Erieite Appetite: Pufferbelly

Fill your belly at PufferbellyFill your belly at Pufferbelly

Price: Varies

Quality: 4 out of 5

While walking aimlessly around the streets of downtown Erie, my roommate and I stumbled upon the Pufferbelly Restaurant at 414 French Street.

Originally a firehouse, the Pufferbelly was built in 1908 but has since been renovated. The Pufferbelly is named after the steam pumpers and engines of the late 1800s.

Walking through the Pufferbelly was like taking a trip back in time with black and white photographs of firefighters, century-old artifacts, dim lighting and deep oak tables creating a historic atmosphere.

I observed these surroundings while our hostess directed my roommate and me to a booth. At 5 o’clock on a weekday, the restaurant was nearly empty with only one or two parties.

After sitting down, my roommate immediately noticed warmth radiating from a heater next to our booth.

“I love this place!” she said. “It is so warm and cozy.”

Even though Pufferbelly’s menu was printed on a single sheet of paper, the choices seemed endless. Unique appetizers of baked brie with almonds and bacon-wrapped shrimp sounded delectable, though the San Francisco Beef sandwich spiked my interest. An oven-roasted beef sandwich topped with mushroom sauce and melted Colby cheese served open-faced on pumpernickel bread with a side of engine house potatoes would surely satisfy my craving for comfort food.

At $7.59, the San Francisco Beef was in my price range. If I had more money, I would have ordered an appetizer or one of Pufferbelly’s elaborate entrees such as horseradish crusted salmon baked and served in garlic sauce with sweet potato rosettes or jumbo shrimp sautéed with tomatoes, scallions and mushrooms tossed with fettuccini in a white wine-dijon cream sauce.

Pufferbelly’s also serves salads, vegetarian pizzas, quesadillas, pasta dishes and sweet desserts — if you still have room in your belly. I was extremely disappointed I gave up dessert for Lent after reading Pufferbelly’s dessert menu of peanut butter pie, bread pudding, cheesecake, sorbet, ice cream and more.

Being the indecisive person I am, the waitress had to return to our table twice because I could not make up my mind. Finally, I decided on the roast beef sandwich with potatoes and my roommate ordered French Onion soup with a large garden salad.

While waiting for our food, my roommate pointed out a small beverage menu sitting on the table. Pufferbelly’s offers a wide selection of wine, tea, mixed coffee drinks, Italian soda, regular soda and more.

About 15 minutes passed before our meals arrived. Barely visible under the mushroom sauce and melted Colby cheese was my San Francisco Beef sandwich. Using my fork and knife, I cut the pumpernickel bread and searched for the roast beef beneath a pool of gravy sauce. Finally, I struck gold when I discovered a very small portion of roast beef.

Though the sauce and cheese made a hearty combination, I was disappointed with the small portion of roast beef. My disappointment ended, however, when I bit into the engine house potatoes. Roasted and seasoned with herbs and spices, I love redskin potatoes like the ones found at the Pufferbelly.

My roommate, equally satisfied, gobbled up the French Onion soup and salad.

Overall, our experience at the Pufferbelly was extremely pleasant. The upscale atmosphere, variety of food choices and friendly service motivated me to want to return again.

Originally a firehouse, the Pufferbelly was built in 1908.Originally a firehouse, the Pufferbelly was built in 1908.