Buffalo Spree's Best of Western New York Winners
It is year six for Buffalo Spree’s Best of WNY, and this is our best best of yet, if we do say so ourselves. Each year, we determine the area’s finest by combining the deliberations of three expert panels with the votes of our readers. each year, the categories change, just to keep it exciting. agree or disagree? Be sure to let us know via email or by posting here on BuffaloSpree.com.
You might expect to find CIA grad Joe Lyons behind the stove in a fine dining restaurant, but he chose another path for himself when he opened a deli in the former Mastman’s location on Hertel and Colvin in 2006. Many of the sandwiches on his menu require custom housemade meats, such as the Reuben—which pairs brined and slow roasted corned beef with swiss, kraut, and from-scratch Russian-style dressing on marble rye. Other lunchtime staples just happen to be prepared expertly without fail: the perfect chicken cutlet sandwich, the classic muffaletta, and the Cuban are all good examples. 1322 Hertel Ave., 875-5637
Ruzzine’s Rock Bottom
Rock Bottom features a large, juicy hand-formed burger made with 80/20 ground beef and seasonings. Grilled, not fried, it is served with a touch of pink in the middle, and a delightfully crisp char on the outside. Served with chips – fries are extra, and a draft beer, it’s cheap and satisfying. This isn’t the best restaurant in the world. Service can be slow and spotty, especially on busy nights. During the summer months, they have a comfortable and popular patio area. Why is it the best? Apart from the way in which it’s prepared and served, it is unique in its excellence. Imagine your favorite meal from your favorite restaurant; the anticipation of taking that first bite of something you love. Rock Bottom’s regular grilled burger will give you that experience, except when you take that first bite, it will be exponentially better than your imagination has allowed. 6261 Transit Rd., East Amherst, 204-4004
Great pizza is always more than the sum of its ingredients. When the ingredients are this good, though, the pie almost has to be a winner. The toppings come from local sources whenever possible, and from interesting spots when not. (The mozzarella is Amish, for instance.) The crust is a paragon of the Roman style, and the menu listings are mouth-watering. Our only complaint? They need to bring back the item with the over-easy egg in the middle. www.vinoaroma.com
To call this menu “extensive” is not in any way hyperbolic. If you’re indecisive, give yourself an hour to figure out what you want to eat, and take heart in the fact that whatever you get is going to be a step (or ten) above Buffalo’s standard take-out. 3381 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, 836-2600
For their unique tempura-like beer batter, their giant, perfectly cooked haddock, and their heaping scoops of homemade sides, Swannie is a clear winner. What truly makes them our favorite, though, is their location in the Old First Ward. The Friday fish fry—that singular meal of the Buffalo tavern, that event by which so many Buffalonians cap the workweek and catch up with friends—is best celebrated at a special destination, and Swannie, as a former 19th century boarding house and a living monument to a bygone era, is as special as they come. 170 Ohio St., 847-2898
Lloyd Taco Truck
It’s only been a year or so, but we can barely remember Life Before Lloyd. The combination of delectably seasoned proteins and fresh-cut vegetables nestled in a couple of corn tortillas is a winning one. The fact that Lloyd is always on the go only adds to the allure. www.whereslloyd.com
TIE! Seneca Niagara Thunder Falls Buffet and Suzy Q’s
One thing you can bet on at the Seneca Niagara Casino is that the “all you can eat” Thunder Falls Buffet will never disappoint. The choices, from crab legs and steak to crème brûlée, seem to be constantly replenished and always more than a step up in quality from standard buffet fare. Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, 310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls, 299-1100, 877-8SENECA
Call them “fries” or call them “frites,” 31 Club’s tasty truffle-scented fries, perched in a perfect paper cone, make a better shared appetizer than any fancy food we can think of. The bright idea to fry these thin and tasty potato strips in duck fat just pushes them over the edge, moving them firmly into the sinful category, but we don’t mind. Now pass the “grilled onion ketchup.” 31 N. Johnson Park, 332-3131
Praise for “unbelievable” finds and “amazing” service is nothing new on Facebook and Twitter. But there was one week, early in 2011, when brewers, aficionados, and plain old fans of the fermented stuff pretty much lost it for the Blue Monk’s draft selection. More than 30 taps flow forth with whatever European and microbrew finds the owner likes. Obscure Belgian pale ales, seasonal German lagers, favorites from across upstate New York—anything goes, but most everything goes down oh-so-smoothly. Except the occasional triple-alcohol barleywines, which are still quite palatable. 727 Elmwood Ave., 882-6665
The late night/early morning queue outside nearly every SteakOut in town attests that the best CFS lives here. Mayo or bleu (or both), crispy shredded lettuce, tomato, and a few Frank’s Red Hot-drenched chicken tenders never tasted so good until someone at Jim’s decided to jam them into an otherwise nondescript roll, press it flat, and toast it within an inch of its life. This already delicious saucy/crispy/crunchy/spicy combination is greatly improved by its odd smashing process, and if you can stand to wait just five or ten minutes before unwrapping your masterpiece from its white deli paper, the whole mess marries together into one amazing meal. www.jimssteakout.com
“The Mike” from Spot Coffee
“The Mike” has been on Spot’s menu since the beginning. In fact, the recipe has never changed. Customers start by choosing their bread. We suggest an “everything bagel,” something sturdy enough to handle the heft of this beauty. It comes with a generous smear of cream cheese, two pan-fried eggs, and melty provolone. For a few quarters more, you can add bacon, ham, or sausage, and we, of course, will always opt for bacon. This isn’t the most heart-healthy way to kickstart the workday, but keep in mind what we’re deciding here. “The Mike” is Buffalo’s best breakfast sandwich. We’d never claim it’s best for you. www.spotcoffee.com
