Getting the Best of Valentine's Day
Crowd-sourcing some of Erie's best date ideas
In 1967, Ringo Starr told the world that, amongst several things, he got by with a little help from his friends. For those looking to plan ahead in Erie to celebrate the Valentine's Day holiday, they might consider heeding Starr's advice and turning to the Erie Reader's annual Best of Erie list to chart out a date night, a staycation adventure, and more. Considering Valentine's Day falls on a Friday this year, it'd even be easy to turn your 2020 love fête into a weekend-long romp.
There's plenty we love about the region in which we work, live, and play, but this is about you, Reader readers, and what you love about Erie and how your votes ranked the best. Turns out — as more and more votes come in each year — there's a lot to love about Erie, and a thousand words could be written just listing a portion of the winners and runners-up. But with a special day lurking right around the corner, let's take a look at how you might celebrate Valentine's Day based on what you nominated and how you voted.
Contributor's Notes: Given the constraints of space and time, not everything is listed herein. Some, like Waldameer & Water World, aren't open during this season. Presque Isle, which nabbed Best First Date, is open, but if you're headed there, be sure to bundle up.
And if you don't yet have that special someone with whom to check out these special places, consider that any of these recommendations are great places to meet up with friends or go solo to enjoy — you may even meet someone there.
If you're looking for the best "new," head to The Cork 1794, this year's Best New Business award winner, which I reviewed in a January 2019 piece, saying it was a "welcomed addition to its new home." Want to see where it used to be? Visit one of the runners-up, The Skunk & Goat Tavern in North East.
The Cork seems like a safe bet, as it also notched the award for Best New Bar, and runner-up awards for Best Restaurant, Best Chef (Joe Perino), Best Romantic Restaurant, and Best Place for a First Date.
The Best Restaurant, period, according to your votes? Pineapple Eddie Southern Bistro, whose chef, Jean Paul, once again took home accolades for Best Chef. There, we'd recommend something from the seafood side of the menu, as Pineapple Eddie was a runner-up in the Best Seafood Restaurant category.
Coming up first in the foray of fish was Smuggler's Wharf, which would offer you a great dining spot along Erie's Bayfront. But you could also head south on State Street to 1201 Kitchen, which, like Pineapple Eddie's, took a runner-up spot.
But let's say you want to go for the most romantic spot in Erie. According to the votes, you'd want to place your reservations at Mi Scuzi, which also received a runner-up nod for Best Italian Restaurant. But if you're looking for the best Italian, period, make those reservations at Serafini's Restaurant, which took home top honors.
Want to spice things up and enjoy mole more than marinara? El Canelo, which offers three locations in Erie is your Best Mexican Restaurant winner, with Torero's and El Amigo Mexican Grill in the runner-up slots.
For those who like it hot, Best Thai Restaurant Like My Thai is a wonderful BYOB spot with great food. The recently relocated Khao Thai Restaurant and Thai Eatery are good back-ups on the runner-up list.
Casablanca Grill tops the Best Mediterranean/Middle Eastern Restaurant category, with Habibi Mediterranean Cuisine and Shish Kabob just behind.
The other runner-up for Best Restaurant, period (and winner of Best BBQ Restaurant), Federal Hill Smokehouse, is open for lunch and closes early in the afternoon — or even earlier if (and that if is often) they run out of food, so we'd recommend starting there early for lunch.
The other runner-up for Best Romantic Restaurant: Cloud 9 Wine Bar with beer — and, you guessed it, wine — on tap. Bertrand Artigues' spot also received runner-up mentions for Best Lounge, Happy Hour, Brunch, and Romantic Restaurant.
A holiday more often associated with wine when it comes to libations, Valentine's Day is a great time to line up a trip to top-vote getter Arundel Cellars & Brewing Co. (which, as you might've guessed, also brews beer) or runners-up Mazza Vineyards or Heritage Wine Cellars.
But if it's beer you're looking for, the Best Brewery nod goes to Voodoo Brewery, who also won Best Locally Made Beer (Voodoo Love Child). Close behind are Erie Brewing Company (beer: Railbender) and Lavery Brewing Company (Dulachan).
Looking for something with a little more heft? Best Distillery goes to Erie Distillery with runners-up Luminary Distilling and Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing (which, as you might've guessed, also brews beer; but what you might not have immediately guessed is that it's in the Mazza family of products, so it's the triple threat when it comes to adult beverages).
Want to give that special someone a Best of Erie goodie basket filled with delectables made in Erie? That would include, based on your votes, Smith's Hot Dogs (winner), as well as Romolo Chocolates and Mighty Fine Donuts — an innovative pairing of a salty winner with silver and bronze medal sweets.
Romolo took two first-place finishes for Best Dessert and Best Chocolates or Candy — a requisite for the holiday. Mighty Fine placed first for Best Donut Shop, so there's plenty of ways to treat you sweetheart and your sweet tooth.
If hot dogs and candies aren't the gifts you're looking for, turn to Dahlkemper's Jewelry Connection, Best Jewelry Store. Would you rather not book dinner but pick up a book for a snuggly night in? Check out Pressed, Erie's Best Local Book Store.
But as mentioned earlier, Valentine's Day falls on a Friday and you've got an opportunity to celebrate all weekend long. A staycation getaway for Best Bed and Breakfast would entail booking a room at the Victoria Inn Bed and Breakfast, with runners-up Spencer House Bed & Breakfast and Grape Arbor Bed and Breakfast rounding out the options. You could, of course, also spring for a romantic overnight package at Peek'n Peak Resort in nearby Clymer, N.Y. and wake up to the region's Best Brunch. Or you could simply wait for spring to enjoy their top-voted golf course.
Beyond dinner and drinks and gifts, experiences might be what you seek. When it comes to Best Art Gallery, Erie Art Gallery is your go-to, and for Community Theater, it'd be Erie Playhouse. And of course there's music and museums, like The Erie Art Museum — itself a host to plenty of quality entertainment and community engagement programming.
Don't hesitate to venture out and create new Valentine's Day memories. Head over to ErieReader.com to check out more about these winners and noteworthy additions to find their addresses and more details.
Ben Speggen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org