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Definitive Taste of Buffalo prep: Tips, sample tour

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

A birthday party will invade Niagara Square this weekend, and the celebration will boast more than just candles and cake—expect a sampling smorgasbord from some of Western New York’s old and new restaurants.

From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, the 30th anniversary of the Taste of Buffalo will dominate Niagara Square and stretch onto Delaware Avenue.

Fifty-one restaurants, three food trucks and seven wineries will vend portions under $4, while the Nickel City Chef culinary stage, the Tops Markets birthday party tent and live music throughout the area makes the weekend even more enticing. Individual food tickets run for $.50 apiece (bought in $5 increments) and can be purchased at several clearly-marked areas throughout the festival.

First, here are five quick tips to keep in mind during the festival:

1) Bring water or a sports drink: Given the flavors of many of the food options—hot, spicy, saucy, rich, sweet—you’ll want to have some water handy to make stops from booth to booth a little more pleasurable. You won’t have to worry about dropping $4 or $5 on a bottle of water, either, which seems like an annual rip-off I get suckered into. (Update: Laura Jacobs of the Taste of Buffalo board of directors clarified that Coke products and water are $2.50—five tickets—and part of the proceeds go to support the volunteer groups that staff the beverage stands.)

2) Keep your eyes peeled for “free” food and drink: If you look closely enough, you’ll find some. Typically, there’s an iced tea booth stationed immediately to the right if you’re facing City Hall, and they won’t get mad at you if you come back for repeated samples (at least no one lectured me about it).

According to the Taste of Buffalo press release, Tops Markets will be doling out free cupcakes and Birthday Cake Oreos at their center tent facing Delaware.

3) Visit the New Era parking lot for Nickel City Chef activities: Buffalo’s culinary potential—especially in chefs under 40—is wildly underrated. The invitations to cook a fall dinner at the James Beard House in Greenwich are a telling sign, and the Mansion on Delaware’s Jennifer Boye and CRaVing’s Adam Goetz will both make appearances at the Nickel City Chef stage—housed in a tent in the New Era parking lot on Delaware—this weekend.

4) Balance what you eat: Don’t be the novice Taste of Buffalo participant and eat heavy, dense foods right off the bat. Spend a few minutes to grab a map, make a vague plan of places you definitely want to visit and realize that maybe slamming four servings of Eddie Ryan’s “beer cheese soup” right off the bat wouldn’t be a bright idea for your delicate tummy.

5) Finish with a wine slushy: Why? Because it seems like everyone else does, and sometimes it’s not bad to be a follower. They’re refreshing, tasty and if you explore near City Hall, you’ll find several alternatives.

Here are 10 dishes from the 2013 festival that are worthy of sampling:

1) