Cold Buf­falo is a food hot spot

Sports-lov­ing city is a year-round din­ing des­ti­na­tion

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - TRAVEL & ARTS - By Lynn Free­hill-Maye

Pa­trons pre­pare to split dishes at

Maybe your most re­cent im­age of Buf­falo comes from late 2017, when the Bills looked like they were playing the Colts in­side an over­packed snow globe.

Ever since Johnny Car­son made a run­ning gag of Buf­falo’s Bliz­zard of ’77, the city has been fa­mous for its winter pre­cip­i­ta­tion. But while lake-ef­fect snow does pile up some­times (par­tic­u­larly in the south­ern sub­urbs), the flip side is friendly lo­cals who hap­pily band to­gether to dig a new­comer’s car out in winter — or show off its glis­ten­ing Lake Erie water­front in sum­mer.

I ex­pe­ri­enced both dur­ing three years in the city, and I re­cently re­turned with my mom to visit friends. I dis­cov­ered that Buf­falo now is a hot spot year­round. The sports-lov­ing city em­braces cold with ac­tiv­i­ties such as out­door ice skat­ing and curl­ing, and it cel­e­brates sum­mer with unique boat-up re­cre­ation venues.

Its his­tory of all-year friend­li­ness goes back well over a cen­tury. From im­mi­grants to vi­sion­ar­ies, open-hearted Buf­falo has al­ways wel­comed worka­day folks and am­bi­tious lead­ers to its cramped Vic­to­rian row­houses and hand­some turn-of-the-cen­tury man­sions.

These days, im­mi­grants still bring their tra­di­tions and skills to Buf­falo’s his­toric spa­ces. Case in point: James Beard Award-nom­i­nated chef Vic­tor Parra Gon­za­lez runs one restau­rant in Buf­falo and an­other in Mex­ico.

Silo City

Buf­falo’s worka­day ethic runs straight into its cul­tural and artis­tic flair in an un­likely spot: Silo City. The clus­ter of mas­sive grain el­e­va­tors stands on a grav­elly lot along the once-over­pol­luted Buf­falo River. Owner Rick Smith, a metal mag­nate, tried to start an ethanol busi­ness on the prop­erty be­fore giv­ing it over to high­minded events like art ex­hi­bi­tions and po­etry read­ings.

Today, it’s cre­ative enough that the visual artist Nick Cave is bas­ing him­self there for a year­long Buf­falo res­i­dency. This sum­mer, Smith opened Duende, a bar and restau­rant on the site. Although it wasn’t yet open for the day when I came by, staffers in­vited me in any­way. On my way out, chef Doug Peck hollered at me to come back for the ve­gan egg­plant wings. Next time.

Across the Buf­falo River is a set of grain el­e­va­tors with a dif­fer­ent vibe, as ev­i­denced by the half­dozen si­los painted ul­tra­ma­rine like a six-pack of La­batt Blue. RiverWorks has a lot go­ing on. In the warmer months, the com­plex is a boat-up brew­ery and restau­rant that peo­ple can ap­proach by wa­ter; power­boats, kayaks and kitschy float­ing tiki bars now dock along the re­cently cleanedup river.

A fresh zip-line course op­er­ates in the warmer months, and matchups in roller derby, ice hockey and mar­tial arts hap­pen at dif­fer­ent times of the year across the venue, with its slightly ma­cho, sports-bar vibe.

Even the scents are a fun time, since Gen­eral Mills still pro­duces ce­real in a nearby grain el­e­va­tor. Sniff the air and de­cide whether they’re mak­ing Chee­rios, Lucky Charms or Honey Nut Chex that day.

Lo­cal faves

The an­tithe­sis to chow­ing down on all those chicken wings might be Buf­falo’s ethe­real new ve­gan cafe Root and Bloom. The macrame art of the ’70s meets mil­len­nial pink walls in the dreamy, plant-filled in­te­rior space. (An­other por­tion of the restau­rant is even greener: It’s a light-strung back pa­tio open only in the warmer months.)

Mar­ried duo Sarah Sendle­beck and James Ernst opened Root and Bloom in May, in what was a cheese­mon­ger’s and then a choco­latier’s shop. En route to a friend’s place, I stopped in for to-go pas­tries, in­clud­ing au­tum­nal apple-chai turnovers that were spicy and so flaky I couldn’t fathom how they didn’t in­clude but­ter. Good thing I didn’t plan to sit: Long be­fore any rea­son­able din­ner hour, ev­ery ta­ble was full.

It’s an un­usual but sea­son­ally bril­liant spread for a res­tau­ra­teur: Chef Gon­za­lez’s Buf­falo spot, Las Puer­tas, re­cently got him nom­i­nated for a James Beard Award for his next-level Mex­i­can cui­sine. The space, in a for­mer home on Buf­falo’s di­verse West Side, is mostly white and stark, yet the wel­come is fa­mil­ial. The food is as in­ven­tive as you’d imag­ine from a chef who had worked at Mon­treal’s fa­mous Au Pied de Co­chon.

