “We bet you can’t finish it.”  Oh yes I can, menu.  Yes, I can.  One Amanda ordered a home-style Belgian waffle, the other got some eggs and home fries, and I went with the Zodiac Stuffed.

While we waited, we discussed a lot.  We figured out that Amanda H. quite possibly has a caffeine allergy she didn’t know she had, talked about how the diner itself reminded us of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and commented on how our friend Michelle doesn’t have much in her kitchen.  There were a few bigger tables of people, so our service was a little slow, but conversation kept us busy while we waited.  Our food came out, and I was prepared to crush this omelet.  It was big (see photo above). Stuffed with peppers, onions, mushrooms, ham, sausage, hash browns, and cheese and came with two pieces of Italian toast on the side.  The meat and vegetables were perfect.  I would maybe ask for the hash browns to be a little crispier for some added texture, but it was delicious.  The toast had a little bit of a fryer taste to it for some reason, but with some jelly it was fine.  I wasn’t trying to race to finish it, but I had my plate cleared in about eight minutes.  Easily finished.  I had a few bites of both the Belgian waffle and the home fries.  The waffle came smothered in melting butter.  It was nice and light with great flavor.  The home fries were crispy on the outside and extremely hot, but soft on the inside.

This was a great meal to start out my breakfast tour.  I cannot wait for all of my weeks to come.

Until next week,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Zodiac Dinor on Urbanspoon

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Posted: October 5th, 2010

For as long as I have lived in Erie, I have been eating food from Jack and Stephanie Potous-Eaker.  The 10th Street Café and Make It Fabulous Catering provided me with many days of incredible food.  I had only been to the Summer House Café at the corner of West 26th Street and Washington Avenue once before my blog visit, and I went with a rather traditional breakfast of eggs and pancakes.  I wanted this visit to be more out of the box.

My friends Mike Mancinelli and Matt Peterson joined me and Amanda on Sunday morning.  The restaurant was almost filled to capacity, so we had a few minute wait.  I saw both Jack and Stephanie while we were waiting.  I love that the owners are right there with the servers, waiting tables and helping as much as possible.  Once seated, we drank our coffee and chatted some.  I heard from many people that their eggs Benedict is outstanding.  If I were not allergic to raw eggs, I would have ordered them in a heartbeat.  Our server, Tracy, gave us some recommendations as to what she liked, and everything sounded great.  Without discussion, we all went a somewhat nontraditional route.  Mike went with huevos rancheros, Matt ordered steak and eggs, Amanda got eggs ala Dante, and I went with Tracy’s recommended corned beef hash burrito.  As a side note, they also offer a large array of breads including white, wheat, rye, Italian, pumpernickel, 12-grain, raisin and sourdough.

Though the house was packed, our food came out in good time.  Mike’s huevos rancheros consisted of a tortilla in a bowl topped with two over-easy eggs, refried beans, the house Texas chili, and shredded cheese.  The whole plate was then baked to crisp up the uncovered tortilla.  As Mike cut into the center, he opened the egg yolks and it looked fantastic.  It wasn’t until his first bite that he discovered the hidden treasure.  Bacon.  Under the chili, beans and eggs was a bed of bacon.  What a salty, delicious find.  Another great discovery came when Mike asked for the salt. We found that there were very small shakers on all of the tables.  Minor find, but still entertaining.  Matt’s steak and eggs was the only “traditional” meal on the table.  His medium-cooked steak could have used a little more seasoning but was still good.  It was very tender and went perfectly with his over-hard eggs.  Amanda’s eggs ala Dante were awesome: two eggs sautéed in their “Wake-Up” tomato sauce, placed on crisp Italian toast, smothered in more of the sauce and topped with shaved Parmesan cheese.  The eggs, being similar to poached eggs, spilled yolk all over the toast and were really delicious.  Despite my allergy, I had to taste a bite for myself because they looked so good; the minor itching afterward was worth it.  My meal was a tortilla shell filled with homemade Irish corned beef hash and potatoes, scrambled eggs, and some Hollandaise sauce.  All of this was rolled, grilled and then drizzled with some more sauce.  I dug right in with both hands, and the messiness was well worth it.  With face and hands covered, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Throughout our meal, we were checked on by Tracy, as well as Jack and Stephanie.  Thank you to all for the great care and even better food.  The Summer House Café will be a place  I will return to.  I have heard their lunches and dinners are just as good.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

The Summer House Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Posted: October 12th, 2010

What a crazy week for breakfast.  For the past two weeks, Taki’s Restaurant has had a strong showing in votes, coming in second both times.  I was convinced that’s where I was headed this week.  Voters had something else in mind and two other contenders got their chance in the ring.  All week, The Breakfast Place and Lorie’s Wildridge Restaurant were going back and forth, competing for the top spot.  When the poll closed on Sunday morning, Lorie’s had managed to squeak ahead by two votes.  I was thrilled about this.  I had never been there and have only heard fantastic reviews.  My excitement was ripped away in a hurry.  When I looked up the address, I also discovered that they are closed Sundays and Mondays.  What a disappointment.  Instead of wasting all of the votes cast this week, I decided to eat at The Breakfast Place, 2340 E 38th St.

