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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Comfort Foods

Places where the Beard ate Comfort Foods
Posted: January 8th, 2013

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The term “comfort food” can mean something different depending on who you are talking to. Smells and flavors of food can transport you to another place, time, or state of mind. Maybe it is your mom’s meatloaf or your grandma’s macaroni and cheese or maybe it is the grilled cheese sandwich and hot tomato soup from your favorite diner. Comfort food is anything that brings warmth to your soul and a smile to your face…on a rainy day, a cold night, or whenever you need it.

Patrick’s Family Restaurant at 4041 Buffalo Road has been one of my favorite places to visit for home-cooked food since my freshman year in college when I stumbled upon it with my roommates. The restaurant has gotten a recent face lift as well as a menu makeover, but still serves the same stick-to-your-ribs food that I have come to expect. Amanda and I headed to Harborcreek for dinner at 6 o’clock on Monday night. While looking at the new menu, I was having a hard time thinking of comfort foods that mean something to me. My mom was an amazing cook and I haven’t been able to find the dishes she made that I consider to be comfort food- like noodle kugel or apricot pork chops, at any restaurants in town. Amanda and I talked about some of the favorite family recipes we grew up eating while we decided what to order.

patricks_meatloafAmanda chose the meatloaf and gravy with a side salad and mashed potatoes. Three slices of thin cut meatloaf and a pile of mashed potatoes were topped with velvety brown gravy. The meatloaf was well-seasoned and very moist. I personally prefer my meatloaf with ketchup or even barbecue sauce, and maybe it was because of the cold weather, but the brown gravy added just the right comforting touch. It was beefy, rich, and paired well with the meatloaf. The potatoes were fantastic as well. They were fresh-made and still had a few little potato chunks that were left un-mashed. Absolutely fantastic. Amanda said her mom’s meatloaf, which contains sliced mushrooms and a hint of sour cream, will always be her favorite, but this was a satisfying substitute.

patricks_manicottiI decided to try the cheese manicotti. Three large pasta tubes were filled with a wonderfully creamy ricotta mixture. Ricotta is a cheese that I could eat an entire bowl of without fail. The plate of pasta was topped with a standard, but delicious, marinara sauce. Like Amanda’s sentiment in regards to the meatloaf, my mom’s marinara sauce will always be my favorite, but this was quite tasty. Not overly spicy or sweet, it mixed well with the cheese in the manicotti. The sauce was covered in a layer of melted mozzarella and parmesan cheeses as well as a sprinkling of Italian seasoning. Each bite was a whirlwind of textures and flavors; a well-cooked pasta, chewy cheese, creamy filling, and hot sauce.

The food at Patrick’s is traditional and gives a good reminder of home. You can get a very filling meal for an extremely reasonable price and leave more than satisfied. Our service was great and I gladly recommend giving Patrick’s a try if you never have. The phone number for the restaurant is 814-899-7071. Their hours of operation at 7am – 9pm Monday through Saturday and 7am – 8:30pm on Sunday. They are a BYOB establishment with a small corkage fee.

Keep sending me your recommendations for local favorite comfort foods 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

Patrick's Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Comfort Foods
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: January 15th, 2013

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

I have only been to McGarrey’s Oakwood Cafe one other time, to try their soup. It was suggested to me to go back this round and try some of their comfort-style food. This Erie favorite got the most votes this week by leaps and bounds, so Amanda and I headed there on Monday night. There were only a few tables of people seated when we arrived so we had our choice of seats. We took a few minutes to look over the menu and after talking it over with each other, as well as asking our server for some recommendations, we were ready for dinner.

oakwood_post-roastAmanda settled on the pot roast. A cold winter’s night, slow cooked roast beef, and hot mashed potatoes fits the definition of comfort food quite well. The beef slices were piled high on the plate and smothered in thick, brown gravy. To our dismay, however, some of the meat looked pretty unappetizing. Many of the slices were mostly fat, which is characteristic of pot roast, but was still disappointing. In addition, some of the meat had started to turn from brown to a not-so-appetizing shade of iridescent yellow. Upon further investigation when we got home, we discovered that the meat would have been safe to eat. However, if food doesn’t look appetizing, it’s human nature to not want to eat it. The roast came with a choice of potato and a tossed salad or the vegetable of the day- corn. Amanda chose mashed potatoes and the corn. The potatoes were good, but not as good as the homemade potatoes from last week and the corn overcooked and tough. Although I typically do not like gravy, the slices of beef we ate, as well as the potatoes, were good with the gravy.