UB students know that Amy’s provides a great excuse to stay up until sunrise; its 6–9 a.m. breakfast special serves up a hearty dish of eggs, toast, and some of the best home fries in town (whole chunks of crispy-edged potato, flavored with fresh peppers and onions)—a combo sure to absorb all the sins of the previous night and get you back on your feet. If your stomach is up to it, the Veggie Wet Shoes is a hippie’s dream hangover food: spicy lentil and onion chili atop curly fries. Amy’s is grungy, it’s gritty, and it’s great. 3234 Main St., 832-6666
WNY does not suffer from a dearth of options when it comes to diner breakfast specials, but Mythos always offers high-quality morning foods (good home fries, well-prepared eggs, and your choice of toast—what more do you need?) at a price that’s worth waking up for. 510 Elmwood Ave., 886-9175
Whole Wheat Cinnamon Roll from Five Points Bakery
The fact that Five Points’ cinnamon rolls are made with 100% whole wheat, or that they provide 25 percent of your recommended daily fiber, or that they contain 8 grams of protein is almost beside the point. For sheer flavor, these rolls could go toe-to-toe with any glazed treat around town. If there’s anyone out there who still hasn’t been turned on to the delights of Five Points’ whole-wheat mastery, consider these gooey, delicious rolls an enticing point of entry. 426 Rhode Island St., 884-8888
Five Points Bakery
This little West Side bakery has made a big splash in recent years with its ethos and efforts, not to mention some pretty darn good bread. But its iced coffee was a big winner with our readers and our panel. Granted there’s no drive-thru and you’ll have to add your own cream or sugar (or honey, or agave), but it’s so good, you won’t mind. Owners Kevin and Melissa Gardner exclusively serve Ithaca-based Gimmee Coffee, which is roasted in small batches by the company’s team of experts. When warmer weather comes, it is offered up in chilled form, with—get this—coffee ice cubes. 426 Rhode Island St., 884-8888
Sometimes you buy chocolates as a gift, sometimes you need to replenish the stash, and sometimes you just want chocolate. Scott and Jacklyn are serious about their chocolate, parfaits, and candies, and they’re aiming for a more delicate, European sensibility than most of their peers. They’re also serious about French press coffee and espresso, and the airy but luxurious space invites you to sit down and really enjoy your dark, delicious indulgences. 731 Main St., 715 Elmwood, 843-4388
Proprietor Zilly Rosen uses whole ingredients in her goods, and can do both standard flavors and interesting combinations. But it’s in how Rosen envisions and sculpts her cakes that you find the woman herself. She authored a book on “Zombie Cupcakes,” has crafted portraits of President Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and Marie Antoinette out of hundreds of cupcakes in monochromatic shades. She can craft a cake of the house you grew up in, and you get the sense that the kinds of crazy-specific requests that might make cause high-volume bakeries headaches are seen as welcome commissions at Zillycakes. 1008 Elmwood Ave., 883-0365
TIE! Hibbard’s and Lake Effect
We have two homegrown winners here; each of these establishments serves up utterly stellar but distinctly unique product.
First, if it’s frozen custard you prefer, Hibbard’s of Lewiston has been serving the real deal for almost a century, and their recipes haven’t veered from their origins. You really don’t need an occasion to visit; the black cherry is excursion worthy. 105 Portage Rd., Lewiston, 754-4218 Take locally inspired and sourced ingredients, concoct flavors so indulgent they’ll haunt the public’s dreams, and crank the butterfat up to 11, and you’ve got a recipe for the most beloved ice cream in town—Lake Effect. The mere mention of their salty caramel evokes tears of joy, but don’t stop there: they offer over 50 flavors with ingredients like Appleton honey and Ellicottville chocolate stout. www.lakeeffecticecream.com
The look? Modern, minimalist, loft-style elegance. The menu? A quirky take on a classic inventory sheet. But the food at the Delaware is straight-up, no-pretense tummy pleasing. The obvious evidence is the deviled eggs on the menu, but look, too, at the tomato-basil soup served with grilled cheese “fingers,” burgers on “Pretzelweck” rolls, short ribs and meatloaf with home-style mashed potatoes, and, for Pete’s sake, a fresh-fried bag of doughnuts with dipping sauces. Regression can taste so good. 3410 Delaware Ave., 874-0100
Steakhouse sides are usually meant to serve as a break from the delicious monopoly of meat, and they usually arrive in share-friendly vessels. They must, in other words, actually stand out in some way to get much regard at all. The lobster and crab mac & cheese is an easy pick, but don't sleep on the zucchini pappardelle, which picks up tomato and basil flavors that complement your prime slab quite well. Multiple visits have never revealed a bad potato among the many offered, and the creamed spinach is our favorite. And the chopped and caprese salads? Best in their class in the area. 1735 Hertel Ave., 834-2662
No, honestly, we’re not just trying to be contrarian. We put ourselves in the shoes of someone trying to eat out, eat with others, and eat vegetarian or vegan on a regular basis, and we arrive at Pizza Plant. There’s a goodly selection of salads, healthier and gluten-free dough and wrap options, and the menus and servers are knowledgeable about the components of every dish. And not for nothing, but the beer selection is basically the best among local casual chains, so you can take the edge off the feeling that veggie cuisine hasn’t entirely arrived in a big way yet in Buffalo. 5110 Main St., Williamsville, 626-5566
This restaurant may have earned a reputation for fine dining, but some of its best dishes include homey Italian classics, such as arancini, lasagna, and pasta fagioli. Spree readers overwhelmingly selected chef Michael Sinatra’s meatballs as their favorite, followed with comments that included adjectives such as “delicious!” and “just like my Nonna’s.” The restaurant’s excellent marinara sauce, made from scratch by original owner and father to the chef, John Sinatra, is a key component to the meatball experience. 938 Kenmore Ave., 877-9419
The concept of offering small plates has really hit full stride, but in our region, Bacchus was the first to split its menu equally into “large” and “small” offerings, opening in 2003 with this innovative concept and remarkable wine list as its defining characteristics. Today it still executes this concept beautifully, appealing to the diner in search of the perfect entrée, or someone who prefers to enjoy a varied dining experience by choosing two or three items from the small plates selection. Sizing up or down isn’t an issue either. Want an entrée-sized portion of truffle-scented beef carpaccio? Maybe an appetizer of flavorful, seafood-laden bouillabaisse? Just ask. 56 W. Chippewa St., 854-9463
