Over the last two years we have sat down with 106 different people to record 103 episodes of our podcast, Eat It Up. Simply put, it’s been amazing. We’ve made new friends, heard great stories, gained new insights into the restaurant world and have been inspired to make Buffalo Eats even better. Last year we asked the 57 podcast guests from 2012 to tell us about their favorite meals from that year and we got 44 responses. This year we asked all 106 guests from both years and got 79 responses. Some of our guests sent us 30 words and others sent 800.
Today is part four (of five) featuring 17 podcast guests, check back tomorrow for part five. To see all of our 2013 Year End Coverage, click here.
Frank Dispenza (Owner of Dispenza’s Meat Market, #97). Rachel and I had a tough time with these but hands down the charcuterie board (pictured above) at Carmello’s has been one of the greatest. All house cured and of course extra proud that I processed the meat before he cured it. His beef tongue and homemade gnocchi are also at the top of the list. Not just flavor and presentations but the fact that Carm uses local meats and products really attracts those who care about supporting our communities.
Frank Tripi (Owner of Frank Gourmet Hotdogs, #62 and #100). I didn’t get to dine out much, but my favorite overall experience was at Good Luck in Rochester. This restaurant is an open kitchen concept with shared plates and Prohibition style cocktails and beers. Anyways, my favorite meal was a simple one that many places mess up. I had the Good Luck Burger: 1 lb house ground, grass fed beef on a Brioche roll with McCadam cheddar, vegetable slaw, and house cut fries and paired it with many Gilded Ricky’s which is a cocktail with Hendricks gin, Meyer lemon, Yerba mate syrup, and tonic. Simple meal, but executed perfectly, and was fun experiencing all the share plates.
S.J. Velasquez (Digital Engagement Editor at Buffalo News, #16). My favorite meal of 2013, without a doubt, was the duck ragu over gnocchi from Mulberry in Lackawanna. I can’t think about that dish without losing my mind. I’m sorry. I just can’t. I gotta go.
Nathan Hurtt (Owner of Brick-N-Motor, #75). Thinking about my favorite meal of the year keeps bringing me back to the smoked fish ribs with homemade tator tots at Cheu Noodle Bar in Philadelphia. Bark crispy fish skin but easy to tear, light flaky flesh with deep flavor from the smoke, and a tamarind-yuzo sauce to cut through and brighten the flavor. Other standouts of the meal were the BBQ pig tails with turnip kimchi and definitely the hand torn noodles with braised lamb neck and pickled mustard greens. Though I think I would have been thoroughly satisfied with just a big bowl of that fish skin.
Annie Levay-Krause (Creator of The Land of Peapodriot, #54). My husband jokes I’ve become the black widow of restaurants. I rave about an offering or am in the midst of doing a write up and boom the place goes out of business or bam some crazy drama happens and makes visiting the location awkward. One of the best no drama spots I can’t get enough is Essex Street Pub. I swear I’m not getting free swag out of this, but I can’t help but mention Macky’s place. Genuine and not pretentious, local ingredients and great plating, the design your burgers and sandwiches (PLT pictured above) are out of this world. I also can’t get enough of Esther Pica’s Press Raw Food & Juice’s Ginger Shots and Moroccan carrot and beet salad, and her sunflower falafel and zucchini alfredo is off the hook!
I also can’t forget the chicken fried rabbit with local apricot sauce (pictured above) from Bistro Europa!
Edward Forster (Chef/Founder of The Workshop, #29 and #89). 2013 was a pretty great year for me. I was able to eat around our town, Toronto, NYC, and Chicago. The best dining meals of my year are hard to pin down, because its not always in a restaurant, or even food centric, or a complete dish. I’ll explain…
Hands down my best experience was a happenstance cocktail experience in Toronto. I had a really cool meal at Cafe Boulud, got to chatting with staff, and asked for drink recommendations for after the meal. They went above and beyond to provide true service, suggesting three places with different themes, getting addresses, and checking to make sure their recommendations were actually open (being a Sunday night most of our list of cocktail bars were closed). So we headed out to Sidecar in what looked like a pretty cool neighborhood well populated with bars and restaurants. Walking in with a friend to sidecar, the crowd was noticeably a little too dressed up. Everyone was chatting and mingling. After standing at the bar, I asked the bespectled doormen if this was a private event. It was indeed someone’s holiday party. Seeing a look of disappointment, the gentleman offered us a cocktail upstairs. We agreed. And with any new city, and a weird location with trepidation we followed this gentleman through a wall, up a very dark and snakey stairway. A calm fell over us as we arrived in a beautiful candlelit speakeasy, that in actuality was a private club, with smiling faces and gentle chatter. We settled in to a nearby table and met Robin, who offered to craft a cocktail for us or guide us through the menu. The night ended up being one of the best service experiences of my life. Thoughtful suggestions, laughs, and this consummate desire to help us enjoy our evening really set this night apart. Well into an evening where Robin was constantly able to find something I had never had behind his seemingly endless bar. Looking for something to close off our night, a smile came to his face. He brought over a bottle of Weller whiskey a friend had brought in, that was from a small and limited bottling not available. It was bottle 7 of 100 released. Sipping that in a dimly lit room with old and new friends made for a magic night that stemmed from great service and a friendly owner unwilling to turn us into the night without a smile.
