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.
 Phone: 814-878-2230

Chicken Wings

Places where the Beard ate Chicken Wings
Posted: March 9th, 2010

So last night was my first stop for wings, and let me tell you, it set the bar high.  I had never been to The Park Tavern before so I was excited even when I was in the parking lot.

We (myself, my girlfriend, and two other friends) were greeted as we sat down by the owner himself, Cris Leszek.  I think he knew who I was based on the beard, but I’m not quite sure.  We glanced through our menus, but we knew what we were there for…wings.

Park Tavern has their wings broken down into four categories: BBQ, Buffalo, Butter, and Honey.  None of their flavors come straight from a bottle and each order is made to order.  Every sauce is unique to the Tavern and if I could have, I would have tried them all.  I decided the best way to get a variety was to select one from every category.  We ordered 12 Buffalo Hot, 12 Cranch, 12 Herbie XX Cajun, and 12 Honey Hot .  Yeah, I know, 48 wings is a lot to sample but, you gotta do what you gotta do.  You can order the wings any way you want from sloppy to freakin’ burnt, but we just went with the normal, which is crispy.

The Buffalo Hot was a fantastic traditional buffalo-style wing.  It was a mix of buffalo sauce, Cajun spices, and I think Sriracha Sauce. Dipping those in some good bleu cheese dressing was awesome

The Cranch was a great wing to break up the sauciness of the others.  It was a dry wing with Cajun seasoning mixed with ranch seasoning.  I have never been a huge buttery wing eater, but these were pretty good.

The Herbie XX Cajun was up there with the best wings I have ever had.  Their Southern-style BBQ sauce mixed with a handful of other seasonings, peppers, and spices made for an extremely flavorful hot wing.  Just being hot for heat’s sake doesn’t do it for me, and the flavor of these set them apart.

I thought the Herbie XX Cajun was the best until I tasted the Honey Hot.  It was fantastic.  The sauce, unlike a lot of places, wasn’t watery or runny.  It was more of a glaze than a sauce and it made the wing great.  Finger-licking good might not cut it, seeing as how I basically spooned the extra sauce from the plate into my mouth.  It really was that good.

It is about a 20-minute drive from my house on the west side, but I will GLADLY make the drive for food that is that good.  Park Tavern, my hat goes off to you.  Your establishment is great, your service is great, and most importantly, your food is great.

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted: March 23rd, 2010

It was Odis 12 whose number was drawn yesterday.  Last night, my girlfriend and I made our way to 26th Street for our first visit to Odis 12.  I took a look at their menu before I went and the 104 listed flavors were a little intimidating.  They also offer the ability to mix any sauces or seasonings to create your own flavors.  Any flavor with “Fat” in it means with bacon…how fantastic.  Seeing how they have won a few of the awards from the Erie Best Wing Cook-Off, I knew they would be good.

Once in the door, we were greeted at the bar by Danielle who offered some input to wing flavors and styles.  We placed our order, got some drinks and found a table.  It wasn’t too crowded, but there were other tables there enjoying wings as well.  It was like this guy knew I was coming and wore a shirt for me.

So since we ordered four flavors at The Park Tavern, we figured we would keep the trend up and order four here as well.  After getting some recommendations, we went with Dry Bleu Cajun, Haliberry, Hot Cranch Parm, and Ugly Cousin.

Let me start by mentioning the fact that every table has its own roll of paper towels and you get a plastic bucket to throw your bones in.  Awesome.

The wings are big.  Lots of meat and perfectly cooked.

The Dry Bleu Cajun is a STRONG wing. Dry Bleu cheese and Cajun spices on a butter tossed wing.  If you don’t love Bleu cheese, it won’t be for you.  The first bite took my breath a way a little.  I am a ranch user on wings, but I always try them first without it.  The ranch helped cut the intensity of the Bleu and the second, third, etc…bites/wings were good.  They just took a little getting used to.

The Haliberry flavor is jalapeño and raspberry mixed.  It was a great combination.  Much like the honey hot from The Park Tavern, it was more of a glaze on the wing and the amount of heat that slipped through the sweet berries was perfect.  Jalapeño poppers have a cream cheese inside and are typically served with some berry sauce, so adding ranch to these was delicious as well, but they most certainly did not need it.

