Tag Archives: local food

82 Things That Make Buffalo a Great Food Town

Chicken Cacciatora from Chef's Restaurant. (Source: ilovechefs.com)
Chicken Cacciatora from Chef’s Restaurant. (Source: ilovechefs.com)

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.  Continue reading 82 Things That Make Buffalo a Great Food Town

Advertisements

Al Dente Express: Some More Local Love (Side Hill Farmers + Fins & Tails)

Photo Mar 01, 11 58 59 AM

NOTE: Al Dente Express is my answer for what to do when I want to talk about a place or places I visited, but it doesn’t warrant a full-on, exhaustive review. Here is a wrap of two Central New York retailers that I recently visited.

Friday night’s story from The Tampa Tribune was affirmation for everyone that bemoans Big Agriculture and our nation’s broken food supply:

The family of four, two of them elementary school-age children, had dinner on Monday night, a nice meal of bottom round steak. 

Then they began hallucinating, so bad they called 911, then rushed to the hospital themselves.

On Friday, Tampa police announced why: The meat had been laced with LSD.

The family bought the meat from the Wal-Mart at 1501 N. North Dale Mabry Highway, just north of Interstate 275, but police said they don’t yet have any idea when or where the meat became tainted with the hallucinogen.

So, there are three possibilities here: 1) The meat was tainted at the processing plant, which is not good. 2) The meat was tainted at the store, which is really not good. 3) Someone at home tainted the meat, which is really, really not good.

This is an isolated case, but assuming that we are not dealing with option three, it’s another case to be made for local purveyors. Pink slime, GMOs, and poorly-sourced fish are just some of the phrases that haunt those of us concerned about the purity of our food. It costs a little bit more to guarantee the quality, but in the end it pays off.

***

Tucked behind Manlius’ venerable Sno-Top ice cream stand is a small plaza with a Subway, a national drug store chain, a European chocolatier and a cooperative owned by a handful of Madison County farmers. In July 2013, Side Hill Farmers opened its doors as a storefront for a handful of farmers to move their product. My visit a couple of weekends ago found a busy, rustic-looking meat market with a wide open area in the rear of the store where meat is butchered on an open-air stage. Beef, pork, chicken and homemade sausages pack the display cooler, while an open dairy chest is packed with cheeses and milks. A freezer carries homemade sauces and stocks.

Photo Mar 01, 12 19 45 PM

Kevin McCann, the butcher-on-duty, gave me the nickel tour after convincing me to visit the store on Facebook. My introduction pulled him away from breaking down a dry-aged hunk of beef that had just emerged from the refrigerator. It was pretty glorious looking. Kevin said that the response to the store has been explosive, so much so that they are looking to expand to the open space next door, where they would have more room for produce and charcuterie. They already produce their own salami, filetto (cured pork tenderloin) and speck, but he was looking to get a space where he could expand the in-house production of cured meats.

Photo Mar 01, 11 59 50 AM

McCann and the other staff butchers break down the meats that come in from the farms from Onondaga County’s eastern neighbor, using everything that comes in the door. Steaks, chops, roasts and offal go into the cooler or the CSA bundles available. Bones are cooked down for homemade stock. And what little else that is left gets flipped into dog treats. The cooler was slowly emptying on this particular Saturday afternoon, steak-by-steak. Kevin mentioned that their major issue surrounds supply. Unlike a grocer, Side Hill doesn’t have a warehouse or wholesaler that it can get more product from at the drop of a hat. “One cow in, one cow out,” he said.

Photo Mar 01, 12 11 02 PM

All steaks and roasts are tenderized on the spot before being wrapped. Most of the staff has culinary training, so cooking tips and recipes are not lacking. The three Denver steaks (below) I procured were well-marbled and Kevin even trimmed some exposed fat from the edges for me. I pan-seared the steaks and finished them in the oven to medium/medium-rare, finding them to have a rich, almost creamy flavor. The steaks were not wet- or dry-aged. They were carved and left standing in a refrigerator case, so none of the tendons had the chance to break down. For a cheaper cut of meat from the flap, they were amazing.

Photo Mar 01, 4 54 01 PM (1)

While I’m pretty loyal to Bostrom Farms for pork, I think I’ve found a winner for local beef. And, to my knowledge it’s the only place in the area to buy Stoltzfus Family Dairy chocolate milk. It’s creamline milk, which means that it hasn’t been homogenized. Homogenous milk has gone through processing to break up the fat into dissolvable pieces. Creamline is like the old school milk with the cap of cream at the top. It’s amazing on its own, though The Wife reports that it is enhanced with a heavy-handed dose of Bailey’s Irish Cream.

