JARED’S NOTE: After publishing my list of things that make CNY Food special, Al Dente’s East Amherst, N.Y. Bureau Chief Todd Lewandowski (you’ve heard from him before) contacted me and offered his list of what makes the Buffalo food scene great. My Buffalo food knowledge is summed up in the following list: Chef’s, Cole’s, Duff’s, Jim’s Steakout, Pat McGinty’s and Salvatore’s Italian Gardens.
Todd — who hosts The Radio Blast podcast — came up with his 82 things because he cannot possibly see Syracuse have 83 things. He possesses a fervent dislike for Syracuse and a slight competitive streak. I’ve made notes along the way. Please add your thoughts to the comments. Todd and/or I will respond.
By Todd Lewandowski
East Amherst Bureau Chief
For those who don’t know, I’m a very competitive person. You know when parents let their kids win at games when they are young? That didn’t happen in my house. My mother loved nothing more than to beat me at Trivial Pursuit. That said, when I saw that Jared posted a list of 62 (then 68, then 72, then 75, now 82) things that make Syracuse a great food town, I saw it as the gauntlet being thrown down.
So, here for your judgment and scrutiny, are 82 things that make Buffalo a great food town. The only requirement is that it is something that I must have experienced first hand. So if you see an obvious omission don’t get nuts, it just means I haven’t been there…yet. Thanks for indulging me.
1. Jared’s only requirement for my list was the it must include Chef’s. As if I needed a reminder. It’s not the greatest Italian food in the world, but it is old school Buffalo and for that it makes #1. (JARED’S NOTE: As a kid, we would go to Darien Lake every year for my birthday. The real present for me was the trip to Chef’s for lasagna. Today, I go for the spaghetti parm.)
2. Not everything they do is perfect anymore (especially the bland meat department) but I don’t ever want to live in a world without Wegmans. Not only has it redefined “supermarkets” but it also kept me employed for six years and gave me a college scholarship.
3. Mention Sponge Candy to anyone outside of Buffalo and they have no clue what you are talking about. But trust a Buffalo brother, this is the best chocolate candy in the world. You can’t go wrong with Fowler’s, Parkside or Watson’s.
4. If you ask to pick one food item to eat for the rest of my life..donuts…Paula’s Donuts. To prove how good they are…the second most exciting thing about having our son was that the hospital was really close to Paula’s.
5. Wings…really? You want more here.
6. Every sandwich in the world should be made on a Costanzo’s Roll. There is a very, very short list of things I won’t eat on a Constanzo’s Roll.
7. Speaking of…one of the great treats of summer is heading down to the Erie Basin Marina and getting any number of nitrate filled meats from The Hatch. Sure the view isn’t the greatest in the world but the fried baloney?! No surprise it’s on…a Costanzo’s roll.
8. Speaking of #2…(see how I’m establishing a flow) the only proper way to eat a hot dog is cooked over a charcoal grill. And no one in the world does it better than Ted’s. Sorry NYC, a boiled or griddle-fried hot dog is not a hot dog.
9. If you have to go to Shakespeare in the Park, other than a large bottle of wine, a stop at The Globe Market is a must.
10. If you ask me if I want to go for ice cream I’ll just assume you’re taking me to Anderson’s. If you don’t, I will jump out of your car at 40 MPH.
11. As a thank you for letting me guest blog, the next time Jared Paventi is in Buffalo I will take him to Guercio & Sons (right). You want massive containers of spices for $5? They got it. The best I can say is every restaurant in town gets their food from Guercio’s. (JARED’S NOTE: It’s on.)
12. I hate to besmirch Wegmans again, but when I need something quick I go to Dash’s. A family-owned supermarket that has grown to five locations. When I need meat, its Dash’s.
13. Nothing says the Village of Williamsville quite like The Eagle House. Built in 1827 and a former stop on the Underground Railroad. The decor is a step back in time, and not in a bad way.
14. Buffalo is not the greatest pizza town in the world but when I need a NY slice, the closest we have is La Rosa Pizza. Yes it’s in a mall food court, but it beats the cost of a flight to NYC.
15. The pizza isn’t the best, but the atmosphere and selection of beers on tap make Pizza Plant the Buffalo version of Dinosaur Barbque. (JARED’S NOTE: Buffalo gets its own Dino soon.)
16. If you need me on a Saturday morning from May to October (when I’m not golfing) I’m at the Williamsville Farmers Market in the shadow of the Williamsville Water Mill that established our fine town.
17. When I want a steak I cook it myself, I’ll put it up against the best. But when I want a nice night out and a steak it’s Black and Blue.
