For 10 years, Dan Kern and his partner J.B. Innes have run a group of small, independent restaurants in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Their first was 1201 Kitchen, a swanky spot serving contemporary Japanese/Latin fusion fare in the heart of downtown Erie. In collaboration with the Mazza family they also opened Noosa, which is situated directly on the shores of Lake Erie in the heart of wine country. The restaurant’s chef, Mike Karle, worked for years in Mediterranean kitchens, and that experience guides the constantly changing menu: think braised lamb shank with couscous, roasted cherry tomatoes and pickled raisins, or smoked salmon and sweet corn fritters with grilled scallion aioli. Noosa proudly serves all Pennsylvania-made wine, beers, and spirits.
PA Wine Land Post: Why do you choose to serve Pennsylvania wines at your restaurants?
Dan Kern: I would like to think that the special things that define our area also translate into the wine that is made here. When you travel and taste, you learn that the wine made in Pennsylvania is incredibly unique. As a proud craftsman and fan of others that are passionate about their craft, I find it extremely important to support the people that support me.
It’s a symbiotic relationship, and we can educate our guests on how great the wine is that’s being made just a few miles down the road.
I think we sometimes battle with the stereotypes of our region. People assume that everything made in our area is the same when in fact it is incredibly varied. When the wine is properly paired and showcased, people are really starting to get behind the products and appreciate how much work goes into creating them.
Do you focus on the northwest region? Or do you carry products from across the state?
Although we do carry products from around the state, we focus specifically on the northwest region, especially when it comes to wine. Having a restaurant out in wine country has taught me a great deal about what our great farmers and winemakers are producing here. I can’t help but want to get behind it and support it.
What are the strengths of the northwest region when it comes to viticulture? What are some of your favorite varietals?
The lake gives us a completely unique and varied climate compared to much of the state. We are able to successfully grow a larger number of varietals. Just this past weekend, we were driving all over the region tasting different plots of grapes and we were floored by what we tasted. Both across the varietals and even in the same grape family, it was so eye-opening.
My favorite standalone varietals would definitely have to be Traminette and Vidal Blanc for their ability to pair well with a lot of the food we cook at the restaurant. But our local winemakers are making so many nuanced and delicious blends as well that there is never a shortage of something great for me to be trying.
Are there any specific foods or flavors that pair well with Traminette and Vidal Blanc?
I am currently really enjoying pairing Traminette with most of our sushi. It has really great vegetal and grassy notes, and just enough acid to help cut through some of the fatty fish we use. The Vidal Blanc is semi-sweet with really balanced acid — it pairs great with a lot of Latin dishes that tend to have some heat from the use of chiles. I’m a fan of pairings that kind of work together, without one element totally overwhelming the other.
What don’t people know about PA wines?
I don’t think people are aware of the rich history and heritage behind the wines we produce in our state. Pennsylvania has been producing wine for over 300 years. No matter what area of the state that you’re in, there is a winery nearby that is producing something unique to the area.