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.
 Phone: 814-878-2230

Steaks

Places where the Beard ate Steaks
Posted: March 6th, 2012

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The Bel-Aire Clarion Hotel and Conference Center is located at 2800 West 8th Street in Erie. Inside the hotel is Victor’s Restaurant. The restaurant does a lot of business through room service and for events at the hotel. We didn’t have reservations, but there weren’t too many other tables, so we were seated immediately. Amanda and I glanced at the menu online before we arrived, but it differed slightly from the menu we were given at the table. Our server, Carissa, got us some drinks before walking us through the menu as well as the nightly specials. We were there for steak and that left us with four choices; the black and bleu steak salad, the 8 oz. sirloin that was one of the evening’s specials, a 6 oz. cut of filet, and a 10 oz. NY strip steak. After some discussion as to who was going to order which steak, Amanda decided on the filet and I ordered the NY strip. Amanda asked for her steak to be prepared medium rare and with sautéed mushrooms. I, on the other hand, wanted to be surprised. I told Carissa that besides my strip steak being cooked to a medium rare temperature, I wanted the chef to prepare it any way he or she wanted. I excluded nothing. This was bound to be good.

Our salads and bread, which are included with every entrée, came out first. We were both hungry and the warm bread, flavorful dressings, and fresh greens were a delicious teaser before the meal. By the time our salad plates were empty, we had also finished the bread, which was served with well-seasoned dipping oil, and couldn’t wait for the rest of our food. About ten minutes passed before our meals left the kitchen. I couldn’t wait to see what I was going to be eating. Amanda’s filet was beautiful. The cut was close to an inch-and-a-half thick and covered with lightly seasoned mushrooms. She chose fresh, steamed broccoli and a baked potato for her sides. Her steak was rich in flavor and deliciously tender. The center was a perfect, warm red and the sear on the outside was great. It seemed to be only seasoned with salt and pepper, but it didn’t need more than that because the quality of the meat was excellent. I could eat this steak, and not much else, every day.

My NY strip was a treat. The chef served it on a bed of grilled and caramelized red onions. On top of the steak was a creamy layer of garlic and herb Boursin cheese and set into the cheese were four large, grilled, tail-on shrimp. My steak had fantastic marbling throughout with very little fat on the outside. There was one small piece that I cut off and everything else was perfect. I wouldn’t have thought to order cheese on top of the steak, but it provided so much additional flavor to the already rich beef. The shrimp were cooked perfectly, and combined with the sweet red onions, I don’t think I could have created a better steak on my own. The texture, taste, and even the smell of the beef was intoxicating. The only problem was that I wanted seconds.

The quality of the beef made the $70 total price tag for both meals completely worth it. This won’t be a place I visit every weekend, but I will keep it in mind for a special occasion or when I’m in the mood for a fantastic steak. Thank you to Carissa for the attentive service and thank to the chef for the perfectly cooked, amazing, and creative steak.

The phone number for reservations is (814) 838-9270. The hours of operation are Monday through Thursday Lounge: 4:30pm-9pm Kitchen: 5pm-9pm, Friday and Saturday Lounge: 4:30pm-10pm Kitchen: 5pm-10pm, and they are closed on Sunday.

Also, Monday, March 12, 1201 Kitchen is celebrating their new open kitchen by having a Dueling Menu Taco Battle with James Beard nominated Eric Williams from Momocho in Cleveland!  I will be there for the 8:15 seating and will have a write up about it afterward.  I can’t wait to try all of their food.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted: March 14th, 2012