oakwood_cabbage-rollsGrowing up with and Italian grandma and a Ukranian grandpa, I ate more than my fair share of stuffed cabbage rolls. My Nana and my dad made them regularly and they became one of my childhood favorites. When I saw them on the menu, I had to try them. Two good-sized rolls were topped with the house marinara sauce and were served with my choice of potato, I chose mashed, and a salad. The salad was pretty standard, an iceberg lettuce blend with tomatoes, and the Italian dressing was good. The cabbage was stuffed with a seasoned beef and rice mixture. I have never had marinara sauce on top of cabbage rolls, nor have I had them with mashed potatoes, so it was different from what I’m used to, but not bad. The stuffed cabbage rolls obviously weren’t my dad’s or Nana’s, but seeing as how I haven’t found them on another menu in Erie, these served as an acceptable substitute.

The meal wasn’t the best when it comes to comfort food, but they did have speed of service and price on their side. Our food was out fast and our bill was under $18 before tip. The menu is stacked heavily with sandwiches so that might be a better choice over the comfort food. The phone number is (814) 866-0552 and the business hours are Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am – 10:00 pm and Sunday from 11:00 am – 8:00 pm.

Keep sending me your recommendations for local favorite comfort foods 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

McGarrey's Oakwood Cafe on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Comfort Foods
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: January 22nd, 2013

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

At 4003 Main Street in Lawrence Park, right next door to the Lawrence Park Dinor, is Dabrowski’s Restaurant & Deli. I had never visited the restaurant before, but was excited that it won once I put it on this week’s poll. They serve the full menu of breakfast and lunch all day and although they are only open until 3 p.m. during the week, they have a dinner section on the menu that is full of traditional Polish favorites. I called and placed a to-go order early yesterday afternoon. Luckily the snow let up for a bit allowing for a quick drive across town. I picked up dinner for Amanda and myself and headed back to the office. I couldn’t wait to get home and eat.

After shoveling some snow and taking my husky for a walk, I worked up quite an appetite. With the wind-chill temperature close to zero, it was nice to come in and eat a hot, carb-heavy, home-cooked dinner. Amanda got the two pierogi dinner with a side of coleslaw. There are seven varieties of pierogi to choose from: sweet cheese, sugarless cheese, sauerkraut, potato cheddar, potato bacon, potato cottage cheese, and potato cottage cheese and bacon. Amanda got one sauerkraut pierogi and one potato cheddar. I ordered the Polish Platter which consisted of a golombki (stuffed cabbage roll), a pierogi- I chose sweet cheese, a potato pancake, Polish sausage, and parsley potatoes.

Dabrowskis_pierogi-and-coleslawThe pierogi were all fantastic. I wish they weren’t 1/4 pound each so I could have eaten more than one of each. The pierogi were sautéed with butter and onions. The dumpling shell had a great bite and texture to it. The potato cheddar filling was creamy and delicious. The buttery onions made each forkful truly perfect. Sauerkraut in anything is always comforting. From reuben sandwiches to pork and sauerkraut on New Years Day, it always tastes like home. The sauerkraut still had its sour bite with just a touch of spice. I wanted to get the potato cottage cheese pierogi, but they had run out by the time I got there so I went with the plain sweet cheese instead. The dough was filled with a sweet, lightly seasoned dry cottage cheese. The sweet cheese in a savory shell made up one of the best parts of our dinner.

Dabrowskis_polish-platterMy family always ate our potato pancakes with either sour cream or applesauce. I typically use plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, so I topped my pancake with a dollop right in the middle. The pancake was chewy without being tough. The exterior still had some crispness left to it which gave it beautiful texture. The creamy yogurt on top added a little tangy bite which was wonderful. The golombki was very similar to my Nana’s. A ball of spiced ground beef mixed with rice was tightly yet delicately wrapped in a soft cabbage leaf. The roll was slow cooked in a light tomato sauce and was perfect. The meat had great texture and tasted amazing. I probably could have eaten an entire tray of them. The sausage was plain and traditional, but loaded with flavor. Maybe I have been eating too much of it lately, but this sausage reminded me a lot of venison sausage. The meat was seasoned with garlic and what tasted like marjoram. It was a small piece, but with all of the potatoes, it was just enough for dinner. Finally, I tried the parsley potatoes. Potato chunks were cooked with butter, parsley, salt, and pepper. They were simple and perfectly cooked. After this meal, I felt that warm, cozy feeling you get after you eat true comfort food, which this meal absolutely was.

