Saturday, July 12, 2008

Heather and Mark Do Buffalo: The Taste of Buffalo

As a said a few days ago, it was a long week for me. By Friday afternoon I was totally exhausted and when I woke up this morning it seemed that chasing seven-year-olds around all week was catching up with me because my ankle hurt in all new places. Only one thing could get me out of the house today. That one thing? Food.

The Taste of Buffalo is the second largest food festival in the country and this year is its 25th year. The festival is set up around Niagara Square and down Delaware Avenue, with close to 60 restaurants from across the area giving away samples of their wares. Over 450,000 people come a year and this was the first year either Mark or I have attended.

Okay, so the samples aren't really free. Before you start wandering around you stop at a ticket booth and buy tickets for $5 a sheet (10 tickets per sheet). The restaurants decide how many tickets to charge with the average being 4. Some large items might run 6-8 and some smaller samples are 2. Since we'd never been before we started off with three sheets. There are no refunds on unused tickets so we decided it would be better to buy more if we needed them than to buy too many and have some leftovers.

After we spent our first 8 tickets on something to drink (water for me, Nestea for Mark) we were all set. My first purchase was Cajun blackened shrimp from Chester's Pub and Grill and Mark's was a steak sub from Ashanti's Steak House. I can't comment on the sub - I don't do onions - but the shrimp was delicious. I would definitely buy a whole order of them. I was glad for the water though because they had a good kick to them.

At Taste of Buffalo, every restaurant is required to offer one healthy selection. To qualify as a healthy option the dish has to contain no more than 30% of calories from fat, 10% or fewer calories from saturated fat, and has to be lower in cholesterol and sodium. Since I'd already had real food, I decided to test out the chocolate strawberry crepes from Red Coach Inn. As I walked away from the booth I realized they were the healthy choice. Well, heck, if this is healthy eating, sign me up!
There was a pudding-y filling inside the crepe.

Mark decided he needed something sweet as well and purchased a mini cannoli from Panaro's. I did take a little bite of it and it was good. Actually it was the perfect size because I like cannolis for a couple of bites and then the richness starts to overwhelm me. Mark gave it a thumbs up.

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

For those not from Buffalo, Niagara Square surrounds the McKinley Monument. It's been a while since I took a look at it up close so Mark and I wandered closer and read all the inscriptions. At this point, Mark said, "You know, I've often wondered if McKinley wasn't shot here, if Buffalo would still be the bustling city it used to be. That was the first bad thing here. It set off the chain." After I wondered if that would be true or not Mark decided that he was going write a book where McKinley doesn't get shot but all kinds of other things go wrong instead.

"And then we all end up in a Ryan Miller dictatorship."
"Ryan Miller?"
"Yeah, a dictatorship where goalies rule."
"You might need to flesh this idea out before you start sending queries."
"Okay, how about a Bucky Gleason dictatorship?"
"Definitely more frightening."
"Every crime is punishable with a jail term between 5 and 25."
"And Larry Quinn nabs the bad guys with his bowed net."
"Where's Darcy?
"Probably in jail."
"I'll bet he got the full 25 for failure to sign a big name free agent. You know Bucky would make that a crime."
"In the end a herd of time-traveling famous Buffalonians battle Bucky and Larry and try to set everything back the way it was."
"That's where Ryan Miller comes in."
"Yeah, and the Goo Goo Dolls. And Ani Difranco."
"And Jim Kelly and Pat Lafontaine and the French Connection. Oh, ooh! And in an effort to set everything right with the people of Buffalo, Dominik Hasek is the one who takes down tyrant Bucky."
"He jumps up and down yelling, 'Must see! Must see!' and then when he has an opening, makes the final blow."
"And then everyone realizes, hey, maybe Buffalo isn't quite so bad the way it is."
"You know, there are probably people in Buffalo who would gladly trade a Bucky dictatorship for a Super Bowl win or a Stanley Cup."
"Hmmm... Good point."

It needs some work but I think there's potential there.

I was too lazy to step back far enough to get the whole monument in so pretend there's a point on top.