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Last night, Amanda and I made our way to Meadville where we met up with Whitney and Justin Catalano at Montana’s Rib and Chop House for some steaks. This was not my first trip to this restaurant, but it was my first time trying their steaks. The Movies at Meadville theater is located across the parking lot from Montana ‘s and on Tuesday nights, they offer five dollar movies. A discounted movie makes for more money to spend on dinner, so needless to say, the restaurant was rather busy. Our server, Jess, was new and in training, but he was backed by veteran server, Jim. Jess got us a few drinks, told us about the nightly specials, and left us to our menus. We put in an appetizer order of their fried green tomatoes while we decided on dinner. For the time that Jess was our server, he was attentive and helpful. When the time came to order our entrées, Jim stepped in to take everything down. Within seconds of Amanda ordering, Jim had picked up on the dynamic of the table and played right to us, joking and laughing along while taking our orders. Amanda’s favorite menu item is the Baseball Cut top sirloin, so that was an easy choice. I was torn between their NY Strip, the hand-cut Ribeye, and the Famous Filet. Amanda got a filet last week and I had the NY Strip, so I decided to go with the Ribeye. Justin ordered the NY Strip and Whitney went off-theme and ordered the Cedar Plank Salmon.

Our appetizer came out first. Although fried green tomatoes are a southern food, the ones at Montana’s will give any of them a run for their money. These thick cut tomatoes are coated in a cornmeal breading and lightly fried. They are then layered on a plate with bleu cheese, large chunks of lump crab meat, and a thick, sweet balsamic reduction. The tomato and the powerful bleu cheese are accentuated by the sweetness of the crab and the balsamic vinegar. The balance of each bite is truly perfect; it is one of my favorite appetizers in the area.

Our steaks came out shortly after and were served and presented in a very simple fashion. The plates they were on were scorching hot and completely bare besides the cut of meat and the seasoning that might have come off of it. The sides are served in separate bowls as to not burn on the hot plate. The first thing I noticed on my steak were the gorgeous grill marks. The flawless diamond pattern gave the meat fantastic color and a great char. I cut into the steak to reveal a warm, bright red, medium-rare center. I spoke with kitchen manager Ryan and found that the steaks are all hand-cut (by him) and are Certified Angus Beef. My steak was juicy and tender with amazing marbling throughout. I had minimal excess external fat. The seasoning on the steak was a basic salt and pepper spice rub and was packed with flavor. For a side, I had sweet corn as well as sautéed garlic mushrooms for my steak. The mushrooms added a great layer of flavor to the beef and are good to eat just on their own.

Amanda’s Baseball Cut Sirloin was about three inches thick and was fantastic. With the meat being so thick, it is more difficult to cook it to temperature. Amanda ordered hers medium-rare as well. The outside had a great sear and everything but a small spot in the middle was more rare than medium-rare, but it was still delicious. She did comment that she’d rather have the steak done that way than have the chef wait longer and risk overcooking the rest of the meat. The steak had very little fat and was incredibly juicy and flavorful. Amanda’s side of wild mushroom stuffing was awesome as well. Fresh mushrooms are blended with toasted herbed bread and baked in its natural juices. I could eat an entire plate of just the stuffing.

Our total bill was just shy of $60. Between our incredible steaks and our awesome server, it really was a great meal. The 38 mile drive is more than worth it for a meal of this quality. Thank you to both Jess and Jim, as well as the kitchen manager Ryan. You will see us again for sure.

The phone number for reservations and information is 814-333-2000 and is located directly across from the movie theater at 11142 Perry Highway. The restaurant opens daily at 11 AM and closes at 11PM every day except for Friday and Saturday when they close at midnight.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

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Posted: March 20th, 2012

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This week, I got to try a restaurant in Erie that I’d never been to before. Ricardo’s Restaurant has been an eastside Erie favorite since 1943. The family-style dining, as well as the homecooked food, really hits a sweet spot for patrons. Amanda and I met up with our friend Joel Brennan around 7:30 last night, and we were all ready to eat. When we arrived, a few big families were seated throughout, along with some other, smaller parties. This really is a popular spot any night of the week. Our server, Vicky, got us our drinks and came back for our order. Joel went with Peter’s Special Steak, Amanda chose the filet mignon and butterflied shrimp combo, and I ordered the New York strip steak.

Every dinner comes with a good amount of food. With your entree, you get a sample of their pasta with the house red sauce, fried zucchini, and your choice of two of the following: salad, home fries, French fries, baked potato, or the daily vegetable. Our food came out in stages. First were the bread and our pasta samplers. The bowls are small and do a fantastic job of preparing your taste buds for the meal to come. The red sauce was obviously homemade and very flavorful. My bowl was clean after I used the rest of the sauce on my bread. The fried zucchini and our salads came out next. The zucchini had a light coating of breading and wasn’t greasy at all. The slices of zucchini tasted fresh and were delicious. We all ordered our salads with the house dressing, which is a homemade Italian with blue cheese crumbles. It was very tasty and complimented the fresh greens wonderfully.

Joel’s Peter’s Steak Special was a big bowl of deliciousness. The steak is sautéed with mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes in a sauce made with Worcestershire sauce, oregano, basil, and garlic. The steak was super tender and trimmed well. The only improvement that could have been made was if they’d added a bit more salt. The plate is filled with the sauce and vegetables so, by Joel’s suggestion, order it with a baked potato. When the steak is gone, open the potato on top of the sauce and let it absorb all the delicious juices. Joel topped the potato with some butter, sour cream, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese, and it really was amazing. His plate was completely clean when he was done.

Amanda’s filet mignon was a four -ounce cut, but paired with the shrimp, it was just the right size. The shrimp, unbeknownst to the table, was butterflied and fried. Though it wasn’t what Amanda was expecting, it was still very good. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and was so tender a knife was almost unnecessary. Amanda had the home fries as her side, and they were delicious.

My New York strip was just slightly overcooked from my medium-rare order, but it was still tasty. I topped my steak with some extra Worcestershire and a pinch of salt. The steak had some really nice marbling throughout and only one piece of external fat that I set aside. The meat was loaded with flavor from the simple seasoning. It was incredibly juicy and, as with my pasta, I used the rest of the bread to soak up the remaining juices on the plate. I didn’t want to waste any of that liquid gold.

Thank you to Vicky for the great service and hospitality. With Joel’s steak being the most expensive at $17.25, the prices are very affordable and worth it.  I am looking forward to coming back and trying some of the other food from the menu.

The phone number for reservations and information is 814-455-4947. Ricardo’s is located at 2112 East Lake Road, close to the GE building. The restaurant opens daily at 11 AM and closes at 9PM Monday through Saturday and is closed on Sundays.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

Ricardo's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Posted: March 27th, 2012

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For the fourth stop on my steak tour of Erie, Amanda and I were joined by Brandon Sease and Katie Winterhoff at The Pufferbelly Restaurant. Brandon and Katie beat us to the restaurant and got a table. Once we arrived, we waited about ten minutes for our server to come to take our drink orders. Once our drinks were served, we had about a 20 minute wait before we placed our food order. The restaurant wasn’t busy at all, so I’m not sure why service was slow. The menu regularly has two choices as far as steak entrees, so our dinner decision was rather easy. Brandon and Katie decided they were going to split an entree because they had a late lunch. They ordered the Southwestern Rubbed Strip Steak. Amanda chose the Steak Madagascar. I was happy to learn that there was a Black and Bleu Strip Steak on special, so I ordered that.

Each of our meals included a small salad, as well as bread and butter. The bread was fresh and warm; I could have easily eaten loaves of it. I was glad to know that the lettuce for the salad was washed, however, it hadn’t been drained and our plates were completely full of water. The lettuce that I was able to eat with the house sweet and sour dressing was delicious.

Our steaks came to the table surprisingly quick. Amanda and I both ordered our steaks medium-rare and Brandon ordered his steak medium. All three steaks were cooked to perfection. Even though they were cooked to the correct temperature, the steaks were, for the most part, under seasoned and fatty. My strip steak had a slight amount of marbling throughout, but the outer edge of the steak was pure fat. My steak was rubbed with a blackened Cajun rub and topped with Bleu cheese chunks. The seasoning was okay, but biting into large sections of fat was unappetizing. Amanda’s eight ounce filet was said to be smothered in mushrooms and peppercorn sauce. Maybe to the kitchen it was a peppercorn sauce, but to Amanda, it was just mushrooms in thin, bland, brown gravy. Her filet was cooked beautifully, but the lack of seasoning and the abundance of gravy was disappointing. I’m sure a peppercorn sauce would have been delicious on the steak, but whatever the sauce was that she received, there was no peppercorn flavor whatsoever. Brandon and Katie’s strip steak was rubbed with cumin and a mixture of dried chipotle, ancho, chili, and cayenne peppers. All of these spices have loud, bold flavors. Considering the amount of seasoning that was visibly on the steak, it was also fairly bland.