Buffalo’s true wine geeks—whether industry folks or those who simply drink enough to be bored with the usual wine bar offerings—have discovered the ultimate combination of insane wine list, delicious small plates, and unadulterated passion that is Just Vino. With 80 options by the glass (not a phoned-in choice among them), make-your-own flights, and small but intensely flavorful plates of olives, meats, breads and spreads, and cheeses, vino just doesn’t get any more fun. 846 Main St., 725-0166
Crisp, clean, contemporary and very special. Daniel’s offers a wide array of specials, prix fixe dinners (Tuesdays through Thursdays) and—even more distinctive—food and wine pairing events (four times a year). A recent prix fixe included fettuccini with grilled shrimp, beef tenderloin, and asparagus with a horseradish cream and devil sauce—superb. 174 Buffalo St., Hamburg, 648-6554
Since Carmelo Raimondi took the helm of the restaurant that bears his name in the Village of Lewiston he has hued reverently to a strategy with two key objectives. The first is to source the best ingredients from the Niagara Region and surrounding area for use in all menu segments—from suckling pig and grass-fed beef to Cornish hens and Niagara County fruit. The second objective is to infuse his cooking with a fresh approach to modern Italian cuisine. Try the ricotta “gnudi” (ravioli-like dumplings that are “naked” of their pasta wrapper) and you’ll toast his success. 425 Center St., Lewiston, 754-2311
Mike Andrzejewski of Sea Bar
They say we eat with our eyes before our mouths, and no chef in Buffalo understands that crucial relationship better than Mike Andrzejewski of the newly renovated Sea Bar. The contemporary interior of this hip downtown restaurant acts as an ideal gallery for "Mike A’s" elegantly plated dishes. Refinement and restraint are words that must be employed when describing his approach, and they work harmoniously when coupled with his mindful use of color and texture. This seriously beautiful food never fails to live up to the promise of its showy appearance. 475 Ellicott St., 332-2928
Warhol came up in the kitchen of the Southtowns’ best restaurant, Daniel’s. From there he went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, where he graduated at the top of his class. Additional training came in the form of internships at the other-worldly Ubuntu in Napa Valley, the exalted el Bulli in Spain, and at Chicago’s crown jewel, Alinea. Now Warhol has returned to WNY as head chef at Chautauqua’s grand Athenaeum Hotel. We’re thrilled to have him back amongst the fold, where his vision and talent will tickle the palates of locals for (we hope) many years to come.
Chef JJ Richert of Torches
There’s more to Richert than his tattoos, piercings, and well-known penchant for lighting things on fire. In addition to turning out eclectic contemporary cuisine at his restaurant, Torches, he also works as a chef instructor at Auburn Watson Culinary Arts Center, a platform chef at the Taste of Buffalo, and has just completed his third season as a Nickel City Chef. Coupled with his approachable personality and commanding stage presence, Richert’s ability to instruct and inspire make him our clear choice for this category. 1141 Kenmore Ave., 447-7915
Love cocktail parties? Us, too! Trouble is, few of them have excellent food and killer cocktails. That’s where Sample comes in. Grab a table with a group of friends and enjoy gossip and handcrafted cocktails with a few tasty selections from the “shared plates” portion of the menu (lamb kroftes, mussels with fries), or sit alone at the hopping U-shaped bar; it’s just a matter of time before you and the atmosphere warm up to one another. Only here can you order a personalized selection of hors d’oeuvres to pair with your favorite mojito. The summer patio offers the opportunity to observe Allentown’s colorful street life. With a group or all alone, the next time you’re looking for a little fun, head over to Sample, a place where the party never stops. 242 Allen St., 883-1675
From the moment you set foot inside this downtown gem, you are enveloped in a cocoon of meticulous, unobtrusive service. The waitstaff is only part of it, but it is an essential part. You may not know their first names, but they will advise you if needed, refill your water invisibly, and in every possible way make an already superb dining experience even better. 341 Franklin St., 852-4416
One of WNY’s few producer-only farmers’ markets, this bustling urban bazaar foretells the beginning of summer and the end of fall in a way no weatherman ever could. Foodies in the know will quickly spot local chefs roaming the stands, selecting squash blossoms, rainbow-hued carrots, and hard-to-find greens. Handcrafted edibles such as local bread, yogurt, cookies, sausage, and juices are also readily available. Where our grandmothers spent Sunday afternoons in the churchyard, eating white cake and sipping coffee from foam cups with the neighbors, the new generation prefers to catch up at the farmers’ market, stroller or dog in tow, reusable bags in hand. www.elmwoodmarket.org
E. B. Green’s Steakhouse
The setting is classy and comfortable, and the famous sunken bar has plush chairs for relaxed lounging. The well gin is Gordon’s, an excellent brand. The olives are ice cold, plump, and delicious. The elements of the ideal martini are a matter of eternal controversy, but we’re sold on this steakhouse and this cocktail. Two Fountain Plaza, 855-4870
The key to a good Manhattan is balance, and the barkeeps here strike the perfect balance, both in style—nothing flashy here, just a crew of true professionals—and in performance: They go easy on the mixers, allowing the spiciness of the rye to come through. Prefer bourbon? So be it; ask Sam to make your drink, and he will temper the caramel notes just right, delivering Buffalo’s best sipping experience. 33 Virginia Pl., 882-2989
Bloom Floristry and Special Event Planning
Gorgeous displays reflect the artistry of Orlando Diaz, whose wealth of experience in creating floral fantasies for special events culminated in the opening of this spacious storefront last spring. The vintage commercial building fits into a blossoming block, anchored by the repurposed Granite Works lofts. We love Bloom for the freshest floral and other gifts. 846 Main St., 887-3863
Whether you’re outfitting your bridal party, shopping for a Garden Walk trench coat, or designing your own custom-fitted look, Anatomy’s website is both beautiful and comprehensive. Kudos to their Syracuse-based designers, Face First Creative.
