7 Things to Eat and Drink in Erie, Pennsylvania

Rachel Miller
Stone fruit and grapes at a roadside fruit stand in Erie, Pennsylvania.
I am from the Rust Belt. Where steel mills and machine shops used to thrive. Now they sit abandoned, crumbling with each passing year, while more industry exits the city limits for other countries or states that entice the industry with better legislation. Perhaps, though, it is simply that the need for a particular item once manufactured there has fallen by the wayside, a relic, like the disintegrating buildings.

I am from Erie, Pennsylvania. Also known as "the mistake on the lake." Perhaps since I now look at it with eyes that have traveled all over the world and lived in major metropolitan cities, I see it in a less harsh light. Don't get me wrong: I have no intention of ever living there again. I can't live there, as there are very few restaurants or even a viable market where I could peddle my higher-end pastry goods.

The food is simple and hearty, a needed necessity to get you through harsh snowy winters.

See also:

-10 Things to Eat and Drink in Manhattan
-7 Things to Eat and Drink in Flagstaff

Rachel Miller
A chocolate custard cone from Hank's in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Hank's Frozen Custard, Meadville, Pennsylvania

My parents still base their manufacturing business in Erie, so our flights in and out are the usual route for my parents. Fly into Pittsburgh, rent a car, and drive the hour and 45 minutes north to Erie. The trip is carefully planned around a stop in Meadville, where Hank's Frozen Custard has been churning out creamy custard since 1952.

We arrive just before noon, parking near the walk-up window. As the minutes tick closer to noon, other cars begin to file into the parking lot. The blind behind the windows flap up and four small windows open to take orders.

The custard is extremely creamy, and the flavor is rich. Chocolate is by far the best flavor, in my opinion. Old Electro Freeze machines dispense the custard down a shoot, where the girls slather the custard onto cones or into cups with a paddle.

My father and fiancée send me back to retrieve seconds for them. Paper cone wrappers and chocolate smudged napkins are stuffed in the door garbage bin.

Rachel Miller
A fruit stand sells seasonal, local produce in Erie.

Roadside Farm Stand Strawberries, Pennsylvania

Rachel Miller
Strawberries purchased from a local roadside farm stand.

Erie is where I learned to eat. Throw seeds on the ground in Erie and come back in a week, and you will have the beginnings of a garden. Everyone here has a backyard garden. Most, like our former neighbors, Herman and Helen Klauk, set up a roadside farm stand near their driveway. My mom would stop on our way home from school or on an errand to pick up an onion or some tomatoes, placing the money in an old coffee can with a slit cut in the lid. Honor system.

There still are some roadside stands today, though the honor system no longer is utilized. It's lush with fresh fruit and veggies, pulled that morning from the farmland. The one item I miss the most: fresh strawberries. Best consumed on the beach.

Smith's Hot Dogs, Erie

Rachel Miller
Smith's hot dogs are served everywhere around eastern Pennsylvania.

I'm weird about hot dogs. (That's what she said.) Honestly, in my family, Smith's hot dogs in Erie are regarded as the best, and every other hot dog just falls short. About four times a year, a Styrofoam ice chest arrives from Erie, holding 30 packs of Smith's hot dogs, which are squirreled away in the freezer for a little taste of home.

Smith's currently is under fourth-generation ownership by the Weber family, turning out hot dogs, sausages, bacon, hams, and deli meats. The natural-casing hot dogs are filled with high-quality beef and pork, which I have come to find out, is not easily replicated.

Apparently other Erie-ites feel the same way we do, as I see picture after picture pop up on my Facebook feed of an ice chest arriving or being toted back to a home in another state.

Rachel Miller
Smith's hot dog served with ketchup and kraut.

My Voice Nation Help

I'll back up the author - Erie has been on a downward slide for quite a while. Not as bad as a crumbling rust belt town, but it's been better, and it's only getting worse.


I'm also an Erie expat living in Phoenix.

This article is woefully incomplete without a mention of Greek sauce (on burgers, dogs, and fries.) You can't get it anywhere else. It's the only true Erie food - it trumps even ox roast and pepperoni balls.

Also - Meadville is not Erie.


Folks from Erie I think you took the intent of this article the wrong way.  I see the author taking a nostalgic look at fond childhood memories. The only bashing, as one states in their remarks, is by the authors of these tortuous comments.  This author warmly comments on establishments that she visited growing up and continues to do so when she returns to her hometown.  In case you missed it she was promoting these organizations.  I have never visited Erie. These remarks would make someone like myself NOT want to visit because of the closed-minded comments and lack to see what was truly intended by this author. 


@Hmmmmm  I am not close-minded by any means.  If, as you state, Rachel Miller's intention was to take"...at nostalgic look at fond childhood memories," then she should have introduced the food and restaurants by describing Erie's qualities.  Instead she describes a town filled with crumbling and abandoned buildings. Does this description make you want to visit Erie? 

