Category Archives: bangforbuck

Taste of Buffalo 2008: Finger food fiesta

Tenderloin Slider Fiamma restaurant Taste of BuffaloA bit too much roll, but Fiamma’s Tenderloin Slider with herbed ricotta, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula was a great introduction from a first-time server.

Kevin Purdy is an associate editor at Lifehacker and freelance writer.

For 363 days of each year, Buffalo’s street food options–the kind of stuff you can eat while walking, talking, or, for the seriously coordinated, cycling – can be kindly described as limited.

Then the Taste of Buffalo arrives, and thousands upon thousands of Western New Yorkers and their visitors discover anew the experience of never having enough napkins, of licking one’s chops to find the far-flung remnants of zesty sauce, of navigating a busy avenue with only your peripheral vision to better focus on the tasty morsel at hand.

This year’s festival had a few new entrants, seriously warm and bright weather, and a lot of dishes that remind you of how great it is to live in city that has a never-ending infatuation with real food.

The official judges have already had their say – and hurrah for Ms. Goodie’s Junkyard Dog, probably my favorite treat from last year–but here’s a few non-objective impressions of this year’s offerings.

Value propositions: Veterans of the Taste have undoubtedly noticed a trend toward items increasing to a six-to-eight-ticket cost (that’s $3-$4 in non-Taste tender) while staying at sample sizes. Most stands offer a “taste” portion for two or three tickets, but only a few stood out as real bang for the buck:

  • Merritt Estate’s 3 ticket “taste” of its sangria slushie is a small Solo cup filled with the frozen fruit-infused wine. Maybe it was the heat, but more than one female correspondent reported feeling quite content with the hooch-to-cash ratio.
  • KheerThe kheer offered up by Kabab & Curry is surprisingly perfect, given that it’s being dished out in mass quantities. But the texture is silken, the hints of cardamom and saffron are there, and it was chilled just right–all for just two tickets. My modest proposal for next year–bring out the dosas.
  • The Niagara Cafe, whose in-house lunch offerings aren’t that much more expensive than other stands full-size items, offered a two-ticket “taste” of their arroz con pollo with stewed chicken and potatoes over rice that had tender meat, hearty spices laced thorugh a tomato base, and more filling flavor than you’d expect from a take-out sauce container. Their chile relleno,or stuffed pepper, wasn’t all too different in its makeup from other stands’, but it was crisp instead of soggy, and flavored with kick rather than overwhelmed by ricotta:
    Chile Relleno, Stewed Chicken & Rice

Unassuming awesomeness: There was a lot of food that sounded great and was, a good number of plates I couldn’t quite understand winning an award (or meriting a $4 investment), and then there was the Hamlin House’s “Grilled Blue Shrimp Strawberry Salad.” The “blue” came from the cheese, and it was glazed with just the right amount of fresh-mixed balsamic dresing. The grilled shrimp alone was worthy of praise, but it was a reasonably healthy, heartily portioned bit of adventurous flavor-blending. To say the least, it was a nice showing from an American Legion post on Franklin Street:
Strawberry & Shrimp Salad -- Detail

Food Mob Mentality: One thing I’ve noticed about Taste of Buffalo–it turns the most share-friendly, synchronized couples into secretive snack hoarders. Stand in any crowded line, and you’ll hear a husband or wife call back to their significant other something like, “Can I have two of your tickets?” Why do couples planning to walk the entire festival together even divide their tickets? Are we all harboring a latent fear of spotting a Bacon Velveeta Kobe Burger for 6 tickets, asking for some of the communal coin, and finding only rejection and stern reminders about physician appointments? Having said this, my wife and I split our tickets evenly, and only trade up when one is too stuffed to even consider eating more.

Assorted leftovers: I never thought I’d utter this, but the “Lunch Box” from Joe’s Deli needed … more Fritos. When you’re combining bologna, American cheese, kethcup, mustard, and the aforementioned fried corn twists in a gigantic roll, you need significant texture, or it loses its kitsch-conscious fun … Donnie’s Smokehouse wins the prize for best ambassador for the festival. You could smell his slow-cooking goods a full city block back on Delaware Avenue … If The Steer is going to go for high-energy, loud-music cooking, it would help if they pre-loaded the iPod with a few more tracks next time. In one two-hour visit, we heard Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and a certain not-family-friendly Prince track twice each.

