Consuming passions

Consuming passions

Lagniappe’s & Merge photos by kc kratt.
Polish Villa & Tempo photos by Jim Bush.
Best takeout
244 Allen St., 883-3663,
The truly high-quality food from this tiny venue is best as take-out. But we do hear they are moving to a bigger location.

Best vegetarian/vegan cuisine
439 Delaware Ave., 842-0600,
What we said last year is still true. Merge keeps everybody happy: the vegetarians, the meat-eaters, and the gluten-intolerant.

Best steakhouse
Western Door
Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, 310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls, 877-873-6322
Well worth a trip whether you plan to gamble or not. This classic meat palace has been called comparable to Ruth's Chris.

Best fish fry
1748 Clinton St., 823-2828
You will find a huge portion of fresh, perfectly cooked batter-coated fish as well as great French fries, potato salad, and macaroni salad on your crowded plate at this unpretentious Kaisertown dive.

Best place to find traditional Polish fare
Polish Villa, Part Two
1085 Harlem Rd., Cheektowaga, 822-4908,
As Tevye would say: “Tradition!” This has been the place for golambki, pirogi, and keilbasa for decades.

Best chopped salad
Russell's Steaks, Chops & More
6675 Transit Rd.Williamsville, 636-4900,
A classic steakhouse chopped with the delicious addition of cashews.

Best plating/presentation
581 Delaware Ave., 885-1594,
The colors are bright and the arrangement is dynamic. We love Chef Jenkins’s presentation of iced-down Malpeque oysters on a divided white plate, with each bright accompaniment in its own slot.

Best cupcakes
1008 Elmwood Ave., 883-0365,
They have a cupcake bar, where you choose your own cake, frosting, and topping. Now, that’s pretty cool.

Best appetizer menu
33 Virginia Pl., 882-2989
The apps change daily, and there's always a great range. On a recent visit, this Allentown stalwart offered a choice of fresh oysters, quail, foie gras, three different salads, risotto, and pulled pork.

Best sandwich menu
Chris’s NY Sandwich Co.
395 Delaware Ave., 854-6642
It’s not just the sandwiches; customers rave about the sweet potato fries and side salads as well. Everything is fresh and—for a sandwich shop—innovative.

Most innovative desserts
Rue Franklin
341 Franklin St., 852-4416,
Although there are plenty of dessert-only options in WNY, what we look for is consistent high quality, as well as fresh approaches. The Rue is the dark horse choice.

Best steak sandwich
1539 Military Rd., Niagara Falls, 297-3550
Jim’s Steakout photo by J.P. Thimot.
Niagara County too often gets disregarded by WNY foodies, which is a shame, because this modest sub shop has been serving great steak hoagies for decades.

Best place to eat after 2 a.m.
Jim’s Steakout
Multiple locations,
Jim’s has a flawless sense of what late nighters crave. If it's 3:30 a.m. and you have lost all willpower, this is probably a safe place to end up.

Best beef-free burger
807 Millersport Hwy., Amherst, 446-9715
All house-made, the beef alternatives here include tofu/spinach and cashew/broccoli; another must-try is their outstanding falafel.

Best traditional chicken wings
Gabriel’s Gate
145 Allen St., 886-0602
Always plump and crispy, these deliver. The Gate has become almost as much an institution for wings as Anchor Bar or Duff’s.

Vizzi’s photos by kc kratt.

Best burger
967 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore, 871-1965
Their monster half-pounder with a gently charred exterior was both the people’s and panelists’ choice.

Best non-traditional chicken wings
LaTeeDa eggplant wings
206 Allen St., 881-4500
White Cow Dairy photo courtesy of White Cow Dairy.
Ted’s photo by Jared Mobarak.
Owner Mary Tomaselli carries on a tradition started by a restaurant formerly in LTD’s location; these vegetarian alternatives are crisp, rectangular twins of the traditional wing.

Best Sunday brunch
3260 Main St., 837-2326,
A weekend tradition takes on a Creole flair, including red beans and Spar’s andouille on the side.

Best locally roduced food product
White Cow Dairy Yogurt
Lovingly produced and packaged, these little white jars are shipped to discriminating vendors across America.

Best hot dog
Multiple locations,
Great dogs, perfect grilling, and friendly service—that’s all it takes.