Below is my Holy Grail for the day. The whole reason I really pushed for Taste of Buffalo in the first place - not that I had to do a lot of pushing - is because I saw that Fat Bob's Smokehouse was going to be there. I've written here before about how much I really like Fat Bob's and while I've heard their mac and cheese is really good, I've never tried it because I'm such a big fan of their mashed potatoes. I haven't been able to go there and not get mashed potatoes. So I was thrilled to get a chance to try the mac and cheese. Guess what. It's really, really good. After we made one trip around the festival Mark went back and got a pulled pork sandwich. Yeah, we like Fat Bob's.


We still had quite a few tickets left - we'd purchased a few more by this point - but we decided to give the food we'd already eaten a little time to settle. We ducked into New Era to get a dose of air conditioning and to check things out since we'd never seen it. Unfortunately a ton of other people had the same idea so it was kind of tough to move around and really get a good look at everything. There was one really godawful Sabres hat. It was white and it had a bejeweled slug on it but just as I was about to take a picture of it, a young girl, probably college-aged, swooped in, squealed, "Oh, it's so cute!" and tried it on, calling her mom over to see. So you'll just have to trust me. It was really, really awful.

The colors didn't show up well but this is also a pretty weird hat. I don't get it.

We thought about taking a tour of City Hall but you had to sign up for a time and we weren't sure how long we'd be sticking around so we decided to save that for another time. I've never been inside so it's definitely on the list of things to do. We took a few minutes on the front steps to check out the goings-on around us though. That done, we decided we'd have to suffer through a little more food.

Next to potatoes, the thing I love most in the world is bread. (No, I would never even dream of doing a no-carb diet. I would be miserable at all times.) I had noted that Jack Astor's had a small sample of their garlic pan bread so we wandered back that way and I handed over my two tickets.

While Mark enjoyed his pulled pork sandwich I decided to try the crab cake stuffed shrimp from Carmine's Restaurant - two large shrimp stuffed with seasoned crab mix, topped with a Cajun remoulade. According the sign on their booth, this dish was voted Best Seafood in 2004 and 2005, Peoples Choice in 2006, and Chairman's Choice in 2007. It was very good, but I think I liked the blackened shrimp better. I wasn't a huge fan of the remoulade.

Ooh, someone being interviewed by the news! We moved closer to see if it was a Sabre or a Bill or someone exciting. It was just Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. BOR-ing. Uh, no offense, Mayor.

We decided to end the day the only way days like this should end. With dessert! We stopped at the Anderson's booth and I got a waffle cone of chocolate peanut butter ice-cream. I love their chocolate peanut butter because it's not those wussy little drizzles of peanut butter sauce like most ice-creams have, no sir. We're talking big chunks of delectable peanut butter. I think there are very few things in the world that can't be improved by being smothered in peanut butter. Mark, a huge fan of Aunt Rosie's Loganberry, went with a Loganberry ice, his healthy option for the day.

We spent $35 dollars for food and drinks, about what we would pay for a nice meal out, and it certainly felt like we both ate a whole meal. It's 9:48 p.m. as I write this and outside of a small snack, we didn't eat again today. We were stuffed. Oh, but wait! We had two tickets left! As I said at the beginning of the entry (remember the beginning of this entry?), there were no refunds on unused tickets so as we made our way back around to where we came in, we kept our eyes peeled for something we could buy with the last two tickets. We managed to find something that perfectly summed up how we were feeling after another fun weekend in Buffalo: a smile cookie from Sweet Tooth, slightly melting but happy.

Mark, also slightly melting but happy.


Jaime said...

I was at Taste of Buffalo also yesterday! I have to agree the blackened shrimp was delish as was the mac n cheese. We got there at 5 and ended up completely soaked but it cleared the place out! There was one place (Fireside Inn) that refused to take our wet tickets, which thoroughly annoyed us.

Chester's Pub and Grill had amazing gumbo and the Forestview's Philly cheesesteak ravioli was to die for. We were disappointed that Sharf's wasn't there this year because we love, love, love their paotato pancakes.