Another perfect and memorable meal also seemed to matriculate out of nowhere and turn into a perfect meal. I was lucky enough to be in NYC with longtime friends Scott Crombie and Tony Rials to be honored to present the food of Mike A restaurant at the James Beard House. We decided late one night to go Michelin star bar hopping, stopping at area fine dining lounges for a cocktail and an appetizer or so. But sadly, even later in the evening, and on a weeknight, all Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Manrea, Cafe Boulud, Eleven Madison Park, and Per Se were all committed in both dining room and lounges (excellent for them) so our plans were a bit demolished. So, fuck it lets go have a glass of champagne. We were near Jeans Georges, and having worked in his restaurant at the ripe age of 19, why not. Tony grabbed a seat at the full bar and looked at the drink offerings. Tony pointed to a bottle of Billecart Salmon Rose on the list, and Scotty and I perpetuated the “fuck it, why not?” attitude of the evening with a very loud yes please. After a beautiful creamy few sips of one of the finest champagne houses I felt right. The clouds seemed to clear at the bar for us, as serendipitously two stools opened up next to Tone. So why not have a plate? The food menu had a la carte options, but fuck it, why not go for le degustaion traditionelle? Oh and there’s a seasonal menu as well? Fuck it, we’ll do two of one and one of the other. Fuck it. What had to be two tablespoons of caviar arrived in front of each of us. A little rose, some sturgeon roe, life is great. After a while, I think there was some ear hustling by the bartender, overhearing me recollect one of the signature tasting courses that I had also served at Jean Georges London outpost, Vong. Then extra uni courses, and crudo, and Jean Georges himself. I was a bit taken aback to meet the 3 Michelin man in his namesake restaurant. Beautiful food with luxury ingredients served and executed seamlessly proved a 3* evening. But the night wasn’t over there, because we were then rushing to load our mise en place into the superbowl of chefdome and the Jame Beard house that evening, I don’t think I could make up a more story book evening of dreams come true.
And here in Buffalo, I’ve had some great food standing around a wooden table in the basement of Adam Goetz’s restaurant with fellow chefs.. No silverware, no reidel glasses. There may have been some PBR. But talking about food and perspectives and passions and idea sharing late into the night with good friends is what food is all about. Charcuterie, rice grits, roasted carrots, and mochi were just a few of the samplings of that evening. This was an open forum, grab it with your hands, goddam did you try that kind of evening. But watching a small core of our local chefs get together and idea share and help one another grow was a goddam miracle. One that is sure not to be the last of many occurrences. One that will hopefully help our food scene shine a little brighter.
Chris Hitchcock (Board Member of the Taste of Buffalo, #25). I went to a relatively new place – Osteria 166. I started with the best meatball appetizer on the Planet! It was covering in the owner’s mother’s red sauce. For the entree, I had the Chicken Lasagna, which was to die for. Layered with 3 cheese, chicken filets, tomatoes and eggplant and smothered in a parmigiano sauce. I also had the perfect wine paring, The Arrowhead 2011 Pinot Noir. After finishing, I had to track down the owner and make sure they applied to the 2014 Taste of Buffalo next year. They will be a great addition to our Restaurants.
Seamus Gallivan (Founder of The Good Neighborhood, #99). My favorite meal of the year was homemade. I recently started my first share from Oles Farm aka Promised Land CSA, got produce & eggs for the winter and the first thing I made with the eggs was a mostly-local take on a Tex-Mex breakfast staple (pictured above). Migas with 2 eggs scrambled (Oles Farm, Alden), Monterey jack (Kutter’s, Corfu), salsa (Amish, Randolph), crushed organic blue corn tortilla chips (Wegmans). Home fries (potatoes, onion and garlic from Oles), organic black beans (Wegmans), A lotta butter (Amish), grapefruit juice (Indian River County, Florida) and of course bacon (Spar’s).
Combining food from Western New York farmers and artisans, the greatest supermarket in my world, the morning riser that reminds me of picking from my Grandma’s backyard in the heart of grapefruit country, and a go-to easy meal I fell for while living in Texas – it’s like having an episode of “This Is Your Life” for breakfast, comfort food at its best.