When Amanda and I got to The Breakfast Place, the line was out the door.  I have been there many times, and almost every there time was a wait for a table.  Good food is hard to keep secret.  One of the first times I ate there, I got the full frittata, which easily conquered me.  I ended up with half of it at home in my fridge.  Once we were seated, all I could think about was getting my revenge.  I asked our server what she recommended, and sure enough, the frittata topped the list.  She informed me that the full order was a lot of food and to only get it if I was really hungry.  I went with the full frittata and Amanda ordered the Cajun eggs.

The Cajun eggs looked amazing.  Two basted eggs on a bed of home fries, chopped onions, sliced ham and mushroom, topped with cheese and Cajun spices.  Basted eggs are a lot like poached eggs but are typically cooked in oil or butter instead of being boiled in water.  The hot butter/oil is spooned on top of the egg, cooking it on both sides.  The potatoes were nice and crispy and added great texture to the softness of the veggies and eggs.

Now to my food:  The frittata included fresh-ground sausage, diced green and red bell peppers, chopped onion, sliced mushroom, and home fries all mixed in a three egg scramble and topped with mozzarella and hot pepper rings.  Phew, that was a mouthful.  My goal was to finish it all, and finish it I did.  I think I did a job that would have made Adam Richman proud.  I included some photos as proof.  It really was a challenge, but a very good one.  I loved the zip the pickled hot pepper rings gave it, so I ended up getting an extra bowl of them to add a few more.  The potatoes absorbed a lot of the moisture from the veggies and eggs, but they were still good.  The Italian sausage had just the right amount of spice and went well with everything.

Thank you to our server as well as the owner, Joe Mancuso, for everything.  Maybe I will have the chance to someday try Lorie’s, but The Breakfast Place was far too good to come in as a runner-up.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

The Breakfast Place on Urbanspoon

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Posted: October 19th, 2010

When I think about how many hours I have spent inside Dominick’s 24 Hour Eatery at 123 E. 12th St., it makes me think I’m a little strange. My friends Joe, Anthoni, Tom, Chris, Frank and I used to spend countless nights drinking coffee and eating all of the delicious food that Dom’s offers. Being there for six to eight hours was not uncommon. Very rarely have I been in while the sun is shining, but what a better opportunity than for my blog on a Monday morning.

I met my coworker Amy there this Monday before work. It was far less crowded than a Friday or Saturday night after the bars let out, but the food was still just as good. We sipped some coffee, talked about the two weddings we went to this weekend and perused the menu. I have had most of the breakfast items from the menu including their pancakes, French toast and the meatball omelet.  All three are fantastic, and I emphasize that for the omelet.  I have had a meatball omelet from many places in town and Dominick’s is my favorite.  Amy went with the slightly healthier option of a spinach omelet; while I decided to go with Nick’s Special omelet. (I figured with the name special in it, it had to be good. Right?)

When my omelet was placed in front of me, I’m pretty sure I had to pick my bottom lip off of the table. It was massive.  It had to have been made with five, maybe six eggs. It was stuffed with fresh cubed red potatoes, fresh green bell peppers, onions, ground Italian sausage and then topped with four slices of provolone cheese. I put a fork and jelly packet in the picture for some context as to just how large it really was. The sausage had a little spice to it and was perfectly paired with the crisp, fresh veggies. The cheese melted and stretched with every bite. I added some ketchup and some Franks and it was perfect. The Kraft raspberry and blackberry jam went great on my side of Italian toast.

Amy’s omelet wasn’t quite as large, but it still looked awesome. Filled with fresh spinach and cheese, and topped with even more cheese, this omelet still was a monster. Her side of crispy bacon would have been great in my omelet (as if it needed anything else). Personal opinion: there is no other way to eat bacon than crispy.