Further she comes across as someone quite full of herself.  You can call me closed-minded, but Erie is my home town, and I'm going to defend it when people like the author call our city by the bay, "the mistake on the lake."  Miller offended a lot of Erieites who read this tripe.  I hope she never comes back, and as for you, I don't expect you ever intended to visit Erie anyway.

Nora Westcott

cherieonfacebook like.author.displayName 1 Like

"Mistake on the Lake"?  Come on, that's that true at all. We live in a very unique area that has it all. We have access to food from every ethnicity here. We have grocery stores and restaurants with food from every country. We are lucky enough to live in a city that is one of only 6 refugee resettlement centers in the US. We see people in the clothing of their native countries every day and experience their customs and friendship.  We have snow, yes, and for most of us it's a part of life that we deal with just fine.What we DON'T have is tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, we don't have to live in a desert and we have bad heat only a few days out of the year when everywhere else in the country has it.  Our city is midway between NYC and Chicago with Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit, in between as well as Pittsburgh 2 hours south. We were front and center at the Revolutionary War, so we are a big part of history.  Many Hollywood stars and famous people come from Erie. We can find everything we could ever want here. When I lived out of state for awhile a couple different places, I learned what a great place Erie is to live and I was surprised at how limited a selection in stores in cities like San Antonio, Toledo, and other large cities where you ask for things you take for granted in Erie and nobody in those places knows what you;re even talking about. We have Presque Isle State Park which can't be much of a mistake on the lake when people come from far and wide to enjoy it every year. Erie has it all! 


I live in Erie and it does suck ass here. We're in the middle of the "Roar on the Shore" celebration and outside of bar owners and hotels/motels how does it help the tax base in Erie? GE is pulling out 950 jobs while people push the main cultural attraction.......drinking. If you're not from Erie avoid this ass wipe of a town......Only idiots would build $130,000 condos across the street from where street bums hangout........but that's Erie PA for you........Mistake on the Lake and home to an increasing population of welfare drones.

Nightmare like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

"My parents still base their manufacturing business in Erie, so our flights in and out are the usually route for my parents."  Pardon me for being from the "Mistake on the Lake"!  I may be just some dumb hick, but shouldn't it be "usual" rather than "usually"?  Oh wait, you must have had a public school education.

Kurtzie like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

I am from Erie too. Madame, you have a lot of nerve trashing Erie the way you do in the first two paragraphs of your piece.  Instead of describing "crumbling" buildings and speculating whimsically about the excruciatingly, serious problems Erie County faces, why don't you promote Erie's many qualities? 

You could have prefaced Erie's special foods by describing Presque Isle with its unique eco-system along with its beaches.  What about the drop-dead, gorgeous bay and the bluffs over looking the lake?  Why don't you mention the close-knit, friendly  communities like Lawrence Park, North East, Fairview, and Girard or  the first-class higher educational institutions like Gannon, Edinboro, Allegheny, Westminster, Mercyhurst, Penn State Behrend, and LeCom Medical School.  

Lest you forget or perhaps in your ignorance, you don't know that many of Erie's "hearty, simple" foods come from its Italian, German, Greek, and Eastern European diversity.  Think world-class chocolate makers like Pulakos, Stephanellis, and Romelos all of which put Godiva and Ghirardelli to shame. 

How dare you call Erie "the mistake on the lake!"  We, who love our hometown exclaim, "Erie, it's great on the lake!"  Do you have any idea how you come across to your readers, especially your "Rust Belt" readers?  I will tell you.  Your voice is snobbish and condescending. Oh, you "...have traveled all over the world and lived in major metropolitan cities..." and now you can "see it in a less harsh light."  My, my, aren't you special!  As far as your high-end pastries, my sister who lives in Erie could bake circles around you in her sleep! 

You live in Phoenix. You live in an area where in order to remain green, it sucks the water supply dry. You live in a desert where humans aren't meant to live en mass.  You live in a transient city without a soul. Do Erie a favor, stay there. 

Nora Westcott

alechner39 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 5 Like

you might also refresh your memory as to where we are located, in Northwestern Pennsylvania, the last time I checked. As for a lack of fine dining for foodies, there are a good dozen or so fine dining establishments scattered throughout the Erie area who manage to put out quality food every day, including pastry and confections (Caleos, Romelos, 1210 kitchen to name a few). Never mind the wine and micro brew options. As for your knowledge of farm stands in Erie, not only do we have two significant farmers markets now positioned in the area but the mention of the lack of honor code farm stands, is surprising to this native current Erieite, who still sees plenty of these every year. Cheers for your home town "pride", but perhaps a return visit sometime soon might be in order to update your knowledge of the area.

KAAM like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Missed fresh concord grapes (seasonal) and Sara's orange and vanilla twist ice cream. Ah... HOME!

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