There are many Cousinos up on Lake Erie's edge around Erie, Mich. Two of them, Tad and Catherine, are restaurateurs, but they apparently are not related to East Toledo's Tom and Eileen Cousino, who also are restaurateurs.
Tom and Eileen's Navy Bistro and other good eateries are well known in and around Toledo, while Tad and Catherine's Frog Leg Inn, though warmly appreciated among their Erie neighbors, is off the radar screens of most Toledoans. That's too bad, for it's really worth getting to know this treasure.
Both restaurant and name go back nearly a century; the building that has housed it all that time is another half-century older. Talk about historic eateries! Just off Dixie Highway, the Frog Leg Inn was a midpoint stop between Toledo and Detroit for Prohibition-era bootleggers. It was, naturally, a speak-easy. Other incarnations include an early bawdy house and a meat market.
Each time we've reviewed the Frog Leg - five years ago, then two years later - the experience has been more positive. At first, the mood was comfortably informal, the menu pretty basic, the food very well prepared and served. However, the decor and layout left something to be desired; rough edges, a “good old boys” bar, shadowed corners.
The Frog Leg Inn is delightfully different today. Catherine's taste is evident in understated decor that hints at the graceful old building's more reputable memories. It contributes to a statement of the difference between eating and relaxed, refreshing dining.
Back in the kitchen, chef Tad Cousino and sous-chef Kirk Dixon, who recently returned to these parts where he, too, grew up, have not been idle. A special appetizer one recent evening was frog legs Napoleon, a brilliant presentation of four frog legs lightly sauteed in beurre blanc, arranged around a centerpiece of layered tomatoes, watercress, and frog leg salad, drizzled over with a tomato coulis.
Feel like a taste of the wild? Another appetizer is deep-fried alligator, spiced New Orleans style and served with a cold chipotle sauce.
Naturally, there are frog legs on the dinner menu, either sauteed or deep-fried. They're just one of the seafood listings, which also include Lake Erie walleye that comes via Canada and very tasty crab cakes, also served with a spicy chipotle sauce. Incidentally, if you wonder what a St. Peter's fish is, it's also known as the John Dory, a delicately flavored saltwater treat popular in Europe, but without enough meat to be commercially viable.
Some presentation of salmon is regularly among the specialty offerings, and I happily opted for a lightly breaded, sauteed filet garnished with sliced wild mushrooms and white beans, dressed in a light truffle sauce. Mildly herbed potatoes and green beans rounded out the plate.
Three steaks are on the regular menu: a New York strip, a “Jack Daniel's” strip in a cream sauce flavored with a dash of sour-mash whiskey, and a delmonico. A precisely medium-broiled filet mignon was a special one evening, and the kitchen proposes an eight-ounce steak in tandem with shrimp or frog legs.
One of my dinners was the chef's choice. Out came a duckling confit - two easy-cutting legs and thighs, seasoned and grilled in their own fat and finished with a large spoon of dried cherries in brandy, butter, and veal drippings. They were served with a generous portion of mashed potatoes livened with roasted garlic. Leaving the choice to the chef was very successful!
One way to Erie is north up old Dixie Highway, now M-125, to the second traffic light, Manhattan Street. Turn left, and the restaurant, with on-street parking and a lot in back, will be immediately on your left. It is easier, perhaps, to follow I-75 north to the Erie-Temperance Exit No. 2; off the expressway there's only one way to go; at the fourth intersection, which is Manhattan Street, turn left. Immediately beyond Erie's single traffic light, the pale-gray frame building whose twin gables face the street is the Frog Leg.