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

Soups and Appetizers

Places where the Beard ate Soups and Appetizers
Posted: February 8th, 2011

The cold has set in around Erie and food is one of the few things that really helps get through the cold months.  This week was the first stop on my soup/appetizer tour of the area.  With the Souper Bowl being held last week, I wanted to try soup from any of the top locations.  George’s Restaurant at 2614 Glenwood Park Avenue came in with the most votes in this week’s poll and just so happened to come in 3rd place at the Souper Bowl.

Lunch at George’s was easier due to them only having dinner hours a few nights a week.  Amanda and I went during our lunch break on Tuesday and there was a good lunch crowd inside.  I saw on the specials board that the soup du jour was a Gumbo, but I didn’t want to make a decision without looking at the menu.  I opened the menu and came face to face with their award winning Cajun crab bisque.  With shelves full of trophies, plaques and ribbons for this soup, I figured it had to be good.  I got a bowl of the bisque with a side of toast and Amanda got a bowl of the Gumbo and a side of their home-made mashed potatoes (which they are also known for) with cheddar and broccoli.

The food arrived in great time even with the lunch rush.  The soups looked almost identical and our server had to go ask which was which to make sure we got what we ordered.  Both soups smelled delicious.  My Cajun crab bisque was full of carrots, onions and peppers.  I would only assume it was started with a fish stock and maybe some clam juice.  The crushed tomatoes mixed with heavy cream made for a great, rich broth and the combination of spices gave it just the right amount of heat.  From the look of the actual crab meat, I believe it to be imitation.  I thought the soup was delicious, but I can only imagine how great it would be with the real stuff.

The Gumbo started the same, but with chicken stock, crushed tomatoes and cream.  Carrots and onions were paired with okra and green peppers.  There also were good sized chunks of chicken, ground sausage, and extra small shrimp.  The shrimp was overcooked to the point of almost disintegrating, but they didn’t really ruin the taste.  This soup was also seasoned perfectly with good flavor and heat.

This was a decent start to my soup tour. I haven’t ever tried the top two winners from the Souper Bowl, but I feel the bisque was rightfully near the top.  Thanks for the speedy service and good lunch.  You can call (814) 455-0860 to get their hours or place orders.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

George's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Posted in: George's, Soups
Posted: February 15th, 2011

Today was my first time eating at Gerry Urbaniak’s 8th Street Deli and I have no idea what took me so long to get there. Located in the Colony Plaza at 2620 W 8th St, the deli is in a convenient spot for a quick lunch.

Whether you are dining in or getting food to go, it is speedy.  There is room for probably 25 patrons to dine next to a large deli case which makes for fast take out.  Amanda and I grabbed a table and our server, Lauren, got us some drinks.  It was so hard to focus on soups when all of the sandwiches on the menu (and the tables around us) looked incredibly good.  The soup of the day was a Middle Eastern sausage and bean which sounded awesome.  Lauren recommended the special or the chicken with kluski.  All of the soups sounded so good, but I had to make a decision.  Amanda has been here many times so her choice of a bowl of matzo ball soup with half of a chicken salad sandwich was easy.  I decided to go with a bowl of the sausage and bean and a half of a pastrami sandwich.

Growing up in a mixed religion household, I got to eat a lot of matzo ball soup. The bowl here was the closest to mom’s home made that I have found.  The chicken stock and the matzo balls are made fresh in house and really give that comfort food feel.

The Middle Eastern sausage and bean was even better.  The beef broth was full of red beans, rice (and other grains), celery, a delicious spicy sausage, tomatoes, onion, curry, and other spices.  I was worried that it was going to have an overwhelming curry flavor, but it was very subtle and really added to the taste of the sausage.  I don’t want to say too much about my pastrami sandwich, just in case I come back here and get to review one, but it was fantastic.

Thank you to Lauren for the great recommendation and the fast lunch.  You will be seeing me (and probably some of my coworkers) in there soon.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

Gerry's 8th St. Deli on Urbanspoon

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Posted in: Soups, Urbaniaks
Posted: February 22nd, 2011

Apparently, McGarrey’s Oakwood Cafe is popular during lunch.  The parking lot was packed to the point of people parking on the street, in front of dumpsters and even on the sidewalk.  A few trips around the small lot was all it took for me to find space to park.