The Hot Cranch Parm was the hot wing of the night.  Cajun seasoning and dry ranch go so great together and adding hot sauce just amplifies it.    After being covered in the sauce/seasoning mixture, they are tossed in Parmesan cheese.  The Parmesan to us was a lot like the dry Bleu cheese.  It was a little over powering.  We shook a little of the Parm off, dunked them in some ranch and they were some good hot wings.  These won Best Traditional for a reason.

Finally came the ones I was looking forward to most, Ugly Cousin.  I am not even sure what the full combination of flavors was, but they were something.  It was a barbecue base with some mesquite and smoke and some heaven.  They reminded me a little of the Jack Daniels Grill Glaze from TGIFridays.  The hint of hot that came at the end left us with some good feelings.  They were that good.  I want to try as many flavors as possible, but I am sure Ugly Cousin will be on my menu every time.

I am sure that all the food at Odis 12 is good, but they sure know what’s up with wings.  Being close to home, this will be a new frequented location for wings.  The bartender Danielle and the cook Vonnie came over to check on us multiple times and great service made the experience that much better.

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted: March 30th, 2010

If you have heard of The Red Fox Inn, it has probably been for the bar’s sports or its owner, football player Mike Palermo.

Sports are a main feature of this bar, which has more than 20 TVs and almost every sports ticket available.  However, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of buzz about its food, so I rounded up some close friends to find out just what The Red Fox Inn had to offer in the way of wings.

We ended up ordering a total of 50 wings in five flavors:  honey mustard, buffalo ranch, southwest Italians, honey jerk, and Zips.

All of the wings were fried perfectly and could easily be taken off of the bone.  The cook, whom regulars call “Skinny,” sure knows how to do it right.

Honey mustard is a basic flavor, but the taste is rarely the same from location to location.  The Red Fox Inn uses Cattlemen’s Gold Barbecue sauce, and I have yet to find one that I think is better.  The sauce is thick and coats the wings deliciously.  This variation of honey mustard sets itself apart from many others.  You can taste the mustard seed, the spicy cayenne, and the vinegar in every bite.  This smoky-sweet sauce is perfect just the way it is.

Covered in buffalo hot sauce, and then tossed in ranch seasoning, the buffalo ranch had a good tartness to it.  The fantastic traditional buffalo flavor followed by the ranch kick complemented it nicely.  Ranch or bleu cheese dressing is a standard side for wings no matter the flavor, but dipping these in anything would have been excessive.

But, I must say The Red Fox Inn gets a thumbs up from me and my friends for its choice of dressings.  Compared to a lot of bars in the area that serve a watered-down ranch dressing with their foods, The Red Fox Inn uses  thick, flavorful dressings that are the prefect addition to any wings or subs on the menu.

The next flavor we tried were the southwest Italians, which were a drier wing with a lot of oomph.  Combining butter, garlic, mesquite, and Parmesan cheese makes for a flavor explosion.  The sauce almost has the texture of stone-ground mustard, thick and full of spices.  Packed with tons of taste, it was so good that we were actually dipping the other wings in to it just to try something new.

According to Coupon Sherpa, many of the country’s favorite restaurants have “secret” menus that the public doesn’t always know about.  The Red Fox Inn is the same.  There are a few wing flavors that aren’t on any menu, and the Honey Jerk is just one of them.  Drenching chicken in honey never tasted so good.  With a thick sauce made from simple honey and Jamaican Jerk seasoning, the sweetness and the spice just bounced around on the wing.  Some bites were sweet, others were really hot, but all were awesome.  Is drinking wing sauce a bad thing?

Last were the Zips.  With a sauce comprised of barbecue, hot, honey, and Cajun, The Red Fox Inn created a wing that I haven’t had anywhere else.  With just enough hot flavor coming through the smoky and sweet glaze, these wings are leagues above other barbecue.

So far, Erie has been living up to the wing reputation it has.  Every week, the wings get better and better.  For food to go or to dine in, The Red Fox Inn is a well-kept secret of the east side.  With close to 30 flavors on the menu and a shelf full of ingredients in the kitchen, they can make anything you are in the mood for.  Cheers to you Red Fox Inn, and a big compliment to the cook.

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted: April 6th, 2010

Chippers Tavern lives up to the saying “Good things come in small packages”.

If you are driving too fast on Route 8, you are sure to miss it.  This small, two room tavern has a lot to offer when it comes to wings.  With 61 flavors from BBQ and Hot to “Sneekers” and “Mr. Happy”, they have everything you are looking for.  With two of my wing eating companions by my side, we got to Chippers just after nine o’clock last night and we were ready to eat.

