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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Erie's Favorites

Places where the Beard ate Erie's Favorites
Posted: August 23rd, 2011

This past weekend was Celebrate Erie 2011 and the Taste of Erie area was the place to be. I was working at the GoErie.com Street View photo booth and I thought that would be a good opportunity to sample the local food as well as talk with some people about food and the blog. I want to give a special thank you to Gail, who I got to briefly talk with, for saying hello when she saw me.

Amanda and I wanted to taste as much as we could from what was offered. Our first trip through, we ordered a brisket sandwich from Three B Saloon as well as a bowl of jambalaya from The Brewerie. Both were on the more expensive side for what you actually got for your money. The brisket on the sandwich had good flavor, but was a little overdone for my taste. It was on the dry side and crumbled a little instead of melting in your mouth. The taste was there, but for an $8 sandwich, I thought it would have been better. I have eaten at the Saloon many times and I have always had a good experience. I just felt this was lacking.

I thought the jambalaya was on the same path. It was also $8 for a small bowl of jambalaya. It was supposed to have Gulf shrimp as well as Andouille sausage and chicken, but the bowl I had seemed to be missing the shrimp. The veggies were well cooked and had a good amount of spice. Like the sandwich, I just would have liked a little more for my money.

The best deal by far was the tapas bar from La Bella. For $11, you could stack your plate high with as much as you could fit from the buffet style bar and for $16, you could come back as many times as you wanted. We were able to try a lot of different foods and not spend a ton of money. From the bar, we sampled the following items:

Pink potato salad
Sweet and sour cucumber salad
Cactus salad
Balsamic grilled orzo and vegetable salad
Pineapple and water chestnut rumaki – Favorite
Caramel apple dessert salad – Favorite
Watermelon, onion, mint and feta salad – Favorite
Sweet and sour, Marinara, BBQ, and Coconut Curry meatballs
Pickled watermelon rind
Peanut chicken satay – Favorite
Olive pesto
Shrimp ceviche – Favorite
Sweet and sour figs and sausage – Favorite

Besides the tapas bar, we also tried the fried spinach, bacon-wrapped deep fried deviled egg, a version of fruit pizza and their signature Louisiana lasagna. The lasagna was a real highlight of the night. Loaded with meats, cheese, vegetables and spices, the flavors were fantastic and I could have easily eaten more.

Thank you to JJ Brown, Chris Sirianni and Harry Miller as well as all of the other fantastic local restaurant owners and all of you who support them. This was a great way to start my Erie ‘s Favorites tour. Keep sending me suggestions on different foods as well as where to find them.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted: August 30th, 2011

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.

This week, I wanted to get a good sampling of some local pepperoni balls. Amanda and I visited the top four winners from my poll and compared the home made rolls. We went rather early Monday afternoon to all four locations to ensure a fresh batch.

The first one was from International Bakery at 610 West 18th Street. I have been there many times for cookies and other pastries, but have never purchased a pepperoni ball (though I have had them second hand from other places). They were still warm from the oven when we walked in and we could tell. The dough around the pepperoni was soft and a little sweet. It was a little heavy on the dough side in comparison to the pepperoni, but it was delicious nonetheless. For two, it was $1.20 and a great way to start the pepperoni ball taste test.

A few doors down from International Bakery is Arnone’s Bakery & Italian Deli at 564 West 18th Street.Arnone’s Deli has always been a staple for me when I am in need of home-style Italian treats. I have had their pepperoni bread tons of times and have never been let down. I wish I could say the same thing about the pepperoni balls we got. I would only assume they were made that morning, but their texture was a bit off. They were heated in the oven for a few minutes before they were given to me and I think being cooked that second time dried them out and made them tough. In addition, I was over halfway through it before I reached a single slice of pepperoni. The ratio of dough to pepperoni was way off and the roll had a greasy taste. Hopefully it was just an off day. The rolls at Arnone’s cost just a few cents more, priced at $1.50 for two.

Our third pepperoni ball was from Dough Boys Pizza and More at 653 West 26th Street. I have never had the chance to try anything that Dough Boys has to offer so I thought this was a great reason to go. When we went in, I asked if they had and pepperoni balls ready to go and to my surprise, I found out they are all made to order. Fresh dough is stretched, filled with pepperoni, folded up and baked. The dough was a little chewy and had a crispy, almost flaky crust on the outside. The pepperoni was throughout every bite and was really fantastic. With them being prepared to order, they were the most expensive costing $1.80 for two.