We spent $50 which more than a normal dinner out for us but we wanted to be able to try anything we wanted (including cajun crawfish, suck the heads) without worrying that we were going to have to get more tickets. It really is a fun way to try out new things and get some new restaurant ideas.

Heather B. said...

Dude. What kind of place doesn't take wet tickets when it's raining at an outdoor festival? That's stupid. I'm going to remember that, Fireside Inn.

I thought about Chester's gumbo but I didn't try it out. I'll have to remember that though because I did really like that shrimp. It was probably my favorite thing I tried yesterday.

Lee Andrew said...

How could your army of famous Buffalonians not include David Borenaz? He's a VAMPIRE!

Heather B. said...

David Boreanaz blogged on as a Flyers fan this postseason. Dead to me. William Fichtner can come though.

amy said...

I think I just hurt myself laughing at the Bucky Gleason dictatorship and overthrow. You and Mark are hilarious!

Heather B. said...

Amy, I wish I could take more credit but that was mostly Mark. Just FYI, he was quick to inform me that I got Quinn's part in the story wrong. He's actually a rogue good guy, . I had kind of a hard time thinking of him as as a "good guy" but I suppose it is true that in a world where Bucky rules, Quinn would probably take the other side no matter where that put him.

Patty (in Dallas) said...

I was driven right by that monument! :D

Lee Andrew said...

Ohhhh no, you can't take Fichtner over Boreanaz. Boreanaz is notorious for never wanting to be called "Angel" but Fichtner is known as even a bigger ass than Boreanaz. Fichtner isn't going to do anything but whine and be an ass. He is NOT a good representative of Buffalonia. Plus, Fichtner? Not a vampire.

Heather B. said...

Yes, but Fichtner has never blogged FOR THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS! That's unacceptable. It's really as simple as that. I'll boot Fichtner for being a jackass but Angel isn't getting in either especially if I can't even call him Angel. We'll use Nick Bakay as the voice of Salem the Cat instead.

Lee, while you're here, Check out this newspaper correction. You'll appreciate it.

And Patty, I remember that! Like the wonderful tour guide that I am, I'm pretty sure I completely failed to explain what that monument actually was :P

Lee Andrew said...

Yeah! They better correct themselves.

Bakay is good. What about YOUR BOY Kyle Chandler? He didn't live in Buffalo long so I don't know how much loyalty he has but he was born there.

Or maybe Orel Hershiser? Greg Oden? Chad Michael Murray? William Sadler? Kirk Cameron's wife?

dani said...

I'm too scared to go to the taste! Can you even move around? It looks like there are way too many people there to even breathe. But... it still looks yummy.

Heather B. said...

Dani, it started at 11 and we got there around 12 so the crowd was still fairly light. It was definitely starting to get more packed when we left, probably around 2:30 or 3, and the lines were a bit longer but it still wasn't horrible, I don't think. You should definitely try it out one of these years! It's worth it.

amy said...

Or maybe Orel Hershiser? Greg Oden? Chad Michael Murray? William Sadler? Kirk Cameron's wife?

Chad Michael Murray would get distracted looking for a new wife. I'd rather have Christine Baranski or Jesse L. Martin. They'd totally take down Bucky.

Vanek's Hair said...

I got to be judge for the Taste of Buffalo. I very much enjoyed having the clout. I got to walk up to the booth, flash my judge credentials and get free food. I did take points off from restaurants who refused to suck up to me. Folks, I am a judge, kiss up! Their loss. My highest marks went to Jack Astor's Cucubumer Salad (Yes, I too was surprised to vote a chain restaurant so high) and Kabab and Curry's Marinated Chicken Kabob. My Lord was that delicious. And both booth staff were well into the sucking up to Judge Vanek's Hair.

Heather B. said...

Judge Vanek's Hair? Sweet! How'd you score that gig? I was wondering where the judges come from. I totally missed that chicken kabob. Too bad because it sounds good.

Vanek's Hair said...

I got to be a judge because I have an in with the Independent Health Foundation. So I had to wear a red shirt and judge the "healthy options." Many were very good. To be a judge of the (I guess) "unhealthy options" you basically have to work in local media. My local media appearances have been in spite, and not because of who I am.