***

Photo Mar 08, 9 35 54 AM (HDR)

Fins & Tails has been around for about 200 years now (okay, so 27 this summer). It’s the type of fish market that you would expect in a larger city or closer to the shore, not on Erie Boulevard East near Thompson Road.

It is just about the only place in town where you can count on sustainably fished products, served by people who know the fish they are selling. Wanting to make a fish stew over the weekend, I knew that I could probably find the shellfish I wanted and probably a mild filet of something to toss in. I was right. The cooler had a bucket of mussels that had arrived that morning, as well as Gulf shrimp, littleneck clams, salmon, cod, and bluefin. A second cooler had a host of homemade seafood salads and soups that one of the co-owners works in a kitchen area behind the counter for takeaway. I grabbed clams, mussels and cod, as well as their best kept secret: fish stock.

Photo Mar 08, 9 37 46 AM

Kitchen Basics makes a decent fish stock, but homemade is always better. F&T uses fish bones and shrimp shells to make their stock, extracting the marrow and collagen to construct a rich broth. Parking isn’t the easiest and I’ve always thought the plaza was kind of dodgy, but there is no better place in town to buy fish. Its reputation precedes itself so much so that for a while, F&T provided and managed the seafood counter at local grocery Green Hills Farms.

Yes, they are more expensive than your average supermarket but if you want quality, you pay for it. When F&T says it has red snapper or sole, you don’t have to worry about DNA testing when you get home. That’s worth paying for.

Side Hill Farms is located at 315 Fayette St. (Rt. 92) in Manlius, just behind Sno-Top. It opens Monday through Saturday at 10 a.m. Fins & Tails is located at 3012 Erie Blvd. East in Syracuse, near the Thompson Road exit from I-690 in the former Liquor Square plaza. It is open Tuesday through Saturday.

LoFo, Syracuse, N.Y.

The only photo I could take before being sneered at by the snarly counter staff person.
The photo I took before being sneered at by the snarly counter staffer.

NOTE: I am expecting people to read the following entry and tell me that I am wrong, uninformed, missing the point, and/or a terrible human being who should spend his time eating at Applebee’s. I have braced for impact.

I know nothing about how to run a restaurant. As someone who is particular about where he eats, though, there are certain things which separate good from the rest. The men from the boys. The lion from the rest of the jungle.

A restaurant should aim for a particular demographic. A great restaurant aims for their demographic, but welcomes everyone else without pretense.

A restaurant should have a basic theme or a hook that makes them unique. A great restaurant not only has a theme, but they also have personality and energy.

A restaurant should have a menu. A great restaurant offers you an experience.

So, what am I getting at? I went to LoFo. I ate at LoFo. Alas, I didn’t like LoFo.

The audible gasps among 21-35 year old women and men with beards is expected. That’s fine. Let me continue…

Its demographic seems pretty straightforward. LoFo aims right at the heart of the locavore movement. Heidelberg Baking Company and Harrison Bakery breads. Recess Coffee. Locally sourced foods prepared fresh. Very respectable. The menu shows a strong balance between vegan, vegetarian and carnivore. It also features a number of raw and gluten-free foods. Traffic in and out of the restaurant on Friday when I visited was decidedly female, between the ages of 25 and 40. There were some bearded and tattooed men that came in from the neighboring art spaces, but the professional women who work in Armory Square make this place tick. Again, this is all respectable and our market needs restaurants like these.

Ordering was done at the counter with a paper menu placed in front of me by a rather disengaged staff member. She was not much for conversation, giving off the vibe that she could not be bothered to respond to my questions as if I should already know the answers. With two people at tables already eating and only me in line, I thought her impatience at my reading of the menu was a little much.

The lunchtime menu is pretty basic: four sandwiches, two soups and a handful of salads, plus the daily specials. An extensive list of vegetable juices and almond milk smoothies highlight a drink menu that includes looseleaf teas and small batch sodas. A breakfast menu includes eggs, pancakes, and sides to satisfy carnivores and herbivores alike. After ordering, paying and being prompted to tip by the iPad screen used as a cash register, I grabbed a table and began scrolling through Twitter to pass the time. I popped my iPhone’s camera app open to take the above photo of the interior and got an “If you do that again, you will be asked to leave” look from the snarly counter staffer. Her icy glare continued until she was sure I was reading something on my iPhone and no longer using it to take a photo.