Our final pepperoni ball was from Teresa’s Italian Deli located at 810 East 38th Street. I frequented Teresa’s when I was in college and really love their subs and baked goods. However, the pepperoni balls were a little disappointing. The dough was rolled thin and not perforated enough to let the air out while baking so it just puffed up into one huge air bubble. We could actually shake the pepperoni around inside. The taste was good, but all of the others were served warmed and the temperature changes the flavors a lot. For being thin dough, there still seemed to not be enough pepperoni inside. These were the cheapest at $1.00 for two.

From favorite to least favorite, they are Dough Boys, International Bakery, Teresa’s and Arnone’s. This is just my one day opinion so please, I encourage you to go to all of them and sample them for yourself. Let me know your favorites or others I should try.

Finally, If you know of places in the area that have larger than normal menu options or any type of eating challenge, please let me know via email or comment on here.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Erie's Favorites
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Posted: September 7th, 2011

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.

There is a lot of debate in Erie about who made the original Greek sauce and also, who makes the best. This week, I visited some local restaurants to sample their sauces and give my own opinion. Steve Puskar, Jenny Ore, Ginny Tonkin and I made our way around town to the top four winners from my poll. I would have tried to spread this out over more than one day, but due to the holiday weekend, that wasn’t possible.

Our first stop was New York Lunch at 1525 Peninsula Drive . We weren’t sure how we wanted to sample and share everything so we ordered two Greek hot dogs, two Greek burgers and a small order of Greek fries. Chris got our order to the kitchen and our food was out within minutes. The sauce was a little on the greasy side. The food was wrapped before served and it actually made them messier in the paper. The buns on the sandwiches got soft with the grease and steam. The hot dog was on the rubbery side and I felt like the burger patty was too small in comparison to the amount of toppings. It was more of a sloppy joe than a burger. The fries were good, but the ratio of grease to meat made them a little soggy. Overall, the sauce was okay, but we needed to try three more places before we could make a final decision.

The next location was Coney Island Lunch at 3015 Buffalo Road . We decided to cut our order down to one Greek hot dog, one Greek burger and one small order of Greek fries. Our order was taken by a woman who refused to give a name other than “Engelbert Humperdink.” She was slightly confused as to why we ordered what we did seeing as how there were four of us. She also tried to convince us that meat and cheese were one in the same. Obviously, this was going well. The Greek sauce here was on the dry side. It was a lot more meat than it was sauce/grease. The hot dog and burger were both tasty, but the Greek sauce didn’t really add that much to them. The fries were from a bag instead of hand-cut, but they were perfectly crispy and really tasty. They were a little better than the first stop, but we still had two more to go.

Stop number three was New York Lunch at 922 East Ave. The three New York Lunch locations in town have the same menu, but different owners and different recipes for Greek sauce. We placed our order with Mike and he got to the kitchen and started cooking. I received some great information from talking with Mike as well as one of the owners, Nina. She told me about how long she has been there as well as how long the location and the recipe has been there (over 60 years). On the wall, she has the oven door from the original oven which is over 100 years old. The food came out pretty quick and though we were getting full, we went for it. The Greek sauce here seemed to get it right. It wasn’t too greasy, yet still had the right amount of “sauce.” This sauce was also spicier than the others which was a delicious touch. The delicious burger patty was substantial and held up to the toppings very well. At the previous two places, we left close to half of the fries on the plate. Here, we finished just about everything. This was going to be hard to beat, but we had one final place to try.

Lastly, we went to Red Hot at 13th and Parade. Franklin took our order, got us some water and brought the food out to us rather fast. By this time, we were hitting the food wall. The Greek sauce here was also a little on the spicy side, but it was still great. The hot dog was nothing that special, but the burger was fantastic. The patty was a good size and the sauce was perfect. I’m not sure if there was hot sauce on the burger or just ketchup, but it was the real deal. The fries were another story. The bottom of the basket was all grease. The sauce was good, however, eating it with soggy, greasy fries was not. We left the most fries here out of anywhere.

Our overall favorite was New York Lunch on East Ave. The combination of good food and good people really made this place the best. Each location served their hot dogs with sauce, onion and mustard while the burgers were served with sauce, onion and ketchup. The burgers everywhere had a leg up on the hot dogs. The tanginess and acidity of the ketchup just added something to the Greek sauce. Thank you to everyone for making this tour of Greek sauce a success and especially to my great coworkers who helped me eat all of this food.

Next week, I will be visiting all of the local chocolatiers. Instead of voting where you think I should go, I want you to vote on your favorite and I will see how that compares to mine.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Erie's Favorites
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Posted: September 13th, 2011

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

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Posted: September 20th, 2011

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.

Last week, I visited Finney’s, Romolos, Pulakos and Stefanelli’s to sample and compare their milk, dark and white chocolates. I also got a great sampling of their in-house specialties as well as some of the overall favorites. I got a few duplicates from some locations, but overall, I had quite the selection.

I will start with a local favorite, sponge candy. There is a lot of speculation about where the origins of sponge started, but one thing is for sure, it is a regional craze, loved by many from Rochester, NY to Erie. I love it because of the opposing textures between the soft chocolate and the crunch of the sponge. The only location we did not sample sponge candy from was Finney’s. We started with a piece from Stefanelli’s. The first few bites were actually not that good. The sponge was soft and just compressed instead of cracking and dissolving away. I am convinced it was only that piece because everything else out of the same bag was just right. Aldo, the center did not seem as sweet as some of the others. Our second sample was from Romolo. The chocolate surrounding the delicate center was so rich and creamy; it made the sugary crunch that much better. For the third sample, I had both the milk and dark sponge candy from Pulakos. The milk chocolate variety was good, but the dark chocolate covered sponge was fantastic. The bitterness of their dark mixed with the sweet sponge was awesome. My favorites were the milk from Romolo as well as the dark from Pulakos. I cannot wait to try the dark from Romolo next time I visit.

Another thing we got from every location was a caramel. Stefanelli’s gave me a plain, milk chocolate covered caramel while Finney’s, Romolo, and Pulakos gave me salted caramels. One of my favorite candies as a child were Rolos and that is exactly what Stefanelli’s caramel reminded me of. It was a deliciously fancy Rolo. The caramel was soft and had a great pull with each bite. The salted caramels were a little more my style, however. The salty punch really balanced out the sweetness of the caramel. Finney’s salted caramel was delicious. Their rich dark chocolate enhanced the salty flavor and really made it pop. The same went for Pulakos. The dark chocolate seemed to be especially smooth around the caramel and melted as soon as it was bitten into. The caramel and chocolate really became one and had a fantastic flavor. I got to try a few different caramels from Romolo. The varieties I had were: milk and dark plain salted caramels, a milk Fleur de Sel caramel (French grey salt) and a dark Hawaiian caramel with Alaea salt. My favorite of these was the Hawaiian caramel. The pink Hawaiian sea salt gave me the best salt flavor mixed with the caramel; the large grains of salt really helped with that. It is too tough to pick a favorite of these, but I definitely enjoyed the salted caramels enrobed in dark chocolate better. The salt and bitter cocoa went best with the creamy caramel.

All the other specialty items I received from each location were very different. I sampled a lot from each chocolatier and had favorites from each, besides the sponge and caramels of course. I only tasted what was mentioned previously from Stefanelli’s. From Pulako’s, my favorites were the raspberry creams, chocolate caramel cashew claws, and the Caramallows (chocolate covered marshmallows and caramel). Romolo had some great choices as well. The peppermint patties, almond toffee and chocolate coconut were my favorites. I think Finney’s had my favorite overall choices. Emily’s Peanut Butter Melt-a-ways, Lucy’s Lemon Drops, the hand painted Raspberry and Hazelnut ganaches, Uncle Myrton’s Maple Peanut clusters and Aunt Irma’s Butter Crunch. I realize these names don’t mean much without a description, but the only way to know just how incredible they are is to go down to Cambridge Springs and try them for yourself.

The milk, dark, and white taste test last week gave me a fantastic base to start from. The specialty test this week was an incredible finish. Everything was amazing and you are bound to find something great at any of the local chocolatiers. Please remember that these are just my opinions on the chocolate I was given and tastes do differ from person to person. I enjoyed meeting and talking with Bill and Cheryl Kent from Finney’s, Joe Hilbert, John Zack, Ellise Peake and Samantha Williams from Pulako’s, Tony Stefanelli from Romolo, and Jalena (on behalf of Frank DeDionisio) from Stefanelli’s.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Erie's Favorites
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Posted: September 28th, 2011

Being in Erie for 60 or so years, Dominick’s 24 Hour Eatery at 123 E. 12th St. is nothing short of an Erie institution. The food served is consistently good, no matter the time of day or the day of the week. The house specialty is the meatball omelet, and I have eaten my fair share of these over the years. This is my time to write about it.

Jenny Ore and I visited Dominick’s early Wednesday morning. Few tables were filled, so finding a seat was easy. The bar crowd that rolls in a little later in the evening changes the wait time. Our server, Dara, took our drink order and left us to our menus. I was there for the meatball omelet, so I didn’t need the menu. Jenny decided on a smaller-portioned breakfast and went with scrambled eggs, home fries and toast. The turnaround on our food was fast, and our order was back to our table in no time.

