I want to remind everyone that I will be picking a reader to join me for a meal on my Erie ’s Favorite tour of local foods. To enter for a chance to eat with me, all you have to do is send an email with your name, address and telephone number to Akochirka@goerie.com.
Erie is lucky enough to have a handful of chocolatiers in the area. This week I visited Finney’s, Romolos, Pulakos and Stefanelli’s to sample and compare their milk, dark and white chocolates.
Finney’s Chocolates located at 24688 Highway 99 in Cambridge Springs is owned by Bill and Cheryl Kent. They love what they do and it shows. Everyone who walks in the door is greeted with their choice of any one piece of chocolate as a sample. It doesn’t matter if it is your first visit or your 100th, you can try any piece you want. It is obvious that their family is important to them as most of the confections are named after a family member. They were very open to talking about and showing their processes as well as sharing what they have learned about chocolate and candy-making over the years. The shop is extremely welcoming just like the Kent family. The drive to Cambridge Springs is worth the hospitality alone.
My second stop was Pulakos at 2530 Parade Street in Erie. Amanda and I got to meet with Joe Hilbert, John Zack, Ellise Peake and Samantha Williams. Joe and John gave us a fantastic historic and operational tour. Some of the equipment used is from the original 1903 location at 926 State St. From the marshmallows to the caramels to the jelly and cream centers, everything is made in house. Getting to see into the inner workings of Pulakos was a real treat and gave me a new respect for just how much work goes into the confections we enjoy. Joe and John have only owned the company for two years, but the passion they have for their work and customer service really shines.
Monday afternoon, I visited Romolos and Stefanelli’s. While visiting Romolos at 1525 West 8th Street, I learned about the family history from Tony Stefanelli. It was his grandfather, Romolo Stefanelli, who gave Tony his start. He has been in the candy business his entire life and opened his own store in Erie in 1994. His dedication to his craft earned him the title of Certified Master Confectioner and the company runs like a well oiled machine. Though I didn’t get a tour of the facility, I could see the workers buzzing around and working hard.
Frank DeDionisio, owner of Stefanelli’s at 2054 W 8th Street, was unable to meet with me, but I got some good information from Janela who has been with the company for eight years. She told me that during the summer months, there are only two days of production a week, but now that fall is approaching, they are up to five days a week. I didn’t get too much information about what confections are made in house or anything about the operations, but the Stefanelli name has been attached to candy and Erie since the late 1920′s, so they must be doing something right.
Last night, Amanda and I were joined by friends Justin and Whitney Catalano as we sat down to a table full of chocolate to begin our taste test. We divided our plates into four sections with a piece of all three plain chocolates in each. We started with the solid milk chocolates. Romolos had a great texture, but the aftertaste was a little odd. Stefanelli’s was a milk chocolate meltaway which not only had incredible taste, but was accompanied by an unbelievably creamy texture. It definitely stayed true to the name “Melt-A-Way.” Finney’s was also really good. It had a fantastic smooth mouth feel and tasted delicious. Pulakos didn’t really seem to compare. I know there is no wax in chocolate, but it left a filmy waxy feeling in our mouths. It actually tasted like it had gone stale. The majority favorite was Stefanelli’s followed by Finney’s, Romolos and Pulakos, respectively.
We went on to the white chocolate next. Pulakos’ white was on the rough side. It felt a little bit like soap to the touch and had an extremely off-putting taste and texture. I had really high hopes, but was let down on this one. Romolos and Stefanelli’s were very similar to one another. The creaminess of the cocoa butter used really made for a delicious piece of chocolate. Finney’s was in the middle. It had a great sweet taste, but it was followed by a crumbly texture which wasn’t the best.
Finally, we sampled the dark chocolate. This was tougher for us. I really love the bitter bite of dark chocolate and it seemed like the others agreed. Our first sample, Finney’s, seemed to have an odd, almost cinnamon, aftertaste, but upon further tasting, it had a fantastic 70% cocoa bite. Romolos, though a milder dark at just over 50%, also had a smooth, rich flavor. Pulakos dark was my favorite that they gave me. I felt it was a little heavy on the cocoa butter which made it a little oily for lack of a better word, but the taste was spot on. Stefanelli’s dark was another meltaway and again, had a perfect creamy texture with a great bitter flavor. Our overall favorite was Romolos, but to me, all the brands are basically interchangeable when I am in need of a dark chocolate fix.
Thank you to all of the locations for your incredible hospitality and delicious chocolates. Remember that these are just my opinions on the chocolate I was given. Please support our local chocolate makers and sample them all for yourself. Let me know if you feel differently about anything I said or have any comments in general.
Solid chocolate has a different taste and texture than chocolate used for enrobing, so make sure to read next week’s review of some specialty items from the same four chocolatiers like sponge, caramels and creams. Same Beard time, same Beard channel.
Until next time,
Andrew – Beard vs. Food