Premier Liquor Group
Like Walt Whitman, Premier contains multitudes. You’ll find it all here—a huge selection of value-minded wines, perfect for big parties; a special room where you can find top Bordeaux, Sauternes, and other premium bottles; and shelves loaded with wines you’ve never heard about and need to try. We love to visit Premier during the holidays; seeing people load up their cars with cases of alcohol makes us happy for some reason. www.premierwines.com
TIE! City Wine Merchant/Brighton Liquor
Lawyer turned wine shop owner Eric Genau has found his true calling. No wonder his blog is entitled Do Something You Love. In a couple short years, City Wine Merchant has set the standard for what a hip city wine store should be. Weekly posts on Facebook invite “friends” to stop by for an after-work tasting, and we highly recommend checking out their website for discounts, suggested wine pairings, upcoming tasting, and much more—and did we mention they deliver? 715 Main St., 931-9114
Brighton Liquors is the domain of local wine guru Bob Leighton. Imagine you know 10 times as much as you do about wine and then quadruple that. You still won’t come close. Trust his knowledge to make your wine selections for you—you'll add greatly to your wine expertise in the process. 930 Brighton Rd., Tonawanda 833-2606
Culinary gadget fetishists across WNY flock to Kenmore for the latest and greatest (to say nothing of the nouveau-retro and just-plain-classic) in pots, pans, barware, and other tools of the trade. Come for the Cuisinarts, leave with that high-tech crème brulée torch you just know will make your life complete. Christmas-in-July bonus: stuff the stocking of your favorite foodie sometime with a little sumpin’-sumpin’ from the aisles of inventions both oddball (dishwasher-safe avocado extender, anyone?) and practical (gotta love those OXO Good Grips!). 3465 Delaware Ave., Kenmore, 877-3574
Gourmands in many other parts of the U.S. struggle to source exotic ingredients, relying on the internet and overnight shipping to bring them chayote, lemon grass, or caster sugar. But that’s no concern of ours here in WNY. Aptly called the “Disneyland of food” in a recent Maryland newspaper, we think locals sometimes forget just how lucky they are to have access to Wegmans’ varied selection of fresh (local and exotic) produce, amazing cheeses, bevy of beer, and overwhelming supply of dry imported goods. We haven’t.
Whether it’s long-forgotten natives, cool-looking cultivars, or improved varieties of old favorites you’re seeking, the friendly folks in the shadow of the fairgrounds can help. They’ll not only point you in the direction of that cutting-edge hakonechloa grass, they’ll give you tips on how to treat it and suggestions for how to incorporate it in your landscape—and don’t be too surprised if they ask you how it’s doing, a year later. Time after time, when neighbors or GardenWalkers ask where you found a particularly provocative specimen, odds are your answer’s going to be, “I got it at Lockwood’s.” 4484 Clark St., Hamburg, 649-4684
The freshest selection in town, season after season, is the trusty treasure trove known as Anna Grace. Boutique owner Joanne Dina has a fine eye for fabric and detail. The buttery-soft Velvet line, combining cutting-edge style with comfort, is our favorite. We also love the tops of slinky rayon and jersey and cozy cotton slubs from a host of other designers, like Weston Wear, LA Made, and Alternative Apparel. 799 Elmwood Ave., 332-7069
Whether you are looking for a one-piece cut-out, an itsy bitsy bikini, or a cute cover-up, you’ll find it at Blum’s, which has hundreds of suits in every style, size, and color. Size doesn’t matter—you will find your ideal match here. Can bathing suit shopping be enjoyable? At Blum’s, it’s possible. 5110 Main St., Williamsville, 633-8999
With a fresh new location on Hertel Avenue, MN now has a space triple the size and amount of style. The names say it all: a modern/nostalgia approach to women’s clothing and accessories. Walking in you feel like you have walked into your dream closet. 1382 Hertel Ave., 844-8435
Need a fabulous clutch for a night on the town, or an everyday bag for running around? Or do you just want to treat yourself to something fabulous? Tony Walker has you covered. We love their selection of high-end designers like Tory Burch, Marc Jacobs, and Rebecca Minkoff, as well as their more modest selections. 5110 Main St., Williamsville. 626-3280
Shoefly will soon earn landmark status from the well-heeled ladies of Buffalo, because when it comes to finding unique women’s shoes that are both special and functional, this store has no equal. 801 Elmwood Ave., 886-3595
Burchfield Penney Museum Store
Looking for a special something for a special someone on a special occasion? Get to the Burchfield Penney Museum Store. Visiting from out of town and you want to bring home a little memento from Buffalo? See above. This store has a wonderful collection of unique jewelry— all from local artists. We also love the cool, modern store design, which is both inviting and a continuation of the museum experience. 1300 Elmwood Ave., 878-6011
Take a walk on the beautiful side. From engagement rings to elegant bracelets and necklaces in classic to contemporary styles, Abraham’s Jewelers offers customers an exquisite selection of jewelry and gift items. 798 Elmwood Ave., 873-0734