The two strip steaks came with steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes. Amanda’s Steak Madagascar was listed on the menu as being served atop spinach linguine, but she ordered it with the vegetables instead. The vegetables were fantastic. The mixture of carrots, bell peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, squash and celery was a slightly odd combination, but they were steamed well and not drowning in butter. The potatoes, on the other hand, weren’t hot and were very plain. Everything else, including the plate, was hot when it arrived so I’m not sure what happened with the potatoes that resulted in them being cold.

It seemed as though every good thing in the meal was countered by something “not-so-good.” As with every other place I’ve visited so far, I asked the server if the steaks were select, choice, or prime cuts. After checking with the kitchen staff, she came back and informed me that they were choice cuts. For the $23.99 price of each steak, I think the two strip steaks were on the high side. The eight ounce filet was priced fairly, but the seasoning as well as the trimming on all three cuts could have been better. Needless to say, we were a bit disappointed with this experience since we’ve had such positive visits to this restaurant in the past.

The phone number for reservations and information is (814) 454-1557. The Pufferbelly Restaurant is located at 414 French Street . The restaurant is open Monday – Thursday from 11:30am – 9pm and Friday – Saturday from 11:30am – 11pm. They also serve a fantastic Sunday brunch from 11am – 3pm and dinner from 3pm – 8pm.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

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Posted: April 4th, 2012

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Alto Cucina is yet another restaurant that this blog has brought me to for the first time. Located at 3531 West Lake Rd , this old farmhouse is easily missed if you aren’t looking for it. The driveway is long and leads to two doors, one for the restaurant and one for the bar. Inside the restaurant, walls are lined with art and shelves stacked with books. Everything was surprisingly dust-free considering how many decorative items were on the shelves, quite refreshing to see a restaurant that takes care enough to keep more than just the tables clean. If you want to go for dinner, a reservation seems to be appreciated. Once we were seated, our server, Mitchell, was with us shortly to inform us of the nightly features and answer any questions we had. We wanted to stick with the steak theme so for an appetizer, we ordered the Carpaccio Celestine. On the menu, there are three choices for steaks. Amanda chose the Steak Adiutori and I decided on the Delmonico Messina.

There was bread, which was oddly a little cold, with dipping oil on the table when we sat down. While we were breaking into the bread, our appetizer was served. The Carpaccio Celestine was paper thin beef tenderloin slices with truffle oil, Gorgonzola, and whole grain mustard on a bed of greens with tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, and roasted red peppers. Instead of being served completely raw, the beef was very lightly seared and served rare. The beef by itself melted with each mouthful and had a very subtle, delicate flavor. With everything else on the plate together as one bite, the beef was strongly overpowered and hidden by all of the other bold flavors. I would have loved for the beef to be the shining star of the plate; all the “extras” seemed unnecessary because the meat was very good on its own.

Our soup and salad arrived shortly after we finished with the Carpaccio. I had the minestrone while Amanda started with the house salad. The minestrone was delicious. The beans and pasta had a great toothsome bite and the broth was well seasoned. Amanda’s salad was tossed with white balsamic vinaigrette that, like the beef, had very subtle flavors. It wasn’t nearly as strong as traditional balsamic and went well with the mixed greens.

With the rest of our meal coming to the table in such good time, we were confused when it took over thirty minutes for our steaks to be served after we finished with our starters. The Steak Adiutori was a 12 oz New York strip steak topped with a garlic, parsley and shallot gremolata. On the side were a few potatoes that had seemingly been soaked in some sort of brown sauce, and a salad of chopped tomatoes, mixed greens, mushrooms and Gorgonzola cheese. It was close to what was served with the Carpaccio. Her steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, was well seasoned, and the gremolata was delicious and very flavorful. The steak, however, had a lot of hard, inedible fat on the outside with very little marbling throughout.