Best thin-crust pizza
La Hacienda
3019 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls, 285-2536,
Though crisp Neapolitan-style pizza can be found in many local restaurants these days, no one else offers the flavor and value of La Hac.

Best thick-crust pizza
Bocce Club
4174 North Bailey Ave., Amherst, 833-1344; 1614 Hopkins Rd., East Amherst, 689-2345;
Not too thick, but definitely not thin, with crusty edges and crispy pepperoni disks, a soft interior, and lots of gooey cheese. This style defines pizza for most of WNY.

Best cheeseless pizza
DiCamillo’s pizza bread
Multiple locations,
Old-style bread bakers used to make a type of pizza that needed only the dough, some tomato and herbs, and a good, hot oven. It’s hard to find now, but try it on your next trip to this longtime purveyor of Italian confections.

Best beef on weck
789 Center Rd., West Seneca, 674-9821,
The beef is perfectly cooked; the restaurant is one of WNY’s oldest and most authentic.

Beer Joint(s)
Here’s a salute to two veteran beer bars to which we’d like to raise our pint glasses.

Best Place to Have a Beer-Religious Experience: Pearl Street Grill & Brewery (76 Pearl St.; 856-2337 or If there is one high temple in Buffalo for beer devotees to worship their deity, it’s the beautiful brick Pearl Street Grill. After you walk in—passing under a giant tap—swing by the glass-encased brewing room to genuflect, and take your place at the bar. PSG offers delicious paths to heaven through its bold standards and a number of seasonal and special varieties. Its own beer is so consistently good, it doesn’t need to sell that of others (although Blue and Blue Light are available for the unenlightened). But beyond the transcendental quality of its brews, Pearl Street exudes a reverence of beer like no other place. Half the food on the menu is made with it, and the brewmaster even offers homebrewers a challenge to have their recipes produced by the Pearl Street pros. And then there’s the 100-ounce “Widow Maker.” Let us pray.

Best Selection for the Hard-Core Beer Geek: Cole’s (1104 Elmwood Ave.; 886-1449). Sometimes it takes so long to pick out a beer from the extensive selection at Coles, you must already have a favorite in mind so you can drink while you think and peruse the menu. In a Belgian mood? Maybe something aged in thirty-year-Scotch oak casks? Wait a minute—what the heck is that? There’s no better place to find ultra-rare concoctions, the newest offerings from edgy and innovative breweries, and styles you’ve never even heard of or thought possible. The menu likely will never be the same on two visits, as new varieties come in so frequently, the chalkboard and print menus just can’t keep up. And that’s not a bad thing—surprise yourself and take your beer-love to a whole new level.

—Jay Pawlowski

Best subs
La Nova
371 W. Ferry St., 881-3303; 5151 Main St., Williamsville, 634-5151;
This reliable go-to for Italian-themed subs has been around for over fifty years and it's still top-notch.

Best pasta sauce
938 Kenmore Ave., 877-9419,
At many joints, this can be too sweet or too chunky, but at Sinatra’s, the tomato sauce is subtle and elegant, just like everything else on their menu of refined Italian standards.

Best pancakes
Original Pancake House
Century Grill and Cole’s (above sidebar) photos by kc kratt.
Five Points Bakery photo by kc kratt.
Suzy Q’s photo by Jim Bush.
5479 Main St., Williamsville, 634-5515,
It may be a chain, but the lemon ricotta pancakes are to die for and the Williamsville location is a longtime neighborhood hangout.

Best home fries
510 Elmwood Ave., 886-9175
Well-seasoned, these evenly diced diner standards are the perfect consistency: crusty on the outside, tender inside.

Best free snacks
Century Grill
320 Pearl St, 853-6322,
Between the Saturday night baskets of bacon and the Friday night tater tots, downtown weekends have become deliciously dangerous.

Best artisan bread
Five Points Bakery
426 Rhode Island St., 884-8888,
They source their wheat locally and grind it themselves. Even better, what comes out of the oven is delicious. Unlike most of what’s in the supermarket, this whole-grain bread really deserves the term.

Best healthy treat
Multiple locations,
This well-loved roadside stand offers fruit smoothies, fat-free/sugarless vanilla ice cream, and lemon ices—a great summer refresher.

