When I think of unusual cuisine, I think of Southeast Asia, Russia, Turkey, not Erie, Pennsylvania. Clearly I don’t spend enough time out of California, but I found a whole other world of food in this northeastern state. While I don’t consider myself a true food aficionado, I do regularly cook Thai, Indian, Mexican, and Greek cuisine at home, and I was unprepared for the unfamiliarity that Erie had to offer.
We began our culinary delight by having dinner the night I arrived at a small café. The menu seemed innocuous enough: chicken fried steak, pork chops, burgers and salads. Being on a modified Atkins diet, I opted for the jerked chicken salad. It came with fries, but I reasoned that I could foist those off on one of the kids to enjoy. Needless to say, I was surprised when my bowl came with the fries on top of the chicken and the salad, covered in dressing. My hosts informed me that the meat salads were all served this way and saw nothing unusual about it. Health-conscious, heart-of-the-salad-bowl California would have a thing or two to say about that.
Being open to new types of things, I broke my normal diet and ate the salad…the whole thing. It was quite good. Unusual but good. The only downside was that I had to forgo any type of dessert, as I had blown my whole day’s worth of carbs on one salad.
Over the next two days we visited an array of fine culinary institutions, mired in tradition, regional specialties, and always bustling with locals. After a morning at the park, we headed to Smith’s Hot Dog Stand. I had the ever-popular dog with bacon and cheese. Calorie- and fat-laden, it was heavenly. After picking up the kids from school, we headed over to opening day at the Whippy Dip, a soft-serve ice-cream joint that was just opening after the spring frost. The specialty here was the twinkle kote, an crunchy ice-cream topping that has a flavor not unlike crushed cones. It’s a big hit. The cones leaving the window are predominantly covered in the stuff. The soft-serve ice cream underneath is typical of any you will find across the nation, but the fact that it is the first day Whippy Dip is open for the year and that no one has ingested one of their staple items since last fall, the ice cream tastes heavenly. Kind of like a really cold beer on a really hot day. It hits the spot, and the smiles on all the patrons, young and old alike, attests to this fact.
Next day, in keeping with my standard of searching out good chocolate on road trips, we made a stop at Erie’s institution, Pulakos 926 Over 100 years of tradition go into this chocolate. I’ve been to Erie four times in the last 14 years, and each time I make a pilgrimage to Pulakos. I love their chocolate-dipped strawberries and sponge candy. In between visits, the sponge candy always finds it way under my Christmas tree.
Last morning, we drove on down to the older, seedier side of town to Mighty Fine Donuts. No Krispy Kremes here. My favorite? The peanut butter-filled donut. Mmmmmm. By now, as you can see, I have totally blown off my diet. A difficult decision, but when in Rome…..
I did pass up the beef on wick, ox roast sandwich, and ring bologna for lunch. On my last nite, for dinner we head over for a family barbecue. In California, that normally means a mixed grill, chicken, ribs, steak. In Erie, wings are the thing. A whole mess of wings. Spicy, blue cheese dippin’, bone-suckin wings. Along with the wings is a fruit platter. Not the strawberry, kiwi, pineapple platter. This one is typical fruit, like apples and bananas, along with an unusual dipping sauce. The white concoction was made from cream cheese and marshmallow fluff. Apparently the cream cheese cuts the sweetness a bit, and bulks up the consistency, so you are not wearing drips of marshmallow crème. Interesting combination. Never would have thought of it. In fact, I have never even purchased marshmallow crème. A fitting end to a trip to the other side of the…country. But it did made me think…. What else can I make with this gooey concoction?