My Delmonico Messina was an 18 oz bone-in beef rib steak topped with a mushroom ragout, a tomato/corn salsa, and a side of garlic smashed potatoes. My steak was cooked beyond the medium-rare temperature that I ordered and was almost medium-well, though it was extremely tender, juicy and packed with flavor. I could have eaten a bowl of the mushroom ragout by itself, it was that good. The corn salsa was a little odd and didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the plate. My steak had beautiful marbling with delicious fat throughout and even more flavor was added simply by cooking the steak with the bone in. The smashed potatoes were amazing. The texture and taste were proof that the potatoes had been made from scratch with real potatoes, not boxed flakes. They were some of the best I’ve ever had. I used the bread to clean my plate when I was done.

Besides the slight wait for our entrees, which I would assume wasn’t his fault, the service from Mitchell was really great. Thank you to him and to the kitchen for an enjoyable meal. After using our Erie Fine Dining card, our meal was only $60 and that was including tip which was well worth it. The phone number for reservations and information is 814.835.3900 and is located at 3531 West Lake Road . The restaurant is open from 4:00 pm to 11:00 pm Tuesday – Saturday.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

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Posted: April 10th, 2012

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Just three miles west of the Erie International Airport at 6590 West Lake Road is Peppino’s Italian Chop House. This modern Italian restaurant is tastefully decorated and exudes a relaxed, friendly feel. While some other locations I have visited in the past were a bit on the stuffy side, Peppino’s was very welcoming. Amanda and I had six o’clock reservations on Monday night and our table was set and waiting when we arrived. There were a few other tables, as well as a full bar of patrons, but it wasn’t loud at all. Our server, Megan, knew her way around the menu and the specials and was very helpful with answering any questions we had. She also gave us some honest recommendations, which I always love to hear from the servers I encounter. With steaks being our main focus, there were six or so choices on the menu. Amanda started with a house salad followed by the 5 oz. filet mignon. I wanted to try the Caesar salad and for my entree, I chose the 14 oz. New York Strip. Each steak also comes with a choice of basil smashed potatoes or pasta with the house pomodoro sauce. Amanda chose pasta and I went with the potatoes.

Our salads, as well as warm bread and great dipping oil, arrived first. The bread had a fantastic, crispy crust on the outside and the oil was delicately flavored with herbs and dried tomatoes. The olive oil used as the base was of high quality, so I was glad they didn’t add much to it. The house salad was a simple bed of mixed greens and romaine hearts topped with an array of olives, garbanzo beans, tomato and onion, dressed in their house vinaigrette. The olives provided an exciting pop of salty brine and the beans gave a wonderful texture contrast to the greens. My Caesar salad was lightly dressed in thick, homemade dressing with fresh croutons and shaved parmigiano-reggiano. When presented with the choice, I opted to have white anchovy fillets placed on top of my salad, which ended up being my favorite part. Anchovies in Caesar dressing are good, but having the whole fillet on the salad took it to a completely new level.

Our main courses were out in good time after we finished our salads and bread. The steaks looked amazing. The outsides of both had beautiful, seared grill marks. After a quick sear to seal in the juices, they were put under the broiler and cooked to perfect medium-rare. Peppino’s steaks are USDA Angus Reserve beef which range anywhere from top 2/3 Choice to Prime. They are all hand selected and then aged another 30 days to develop even more flavor. The steaks were seasoned lightly with salt and pepper and nothing else. The taste of the beef itself was the star; delicious doesn’t even begin to describe the natural, meaty flavor of both cuts. Amanda’s filet was fork tender and particularly juicy, the steak knife that was provided was actually unnecessary. It was served with a side of simply seasoned broccolini in addition to the pasta. The broccolini, which is a fairly bitter green, was not bitter at all, but had an intoxicating smoky, buttery aroma and flavor. We both could have eaten an entire plate of just that and been satisfied. Amanda’s side of spaghetti was cooked perfectly al dente and was mixed with just the right amount of pomodoro sauce, which was thick, chunky, full flavored, and wonderfully seasoned.