Thank you to everyone at Dabrowski’s for making me such a great meal. You will see me again for sure.

The phone number to place an order is 814-899-4411. They are open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Keep sending me your recommendations for local favorite comfort foods 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

Dabrowski's Restaurant & Deli on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Comfort Foods
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: January 29th, 2013

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

Chef Jean Paul moved Pineapple Eddie to the corner of 10th and Weschler in April of last year and business has been booming ever since. Amanda and I have dined there many times, but this weekend, we were joined by her parents, Louise and Alan Flick, for a comfort food-filled night. We knew that dinner service is a busy time, so we waited till later Saturday night to go eat. We made an 8 o’clock reservation and arrived to find our table ready and waiting. The menu is filled with southern comfort foods so we had our work cut out for us. We ordered our drinks and took some time deciding what to order.

pineapple-eddie_creole-shrimpAmanda’s mom opted for the Creole spiced shrimp with a side of red beans and rice. A pile of succulent shrimp was topped with sautéed peppers and onions. The shrimp and veggies were perfectly seasoned with traditional Creole seasoning and had a a wonderful kick of heat. The shrimp were cooked beautifully and the side of beans and rice is one of my favorite sides on the menu, the beans are supple and full of flavor, and the rice is done just right.

pineapple-eddie_bbq-ribsAmanda’s dad lucked out and got the last portion of slow-cooked barbecue spareribs on special that night. They were served with sweet potato fries and coleslaw. The ribs were slathered in a delicious homemade barbecue sauce that was the definition of finger-licking good. The meat was tender, juicy, and fell clean off of the bone. The sweet potato fries were crispy and had a great balance of salty and sweet flavors. The coleslaw was creamy and had a terrific hand-shredded texture with a hint of tangy bite. A half rack of the ribs was enough for a full meal, but I could have easily eaten another plate of them, had they been available.

Amanda went with a southern favorite pineapple-eddie_shrimp-and-grits- shrimp and grits. A bed of creamy, stone-ground, yellow grits was topped with large tail-on shrimp, slices of Andouille sausage, peppers, and onions. The shrimp were similar to those of Creole spiced shrimp, juicy and perfectly seasoned. The grits soaked up all of the flavors and juices from everything on top and really brought the whole dish together.

pineapple-eddie_chicken-and-wafflesFinally, I ordered the Chicken and Waffles. A large Belgian waffle cut into sections was paired with four pieces of outrageously good fried chicken. I like to tear all the meat of off the bones, cut up the waffles, mix them all together, and top it with maple syrup. The coating on the chicken is crunchy, salty, and delicious and adds a great layer of flavor to the rest of the dish. The waffles had a great crispness on the outside and chewiness on the inside. It paired perfectly with the chicken. The dish was also served with a side of the daily vegetables- a variety of sautéed squash. The seasoning on the squash had a touch of Asian influence using soy sauce and other spices, making them leaps and bounds better than your average side of vegetables.

Thank you to everyone at Pineapple Eddie Southern Bistro for continually running a superb restaurant with phenomenal food. The servers are always welcoming and helpful, as is the rest of the kitchen staff. From start to finish, we were thoroughly impressed with our experience and the food. I can’t wait to return.

The phone number for reservations and information is 814-454-0700. The hours of operation are 11:oo am to 9:00 pm Wednesday through Friday and 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Saturday. They are also a BYOB establishment with no corkage fees.

Keep sending me your recommendations for local favorite comfort foods 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

Pineapple Eddie Southern Bistro on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Comfort Foods
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: February 6th, 2013

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

This week was forced to take a slight turn. After receiving over 100 votes this week, L’Olivo came in at the top of my poll. I found out, however, that they serve a smaller bar menu during the week and only have the full dinner menu available Friday and Saturday night. I’m trying to make it work for another week, but this week, I visited Lorie’s Wildridge Restaurant. My coworker Steve Puskar had never been to Lorie’s before so we drove out to 5455 West Ridge Road on Tuesday for lunch. The restaurant had a large lunch crowd, but there wasn’t a wait for a table. Our server, Robin, told us about the specials, made a few helpful suggestions and left us to our menus. After some back and forth deliberations, Steve and I finally decided on lunch.