I’ll end this post with a fish taco from Ava Cado’s, an unassuming fresh-Mex joint in the University Plaza on Main Street, Buffalo, which, along with Fiamma, was a welcome newcomer to the Taste. Need more photographic evidence that the Taste is truly come and gone? Check out this Flickr search. May many more inventive cooks persuade their owners to try their hand at en masse cuisine next year, and may we all be there to eat (and shoot) it.

Fish TacoCould’ve used a bit more topping, but I won’t speak too much ill of a fish taco spotted in downtown Buffalo

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Grand theft bistro: O’Connell’s


You want creme brulee? At lunch, that’ll be three dollars more. This is not a typo.

When we paid the check and left, I paused at the door to look behind us.

No one was chasing us. We’d gotten away with it.

Twelve dollars for steak frite and an appetizer of clams with sausage. Or lamb chops with a first course of risotto. Robbery.

But that’s what the lunch menu at O’Connell’s American Bistro (981 Kenmore Ave., 716-877-8788) says, bold as brass. A first course and a main for $12. Two can get that deal for $20 on Tuesdays.

It’s madness. Tasty, tasty madness.

Before chef Kevin O’Connell comes to his senses, or runs out of money, you really ought to try his place for lunch. Perhaps the pricing scheme is a loss leader to entice you into a higher-priced dinner engagement.

Who really cares? Don’t look a gift steak frite in the mouth.

Come along for the ride, after the jump.

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While you were eating: News smorgasbord


Act now, limited time offer: Niagara County peaches are going fast

The peaches are ending their run in the next week or two, and really, you ought to dive in. It was $18 for a half-bushel of freestones at the North Tonawanda Farmers Market Saturday morning, and the investment in ecstasy will keep on giving for months.

Kathy is freezing bags of chopped peaches for winter use, and making jam. I made peach clafoutis, sort of a big baked pancake with fruit inside – lovely. I have my eye on a fried-peach-pie-with cinnamon recipe – we’ll see about that.

The best might be just a big bowl of sliced peaches, peeled if you want, with a spoonful of sugar – not just for sweetness, but to encourage the juice to flow and get saucy. A Niagara County peach is one of the mouthfuls that make me truly pleased to be here in Western New York, and if you let them go by without gorging yourself a few times, shame on you.

P9150210
Six different varieties were available Saturday.

The muskmelons are ridiculous, too, huge flavor like fine wine – and here come the apples. I got a half-gallon of new cider, clear and crisp, each drop tasting like the first bite of the best apple you ever ate. (Kathy: “You got a half gallon?”)

P9150206
I go to the North Tonawanda market because it’s the closest to me – what’s at your market?

In restaurant news of interest to me, and maybe you:

Falafel Bar’s Sheridan Drive location opened Friday (3689 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, 831-3980). It was full at 7 p.m., and running some interesting fish specials. A woman I spoke to there said shakshouka was on for the weekend.

Chang’s Garden on Maple Road, one of the better Chinese places around, was badly damaged by fire early Saturday morning. I was there Friday night with a tableful of children (coincidence! I swear!) and will look forward to their reopening.

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Bang for the buck

Toasted pita on the way.

Oftentimes, all it takes is a dollar’s worth of something special to elevate regular dishes to the extraordinary. We’ll try to make the case from time to time here at Buffalo Buffet.

This time, it’s Spanish chorizo – a dried, cooked sausage that packs a wallop of toasty paprika and garlic flavors. (Mexican chorizo, an uncooked sausage, is different.)

I wouldn’t bother with the “Spanish style chorizo” made on this side of the Atlantic – it’s a pale imitation. I found this “Made in Spain” sausage at Wegmans – $5.99 for about a foot of the stuff, in a plastic wrapper in the deli section. It comes in Picante (hot) and Dulce (sweet).

Sliced thin and sauteed, the chorizo oozes fat tinged paprika orange. A sliced onion, softened in the pan, added its own sweetness. I scooped the sausage and onion out to fry a couple of eggs, and then topped them with the chorizo. A few sprigs of cilantro would have been lovely, but I was out; I did toast some pita bread.

What a difference. Even though the color is reminiscent of clown hair, it’s a deeply flavored, plate-mopping success.

Total cost: about $1.49.

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