After a few minutes looking over the menu along with some suggestions from the cook, we ordered Jerks, Big Ralphs, Lizards, and Robins.  Obviously, the flavor names do not give any details away, but they really spoke for themselves.

While a lot of bars in the area serve ranch or bleu cheese with their wings, Chippers offers a unique house dill dressing/dip for theirs along with celery and carrots.  Their ranch and bleu cheese both are very good, but you have to try the house dill for the full experience.

The Jerks were a very interesting wing.  The sauce was made from honey, teriyaki sauce, Cajun seasoning, and pineapple juice.  The teriyaki gave the wings a little bit of an Asian flavor which is different than any of the wings we’ve had so far.  I thought the wings were going to be sweeter.  The honey and juice were a little hidden by the kick of the Cajun.  It wasn’t exactly was I was looking for, but a spicy wing eater would love it for sure.

Big Ralphs are made from one thing, Mammoser Sauce.  These for sure are not your average buffalo wing.  The flavor is more of a thicker spiced cayenne pepper sauce/paste with a real deep flavor.  Made from all dry ingredients, it would be easy to confuse this for a rub instead of a sauce.  The spice was even and almost baked all the way to the bone.  The dryness of these wings put them a step above other BBQ and buffalo wings because not only did they have more flavor, they did not have the mess.  These were delicious with ranch.

Lizards had a sticky sweet and spicy sauce on them as well.  Comprised of Cattlemen’s Gold honey mustard, hot sauce, and Cajun spices, these wings were my favorite.  The blend of Cajun spices with the sweetness of the honey mustard and the little bite of hot sauce had a lasting impression.  I found myself coming back to these basically between every other wing.

Finally came the Robins.  Previously known as Oglesbee, I would crave these wings anytime I left Erie when I was in college.  With three of four ingredients being dry (parmesan cheese, dry ranch, and Cajun) and the fourth being honey, the honey acts a gluing agent just binding all of the tastes together.  The sweetness of these wings catches your taste buds off guard since they smell spicy.  This sauce is good on all of the other wings and even by itself.  The plate was nearly licked clean when we got done.

Besides the four flavors we decided to try, the cooks insisted we make room for one recipe that we failed to order.  The Love Gurus.  Made of honey mustard, Cajun, dry ranch, and a little teriyaki, the sauce was sloppy, but thick and rich with flavor.  Every piece of meat was packed with flavor and I could really taste all of the different ingredients coming through.

These wings were all cooked great and stayed piping hot the entire time.  Some of the drums were average sized while others were the biggest I have ever seen.  The same went for the flats.

With Kerrie and Annie waiting on us and making some fantastic wings, my Chippers wing experience could not have been any better.

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted: April 13th, 2010

Fiddle Inn … could have been worse better.

After four weeks of fantastic food, I had my first letdown.  After a little drive to 6615 Buffalo Road in
Harborcreek, my wing-loving companions and I found our way to the Fiddle Inn last night.  The first thing we saw was the large sign that reads, “Best Wings In Erie.”  This obviously got me excited to eat.

Inside, we saw the specials board with two flavors on it, Southern Italian Hot and Spicy BBQ Honey Jerk.  Immediately, we thought that we needed to try both of them.  Once we were seated and ordered some drinks, we checked out the wing flavors.  In the menu, most of the flavors were very vague in their descriptions, using phrases such as “other seasonings” and “various spices.”  This honestly made it a little hard to choose.  We asked out server for some wing suggestions, and after glancing through the menu again, we ordered the two from the front board, and with the help of the server, the Everything, and Buffalo Cajun.

I was a little confused when the wings came out. Three of the four looked almost identical.  All of the wings were a little on the smaller side.  The menu said that the Everythings were the most popular sauce, so I decided to start with those.  First things first, the sauce the wings were tossed in was cold, so it made for an unpleasant first bite.  Also, the chicken was undercooked — not to the point of being raw, but they just weren’t cooked long enough.  The skins were a little soft, and the meat stuck to the bone.  The sauce consisted of a mild buffalo with other spices, then tossed in fresh garlic and Parmesan cheese.  I think the buffalo by itself would have been fantastic; however, the fresh garlic was pretty overpowering.  Dipping them in bleu cheese made them more enjoyable.