lories-wildridge_pot-roastSteve ordered the tender pot roast with a side of mashed red skin potatoes with gravy and mac and cheese. A huge plate filled with a 1/2 pound of oven roasted pot roast and vegetables arrived at the table with a mound of mashed potatoes and a small crock of mac and cheese. The pot roast was incredibly moist and fell apart in your mouth. The veggies from the roasting pan were full of flavor and mixed perfectly with the roast. I know I’ve said it before, but I typically do not like gravy. The gravy on the meat and potatoes was rich without being overwhelming and was delicious. The homemade mashed potatoes had beautiful texture and were the obvious choice as a perfect side to go with this plate of food. The pasta in the mac and cheese was perfectly al dente and was coated in a creamy, melty cheese mixture. The cheese pulled just a bit with each forkful. The rich flavor and stick-to-your-ribs quality really made it true comfort food.

lories-wildridge_country-steakI went with the country fried steak with a baked sweet potato and mac and cheese. The thin, but large, chopped steak was very lightly coated in a delicious seasoned breading and fried to a golden brown. The steak was topped with a simple country-style gravy. The gravy was creamy and had a velvety, unctuous mouth feel. The saltiness of the steak paired with the gravy was heavenly. Steve cleared his plate quickly, but I really savored every bite of this steak. The sweet potato was cooked perfectly and, when topped with cinnamon butter, was a fantastic accompaniment to my lunch. The mac and cheese was the same as Steve’s and was every bit as delicious.

We were convinced by Robin to order some of their incredible homemade desserts to end our already filling meal. After we finished with our lunch, I got a chance to talk with Lorie herself about the restaurant and her food. Thank you to both Robin and Lorie for the wonderful hospitality, service, and food. I know that I will be back and I am sure that Steve will be too.

The phone number for Lorie’s is 814-838-3402. However, they do not take reservations so there may be a wait (I assure you, it’s worth it). They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Keep sending me your recommendations for local favorite comfort foods 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

Lorie's Wildridge Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Comfort Foods
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: February 12th, 2013

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

Last week, I said that L’Olivo received over 100 votes on my weekly poll, but when I went to eat there on Monday night, I found out that they only serve a limited bar menu that doesn’t include their pasta and other entrees. I thought that it would be appropriate for me to eat dinner there on a weekend when they serve their full dinner menu so I could get some real comfort food. Amanda and I drove to 1518 Walnut St. and were slightly confused when we pulled up in front of The La Nuova Aurora Society. The club is on the right side, while the restaurant is on the left. We had a reservation for 7:15 on Saturday night and the restaurant was busy with a few large tables so I am glad we called ahead. After being seated, our server, Tyler, got our drinks and made some suggestions since it was our first time visiting. Amanda and I both grew up in Italian families so Italian food of any kind reminds us of home, but that also meant we had very high expectations. After we saw some of the food heading to surrounding tables, we made our decisions.

l'olivo_shrimp-appetizerWe started our dinner with the prosciutto wrapped shrimp appetizer. Five large shrimp were wrapped in a thin layer of prosciutto and pan fried. The shrimp were succulent and juicy and the prosciutto added a saltiness to the buttery shrimp. The shrimp were sitting in a pool of house red sauce filled with chunks of fresh vegetables and then everything was drizzled with a balsamic red wine reduction. The acid of the tomato sauce was cut by the sweetness of the reduction and created an incredibly balanced dish.

Shortly after we finished our appetizer, Tyler asked if we were ready for our salad course and proceeded to bring us our house salads and some fresh bread made by Majestic Bakery across the street. As simple as they were, the salads were delicious. Lettuce was topped with red onions, radicchio, cucumber, tomatoes, and freshly grated cheese. We both got ours with their homemade Italian dressing and I am so glad that we did. It was well seasoned and gave the salad a vinegary bite. Amanda’s grandma makes her Italian dressing the same way so this meal was already off to a fantastic, comforting start. The bread was served with a simple balsamic dipping oil and was a perfect addition to our salads. The outside was crusty and the inside was pillow soft. I had to stop myself from eating more to save room for the rest of our meal.