No point in winter-denying around here: It can get mighty cold and snowy when the dark season arrives. Does that mean we have to stumble around town in a shapeless swaddle? No, we shop at Buffalo Fleece. The cute boutique is home to all manner of activewear, including sturdy but stylish shoes and boots by the likes of UGG, Dansko, and Merrell. The Fleece also has a select grouping of outerwear, including coats, jackets, and sweaters from Tribal and Robert Kitchen, Canadian designers who know a thing or two more about winter. 758 Elmwood Ave., 883-4380
The legendary Elmwood boutique has a highly curated section of menswear that speaks to the rock’n’roller in you. 736 Elmwood Ave., 884-9145
Riverside Men's Shop
Tradition! Although the city location is gone (even the building it was in), Riverside Men’s has been synonymous with quality menswear in WNY for almost a century. When you wanna look sharp—and who doesn’t?—this is the place. 3063 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, 833-8401
Pumpkin’s Children's Clothing
For twenty years, this boutique has been the place to buy designer/upscale clothing for kids in WNY. The adorable storefront—remodeled this year—is perfect for special occasion outfits, christening gowns, and much more. 5520 Main St., Williamsville, 632-2246
Corto’s Salon & Seasons Spa
The elegant manicure area and individualized treatments here will spoil you for factory manicures forever. Let them surprise you and pick your color; you’ll be getting compliments for weeks. www.cortosalon.com
Capello Salon & Day Spa
While at many salons/spas your pedicure takes place in either a raucous scene of roaring hairdryers or a dark enclosure reeking of aromatherapy, Capello Salon & Day Spa at the Avant offers the happy medium—a calm, bright oasis at one end of its downtown facility. If you’re in a hurry, they are happy to multitask in some hair styling. 200 Delaware Ave., 852-5600
BeautyQuest Medispa & Skin Care
Whether you need to get gorgeous in a jiff for a special occasion or want to rethink your whole beauty routine, BQ has the expertise. Don’t believe us? Check out the glamorous transformation in this year’s Spree Beauty Book! 5483 Sheridan Dr., Williamsville, 633-7546
Chez Ann Salon & Day Spa
With two locations, Chez Ann relies on consultation, innovation, and inspiration to create the perfect haircut that suits your style. www.chezannsalon.com
Excuria Salon & Med Spa
We have heard that the body treatments here will leave you speechless. Next time you’re due for a reward, redeem it at Excuria. We recommend accompanying your massage with the spa’s Signature Facial. 5725 Main St., Williamsville, 839-3106
The Village Cut and Shave
The ultimate barbershop experience consists of a haircut and straight-razor shave, and that is what Village delivers. Add good conversation, a cold beverage, and some highly entertaining large plasma TVs, and you’re sure to leave feeling like a gentleman. 611 Elmwood Ave., 464-3516
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
In today’s shifting economic realities, the Albright-Knox has demonstrated imagination and panache by continually creating fresh contexts for its rich in-house collection that cut across diverse aesthetic terrain. The gallery’s signature pieces serve as foundations for frequent “remixes” that mine some deep archives for little-seen works, casting a revealing new light on the whole collection. The result is art presented more like the ongoing dynamic process it is, rather than a fixed set of sacred historic relics.
Heatwaves in a Swamp (Burchfield Penney Art Center)
This much-lauded traveling exhibition organized by UCLA’s Hammer Museum became the Charles Burchfield Show for People Who Didn’t Think They Cared Much for Burchfield. Curator Robert Gober, himself a renowned sculptor, cast new light on previously unsung aspects of the watercolorist’s work, configuring the exhibition as a large-scale installation—with ample amounts of bonus material courtesy of the BPAC crew, who know a thing or two about the subject themselves. The show put Burchfield (back) on the national radar, in the process providing one of WNY’s most consistently innovative museums with a completely fresh spin on their namesake.
People are drawn to the water and will find their way to the shore no matter what barriers nature or the New York State Thruway Authority place before them. There is a lot to love about Canalside, but the best thing may be that it exists at all. The Erie Canal and specifically the restored Commercial Slip are the WNY equivalent of the Alamo, monuments to a point when the history of the United States became the history of a continent. This is a great place to contemplate history or to enjoy a breeze off the lake. The historical markers are unusually well done, particularly the transparencies.
Irish Classical Theatre Company
While remaining distinctively Irish (Shining City) and Classical (James Joyce’s The Dead), the ICTC’s very intriguing twentieth anniversary season stayed true to itself, yet still offered something old (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), something new (The Cant), something “borrowed” (Playboy of the Western World—from an earlier season), and something blue (The Mandrake). Guided by constant local favorite Vincent O’Neill (ICTC artistic director), Irish Classical’s output is a true gift to the WNY community. And after twenty years of outstanding productions, she still looks great. Let’s keep her.
My Fair Lady (MusicalFare)
It was easy to grow accustomed to the face of bright new talent Edith Grossman as one of the best Eliza Doolittles in years. This condensed production of the Lerner and Loewe classic was refreshingly brisk and wonderfully executed. Director Susan Drozd orchestrated an efficient piece of summerfare (so to speak) that was indeed “loverly.” With a little bit of luck, we’ll see more from this team soon.