The chicken and brie sandwich was, on the outset, what I would consider to be a perfect lunch-sized sandwich. Not too small, but not too big. Shredded chicken, pear slices and a creamy brie were served between two thick slices of Heidelberg Baking Company cracked wheat bread and grilled. The sandwich had a good flavor, thanks to the pear, but was mostly bread. A side salad of mixed greens with a mystery dressing (I asked the snarly counter staffer who told me that she would find out and tell me. She didn’t. I’m guessing miso and ginger.) filled the plate, but didn’t make up for the rather paltry portion of chicken. It made me wonder what the $9.50 was paying for.

The chorus will say that I shouldn’t look at the price tag. They will say that I am supporting a local business that is supporting local businesses and, sometimes, that costs more. Trust me. I get it.

The Honey Bear smoothie proved to be the highlight of the meal. Served in a pint-sized beer glass, the smoothie was a balanced blend of peanut butter, almond milk, banana, honey and cinnamon. It had bite. It had sweetness. It was creamy. It was $6. It was the best thing placed in front of me.

A steady trickle of customers made their way into LoFo during the 30 or so minutes I was there. It was fun to watch the snarly counter staffer interact with the loyal regulars and treat the first-timers like, well, like she had treated me.

As far as concepts go, LoFo is good. It could probably be strong. It joins local mainstays like Alto Cinco, Empire Brewing Company, Dinosaur Barbque, and Riley’s (among others) in promoting the idea of eating where you live. It has a loyal base of supporters and good for them. But, to me, it seems like it’s trying too hard. It wants to be the cool, different kid in the Armory Square mix of bar-restaurants and fine dining, but it doesn’t know how. It wants to be Open Face or the Beer Belly Deli but it’s still developing its niche. It wants to be in Syracuse, but it needs Syracuse to think more like Ithaca. It wants to branch out and spread its message, but it treats new customers like locavore luddites that take up space better suited to its wheatgrass slurping twentysomethings.

“It is cool and different,” they’ll say. “You just don’t get it. It’s not for you.”

And that might be the problem.

Maybe LoFo isn’t for me and my ilk. Maybe it’s just for the people in their loyal fanbase who “get it.” And that might be why the crowd was cozy and small at LoFo, while the lines at other establishments in Armory Square were out their respective front doors.

Maybe I am too old for LoFo. Maybe I’m just a cranky, curmudgeonly jerk. Maybe this was a snapshot of an off day at LoFo.

Maybe I wanted a relaxed lunch and, instead, got a wheelbarrow of attitude.

Maybe I’ll learn from my mistakes and go to one of my regular haunts next time.

LoFo is located at 214 Walton St. in Syracuse’s Armory Square district near Onondaga Creek. It is open Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch. Lunch for one was $16.51. 

Al Dente on the Side: CNY Regional Market Pasta Salad

2013-07-28 at 17-06-54

Saturday morning trips to the Central New York Regional Market started before I was in elementary school. My father would take me for an early morning run so he could get produce for the week. For my efforts as a well-behaved child, I would get popcorn, and the chance to tell my friends that I had popcorn for breakfast.

Vegetables were always a big part of our dinner table. What my grandfather didn’t grow on his land in Geddes (he did basically everything but lettuce, corn, onions and potatoes), we would get at the market.

Continue reading Al Dente on the Side: CNY Regional Market Pasta Salad

Wednesday dinner: Beurre blanc with Flour City Pasta

IMG_2763

One of the joys of our weekly Central New York Regional Market trips is a stop to the Flour City Pasta booth. Jon, who makes the trip out each week, is fun to talk to and there’s always a wide variety of flavors and shapes on the table. Plus, the pasta is just damn good.

IMG_2760We usually buy a half-pound each week for dinner, as it is a perfect portion for the two of us (as previously mentioned, The Kid has Celiac disease and has never had interest in pasta). I tend to go for their orzos, which make for great sides or salads, though their linguine and fettuccine are pretty good. The long pasta is enormous, requiring a spoon to properly twirl and eat.

Each bag of pasta comes along with a recipe, which I usually pass on if the booth is busy. I figure that I can save Jon the extra few seconds of looking things up. This week when I passed on the recipe, Jon insisted that I take the recipe card for the beurre blanc recipe that paired with the ginger lemongrass linguine. Continue reading Wednesday dinner: Beurre blanc with Flour City Pasta