The next wings were the Southern Italian Hots.  Now I really do like hot wings, but they have to have good flavors to back up the heat.  Take the habanero, for example.  It has A LOT of heat, but its fruity, almost citrus flavor makes it a great choice of hot sauces. These wings had all the heat but none of the flavor. I could see the Italian seasonings mixed in with the hot sauce but couldn’t taste it at all. Ranch dressing helped mute the hot sauce to let the other flavors show through.

The Buffalo Cajun was a decent hot wing. The Cajun seasoning was mixed well into the sauce and coated the wings evenly.  These wings were a little better cooked and slightly crispier.  These had a traditional buffalo flavor that worked well with the bleu cheese.

Finally was the Spicy BBQ Honey Jerk.  With a darker glaze, they reminded me of other locations’ teriyaki wings, but they were good none the less.  I couldn’t really taste the spicy Jerk seasoning on them.  Still, these wings could have been cooked longer, yet it didn’t take away from the rich flavor.

To me, only two of the four wing flavors we sampled were good, and even then, they were just OK.  The overall size and the fact that they weren’t cooked long enough made these wings unimpressive.  I don’t think that this will be a place we will be frequenting for wings again.

On to week number 6!

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted: April 20th, 2010

1614 French Creek Mina Rd in Clymer, NY can easily be missed with one wrong turn, but The French Creek Tavern is a gem.

After calling to make sure the kitchen was open before we made the half hour drive from Erie, we set off around 8 PM.  As a side note, driving through Findley Lake at night is almost as beautiful as going during the day.  After passing the French Creek General Store, we got to the tavern.  Because it was a Monday night in the middle of April, it wasn’t too busy.  The Tavern is a decent size with a bar in the front of the dining room and a game room in the back.  With the walls covered with posters, signs, and children’s art, it really has a local, welcoming feel.  We were greeted by the Pam, a 16 year veteran of the Tavern, who told to sit wherever we wanted.  Our server Liz, a 10 year employee, followed with menus and we looked through the wings as she got us our drinks.

Every location that I have eaten at previously had some extra flavors on their menu.  Flavors such as Herbie XX Cajun, Ugly Cousin, and Love Gurus need a little explanation when it comes to what their sauces are.  The French Creek Tavern sticks to tradition.  With nine flavors on their menu, their wings needed no deciphering.  Keeping with our four flavor pattern, we went with BBQ, Honey Mustard, Cajun, and their best seller, the Medium.  The other five flavors are Mild, Hot, Super Hot, Ranch, and Butter & Garlic.

The wings were all brought out in baskets with veggies and your choice of ranch or bleu cheese.  Even if you aren’t a bleu cheese eater, I highly recommend it.  Using a secret blend of spices, their homemade bleu cheese looks like ranch with large chunks of dry bleu throughout.  It was by far the most flavorful dressing I have used when eating wings.

Right off the bat, we could tell they don’t cut corners with their wings.  They all were large, crispy, and hot.  The BBQ and Honey Mustard wings are both smothered in Cattlemen’s.  Cattlemen’s Gold BBQ sauce, like I have said a few times previously, is my favorite Honey Mustard.  The tanginess of the sauce gives the wings just enough of a bite to mix with the sweetness of the honey.  Even dipping them in bleu cheese was delicious.  The traditional Cattlemen’s BBQ sauce was just as fantastic.  With the look of molasses, the thick and rich sauce went perfect on their wings.  The sauce is so thick, not only does it stick to the wings, it likes to stick all over your hands and face.  If the wings were tossed in the sauce so they received an even coating, they might not be as messy as just pouring the sauce over the wings, but that just comes down to personal preference.

I think it is fair to say that the Cajun wings were not only amazing, they were the best I have ever had.  I don’t know if they use home made Cajun seasoning or one from a store, but it was great.  You could taste everything in every bite; the onion, the garlic, the basil, the pepper, the cayenne.  Mixed with a little butter, the dry wings were not dry at all.  The spiciness of the Cajun made for an all around awesome wing.

Our server told us that the Hots were hot so that is why we went with the Medium.  She informed us that they were their best seller and were very flavorful.  A lot of restaurants use a typical hot sauce such as Frank’s RedHot and mix it with butter to make their “buffalo” sauce.  The Medium here was definitely packed with taste, much more than any store bought bottle.  Typically, I enjoy really hot wings as long as the heat doesn’t destroy the flavor and these got it right.  The wings absorbed this sauce almost to the bones and every bite was delicious.