Mom and I met a friend there for din­ner. Although we all un­der­stood what to ex­pect from “fall­spice brined chicken” and “brown-but­ter-roasted squash,” we didn’t grasp in ad­vance what camote tete­las were. They were a kind of sweet-potato pas­try with a soft al­mond crust, it turned out, and the phrase “mez­cal-laced co­conut cream” told us all we needed to know about how deca­dent they’d be.

Guide­book musts

The new Buf­falo Wing Trail, es­tab­lished in the spring, in­cludes 12 clas­sic spots for gnaw­ing on Buf­falo’s im­mor­tal gift to the food gods.

My pick is Duff ’s, where Pres­i­dent Barack Obama once ate while in town, and an older Buf­falo gal saw fit to tell him ex­actly what she thought: “You’re a hot­tie with a smokin’ lit­tle body.” (I’m sure he passed that on to Michelle.) Although Obama had swooped into the Duff ’s near­est the air­port, Mom and I vis­ited the orig­i­nal Sheri­dan Drive lo­ca­tion. We sat un­der a 1946 black-and­white im­age show­ing when the place was the Sheri­dan Pa­tio, a weed-edged stand for ham­burg­ers and hot dogs.

The Erie Canal that brought in Buf­falo’s hey­day was de­rided early in its ex­is­tence as New York Gov. DeWitt Clin­ton’s “big ditch.” Big Ditch Brew­ing swims in that his­tory from its roar­ing down­town brew­ery. A huge mu­ral ex­tols “Strength, Pride, Am­bi­tion: The Spirit of the Erie Canal” on one wall. After launch­ing in 2014, Big Ditch quickly won the Tap NY cup for Best Craft Brew­ery in New York state, and the tap­room be­came a must-stop.

Over Cin­na­mon Apple ales and chicken wings there, I caught up with a lo­cal friend who had been in­volved in de­vel­op­ing the Wing Trail. Although we couldn’t nec­es­sar­ily sin­gle out the Hay­burner IPA that Big Ditch mixes into the hot sauce, this ex­pert wing­gnawer pro­nounced them as hav­ing a good “sauce to crisp ra­tio.”

Where to stay, play

The facts on the Ho­tel at the Lafayette: The mas­ter­work of the coun­try’s first cer­ti­fied fe­male ar­chi­tect, Louise Blanchard Bethune, was re­stored to its Art Moderne glory as one of Buf­falo’s first come­back-ho­tel projects. The build­ing now hosts a brew­ery, lofts, shops, res­tau­rants and count­less wed­dings. Ac­tress Vanessa Wil­liams made one of its suites into a bridal when she stayed there not long ago after her wed­ding cer­e­mony in down­town Buf­falo.

My fresh opin­ion: The bright new space oc­cu­pied by the cof­fee shop and all-day cafe Pub­lic Es­presso + Cof­fee has made the ho­tel one of the most en­er­gized spots in town. In­hale the rich scent of the beans roasted and the English muffins baked on-site, and pre­pare, as I did, to get in line.

Buf­falo’s for­mer Lit­tle Italy busi­ness strip, Her­tel Av­enue, has been di­ver­si­fy­ing lately, with Caribbean and Mid­dle East­ern im­mi­grants open­ing res­tau­rants, and trendy ice cream and taco joints setting up shop. Jum­bled an­tique shops sit along­side pricey de­signer-run home fur­ni­ture stores, and clas­sic dive bars near sleek cock­tail lounges.

Our ram­ble was pepped up by fresh pub­lic art along the av­enue. But our best new find had to be Pas­try by Camille, a bak­ery from a Gal­lic-ac­cented French chef who told us he’d mar­ried a Buf­falo­nian. We could taste the fresh cul­tural representation he’d brought to the av­enue with spicysweet cre­ations like wasabi meringue.

LIBBY MARCH/PHO­TOS FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Buf­falo’s new ve­gan cafe, Room and Bloom. Mar­ried duo Sarah Sendle­beck and James Ernst opened the eatery in May.

Owner and James Beard Award-nom­i­nated chef Vic­tor Parra Gon­za­lez pre­pares camote tete­las at Las Puer­tas in Buf­falo. The tete­las in­clude sweet potato puree, co­conut cream and salsa matcha.

Pub­lic Es­presso + Cof­fee’s Vlad sand­wich, with egg, ba­con and ched­dar, is a sta­ple at the Ho­tel at the Lafayette, but pre­pare to get in line.

The wings at Duff ’s Fa­mous Wings are a clas­sic on the new Buf­falo Wing Trail. The dish is said to have orig­i­nated in Buf­falo.

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