The dining room, as if I couldn’t tell from the outside, was almost to capacity.  Amanda and I grabbed a table and waited for menus.  Our server brought some menus and let us know that they had chili as well as chicken with rice and vegetable as their daily soups.  The Oakwood has lunch and dinner specials that change daily typically with two soups as well.  After some careful decision making, Amanda went with a chicken parmesan melt and a cup of the vegetable soup and I had the meatloaf sandwich and a cup of the chicken with rice.

The soup came out rather fast.  The chicken with rice was good and simple.  The chicken stock was delicious.  It really had a good depth of flavor.  The soup was full of large pieces of moist chicken breast, mirepoix and perfectly cooked rice.  I added some crackers and a little pepper for some spice, but it was a tasty soup.

The vegetable soup was phenomenal.  Though it is vegetable, it is not vegetarian.  With a beef broth as a base, it was loaded with beef, carrots, onions, tomatoes, green beans, peas, lima beans, corn and potato.  I could really tell that vegetables had a chance to sit and have their flavors blend together.  The soup was perfectly chunky and a great addition to the meal.

Like last week, I don’t want to say too much about the sandwiches since I might be back here to give them their own review in the future.  Both sandwiches were great and I hope to come back to give them a proper review (and hopefully have one of their famous reubens).  Thank you to the Oakwood for the fast service and the great lunch.  Even though the house was full, we were in and out quickly.

For next week, I will hopefully be part of SafeNet’s Chill-E Cookoff at the Brewerie and all four places on my poll will be for chili as well.  I am really excited and can’t wait to report back.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

McGarrey's Oakwood Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Posted: March 1st, 2011

This past weekend, I was invited to be a judge at the SafeNet Chill-E cook-off.  For a few hours on Sunday, I was in a banquet room located on the second floor of the Brewerie with five other judges eating chili.  As tray after anonymous tray came into the room, we were handed samples of chili from 20 or so different locations in Erie.  Some served with chips or crackers, some with cornbread or in a bread bowl; we sure ate our share of food.  We were only given an ID number instead of a restaurant name, so I can’t give too many specifics as to whose I liked.  We had a really garlicky which was great as well as a sweeter (that I think had some fruit in it) that was delicious.  While I easily could have eaten entire bowls of some, others I struggled to even muscle down a spoonful. One chili burned some throats, another was described as smelling like the inside of a firefighters jacket who came from a house fire and one tasted like a rubber tire.  Thank you to SafeNet for allowing me to participate in such an incredible program.  I hope to be part of future events as well.

As if I didn’t eat enough chili at the cook-off, all four places on this week’s poll were for chili.  Patrick’s Family Restaurant in Harborcreek has been one of my local favorites for a few years now.  I was a little surprised that it passed the Plymouth and Lorie’s Wildridge in voting, but I was excited that I was going to such a great location.   It was a little empty when we arrived around 6 o’clock, but table after table started coming in as the night went on.  Our server, Maggie, gave Amanda and I menus as well as their daily soups, which I was most interested in, and then left us to decide.   The soups were beef barley and Italian wedding as well as their normal broccoli cheese and their award winning chili.

Amanda decided to get the Italian wedding soup and a chicken Caesar salad.  All of the times I have eaten at Patrick’s, I have skipped over the section about ribs.  Their ribs are award winners as well so I felt like eating an entire award winning meal.  A half slab of ribs paired with a bowl of chili sounded perfect.   The soups arrived first.  The Italian wedding was not quite what we were expecting.  Instead of clear broth with some greens, small pasta and meatballs, it was a thicker sauce and very similar to a chicken noodle.  It was filled with mirepoix, chicken, kluski noodles, and the standard meatballs.  Though it still was delicious, it was more of a non-traditional chicken noodle than a wedding.  My chili, however, was perfect as is.  Loaded with tons of meat and beans, the flavor never ends and I can see how it has won awards.  It has just the right amount of spice and is great with a piece of their fresh bread.   From the smell to the color to the consistency, it really is an incredible chili.

The rest of our meal was also fantastic.  Amanda enjoyed her Caesar salad, though she would recommend getting the dressing on the side.  It was a bit overdressed for her, but it was still good.  The ribs were just as good.  The home made sauce it sweet yet has a great bite to it.  The meat fell right off of the bone and getting a full slab of ribs for $14 is a steal.

Thank you to Maggie and the owner, Marilyn, for your great service, hospitality and most importantly, the food.  You will be seeing me again soon.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

Patrick's Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: March 9th, 2011

I have always heard some pretty good things about Theodore’s Restaurant, but I have never made the drive to try it.  Making trips to Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Cleveland for food is something I do often so the 25 minute drive outside of Erie to Lake City was nothing.  Amanda and I made our way out there right about five.  Amanda’s mother, Louise, joined us for dinner as well.  We were just one of two tables at 5:30, but more people started to trickle in.  The walls inside are covered in famous Ted’s, including the original Theodore.  It was fun to walk around and look at all of the photos.

Our server, Kim, brought us menus, drinks and told us about the daily specials.  Since I am only reviewing soups and appetizers, it was tough for me not to order one of the many seafood specials like haddock or scallops (just in case I come back to give them a proper seafood review).  The soups for the day were sausage cabbage, Italian wedding and they always have French onion on the menu.  I definitely wanted to order some of the crab cakes that they are known for so we started with those for an appetizer.  Amanda ordered a grilled chicken chef salad and I went with the ranch fried chicken salad.  Louise decided that the scallops sounded too good to pass over.  With three soups being offered, we each got a different bowl to taste them all.

The crab cake appetizer came out first.  I was a little skeptical by the looks of the photo online, but I wanted to try them for myself.  I thought that the cakes were a little on the small side, but what they lacked in size, they made up for in taste.  I thought they were fantastic.  The crab was real and they are homemade, which is a hard thing to find in Erie.  The corn relish was a little bit odd; however the side of crab cake sauce was awesome.  I could have eaten that without the crab.

The soups arrived second with a side of fresh Italian bread as well as a few slices of zucchini bread.  The breads, though not fully prepared in house, were fantastic.  The Italian had a great crunchy crust on the outside and it was just a touch sweet which went well with the soups.  My sausage cabbage soup was delicious.  The cup was filled with chunks of fresh spicy sausage and shredded cabbage (and the normal mirepoix).  The flavors from the meat and cabbage really got to marry with the broth and made for a cup that I wanted refills on.  Amanda’s Italian wedding soup was more traditional than Patrick’s last week, but still wasn’t my favorite.  The perfectly sliced mirepoix with pastina, meatballs and spinach were good.  I tend to like wedding soup with a clearer broth and this cup looked a bit murky.  It tasted a bit metallic and just not as fresh as mine.  It was my least favorite of the night.  Louise had the house French onion.  This was one of the best cups of soup I have ever had.  Instead of the normal beef broth, it started with a sherry based beef broth.  The sherry with the caramelized onions really brought it to a new level of flavor.  The crouton on top covered in the melted mozzarella had a beautiful and delicious toasting.  This was by far the best cup of soup on the table.

To touch briefly on the main course, the chicken on both salads was fantastic.  We could really taste the seasoned flavor from the grill on the one and the freshly breaded and fried ranch chicken on mine was great.  The scallops were out of this world.  I won’t give too many details, but I will just say there was crab stuffing and lobster sauce involved.  The crab cakes and the French onion soup alone make Theodore’s a must visit spot.

Thank you to Kim and owner Bill for the great service and even better food.  I can’t wait to come back and try all of those daily specials.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

Theodore's Restaurant Incorporated on Urbanspoon

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Posted in: Soups, Theodore's
Posted: March 15th, 2011

I have been in Erie for eight years now and today was my first visit to the Pie in the Sky Cafe.  Located at the corner of 8th and Walnut Streets, parking for this small cafe can be tough due to its popularity.  There were only a few tables left open when Amanda and I arrived at noon so I do recommend giving yourself a little extra time if you are going for lunch (and making reservations for dinner).

Our table in the middle gave us a great view of everything in the restaurant from the four awesome large paintings to the small private eating booths.  The board in the back of the store told me that the daily soups were corn chowder and rustic onion so I knew right away what part of my meal would be.  The quiches of the day were feta and spinach as well as ham and Swiss.  The sandwiches on the tables around us all looked so good; I had to order one of those as well.  Amanda and I decided to split a piece of spinach and feta quiche as an appetizer.  She ordered the smoked turkey melt with a cup of the corn chowder and I went with the hummus and cheese sandwich with a bowl of the rustic onion.

Now this isn’t really a dine-and-dash sort of place.  The food is made with care so it takes a little bit of time.  Relax, enjoy your lunch (or dinner), and hang out.  What I was there for, the soup, came out first.  The corn chowder was fantastic.  Instead of being in a rich, heavy broth like New England chowder, it was in a light cream broth and had tons of flavor.  The corn and potatoes were both super tender and the tastes really blended well together.  There was a sprinkle of thyme on the surface that added the perfect seasoning to this soup.  My rustic onion was delicious as well.  Unlike a French onion soup, this was not covered in melted cheese.  This was a beef and marsala broth loaded with a beautifully cooked array of onions.  The onions were caramelized before they were put in the broth so it really let all of those flavors come out.  Among the onions were a few large, cheesy, toasted bread chunks that added some good texture.  Next time, I will order a side of bread just so I can sop it all up.

The quiche was amazing as well.  I tend to like my eggs pretty well done in omelets or scrambled eggs, but the texture of the eggs here were perfect.  They were super light and fluffy and yet, held up to the weight of the spinach, feta and the crust.  The chunks of feta were creamy and really made the quiche.  I could have easily eaten the entire quiche.

Our sandwiches both were great.  The home made hummus on the sunflower bread was so good.  Amanda’s turkey was fresh cut and the smoke flavor was awesome.  Again, I hope I get to come back here and give the sandwiches a full review.

Thanks for the service and the delicious lunch.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

Pie in the Sky Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: March 22nd, 2011

Jekyll and Hyde’s is the only gastropub I can think of in the Erie area.  Located at 8 East 10th Street, this small location serves some great beer and even better food.  Open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Tuesday thru Saturday, it is normally crowded no matter when you are there.  The service is not exceptionally fast at lunch, but with just one server, Levi, running the entire front of house, it is pretty good.  Amanda and I got in around noon and Levi got us some menus and drinks. The menu changes with the season so they are in preparation for the new spring foods.

We have eaten there a few times before so we already had some clue as to what we wanted.  My favorite appetizer is not offered during lunch, but I will still mention talk about it below.  I am not sure if I was just really hungry or what, but everything sounds great.  We wanted some appetizers that we haven’t tried before.  The two that really stood out were the scallops and the chicken lettuce wraps so we went with those.  I also ordered the fried bologna sandwich and Amanda went with the herb brined turkey club.  We both wanted to order soup with our meals, but apparently they were crushed this weekend and were fully depleted of their soups.  I have had a few of there soups before such as the beef stew, chicken tortilla, potato and French onion.  The potato is full of large potato chunks, bacon and cheese in an awesome creamy broth and the French onion has a variety of onions, a bowl-sized crouton floating in the broth and a thick layer of a cheese sealing in all of the flavors.

The appetizers came out with our meal, but we were okay with that.  They looked so good that I almost started digging in without taking a picture. The scallops were delicious.  Three scallops were placed on a fresh slice of polenta, which was on some wilted greens and a balsamic mixture.  The scallops were also topped with some home made compound butter.  The scallops were just slightly overcooked, but the flavors were awesome.  The mix of textures between the buttered scallops, the polenta and the greens was perfect. I thought for the price, it would have been a little larger of a dish.  It was $10 for three scallops.  Based on taste, I would order it again, but probably not on price.

The chicken lettuce wraps were out of this world good.  Large bib lettuce leaves were laid out with a piece of radicchio on top.  They were filled with an Asian style chicken salad that was a mixture of shredded chicken, crushed cashews, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and a few other herbs.  I had to use the first one as a test to see just how to hold them.  Eating them got a bit messy, but delicious none the less.  The Thai dipping sauce was a great addition and I could easily eat just this as a full meal and leave very satisfied.

My favorite appetizer that is only available with dinner is their devils on horseback.  Not to be confused with angels on horseback, there are no oysters in this dish.  These consist of goat cheese and pickled pear stuffed dates that are wrapped in Smith’s heavenly bacon.  They are sautéed with some smoked chili powder and placed on a bed of wilted arugula.  Six come in an order, but I am pretty sure I could easily eat a dozen or more.  They really are that phenomenal.

All of the ingredients used are incredibly fresh and you can really taste the difference.  Fresh and local products make you appreciate the food just a little bit more.  Thank you to Levi for the good service and to the chefs who prepared such an outstanding lunch.  I hope to come back and review some sandwiches soon.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

Jekyll & Hyde's Gastropub on Urbanspoon

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