Review: Frog Leg Inn hops to top of choices for special nightWritten by Glass City Gourmet | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Once in a while I get a craving for traditional French bistro fare. Typically, this is a meal that is unpretentious and delicious. It might be a roasted chicken or a grilled steak with homemade French fries and a seasonal vegetable. Traditional bistro fare is made with fresh ingredients and is simple to prepare.
With this in mind, I took a drive to Erie, Mich., to enjoy a dinner at the Frog Leg Inn. The Frog Leg Inn has been in business as a restaurant at its current location since 1910. Changes in ownership brought changes in cuisine but frog legs are always on the menu. The current owners, Chef Tad Cousino and his French wife Catherine are the heart of the restaurant. Tad is in the kitchen almost every night preparing the meals.
Catherine does some of the cooking, but usually she acts as the hostess, seating guests and stopping by each table to make sure everything is just right. She knows her regulars well and treats new customers like old friends.
The building is inconspicuous. Yet the interior is cozy and the service is friendly. My first reaction upon being seated at a table was one of relief. You can carry on a conversation in this restaurant without shouting; the noise from the other tables is muted and unobtrusive.
The dining room has a pinewood bar and the walls are decorated with large framed black and white posters of Paris. While I found them charming, they are the kind of photos you see at a souvenir stand or in a college dorm room. In a few corners of the restaurant, you will see whimsical frogs displayed. The Frog Leg Inn provides a perfect ambiance for good conversation and dinner with someone special.
On my first visit, we ordered the steamed mussels in fennel broth ($9.59). The mussels are steamed in a delicate blend of white wine, garlic, tomatoes and slivers of green pepper, and seasoned with a generous amount of fennel seeds. The mussel meat is soft, plump and delicious. We couldn’t resist using the crusty bread on the table to mop up the sauce.
On the next trip, we split the roasted garlic with herbed cheese ($8.49) and a plate of the signature frog legs ($7.99). Sadly, the night I was there the garlic was not fully roasted, which made it difficult to spread it on the toast rounds. However, the cheese was creamy and blended with a subtle blend of fresh herbs.
Please forget everything you’ve ever heard that makes you believe frog legs “taste like chicken” and go ahead and try them yourself. The frog legs are fried with a light beer batter coating. While frog legs most closely resemble white meat from a bird, the meat is significantly more tender and juicy.
Every meal comes with a complimentary house salad or cole slaw. On both occasions, my guests and I selected the salad. It’s a plate of mixed greens with a few thin sliced red onion rings, croutons and fresh roasted beets. You must order it with the house tarragon vinaigrette. It is a fresh alternative to the heavier balsamic and raspberry vinaigrettes served at most area restaurants.
For dinner, I ordered the confit of duckling ($20.49) while my dining companion ordered the pork saltimbocca ($19.29). The duck is infused with brandy, wine and fresh herbs then grilled before serving. The duck almost falls off the bone and the combination of the brandy cream sauce with tart Michigan cherries is a perfect contrast to the rich duck meat. The pork saltimbocca is a 12-ounce French cut chop wrapped in prosciutto and sage leaves then seared in a pan before being placed on a wild mushroom cream sauce. Chef Tad favors a sweet sauce over a savory sauce both for these dishes and the roast lamb bourguignon ($21.99).
All of the entrees are served with the daily vegetable and a choice of baked potato, garlic mashed potatoes or sweet potato French fries. On both visits, the vegetable was bright and flavorful sautéed red cabbage.
Every French meal ends with a cheese course or dessert. On my first visit, I passed on the chocolate peanut butter pie and cheesecake and went with the chocolate mousse. While the mousse is light and flavorful, I was disappointed by the whipped cream from a can and chocolate syrup from a bottle. On the next visit, my guest and I shared the crème brûlée. While all desserts are made in-house, the delicate crisp top and creamy custard make crème brûlée the best choice.
At the Frog Leg Inn, each dish is expertly prepared and served with genuine hospitality. The wine list is short but includes modestly priced French wines that pair well with the entrees. I would love to see Frog Leg Inn “go green” with reusable serving items. The house vinaigrette is delightful and deserves to be served from a cruet or other small glass bottle instead of a disposable plastic cup on the salad plate. The house-made crusty bread should be honored with a dish of fresh, soft European butter rather than a few plastic packages of single serving whipped butter.
I enthusiastically recommend the Frog Leg Inn for an evening with friends or someone special. As the only traditional bistro in the area, it is worth the drive for the elegance and simplicity of this type of cooking and a space that ensures you can enjoy the company, too.