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.
Roadside Farm Stand Strawberries, Pennsylvania
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
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.