The Liberty Building and environs
Legendary director Peter Brook once said, “I can take any empty space and call it a stage.” While WNY has no shortage of versatile venues—including the home bases of Alt., Buffalo Lab Theatre, BUA, and Torn Space—the most unique stage in 2010 was the normally empty space between the twin Statues of Liberty high atop one of the city’s most iconic buildings on the late-summer evening when Didier Pasquette took a not-so-leisurely stroll along a tightrope to kick off Beyond/In WNY. Equally unique was the audience configuration: oddly positioned pockets of crowded sidewalk scattered throughout an otherwise underpopulated downtown. It was a Brooks-worthy coup.
The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, (Road Less Traveled Theatre)
Though Ujima’s Ruined and Alt’s Gutenberg! The Musical! were notable standouts, Road Less Traveled’s Judas Iscariot earns our best production nod for both ambition and across-the-“boards” excellence. Staging anything with fourteen actors (many double- or triple-cast) is a monumental undertaking in terms of both budget and logistics, yet RLTP pulled it off with panache, populating a jaw-dropping set with an all-star cast of Buffalo’s top talent. Under Scott Behrend’s steadfast direction, the seamless ensemble took Stephen Adly Guirgis’ complex script and skillfully mined it for its wealth of humor and ideas, never sacrificing one for the other. Judas was more than a show; it was an experience. We hope you didn’t miss it.
There are no fancy drink specials, no gourmet treats on the bar, and the décor … Well, even your grandmother would have replaced that wallpaper. Despite all that—or maybe because of it—there’s no better place to be after work than here. It’s a cliché, but what makes Loughran’s great is the people. You’ve got your left-wing teachers from Park School yukking it up with arch-conservative suburban suits. On a recent Monday, assorted clumps of friends at 5:00 became a full-on mixer by 6:00 as the regulars drifted in and the drinks flowed. As one customer put it, “Come once, people are friendly. Come twice, you’re family.” 4543 Main St., Amherst, 839-0283
Free bacon. Need I say more? Okay, there’s plenty of other reasons the Century Grill takes the crown, and the bacon is only on Saturdays, but any place that has the smarts to make such an offer is darn cool. There are other treats for your post-work pleasure, like “Meatloaf Monday” or “Happy Hour Tots,” or menu items like the “Rod Jeremy,” not to mention a killer beer list. And location is key, too. For the downtown masses, its Pearl Street location is wonderfully accessible, either for a quick beverage before heading home or before a hockey game. But really, it all comes down to the bacon. If you dig on swine, you’ll dig the Century Grill, any day of the week. 320 Pearl St., 853-6322
We do not advocate excessive drinking, but once in a while (providing one is not driving), irresponsible alcohol consumption is not only excusable, it is required in the name of sanity. There is no better place to do that than this beloved Allentown establishment. Whether your favorite shot is a lemon drop, kamikaze, Irish car bomb, or no-frills vodka, tequila, or whiskey, line them up at the Old Pink. 223 Allen St., 884-4338
Brennan’s Bowery Bar
The night before Turkey Day has become an informal grand scale reunion, when the over-21 crowd heads out to see who’s come back home for the holiday (or never left). Chances are if you grew up anywhere in the Northtowns, you’ll see someone from your past, either recent or distant. Once you get past the mundane strip mall setting (plenty of parking, though), Brennan’s has the dark, burnished atmosphere of a venerable college town bar with bartenders at the ready to meet the demands of the thirsty crowd. Even if you don’t see anyone you know, the lively scene beats watching television with your folks, hands down. 4401 Transit Rd., Williamsville, 633-9630
Buffalo abounds in spots that give off a cozy neighborhood vibe, but the Place is special even in a city full of taverns, saloons, and gin joints. Part of what makes it great is location—the Elmwood Strip is a block (and a world) away. Another part is clientele; you can look around and see people who have been coming here since their parents used to bring them in a carriage, and there are frequently people who are there for the first time. The Place belongs in any discussion about the best fish fry, which means it is part of a long-standing Buffalo culinary and conversational tradition, but we like the "thinny flynny"—a sort of proto-panini made with ham, thin swiss, and Bermuda onion with Thousand Island on wafer-thin rye, grilled. 229 Lexington Ave., 886-9180
Looking purely at venues—sightlines, comfort level, sound quality—it’s clear that UB’s Center for the Arts is tops. (If we allowed the list of past performers to play a role—the past year alone has included Levon Helm, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, and Chris Isaak—it would be an even bigger trouncing of the competition.) There is a level of intimacy at a CFA show that is simply unequalled at any similarly sized hall in WNY. You want to really see Max Weinberg’s hair? Then you’ve got to be here, friends. It’s no exaggeration to say there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The ample free parking doesn’t hurt, either. UB North Campus, 645-ARTS
Like the legendary CBGB’s, it’s not the building that makes the Sportmens the best venue of its size in the area—it’s the vision and dedication of owners Dwane and Denise Hall, who have turned a humble Black Rock tavern into a musical mecca for artists who fit under the big Americana and Roots tent. Appreciative audiences willingly pay for the privilege of hearing legends like Asleep at the Wheel, Maria Muldaur, Poco, Commander Cody, and Wanda Jackson (as well as national up-and-comers and an eclectic assortment of local artists) in a small setting where the focus is squarely on the music. There’s no need to make the trip to the legendary clubs of Nashville or Austin when our own honky tonk beer joint is in the same league. 326 Amherst St., 874-7734
The best possible definition of this category is “people you don’t know doing things you’ve never heard of,” and while Buffalo is currently blessed with a least a dozen newish, underground-ish galleries, there’s no better manifestation of that time-honored concept at the moment than the storefront space currently occupying the ground floor of the building that once housed Hallwalls, CEPA, and the late, lamented Arts Council. Exhibitions, local and touring bands, and all manner of inventive late-breaking phenomena unfold here on a regular basis—seemingly untethered by the kinds of year-in-advance scheduling that more established venues must deal with—helping to inject a little spur-of-the-moment wackiness into the ever-rebounding downtown cultural scene. 702 Main St., 597-8396
It's the people
The voice of Sabres play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret is as much a part of the team’s identity as its (thankfully) restored classic logo and the French Connection. Like legendary baseball announcers Vince Scully (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Ernie Harwell (Detroit Tigers), Jeanneret’s roots in radio (he added television duties in 1995 after nearly a quarter-century on radio) have given him a poetic, almost painterly ability with words, able to describe the fast moving game of hockey with deft, evocative verbal strokes. Add a gift for signature phrases—“top shelf where momma hides the cookies!”—and you’ve got a certified future Hall of Famer. The news that he’ll be scaling back his workload in 2011–12 makes honoring Jeanneret even more fitting.