As we started to finish all of the wings we ordered, I thought that we really should have tried the Hots.  I walked to the bar and had our server put down an order of them just so we could see how hot they were.  When they arrived at our table, they were covered in a thick, dark red, pepper sauce and were steaming hot.  They smelled and looked as menacing as wings can.  The first few bites were not too bad.  The heat was there, however  it wasn’t so intense that I wanted to stop.  After a few more bites, it started to set in.  It was a lasting heat, one that crept into your sinuses.  After a few more glasses of water, we polished off the final wings and cleaned ourselves up.

Liz and Pam were both fantastic and we could tell that they love what they do.  They took great care of us and you can tell they take the time to get to know their customers.

The exceptional wings (if not the bleu cheese) and the hometown feel of The French Creek Tavern make the half hour drive to Clymer, NY more than worth it.

Week 7, here I come.

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted: April 27th, 2010

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride…until yesterday.

After three weeks coming in second place in the poll, Eli’s Tavern was where I ate last night.

Despite its small size, Eli’s is a great corner bar.  With helpful bartenders and friendly patrons, this is a good place for food and drinks.  With a ton of cars outside, I was expecting it to be crowded, but we walked right in to a table.  We were met by Chow who got us some drinks and took our order.  The Monday special is 50 cent wings so we went with five flavors this week.  With around 50 flavors on their menu, we had a lot to choose from.  Chow gave us some suggestions and we ended up with Mikey’s, Sour Cream and Onion, 24 K Gold Cajun, Hot Cranch, and Honey BBQ Parmesan.  With veggies being extra, we skipped them and just got some ranch and bleu cheese.  The bleu cheese, once again, was awesome.  Very creamy and full of large pieces of cheese.

The wings all came out and were piping hot.  After snapping a few photos, I dove into the Mikey’s.  Though loaded with ingredients (liquid smoke, BBQ sauce, Cajun seasoning, dry ranch, and butter & garlic) these wings were one of the more mild flavored wings I’ve had so far.  The multiple tastes canceled each other out a little, but for some reason, we couldn’t stop eating them. These are a good, safe wing for people who don’t want to be as daring with flavors.

Sour Cream and Onion wings…what a weird concept.  These wings were in fact very odd to eat.  Potato chips of the same flavor have always been some of my favorite, but having that taste with chicken through off the taste buds a little.  Like the chips, these wings were perfectly crispy and coated with dry seasoning.  Dipping these wings in ranch made them even better and these were some of my favorite dry wings to date.

I have tried a few other 24 K Gold wings before, but never 24 K Gold Cajun.  Who knew the flavors of honey mustard, hot sauce, and Cajun spice would be so good together?  The spice of these wings is good enough for a kick but not overpowering.  The sauce was dripping off of these wings and made a great dipping sauce for the others.

The Hot Cranch was really good.  I have always liked home made ranch because of the tanginess of the buttermilk and the dry seasoning mixed with the hot sauce showcased this well. The Cajun spices mixed in gave the hot sauce a little bite, but the ranch seasoning really made it for me.  The spices weren’t covered up by the flavor of the hot sauce and every bite was full of taste.  Bleu cheese made these wings even better.

The Honey BBQ Parmesan were just fantastic.  The sauce stuck to the wings and coated them in more of a glaze.  To me, any wing with honey is perfect so the sweetness of the honey and the BBQ sauce mixed with the Parmesan cheese couldn’t have been better.  These were sprinkled with the parm so they wouldn’t absorb too much sauce and make them soggy.

After we finished with the flavors we ordered, a mysterious wing donor sent us a plate of wings that were not on the menu yet.  Called Wild Boyez after the person who created them, these wings were pretty good.  The sauce was another concoction of a bunch of ingredients like garlic, Sriracha, and ketchup among others.   The wings were so hot that they thinned out the sauce a little bit so if and when they make it to the menu, you should order them with some extra sauce on the side for dipping.  Trying to dip them in ranch/bleu cheese didn’t work to well either because the sauce was a little oily and acted as a dressing force field and wouldn’t stick to the wing.  Still, it was a good sauce.

The wings were all enjoyable and the flavors were awesome.  The size of the wings and their crispiness were perfect.  Thank you to Chow, Jason the cook, and the mystery donor for the great time at Eli’s.

On to the final week of wings.  Voting will star on Thursday and I will eat at my final wing location next Monday.

I want everyone to give me some suggestions as to what should be my next food.  Whatever you think I should start eating next, tell me.

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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