With the start of our workday coming quickly, we had to eat a little fast. After our two plates were pretty much clean, a nap would have been a better way to go instead of the office, but we had to do what we had to do.  Thank you to all that made our Dominick’s visit great. The food was delicious, as I have come to expect. I will be back soon for sure.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Dominick's 24 Hour Eatery on Urbanspoon

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Posted: October 26th, 2010

If I want to drive to Buffalo, I normally travel on I-90 or Route 20. I might just take Route 5 from now on. The trip to the Freeport Restaurant is beautiful. Most of the drive is about a block from Lake Erie, and with the grape season coming to a close and the leaves starting to change, the scenic road is almost as good as the food.

This weekend was my first trip out there, and I had some fantastic company. Newlyweds Brian and Becky Kurtz joined Amanda and me for breakfast. Amanda and I got there a few minutes before them, and as soon as we were seated, I was spotted by North East celebrity Steve Greg.  Steve gave me a few suggestions about what to order, but I quickly let him finish his breakfast and go on with his day.

The restaurant stops serving breakfast at 11:15 a.m., so in order to get our food in time, we ordered without Brian and Becky (though we did call to find out what they wanted).  Our server, Tina, suggested the Freeport Sampler as well as any of their pancakes.  She also informed us that they smoke all of their bacon and ham fresh in house as well as make three types of homemade sausage.  For Brian, we ordered plain pancakes, bacon and a cheese danish.  We thought Becky would like the sampler.  Amanda ordered a sweet potato pancake, and I got the sampler as well.  We also placed an order for some Buoys (their name for Scotch eggs), a suggestion from Steve.

Shortly after Brian and Becky arrived, our food arrived.  We split the Buoys (which came with a side of homemade spicy mustard.) The Buoys are a quarter of a hard boiled egg  wrapped in fresh country sausage, rolled in spiced breadcrumbs and deep fried.  Dipping these in the mustard was the perfect way to start the meal.

Though I got the sampler, I felt as though I had to try the two types of pancakes at the table.  Amanda cut me a piece of her sweet potato cake, topped with cinnamon sugar butter. It might have been the best pancake I have ever eaten. With the butter already being sweet, there was no need to use syrup.  The pancake was light and fluffy yet still really moist. I then moved on to the plain pancake.  I figured it had to be good.  My prediction was right; it was sweet and buttery and needed very little syrup.

On to my food.  The sampler consisted of eggs (I got mine scrambled), home fries with onions, all three of their in-house meats, and sourdough toast.  The eggs were good, the potatoes were very well seasoned and the fried onions were a perfect touch.  I got the hot sausage, a slice of smoked ham and fresh smoked bacon.  With a little maple syrup on the bacon and ham, the sweetness of the syrup really brought out the smokiness of the meat.  The sausage had just the right amount of heat and really made my meal.

Though it is a bit of a drive from downtown Erie, the scenery and the food makes the trip to the Freeport Restaurant completely worth it.  Thank you to Tina for the great service and hospitality.  I hope to come back soon.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Freeport Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Posted: November 3rd, 2010

Modeled after a usable dining car right off the railways, the Lawrence Park Dinor is a Silk City diner with tons of character.  Curved ceiling and stainless steel make eating here a blast from the past.  The diner hasn’t changed much since 1948, and new owners Becky and Rick Standley are keeping with traditions.  Never having been there before, I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled up and saw the car.  Amanda and I grabbed a table and waited for our friends, Shannon Warchol and Tony Ferrare. The tables were a little on the small side, so food for four, plus Tony and I being big guys, was going to be fun.

The menu was straight forward with pancakes, eggs and omelets.  Fancy stuff is good, but you can’t go wrong with a no-frills breakfast.  Rick was sitting at the counter when we sat down, and Becky was cooking away.  Our server Heather got us some coffee and water and then took our orders.  She recommended one thing to me and one thing only: their Greek omelet.  I was worried about that seeing as how I really don’t like Greek Sauce.  Amanda got the house breakfast sandwich, Shannon got the feta omelet, and Tony and I both went with the Greek omelet.

Though the service was fast, we still managed to go through a few cups of coffee before our food made it to the table.  Another server, Hailey, kept our cups filled with fresh coffee.  A lot of diners I go to will let their coffee pots sit on hot plates and just burn away.  The coffee here didn’t last long enough to burn, and every cup was perfect.

It was almost 11 a.m., and I was ready for this meal.  Amanda’s sandwich consisted of bacon, egg, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on her choice of bread.  It looked like the most perfect BLT anyone could ask for.  The bacon was crispy and the eggs with the veggies made a delicious combo.

