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North Hills Monthly

The Beach is Only the Beginning in Erie, PA

Jun 30, 2016 08:56AM ● By Vanessa Orr

“Everything we do here starts off with corn syrup and sugar.”

When someone begins a tour with these words, you know that you’re going to have an enjoyable time. And when you get to taste the end result—in this case, seafoam sponge taffy made in Pulakos Chocolates in Erie, PA—it ends on a high note as well.

Living only two hours from Erie, I’ve often been there to visit. But my main destination was always Presque Isle State Park and the beautiful beaches along the lake. Little did I know that there was so much more to do in the area, including a candy factory tour, wine tastings and tours, and even a chance to sightsee on a Segway.

But first, let’s talk candy—specifically sponge taffy, which Pulakos has been making for the past 125 years. The business was started back in 1889 by George Pulakos, who sold his homemade goods from a pushcart in Philadelphia before moving to Erie in 1904. Since then, generations of families have enjoyed the chocolatey treats created from the founder’s recipes, which are still handmade in copper pots—some of the equipment used is more than 100 years old. 

You can learn a lot during a tour at the candy store, including the fact that because sponge candy doesn’t like humidity, it wasn’t originally made down south. In fact, it wasn’t even made in the northern states in the summer until the invention of air-conditioning. But now people can enjoy the treat year-round, which of course I had to do in the interest of research.

Speaking of humidity, visiting a winery in the Erie area is a great way to beat the heat, whether you choose to stop by Arrowhead Wine Cellars, which uses grapes to make its wine from the owner’s fourth-generation family farm, or travel underground to do a tasting at South Shore Wine Company.

Named after the arrowheads found on the farm, which is owned by Nick and Kathy Mobilia, Arrowhead boasts a number of award-winning wines made from European, native and hybrid grapes that they grow on their own 250 acres. They are also known for their cherry and Concord grape juices, recommended to treat arthritis, gout and insomnia, according to Kathy Mobilia, as well as something I’d never had before—wine slushies. I highly recommend the green apple, though you can also try peach crème, sangria and strawberry banana. All that fruit makes it a health food, right? There is also a fruit stand right next door to the winery with produce from their farm, in case you want your vitamins in a more concentrated form.  

One of the most unique things about South Shore Wine Company is that it is located in a French-inspired, Civil-War era stone cavern—one of very few of its kind in the U.S. The cavern, which was constructed between 1860-64, originally had a ramp leading underground so that horses and carriages could transport wine from the cellar; today that ramp has been replaced by stone steps. 

South Shore had a couple of other claims to fame, including that it was Erie County’s first commercial winery, as well as one of the longest running pre-Prohibition wineries in Pennsylvania. Standing in its gorgeous tasting room surrounded by massive stone walls, it’s hard to believe that the property stood vacant and run-down until being purchased in 2006 by the Mazza family, which has been making wine in the area since 1973. 

Of course, no visit to Erie would be complete without a visit to Presque Isle State Park, which in 2016, was ranked the number one freshwater beach in the country by USA Today Readers’ Choice. I’ve always just grabbed a towel and hit the water, but this time I took a Segway tour instead with Presque Isle Touring Co. Even if you’ve never done this before, it’s easy to learn; we had a great instructor who made sure that everyone felt comfortable before we took off on a lakeside tour that included wooded trails as well as jaunts over the sand to enjoy a mesmerizing view of Lake Erie. I can’t believe that after all of these years of visiting the beach, I got to see it—and appreciate it—in an entirely new way. The same building that houses the Segway tour is also home to The Yellow Bike Rental Company, so you can choose this mode of transport if a Segway isn’t your speed.

There’s much more to do in Erie than I can fit here, so check out www.VisitErie.com for more information or call 800-524-ERIE. For more information on the businesses mentioned in this article and a photo gallery, see our online version.