Located in the marina in North East Pennsylvania, about a half hour drive from the Maple Springs Lake Side Inn along the Lake Erie Wine Trail, Noosa offers fine dining and handcrafted cocktails. Named after a beach in Australia, it is on the way from Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Erie. A scenic trip for a great meal enhances any vacation on Chautauqua Lake, and Noosa will not disappoint.
The scenic route takes you to Westfield, the original home of Welch’s, the grape juice company. The road dips, weaves and steadily climbs until it drops after it crests the escarpment that separates the Allegheny Plateau from the Great Lakes Basin. Like a mini continental divide, water on one side flows into the St. Lawrence Seaway toward the Atlantic Ocean, while water on the other flows in another direction, into the Ohio River, then the Mississippi and ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico.
Westfield has a charming main street with cute shops, restaurants and antique stores. The building facades are inviting, and the elegance of the Patterson Library remains unsurpassed. Neatly pruned grapevines are in the vineyards along both sides of the road as you head southwest on Route 20. You know you are in wine country, and in the fall, the air smells of grapes.
The Lake Erie Wine Trail hugs the shore of Lake Erie along Route 5. On a sunny day, the lake sparkles like diamonds. Spectacular homes, gorgeous vineyards with emerging gardens and modern wine-tasting rooms line the road. Some have fine restaurants as part of the experience.
Entering the building at the North East Marina takes you through a hallway where bulletin boards on the walls hold newsy marina items (Fishing Tournament! Boat for Sale!). Keep going until you find your way into Noosa. A small bar area holds a scattering of dining tables, with more tables on a lower level. A large deck features seating, heaters and a fireplace. After a warm greeting, and if the weather permits, take the outside table that is offered. Whether seated inside or out, you will have a terrific view of the marina and Lake Erie.
The menu is eclectic, embracing Noosa’s straightforward mission of “serving delicious, affordable handmade food in a clean, contemporary and beautiful atmosphere.” Lomo Saltado from Peru and Vietnamese Pork Shoulder Bahn Mi share the menu with New Orleans’ style Oyster Po’boys, poached salmon, and cheeseburgers.
The menu features local beer and Lake Erie wines and spirits. Noosa offers a variety of coffee drinks, and original cocktails made with local ingredients. The cocktails are inventive and delicious, enhanced by barware that makes the whole experience feel more special.
The menu is organized into small plates, salads, soups and vegetables, and main courses. The Peruvian ceviche is delicious and colorful. In the States, we are perhaps most familiar with fish, shrimp, or conch ceviche served in coastal Mexico and the Caribbean, sometimes featured in Mexican restaurants. The raw seafood is “cooked” in lime juice and mixed with onion, tomato, hot peppers and cilantro. Peruvian ceviche is made with “tiger’s milk,” a mixture of lime juice, salt and chili paste.
At Noosa, the tiger’s milk is spicy, but does not overwhelm the taste of the shrimp, cilantro, or chunks of roasted sweet potato it is served on. The sweet potatoes are a distinctly Peruvian addition. They give the ceviche depth and turn this exotic dish into a sort of comfort food.
The Thai beef is bite-sized chunks of tender steak, marinated and cooked with onions and greens. The beef is seared then cooked to a perfect medium rare. Crushed peanuts and herbs round out the flavors of this dish. Grilled vegetables – asparagus, broccolini and baby bok choy – are simply prepared with lemon, garlic, and just enough char to wow.
Trust the burger. Even though substitutions aren’t allowed, you won’t need them.
Lake Erie Lakeshore
The sound of halyards and metal shackles slapping against the masts of sailboats swaying in their moorings sounds like music from a harmonium as you stroll around the marina after dinner. Waves lap the shoreline as you watch birds circle, land and dive for fish. And the boats, they come and go.
At sunset, the road gently undulates on the drive back. On the right night, the light shifts; trees and fields take on a golden hue as if lit from within. Houses and fences turn pink, salmon and apricot. The landscape glows and then fades again as the sun descends over Lake Erie. In the gloaming you’ll crest the ridge and see the glimmer of light that is Chautauqua Lake, and home.