Feta cheese has always been one of my favorite cheeses.  Thrown together with onions and tomatoes and stuffed in an omelet sounds like heaven.  I stole a bite from Shannon’s plate, and it was worth getting caught (even though she offered).  Feta isn’t a cheese that melts when heated, so it stays a little firm.  It picked up the flavors from the onions and tomatoes with a little thyme; it would be the perfect Mediterranean omelet.

Let me again say that I have never been a fan of Greek sauce.  I’m not even sure why it is called Greek sauce, and it is something I have never seen outside the Erie area.  Typically, I find that it just tastes like a bad sloppy joe, but not from the Lawrence Park Dinor.  My Greek omelet was laid on a bed of fresh homefries, stuffed with cheese, and smothered in their original spicy Greek sauce.  This sauce was awesome: rich and meaty with just a small kick of spice.  The eggs on the bottom absorbed a lot of the “runniness” of the sauce and thickened it right up.  Every bite had some cheese in it as well.  I couldn’t have asked for a better breakfast.  Shannon is always the first person to ask for proof of me finishing all of my food, but because she was with me, I got to show her in person that I finished this huge omelet.

Thank you to everyone who made our breakfast so enjoyable.  Becky and Rick, keep up the fantastic work with the diner.  You have set the Greek sauce bar high, and I worry that everyone else’s will fall short in comparison.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Lawrence Park Dinor on Urbanspoon

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Posted: November 9th, 2010

From East Lake Road to West Lake Road, I found my way to the Diamond Cafe on Sunday morning.  With my last two stops being out east on Route 5, it was nice to head in the opposite direction.  Amanda and I were joined by her brother, Mike Flick, and his girlfriend, Lauren Verno, on this week’s outing.  The cafe is just past the airport at the corner of West Lake Road and Garloch Drive  There were only a few tables full when we arrived shortly after 10 a.m., but the restaurant proceeded to fill up as time passed.  Just inside the door was the specials board with items including the “Crabbie Bennie,” a ham and cheese quiche, and a gravy and biscuit bowl.  We had our pick of tables, so we grabbed one by the fake fireplace (seeing as how it was a bit chilly).  Our server Nicole took our drink orders and left us to mull over the menus.  She brought us some coffee, and let me tell you, it was one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had.  I can do coffee without cream, but not sugar.  I drank this coffee black, it was so good.  I asked Nicole what she recommended, and she told me all of the omelets are good (the Mediterranean and Greek omelets in particular).  I tasted two similar omelets last week at The Lawrence Park Dinor, so I was looking for something else.  The chef actually came out shortly thereafter to give us her suggestions.  She let me know that all of their variations on eggs Benedict were great, as well as their omelets and crepes.  She mentioned the meat lovers omelet, and it sounded perfect.

We all had ordered something that was recommended to us.  Lauren got the Mediterranean omelet, which was stuffed with sautéed spinach, fresh tomatoes, black olives and feta cheese.  It smelled delicious, and though I was offered a taste, I declined.  Mike got the gravy and biscuit bowl that was featured that day.  Two buttermilk biscuits were placed in a large bowl, and topped with Italian sausage patties as well as some tasty country gravy.  I had a small bite of the sausage with some gravy, and was it a great choice for breakfast.

I was really interested in the Crabby Bennie, but with the raw egg allergy, I figured it wasn’t a good choice for me.  Amanda, however,  loves poached eggs as well as crab meat, so that is what she got.  A piece of me was expecting to see the reddish color of imitation crab meat topping two eggs, but to my surprise, on top the Hollandaise sauce was real shredded crab.  I had Amanda cut me off a piece that did not have the raw yolk on it.  (Breakfast with a side of hives didn’t sound good to me.)  It was light on the Hollandaise, which I really liked.  The crab was well-cooked and went great with the eggs and muffin.

I went with the chef-recommended meat lovers omelet.  Bacon, ham and sausage in a huge omelet, topped with American cheese and more of all three meats.  It was awesome.  I love a cheesy omelet, and this did the trick.  The fluffy eggs and the variety of breakfast meats made a great meal.  I got a side of home fries as well as some inch-and-a-half-thick Italian toast.

After our meal, we got two of the house crepes for dessert.  One was filled with mixed berries, while the other was filled with peanut butter and dark semisweet chocolate. Both were smothered in whipped cream.  Though we were all pretty full, it was a delicious way to end the meal.

I don’t know how there are so many fantastic breakfast places in the area that I have never been to, but the Diamond Cafe lived up to what I had heard.  Thank you for yet another great Sunday morning.

Next week will be my final breakfast, so make it a good one.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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