Derek Neuland (Former Thirsty Dude and Artist, #13 and #63). I had two favorite meals this year. The first was at Ground Control in Chicago. They were these amazing vegan Baja Tacos, made of breaded fried tofu, avocado, pickled red onion, shredded cabbage, black sesame seed, and baja sauce. My other favorite meal of the year was at Melt in Cleveland where I had a vegan falafel grilled cheese sandwich, which was basically falafel balls and pickled vegetables and melted vegan cheese in between Texas toast and served with fries and coleslaw.
Emily Koenigsberg (Creator of Emily Bites, #38). I can never pick just one! I had an incredibly delicious meal at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas this year that started off with a steamy bowl of rich, spicy chicken and sausage gumbo and ended with me swooning over a decadent plate of braised short rib ravioli they had as a special that evening. As in every Emeril restaurant I’ve visited, the service was impeccable as well. That’s certainly one of my best 2013 meals.
The other dish that stands out to me is actually from a chain restaurant (though unfortunately not one we have in Buffalo), Brio Tuscan Grille (I was at the one in Columbus, OH). They serve a roasted chicken, sweet potato, pancetta and pine nut risotto that made me want to lick the bowl. Seriously, it was the risotto of my dreams.
DJ Cook (Sous Chef at Shango Bistro, #46). My favorite meal of 2013 is actually a meal I have had dozens of times before and hopefully one I will continue to enjoy in the future. The signature ramen (pictured above) and pork buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar is my death row meal, and now the opportunity to indulge in this meal is just a short drive to our neighbors to the north in Toronto. The comfort of a giant bowl filled with pork belly, shoulder, pickled cabbage, fish cake and a perfectly cook egg is extraordinary. Since Momo has opened on University in Toronto, I have had the pleasure to introduce a proper bowl of ramen to my incredible girlfriend Diana. Being able to enjoy this meal with someone I love who appreciates the experience of Momofuku as much as I do will keep me finding any excuse to make the hour drive for noodles. This meal will continue to make my favorite list every year.
Nina Barone (Creator of Buffalo Foodie, #23). After spending an impossibly beautiful day touring Capri, Italy by boat and swimming in the deep blue waters around the island, my husband and I left the beach with the wonderful feel of salt water on our skin and huge grins on our faces. Running on adrenaline, we made our way back from Marina Grande to the area around our hotel, which was about an hour’s walk. It was roughly 100’F, sunny and zero cloud coverage. When we reached our little top of the island, we had two things on our minds: food and drink. We went in search of the gorgeous pizza we saw the night before, and I could not have it without stopping at the granita stand where I was becoming a regular. With “take away” pizzas from Buca di Bacco (Via Longano, 35, Capri) in hand, we got to Chiosco Tizzano (Viale G. Matteoti, 2, Capri) where I ordered a giant cup of watermelon granita. We found a spot nearby on a stone ledge that overlooked the water by our hotel. The hot pizza was covered with a smear of tomato sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil, and boasted the perfect amount of crisp to the crust. We were smitten. I slurped my icy watermelon granita, which was basically pureed watermelon and ice — essentially lust in a cup for a watermelon lover on a hot day — and downed my pizza, slice by slice. It was satisfying in a raw and unpretentious way, just like Italy. Happy memories of our day and the view created the perfect backdrop for the best meal of a trip filled with outstanding food, and arguably one of the best days of my life.
Michael Bernhardt (Creator of Dinner with Danger, #9). Truly, over the past year, I really have only considered Suzy Q’s a treat. I changed my diet, lost 30 pounds, and really don’t eat out like I used to. Last January, I did a raw week through merge, after I had started juicing, and it taught me so much about my bodies relationship with the food I eat. I eat very little starch, processed sugar, and I try to keep the dairy to a minimum as well. I basically just eat fruits veggies and meat. My body works so much better now, it’s amazing. I weigh less than I did when I entered high school. Went from a 38 to a 34. But I love Suzy Q’s more than anyplace I eat in WNY. Bob (I am pretty sure that’s correct) and Suzy are great, their food is delicious and consistent. The menu is flexible, and the atmosphere is wonderful. I had my birthday dinner there this year!
- Matbaren in Stockholm, Sweden. The menu was designed to order one course as you go to “create” your own tasting. The one dish I had which was Steamed Cod basted in brown butter served with a carrot puree, fried brussels sprouts, brussels sprout slaw, and white soy hollandaise was life changing. the balance of all the flavors were memorable and I ended up ordering another dish of it as my “dessert” just to walk away with that truly inspirational dish
- Frantzen/Lindeberg in Stockholm Sweden. I’m not partial to this place because I had worked there, but the one course in the 19 course menu made me sit back in my chair and just shake my head in disbelief. It was a celebration of vegetables…28 components to the dish which was composed of different variations and textures of Swedens bounty. Each bite was different and surprising taking me for a ride throughout the whole dish.
