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Buffalo Zoo announces Polar Bites award winners - PHOTOS

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

As a first-time judge for the Buffalo Zoo’s chief fundraiser—Polar Bites—at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, I had a formidable task set in front of me: in two hours time, roommate extraordinaire Tom Fusillo and I must visit 55 vendors, sample their wares and vote on several different categories.

You can see Leo Chan’s full photo gallery from Polar Bites here. VIP guests rolled in at 5 p.m. for 90 minutes of exclusivity before the rest of the attendees arrived at 6:30. Twenty of the 55 vendors offered alcohol, so you can bet that this become one wet gathering. The results of the 16 “celebrity” judges were tallied, and here are the results (with my personal take).

Best Beer: Flying Bison Brewing Company, 491 Ontario St., Buffalo

Ben T.‘s take: I voted for Flying Bison—its Blackbird Oatmeal Stout in particular. I’m pretty indifferent about dark beers, but Flying Bison owner Tim Herzog (pictured above) had the stout on tap, and it never hurts to support local. Thick with a hint of chocolate, the Blackbird Oatmeal Stout was tough to finish at the end of the two hours of constant binging, but it was fragrant, cold and far from boring. If nerdy beer talk revs your engine, you can read Beer Advocate’s reviews of Flying Bison’s stout.


Best Specialty Beverage: McKenzie’s Hard Cider, 3300 Transit Rd., West Seneca

Ben T.‘s take: Two-for-two, as this one was an easy choice in a rather limited category. Based out of Mayor Brothers in West Seneca, McKenzie’s brought along black cherry hard cider, and since the competition was neither beer nor wine, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a unanimous victor. If you harken back to Buffalo.com’s Hard Cider Challenge video from fall 2011, you’ll notice my predilection for McKenzie’s (as well as my quite obvious sugar-enhanced buzz.)


Best Dessert: Pizza Plant Italian Pub, 5110 Main St., Williamsville, and 7770 Transit Rd., Williamsville.

Ben T.‘s take: Pizza Plant’s bread pudding was outstanding—I would have been content with eating just that the entire night. It’s a thick chunk of pub-style bread with a juicy consistency without excess sogginess—the whiskey sauce and moist raisins were delightful, and I’m seriously considering rolling to the Walker Center to visit Pizza Plant for lunch soon.

Kat Przybyla, touring Polar Bites with her mom, pushed hard for the D’Avolio’s strawberry balsamic dressing over vanilla ice cream, but it unfortunately couldn’t stave off the bread pudding.


Best Entree: Buffalo Roadhouse Grill, 1980 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda

Ben T.‘s take: This one was in consideration for best entree, but I couldn’t vote for a pulled pork slider to win Polar Bites’ top entree. That’d just be too Buffalo—and frankly, succumbing to our city’s general void of adventurous eating. Granted, Buffalo Roadhouse’s version of the pulled pork slider was superior to that of the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center’s Carolina BBQ option—largely due to its quality ingredients (hand-pulled pork shoulder and a secret blend of spices) and also its sheer girth.


Most unusual: Roaming Buffalo’s “WTF Soup,” mobile food vendor

Ben T.‘s take: This was a close call for me between the eventual winner and Tonawanda Castle’s steak teppanyaki (Hibachi-style cooked over an iron griddle and served atop a braised pear), but Roaming Buffalo stole the show with what’s essentially a spicy peanut and bacon-jam soup concoction. A nice combination of smoky and spicy with crunch peanuts as a garnish, the soup was a clever outside-the-box option that was appreciated by the guests.


Best presentation: Creekview Restaurant, 5629 Main St., Williamsville

Ben T.‘s take: Another no-brainer—as much as the friendly folks from Creekview joked about their freshly-grown Lancaster grass that was pulled and stuffed gently into a bucket—the vendor booth was classy, well-lit and thoughtfully decorated. Frankly, there weren’t many other decorated booths, so, well done, Creekview.


Best specialty service: Oogie Games, Tonawanda, Depew, Williamsville

Ben T.‘s take: Let’s be honest—there’s no time for games when you’re a hustling, stuffed food judge, but Oogie’s set-up was popular and the local organization has continued to gain traction since COO Matthew Walter spoke at the TEDx Buffalo Conference. I wanted to place a special vote for the Jack Astor’s Zooperstar-style mascot, but in hindsight, it was kind of pathetic.


Rookie of the Year: The Riverstone Grill, 971 E. River Rd., Grand Island

Ben T.‘s take: I had the Riverstone Grill’s ahi tuna nacho dish as the clear “best food” category winner, and Polar Bites DJ LoPro pledged his support to the artistically-presented sesame-seared delicacy. With the multitude of alcohol vendors, the competition for any of the food categories wasn’t that stiff, and it was Riverstone’s creativity and presentation took the crown. It was quality ahi tuna, too, and accompanied by won ton chips, Asian salad with wasabi vinaigrette—I’m glad Riverstone at least took one award.


Best wine: Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, 9749 Middle Rd., Hammondsport.

Ben T.‘s take: I’ll be honest—I didn’t drink any wine during Polar Bites and copied this answer off Winging It! Buffalo Style’s Allie Hartwick, largely because I trust her opinion of quality wine. So, kudos to Dr. Frank.

Thanks to the Buffalo Zoo for letting me fill in for S.J. and judge Polar Bites 2013.

TAGGED: buffalo niagara convention center, buffalo zoo, creekview restaurant, flying bison brewing company, mckenzie's hard cider, pizza plant, polar bites, riverstone grill

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