l'olivo_mushroom-ravioliOur food came out in great time. After the appetizer and salad, we needed a little time to digest so it was actually good that our food didn’t come out immediately. For her entree, Amanda got the wild mushroom ravioli. A plate of homemade mushroom ravioli was topped with a rich Marsala cream sauce with pancetta, portobellos, and a drizzle of white truffle oil. The first bite was phenomenal. The ravioli were beautifully cooked. The filling had a hint of sweetness and when mixed with the Marsala cream, it was absolutely wonderful. We were worried that the truffle oil would over-power the rest of the dish, but because it was used sparingly, it gave a fantastically earthy flavor to the rich sauce. I could have easily eaten her entire plate myself.

l'olivo_spaghetti-and-meatballA big plate of spaghetti and meatballs is about as comforting as you can get in my book. I wanted to see how close to home such a basic plate of food could get. They did not disappoint. A large bowl of scratch-made spaghetti was mixed with a great marinara sauce and topped with two large meatballs. The pasta was perfect and the sauce was even better. Everyone has their favorite flavor profile for tomato sauce and I like mine to taste tangy and fresh without too much sweetness. This sauce fit that description to a T. I will always love my Mom’s pasta sauce and this comes pretty close. The meatballs were moist and perfectly seasoned. Each forkful of the dish was packed with flavor and I couldn’t eat it fast enough. Unfortunately, I ate too much of Amanda’s dinner to finish the last few bites of mine, but my mouth and stomach were so happy, I didn’t even care.

We ended our dinner with a slice of Italian Love Cake. This surprisingly light cake is made up of three layers; a base ricotta mixture, a rich chocolate cake layer, and a fluffy chocolate custard layer. This luscious combination was just the right way to end our meal. The cheese helped balance the sweetness from the chocolate layers and was simply delicious. Whether you grew up eating cake like this or have never tried it before, make sure you save room for a slice.

From start to finish, this meal was absolutely fantastic. Thank you to our server, Tyler, and the rest of the staff at L’Olivo for the care and hospitality. You will see us back again for sure.

The phone number for information and reservation at L’Olivo is 814-452-2433. They are open Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. but remember that their full dinner menu is only offered on Friday and Saturday.

Keep sending me your recommendations for local favorite comfort foods 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 Comfort Foods
Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: February 19th, 2013

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

After a back-and-forth voting battle, Johnny B’s came out on top. Amanda and I were joined last night for dinner by friends Joel Brennan and Brittany Bilski at 37 Vine St in North East. This neighborhood hangout is inviting to just about anyone, offering a good-sized dining room as well as a large bar. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served Monday through Saturday and their menu is diverse for all three meals. Amanda and I got there first, so we figured out what we wanted rather quickly. Once Joel and Brittany arrived, we placed our orders and waited for our food.

Our meal started with salad and bread. A salad of mixed greens, carrots, and tomatoes was topped with garlic croutons and dressing of choice. A basket of fresh bread and butter was served alongside it. Both items were simple and standard, but were good nonetheless.

johhny-bs_spaghettiOur dinners were served shortly after we finished our salads. Amanda and Brittany both ordered pasta dishes. Amanda chose the basic spaghetti. served with a choice of meatballs, sausage, or one of each in their house red sauce. The noodles were thinner than most spaghetti noodles, closer to a capellini. The sauce was also on the thin side. but very flavorful. The meatball and sausage were both cooked perfectly and were well seasoned, making for a good plate of pasta.

johhny-bs_seafood-alfredoBrittany went with the seafood alfredo which was wonderful. A plate of linguine was tossed with a creamy sauce and chunks of crab and shrimp. The sauce was velvety, rich, and cheesy, everything you would want from an alfredo pasta dish. The pasta was cooked well and the seafood added a delicious layer of flavor and texture. This was my favorite dish at the table and truly fit the definition of comfort food.

johhny-bs_prime-ribJoel and I actually ordered the same thing. As a special, they were serving a 10 – 12 oz. prime rib. We were slightly worried how the meat would be since it was coming close to closing time, but we were not disappointed. Our slices of meat were Angus Reserve and cooked to a perfect medium rare. They were served with a side of jus as well as a horseradish cream sauce that was delicious. The outside of the meat was coated with a pepper rub and added a ton of flavor to the dish. As a side, I ordered a cup of their scratch-made mashed red skin potatoes that were fantastic. I would have eaten seconds of them if they were offered to me.

Thank you to our server and the staff for giving us good service regardless of the time of night. The diverse menu has something for everyone and it is obvious why this is a local favorite. They are also on the Erie Fine Dining card.

The phone number for Johnny B’s is (814) 725-1762. Their hours are Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Keep sending me your recommendations for local favorite comfort foods 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

Johnny B's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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

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