- Some hole in the wall in Vienna, Austria. It was some smoke filled cafe that my hostel recommended to my sister and I. The food was simple but some of the best comfort food I have had. Their potato salad was breath taking….also their Schnitzel (I am in love with Schnitzel) was so clean and perfectly executed, and a simple appetizer of fried emmantaler cheese served with a shredded beet coleslaw rounded out the meal. (We ate there both nights we were in town, having the same thing hahaha)
- Tabree. I have been long awaiting to sample Bruces food for quite sometime in a restaurant he had full rein over, and it was well worth the wait. The tasting menu he had set up for us was well balanced. My favorite dish was the gnocchi with kale, smoked ricotta, and parmesan (pictured above) ….that man has a way with gnocchi we all could dream of achieving. Also the dessert of the chocolate ganache tart was a perfect ending. Great wine, amazing food…couldn’t ask for anything more, other than a bahn mi sandwich to go for a late night snack lol.
Christian Willmott (Owner of The Black Market Food Truck, #53 and #100). With the truck opening in January I haven’t had much of a chance to eat out this year, but there are a couple of meals that I was lucky enough to enjoy. Two of my best meals of 2013 were in the last month. I walked into Bistro Europa on a Saturday at 8:30 and perfect timing got us an open table from a reservation no-show. Within 10 minutes of us sitting down they turned away 10 walk-ins. Unfortunately, they had been busy and were running low on most of the menu. I ended up ordering a T-Meadow pork chop, which my buddy and I agree is the best pork chop we have ever had. It was absolutely perfect from the brine to the seasoning, temperature, etc… My friend ended up getting the Cured Salmon Collar. I can’t remember exactly how it was served (mainly because the Bell’s Two Hearted Ale was going down very easily), but it was delicious. Steve Gedra has yet to disappoint me.
Another favorite meal was obviously Carmelo’s Midnight Mass. I willingly sat outside for the better part of two hours in really cold weather for that meal and it was worth every minute. I had great company, and every course was really good.
Lastly, I had a surprisingly great meal and Trattoria Aroma for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I have eaten there quite a bit, and while it has always been good, this was the best meal I have had with them. We started with a Short Rib Ravioli with a Fois Gras Butter and Trumpet Mushrooms. Honestly, it was substantially better than my entree, but the Pappardelle Anatra was really enjoyable. I have to say that I was impressed by their Old-Fashioned as well.
Chris Daigler (Executive Chef at Encore Restaurant, #98). My best meal of 2013 is an easy one, no thought necessary. I had a few days off in a row for the fourth of July this year and decided to visit a good friend and his daughter’s in Washington D.C. We have always tried to get together at least once a year, that usually involves some kind of culinary exploration. This trip was no different.
We had booked two seats at the venerable minibar by Jose Andres about two months prior. My anticipation of finally delving into this man’s cuisine was intoxicating. He had been and continues to be a source of inspiration both in life and the culinary world. The day was finally here, we put on our best threads and hit the door high and exhilarated for the 26 course symphony we had the pleasure of feasting on July 3, 2013. We get lost on the way and as we are about to call, I spot a man in chefs garb and decide to ask him directions. As we approach I shout to the man “excuse me chef, would you happen to know where minibar is located?” What happens next was a real treat.
The man in a t-shirt and jeans standing next to him turns to my truck and says ” I can tell you where to go” before he turned around I knew the voice. It was the energetic Jose Andres himself. He stood at the passenger side if my truck peering into my window at us as if we were friends. He told us he was sorry but there was a mistake, the restaurant was not open that evening and we must reschedule. He went on saying he couldn’t believe this had happened he must talk to the receptionist, etc. I responded with disappointment saying can we just go to the store and cook together then? He began to laugh in his intoxicating way and said, “you guys, you guys I am kidding with you. I am just trying to be funny, I just don’t know if I should let you in the restaurant tonight. I don’t know if I trust you guys.” At which point I realized he had been toying with us the entire time. He gave us directions to the restaurant and said “enjoy gentleman, it’s a pleasure having you both here tonight” and that was the start of my evening. It was remarkable. As we started the evening at the kitchen tables, it was clear from the start that the chefs we’re going to deliver something that would be truly memorable.
Some of the highlights of the menu .. the popcorn empanada, something so simple but yet so flavorful. This continued throughout the 26 courses. 26! The chicken shwarma was served in edible paper with a yogurt foam, the swarm itself was fried chicken skin. Another highlight was the beach mushroom risotto with black truffle which was served in fata paper and was cooked by puffing the paper on a plancha using the moisture of the mushroom to cook themselves. The flavor was extraordinary. We got to know our fellow patrons very well, the course providing a unique conversation between us. I never thought eating 26 courses cuisine would leave me feeling as if I wanted more, but this experience definitely did. I can’t wait to return to try is food again with his remarkable team of the same group providing the engine and ingenuity that is Jose Andres cuisine. I felt humbled and returned to Buffalo inspired.