The omelets are always huge, so I shouldn’t be surprised when they arrive, but I was still in awe. The meatball omelet is serious. It is a take-no-prisoners breakfast that commands respect. The egg is cooked almost paper thin and delicately wrapped around the sliced, handmade meatballs, sweet marinara sauce and provolone cheese. The omelet itself is also covered in the same sauce, and I love to top it with Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper flakes.

I also got it with garlic toast instead of regular toast because what goes better with meatballs and sauce? The saltiness of the garlic butter is the perfect contrast to the sweetness of the sauce, and the crunch of the toast adds great texture to the dish.

My favorite thing about the omelet is that there is meatball in every bite from beginning to end. I know it is a huge meal, but writing about it makes me want another one right now. The home fries I ordered as a side were grilled with sautéed onions. The onions give the potatoes a little bite, and I would suggest them to anyone.

Thank you to Dara for the fantastic service and to the kitchen for the amazing start to my Wednesday. If you haven’t been to Dominick’s (or if you haven’t been there sober), go try it. Everything they offer is great, but the meatball omelet is amazing.  Also, Dominick’s is cash only so be remember to bring your money.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Read more of Andrew's thoughts about Erie's Favorites
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Posted: October 5th, 2011

Besides having multiple chocolatiers in town, Erie also has some fantastic breweries.  This week’s poll was voting for the favorite of the local breweries. Tuesday night, two of my coworkers, Ben Smith and Jeff McCullor, joined Amanda and me to sample and compare the top three vote recipients: Lavery Brewing CompanyErie Brewing Company, and The Brewerie at Union Station. For consistency, we wanted to sample a “hoppy” beer from each location as well as a specialty/seasonal beer.

First, Jeff and I visited Lavery Brewing where we met with Jason Lavery.  He showed us around the new brew house and we really got to see his slogan, “Brewing Innovative Ales in Small Batches,” in action.

We then got to take a drive to the Erie Brewing Company.  Tim Schnars and Rebecca Niemeyer were there to give us some fantastic information as well as show the inner workings of the brewery.  We also got to see the medals won at the Great American Beer Festival.  Railbender won a bronze medal in 2008 as well as a gold medal in 2009, and just this past weekend, Derailed Black Cherry Ale won a bronze medal.

Finally, I made my way to the Brewerie at Union Station to talk with Chris Sirianni.  He was very excited to have us sample the #5: Citrus Belgian Tripel which is for their 5 Year Anniversary Celebration.

We began the sampling with our “hoppy” beers.  The first beer was Misery Bay I.P.A. from Erie Brewing Company.    This dark amber ale has a very smooth taste and a great malty flavor.  Although it is a bitter beer, it is still very drinkable and not overpowering.  Beer number two was the Hopness Monster I.P.A. from the Brewerie at Union Station.  It is a traditional British-style India Pale Ale that is lighter in color than the Misery Bay, but much more bitter.  This batch also seemed to be slightly more watered down than previous tastings.  The mouth feel was just off a bit.  Our final “hoppy” beer was the Imperial Red Ale from Lavery Brewing Company.  The first thing that you notice about this beer is the extremely strong hop smell.  It may seem, to some, a bit overpowering, but you have to taste it.  The beer has a nice reddish-orange coloring and looks fantastic in a glass.  The hops are extremely prevalent; however it is done in a sophisticated way.  Instead of giving you a punch in the mouth, the smooth taste gives you a little slap on the cheek.  It is a very well-rounded beer.

Next were the seasonal beers.  The first sampling came from Lavery.  The Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale is the fall seasonal brew and it is delicious.  Jason uses local pumpkins from Port Farms as well as home grown hops.  It has a smooth taste and is easy to drink due to the subtle, understated spicing.  The ratio of pumpkin to spice is great.  Our next beer was the #5: Citrus Belgian Tripel from the Brewerie.  Looking at this beer, you can see that it is a true Belgian.  Tasting it only reaffirms it.  Its smooth taste was complimented by spices and orange citrus flavoring.  The aftertaste was similar to a sweeter white wine which was odd, but still good.  Jeff said that this beer was the best beer he has tasted from the Brewerie as well as the most well put together.  Our final tasting was the Heritage Alt from Erie Brewing.  This beer is a dark brown color with a creamy head.  Every sip has some great hints of coffee and chocolate malt.  The roasted flavor comes through in an understated way and the mild hoppy kick at the end really rounds out the beer.  It was a fantastic way to end the tasting.

Thank you to Jason, Tim, Rebecca, and Chris for all of your fantastic service and great insight on the world of beer making.  This will give us some great ideas for our own home brewing.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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