The 2011 season may have ended in disappointing fashion, but this, the Year of Pegula, saw the finest coaching of Ruff’s long career. Consider: Even with an awful start to the campaign, a back-to-earth Ryan Miller, a sophomore-slumping Tyler Myers, an injured Derek Roy, the continued existence of Tim Connolly, and an ownership in flux, the Sabres were one of the league’s best teams during the second half of the season. Ruff not only steadied the ship, but found a way for youngsters like Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis to flourish. When Terry Pegula took over and crowned Ruff his continued man behind the bench, it was hard not to get excited about the Sabres all over again.
In a world of mighty Orangemen, Blue Devils, and Cornhuskers, it’s easy to take the Bulls for granted. It’s difficult, after all, to compete with the crème de la crème of NCAA basketball and football. But the Bulls have managed to make themselves tailgate-worthy, thanks to some smart hires, good recruiting, and savvy promotion. In recent years, the Bulls have finally rammed their way into a rarified spot: Buffalo’s College Team. If they find a way to start being consistently successful on the court and the gridiron, so much the better.
Queen City Roller Girls
In the mere half-decade of its existence, this homegrown league of next-generation roller derby teams has skated its way into our hearts, bigtime. While this high-impact sport is huge all over the country right now, there are few things WNYers love more than rooting for a bunch of hardscrabble, bootstrappin’ underdogs. Being able to cheer on rock-’em-sock-’em packs of “Devil Dollies” and “Suicidal Saucies” just makes it all the better—and the action spills way past the rink, into afterparties, media stardom (including the cover of one of our own issues), and art exhibitions. Best of all, the whole phenomenon is a case of empowerment on wheels. You go, girls! www.qcrg.net
A cliché it may be, but a Hollywood scriptwriter couldn’t have come up with a better WNY sports tale than James Starks’s journey from Niagara Falls High basketball hero to UB football star and Super Bowl champion. When injuries struck the Green Bay Packers’ running back corps, rookie Starks not only stepped in, but flourished, becoming an essential cog in the Packer machine and turning countless Falls folk into Cheeseheads. It’s a true Cinderella hometown-guy-makes-good story, and for Bills fans, it’s worth noting that Starks, a sixth-round pick, accomplished more in Year One than first-rounder C. J. Spiller. Nice one, Bills.
East Aurora Girls’ Cross Country
From Buffalo to Albany, upstate New York is home to some of the best girls’ high school cross country teams in the nation. In a grueling sport that demands year-round training, Coach Walt McGlaughlin’s team has won six straight Class B state championships and counting, even placing high in national rankings along the way. There are few better ways to enjoy our beautiful autumn scenery than to take a ride to East Aurora and watch the girls run one of the best cross-country courses for spectators in the region. And as a bonus, the boys’ team is almost as good as the girls.
The arrival of a new owner of the Buffalo Sabres boosted the psyche of area residents far beyond the hockey arena. Here was someone with the resources to do just about anything one might imagine in life. What he chose to do was become one of us: an unpretentious, unabashed fan. Even at $189 million and counting, the deal wasn’t a financial transaction—it was a stamp of approval for all of us for whom being a Western New Yorker is an enthusiastic choice, not the short-end of life’s stick. For those of us in the region tired of being seen as merely a source of revenue—whether by sports team or casino owners, or politicians—Pegula is a breath of fresh air.
When David Torke posted a year or so back that he might abandon his blog Fix Buffalo, which he has been writing since 2004, his small but dedicated band of followers protested. Fix Buffalo focuses—mainly—on Buffalo’s built environment, especially in the neighborhoods of the East Side. Torke is also an accomplished photographer—find and friend him on Flickr. fixbuffalo.blogspot.com
PR professional (and former Spree intern) Nicole Schuman tweets on just about everything—if she’s in your feed, count on seeing the Buffalo Gal handle every 5 to 10 tweets or so. Schuman’s also an enthusiastic representative and promoter of WNY’s social media scene. Here’s what we like about Buffalo Gal—even when she’s complaining, she comes across as sweet, good-natured, and a fervent supporter of all things Buff. twitter.com/buffalogal
If by “voice” you’re only listening for the deep, dulcet tones of a typical announcer, then WNY has plenty of solid, obvious contenders. But we’re thinking, too, of “voice” in the sense of someone with something provocative to say and a distinctive way to say it. And in that case, this veteran of the WNY theater and broadcasting scene is one of a kind. As we headed to press, her tenure at WECK had come to a close. But we trust it won’t be long before she's landed somewhere new, because we sorely need such an outspoken advocate for the arts, women, the LGBT community, and the many other folks whose own voices are seldom represented on the AM dial in the era of Rush and his ilk.
In a recent column, Rod Watson opened with the question, “Who gets to speak truth when it pertains to African Americans?” We don’t begin to know the answer to that one, but when it comes to speaking candidly about economic inequity and those who have been forgotten or ignored for too long, Watson’s voice rings loud and clear.