18. Mighty Taco. It’s not at all close to actual Mexican but it’s the only fast food I will even think about eating. (JARED’S NOTE: Todd has clearly never been to In-N-Out Burger.)
19. If your market smells like bacon and smoked pork when I walk in, you get on this list. Welcome Spar’s European Sausage.
20. In contrast to Chef’s if you want amazing authentic Italian, it’s Tratorria Aroma. And they’ve just opened another location within a mile of my house. Win!
21. The only crepes I will eat outside of La Crêperie Key West is Break’N Eggs.
22. I don’t frequent coffee shops, but when I do it’s Spot Coffee. Local, delicious and not full of pretentious d-bags. (JARED’S NOTE: Interesting choice of a chain here.)
23. Charcuterie, cooking utensils, an incredible beer selection? Gotta be Premier Gourmet.
24. They haven’t changed a door knob on Scotch and Sirloin in 40 years. Classic lounge with the short chairs and table. Everything in the place is brown or red. Oh and there are no windows.
25. If I do want Buffalo pizza, it’s Sorrentino’s. One of those classic neighborhood pre- and post-high school football game hangouts.
26. If you’re Polish and haven’t been to the Broadway Market you’re not Polish. Easter week it’s the place to see and be seen. Pierogis, placek, kielbasa…oh my! (JARED’S NOTE: Did you really just write “Pierogis, placek, kielbasa…oh my!”? You would have killed me in the comments if I did that.)
27. A very recent addition to the list. Martin Cooks. A self-taught chef, Martin made me a porchetta with fried eggs that almost made me jump into the kitchen and hug the man. He gets me.
28. I’m making one exception to my criteria, my wife wouldn’t let me make this list without mentioning the giant cookies from Shea’s Performing Arts Center.
29. At the risk of annoying my host, Dino BBQ is mediocre at best. Kentucky Greg’s on the other hand is as perfect a BBQ you will get north of the Mason Dixon line. (JARED’S NOTE: No offense taken. I agree that the quality has slipped over the years, but it’s still pretty damn good.)
30. A Saturday afternoon when the temperature is in the single digits? It means a trip to Bistro Europa.
31. I’ve had Pad Thai lots of places, the only place I will order it from again and again, King & I.
32. I could write an entire post on how great Wiechec’s Lounge (right) is. Just know every Tuesday of the summer 16 to 20 guys who have been friends for 30 to 40 years, and me, gather after bocce to devour wings and the greatest fried bologna on the planet.
33. We’re not NYC, but if you want a great sitdown dinner at 11 p.m. you go to Mother’s. The best part? It’s in an alley with almost no sign on the door.
34. Yes they have stereotypical Italian movie posters on the wall, and the names of the sandwiches are stereotypical italian (The Godfather, the Fuget About It) but damn those sandwiches at Marco’s Italian Deli are tasty.
35. My mother was 3 months old when she went there for the first time. I was 3 months old when I went there for the first time. When you want old school Buffalo roast beef, it’s Schwabl’s.
36. There are very few dining car style diners left in this world, a crime! But we have one of them and the pancakes at the Lake Effect Diner are not of this world!
37. Speaking of breakfast, every Christmas morning from when I was about 4 to 24 my mother and I would go to Original Pancake House. I know it’s a chain, but I’ve been to others and none can compare to this one on Main St.
38. When I woke up from a drunken stupor on my 22nd birthday on a strange couch, there was a whole sub from Jim’s Steakout on my chest. It was 6 hours old…with mayo…I ate it.
39. You give me homemade Limoncello…gratis? You get a spot on my list. La Tee Da.
40. The steak sandwich is incredible, but it’s the non-stop trivia thrown out by owner and former history teacher Mike Driscoll that makes Founding Father’s one of my favorite downtown stops.
41. To my knowledge there is only one place in Buffalo that has the heavenly treat of roasted bone marrow and it’s Bambino.
42. There’s soup and then there’s the irish potato soup at Irish Times. I’ve spent 15 years trying to copy it…haven’t come close.
44. A $3 breakfast, help yourself coffee, and a smart-alecky Indian owner? Must be JJ’s. Just happens to be owned by my friend’s uncle.
45. Speaking of $3 breakfast, Alton’s on Transit Rd…wait it’s now a $5.50 breakfast??!! Damn Obamacare!
46. One of the benefits of living in the Northern ‘burbs is the high density of Asian food restuarants. But Wasabi gets the top honors.
47. To Brian Conaghan it’s Sparkleberry, to the rest of Buffalo it’s Loganberry. The perfect accompaniment to a summer hot dog and fries. (see #7)
48. I may have mentioned Anderson’s as the best soft serve Ice Cream. But the best hot fudge sundae is Antoinette’s Sweets (pictured right). An old school soda fountain with homemade hot fudge. Did I mention the hot fudge is homemade?
49. The best chef in Buffalo? Torches JJ Richert. The man does everything perfect. Best to go in the fall for the sweet potato gnocchi.
50. While we have lots of asian food options in the burbs we don’t have a lot of diner options. That’s ok because we have Aman’s which happens to have the best eggs benedict in the world.
51. The wine list is one of my favorites but just about every menu item is fantastic at 800 Maple.
52. Fish Fry Finder…seriously? (JARED’S NOTE: Truth.)
53. It’s not a coincidence that Charlie The Butcher has a location across the street from the airport. Most ex-pats need a roast beef fix as quick as possible.
54. Dirty bathroom, dark and dank bar, a diverse clientele and a juke box that could have been programmed by yours truly and it just happens to have the best steak sandwich in the world. It’s the Old Pink.
55. One of the few times I’ve been upset that a restaurant moved closer to me but Tabree still has the best steak frites in town.
56. Since I hate to travel, the closest I’m getting to perfect Jamaican jerk chicken is Curly’s.
57. What, you’ve never had a Prairie Platter? Stop what you’re doing at get to Zorba’s.
58. It used to be the place to stop at 3am to soak up the booze. They’ve since upgraded their image but the food is still simple and amazing at Pano’s.
59. The closest thing we have to a good NYC bagel is Bagel Jays.
60. It’s small, dark and in a strip mall but, damn, Chester’s makes some fantastic cajun food.
61. You want milkshakes filled with booze and gigantic burgers? Head to My Burger Bar. Just don’t get both at the same time. You’ll explode.
62. Is it a bistro? Is it an asian restaurant? Who cares the food is damn good at The Hollow.
63. If the view of the lake doesn’t do it for you maybe you want your dogs and fries along the river. In that case it’s Mississippi Mudd’s or Old Man River. They’re basically the same place, pick one.
64. An iconic location in the Village of Williamsville, they’ve just doubled their beers on tap and the Glen Park Tavern specializes in meats with bread and heavy gravy.
65. Wine flights for $8? Jo-Jo’s Bistro
66. 45 different sandwiches, eat em all you get a t-shirt. I stick with Johnny C’s french dip.
67. Every town in WNY has a local place that has cheap great food. If you’re in Depew its My Little Margies.
68. I still don’t understand why stores sell other hot dogs when we have Sahlen’s Hot Dogs in this town. (JARED’S NOTE: Blind taste test with Hoffman’s and you’ll understand why.)
69. Smoked or Fresh? With or without marjoram? That’s up to you but Polish Sausage is abundant in this town and that’s a beautiful thing.
70. I say it’s because my family is here, but the real reason I stay in Buffalo is because of the Fried Baloney. With cheese and onions of course.
71. If it’s a saturday in the summer you won’t be able to drive 5 miles without smelling a Chivetta’s Chicken BBQ.
72. While I only use it on pretzels, Weber’s Mustard is the go-to.
73. If you’re at the Broadway Market (see #26) grab me a box of Chrusciki, a fine polish pastry…
74. …and a dozen dinner rolls from White Eagle Bakery.
75. While they weren’t created here, they are produced here and a summer day in Buffalo isn’t complete without smelling Cheerios baking at the General Mills plant. Seriously the entire city smells like Cheerios.
76. Even if I was lactose intolerant I would go through the pain to have chips with Bison French Onion Dip.
77. Hanzlian Sausage makes the most incredible chicken sausage. The hot won’t kill your ulcer but gives the perfect amount of flavor.
Since I need four more to get to 82, I present my best places wings in Buffalo:
78. Wiechec’s – I know I already mentioned them once on the list but the only non-hot sauce wing I will eat is their honey cajun wings.
79. Duff’s – Yeah I only go there when out of town friends visit but they’re still damn good.
80. Transit Lanes – Yes a bowling alley has great wings. To be honest most bowling alleys in Buffalo probably have good wings.
81. Brunner’s – Ok I lied, I will also eat the cajun wings from Brunner’s. They best part? They throw them on the grill to finish them off. Oh and OJ used to hang out there.
82. Gabriel’s Gate – Nothing fancy just huge and delicious
So what do you think? Did Todd get it right? What did he miss? Comment below and make your case!