Like the filet, my New York Strip steak was incredible. The beef was beautifully marbled and had a bright red center. The seared outside locked in the juices and rendered the fat perfectly. My non-serrated knife cut through it like softened butter. Alongside my serving of broccolini sat a mountain of fresh, aromatic, basil smashed potatoes. The juices from the meat mixed with the potatoes and the broccolini made for an amazing meal.

Megan was a fantastic server and it was also a nice touch that owner/chef Joe Colao personally visited and talked with every patron in house. With entrees ranging from $8 to $32, it is very reasonable for the excellent quality of the food and service. Most menu items are à la carte with soups starting at $3, salads at $3, and appetizers between $8 and $18. Thank you again to the staff of Peppino’s for a perfect night out.

The address of Peppino’s is 6590 West Lake Road in Fairview and the number for information and reservations is 814.474.2016. They are open for dinner starting at 5 pm, Monday through Saturday.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

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Posted: April 17th, 2012

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Amanda and I arrived at Bistro 26 shortly after 6 pm. We were seated shortly before the dinner rush began and as table after table began filling up, we were glad we got there when we did. Our server, Paris, told us a bit about the menu, explained the feature for the evening, and served us our drinks. We then turned our attention to our dinner choices. The Chophouse section of the menu has three beef selections as well as lamb, pork, and chicken. The rest of the menu is filled with pastas, sandwiches, burgers, seafood, and salads. Amanda opted to go with the Filet Mignon Au Poivre and I chose the Char-grilled Ribeye. We had several choices of sides that included mashed potatoes, seasoned rice pilaf, gnocchi with garlic and herbs, roasted vegetables, broccoli, seasoned French fries and, for a small up-charge, grilled asparagus.

We were definitely hungry, so when our salads and bread were served several minutes after ordering, we dug right in. We each chose a homemade vinaigrette for our salad (the house and the citrus) and both were delicious. The bread was buttered, grilled, crispy, and delicious.

Shortly after we finished the salads, our steaks arrived at the table. Both plates were presented nicely and made us even more ready to eat. Amanda’s steak was a 6 oz. center-cut filet that was dry rubbed with cracked pepper and pan seared to a medium-rare. It was then topped with a creamy red wine pepper sauce. The steak was tender and juicy and the sauce had wonderful depth of flavor. With her steak, Amanda ordered the mashed potatoes and broccoli. The broccoli was slightly under-seasoned and could have been drained a bit more, but when combined with everything else on the plate, it was good. The potatoes were extremely hot (temperature-wise), but very flavorful and creamy.

My steak was listed as a 12 oz. ribeye, but I would only guess it was closer to 14 oz. The steak was beautifully charred and cooked to a perfect medium-rare. On top of the steak were two pats of homemade chipotle compound butter. The butter slowly melted into the beef and mixed with the juices on my plate, which created a luxurious pool that was a delicious coating for my side dishes. The butter was rich and added a ton of flavor to the already delightful steak. The steak had fairly good marbling and was extremely moist. There were two small pieces of inedible fat that had to be cut off, but it was pretty flawless. For my side dishes, I chose the gnocchi with garlic and herbs and roasted vegetables. The gnocchi was pan cooked and had a slightly crispy exterior that was really amazing. The vegetables were a combination of squash and carrots that had been roasted in oil and lightly seasoned.

As with every stop on the steak tour so far, I had our waitress ask the chef about the grade of beef the restaurant serves. Owner and chef, George Gourlias took a break from cooking and came to the table to answer my question himself. The filet mignon was a select cut while the ribeye was a choice cut. Both were priced a little on the high side, considering the quality of meat, with the filet at $26 and the ribeye at $29, but given that they are served with two sides, salad, and bread, the price was well worth it.

Prices on the Bistro 26 menu range from $8 to $28 and include a wide variety of tasty options. Thank you to Paris for our great service and thank you to George and the rest of the kitchen staff for the delicious and satisfying meal. If these two steaks are a good representation of the rest of the restaurant’s entrees, you will see us back for sure.

The address of Bistro 26 is 3557 W 26th St. in Erie and the number for information and reservations is 814.835.3553. They are open daily from 10:30 am to 9pm Monday through Thursday and till 9:30pm on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is also BYOB.

Until next time,

Andrew — Beard vs. Food

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