Beyond/In WNY Team
It might seem like something of a miracle that 14 curators from 12 diverse art venues could manage to work together for over a year without killing each other. This is Buffalo, however, where abundant artistic achievement is managed with collegial small-town spirit. Ably led by Hallwalls’ John Massier, the Beyond/In team pulled off the gargantuan task of exhibiting over 100 artists in a dozen museums and galleries and numerous satellite locations spread over 2 counties. There was so much worthwhile work, in fact, that it took the full 3 months the biennial lasted to see it all, especially if you attempted to take in the many performances, lectures, and screenings. Here’s one Buffalo team that had a winning season in 2010.
The longtime executive director of Hallwalls is also one of the best advocates for the arts Buffalo has ever had.
While Cardoni’s outspoken role in the debate over county funding brought him to a lot of people’s attention in the past year, he’s been fighting the good fight—on behalf of artists and audiences, and against the forces of censorship—for two decades now, with equal measures of passion and eloquence. During an era when similar artist-run venues around the country have shut their doors, Hallwalls has not only survived but thrived, unafraid to shift its size and shape to meet the challenges of the day without ever once abandoning its mission—and that mix of experimentation and determination is classic Cardoni.
Fund for the Arts
By now, everyone in WNY knows that as far as our city and county governments are concerned, arts/culture do not exist. (And probably none of us are surprised.) Fortunately, a group of local foundations and arts organizations has been working together to devise some way of getting support to the theaters, galleries, and other small cultural entities that add so much to our quality of life and do it with so few resources. Fund for the Arts, a coalition of local foundations, has raised close to half a million to divide among 36 recipients this year, and is looking for a long-term solution. Bravo!
A familiar presence on WNY stages, White continues to stand out in roles both major and minor. Her tour de force this season was undoubtedly her role as Catherine in Buffalo Laboratory Theatre’s Standing on My Knees. Playing a poet whose treatment for schizophrenia forces her to choose between her creativity and a burgeoning relationship, she was brilliantly balanced on the thin line between tension and tenderness. With White inches away on BLT’s close stage, her anxiety was ours as we felt every raw nerve and sensitive synapse. Few actresses—let alone audiences—are ever so lucky.
As a character actor, Newell has always had ample opportunity to steal shows with distinctive featured roles, but rarely does he get a chance to be the show. This season, two plays (Lebensraum and Gutenberg! The Musical!) called for leads with Newell’s exact brand of versatility and theatergoers enjoyed a rare treat—twice. In both shows, Newell donned the hats (in Gutenberg!, literally) of a host of diverse characters, proving he has the chops for anything.
This incredibly affable outfit is, in the grand Buffalo tradition, a little bit avant and a whole lotta catchy at pretty much the same time. Driving, relentless beats nudge up against the most delicate of flourishes (is that a celesta we hear?!), and the result can be sheer magic. As their name suggests, these folks are not afraid to let the contradictions and rough edges show, even when they’re surfing toward pop perfection. Catch this wave, pronto.
When you think about it, who are we really going to miss from the annals of local newscasts? The folks that reported about our city’s woes, or a lovable, sorta dashing weatherman who hosted a children’s program with a bevy of tripped-out puppets? From 1965–1991, Tom Jolls gave kids in WNY something they could call their own. Nothing against Yo Gabba Gabba, but when youngsters got obsessed with Commander Tom, they were loving something that was purely Buffalo.
Ah, the anger. The orange and blackened anger. To put it lightly, Paladino’s failed 2010 gubernatorial bid was a colorful thing. Our hometown boy made all the wrong kinds of headlines, threatening reporters, spewing hate speech, and forwarding some e-mails that weren’t exactly work-appropriate. Some of that negative energy was directed in the right place—our pathetically inefficient state government. But in the end, while Carl was definitely mad as hell, his campaign left him looking mad out of touch.
Given all the horrible stuff that happens in the world, when something like the Lee scandal hits, it’s almost a relief—a hard news story that’s just so silly, it can’t help but make you smile. We’re not saying that the resignation of a U.S. Representative doesn’t merit larger discussions (e.g., Does an unfaithful spouse make for a bad politician?), but for now we’re going to embrace the opportunity to tell bad jokes about it. To wit: Chris Lee’s the kind of politician who would do anything for his constituents—if you asked, he’d give you the shirt off his back.
This historian, author, entrepreneur, and urban planning activist has been a tireless advocate for Buffalo for almost 40 years. Goldman’s renovation of the Calumet Building served as a catalyst for the cultural, physical, and economic revitalization of the Chippewa District. Applying that same formula elsewhere, the Allen Street Hardware Café has become a cultural institution in less than a decade. We look forward to Goldman’s current projects, the Black Rock Kitchen & Bar (forthcoming) and his Imagining Buffalo’s Waterfront project. Thank you, Mark, for your can-do, collaborative approach to reshaping our community.
Their Net Zero house—which produces just as much energy as it consumes—is ready to open this summer, and that is just one of the many projects of the People United for Sustainable Housing. In recent years, the group’s most prominent initiative has been to hold energy giant National Fuel accountable for how energy costs impact Buffalo’s most struggling neighborhoods. Keep on pushing, PUSH!
Mayor Byron Brown
When we interviewed the mayor in 2006 he said he bought his suits at Get Dressed. That may have changed, but wherever he gets them, he wears them well. Many politicians favor the rumpled look; we don’t know why and we don’t like it. At least in terms of his natty appearance, our mayor represents us well.
Her ensembles at the Arties are as big a highlight of the WNY theater season as her performances throughout the rest of the year. Can anyone else rock a gown quite as well as the divine LL? We think not. And those of us who have caught her offstage are equally impressed. Then again, Ludwig could probably make a sweatsuit look like haute couture.