Best Middle Eastern cuisine
270 Campbell Blvd., Getzville, 636-3102,
Superbly prepared classics like chicken shawarma, falafel, kibbe, and baba ganouj combined with charming décor and ambiance make this a clear stand-out. The mezze platter is outstanding.

Best comfort food
Piggy Pie from Suzy Q’s
2829 Niagara St., 873-0757
Pulled pork, potato wedges, baked beans, cheese, and salsa. The four basic food groups, plus vegetables, all in one dish.

Best guilty pleasure
Salty caramel ice cream from Lake Effect
Sold at various locations,
Chocolate makers have long known that the combination of salt and caramel is perfection; now it can be found embedded in a rich ice cream—and one that is locally made.

Classiest Place To Be Hung Over
Since it opened in October 2004, Betty’s (370 Virginia St., 362-0633, restaurant in Allentown has been dishing out some of the healthiest, heartiest food in the region, in a way that’s as friendly as its name. And thanks in part to the demands of its ravenous weekend crowd, the place underwent an extensive expansion in 2009, adding a gorgeous bar and a secondary dining area that feels like a hip, earthy hideaway. As a result, Betty’s has gotten bigger, more beautiful, and more convenient (those brunch wait times used to be longer than Waterworld)—without losing the sunny, unpretentious charm that made it special in the first place. You can stumble in there on Sunday morning, unwashed, bleary-eyed and hungry, take in the classy décor and the ever-changing art on the walls, and not feel the least bit self-conscious. And you’ll get a belly full of one of the most delicious brunches you’ve ever inhaled.

—Joe Sweeney

Best coffee
765 Elmwood Ave., 332-4564; 227 Delaware Ave., 332-2299; 5330 Main St., Williamsville, 565-0200
Our panelists like the Americano at this Buffalo favorite. The excellent coffee is bound to make your wi-fi work session or meeting more productive.

Best trendy cocktails
242 Allen St., 883-1675,
Until another restaurant starts creating their own elixirs and combinations for a completely original cocktail menu, Sample is a no-brainer.

31 Club and Wine Thief photos by kc kratt.
Best traditional cocktails
The 31 Club
31 Johnson Park, 332-3131,
This elegant hangout and restaurant features perfect martinis and excellent service.

Best gourmet French fries
The 31 Club
31 Johnson Park, 332-3131,
There were multiple contenders vying for this honor—and they all sounded great—but we had to conclude that the combination of duck fat and truffle oil featured at 31 is a new classic.

Best traditional French fries
Papa Jake’s
1672 Elmwood Ave., 874-3878
We don’t know how they do it, with so many other fries in contention, but Jake’s has owned this category every time it has appeared.

Best wine by the glass list
TIE: Just Vino/The Wine Thief
JV: 846 Main St., 725-0166,; WT: 431 Elmwood Ave., 332-2929,
The four-page document brought to your table at Allentown's Just Vino features over 100 different wines. And the Wine Thief offers a list of more than eighty by the bottle and thirty-five by the glass.

Buffalo dish that deserves a Food Network feature (other than wings or weck)
Sponge candy
Nobody else has it (by the same name, at least), and Buffalonians send it to friends around the world. Maybe we should mail some to Guy Fieri.

Best Sugar Fix
Paula’s Donuts
3380 Kenmore Ave., 862-4246
I lived within five minutes of Paula’s Donuts on Kenmore Avenue for about two years, and in that time, I drove by its red-lettered sign roughly nine to ten times per week. I never stopped. Then, somehow, a peanut cream-filled beauty came my way. And I was in love. In fact, I damn near OD’d on cream, and can’t even recall where that tasting occurred. I should note that doughnuts are pretty much my favorite food; as a tyke, I demanded them as a birthday party dessert over—ewwwwww—cake. My family used to joke that I might someday be a Dickie’s Donuts corporate executive. So, yeah. I know ’nuts. (Please don’t quote me out of context.) And Paula’s are the best I’ve ever had, period. Out-of-town family members from as close as Ithaca and as far as Nebraska agree—there’s nothing like them. There is no best doughnut category this year, and Paula’s has won the honor before, but I won’t let this issue pass without Paula.

—Christopher Schobert; photo by Josh Flanigan

Best seasonal treat
Hibbard’s Custard
105 Portage Rd., Lewiston, 754-4218
A Bobby Flay fave, and ours, too. Get it when you can, and savor the memory when you can’t.

Consuming passions


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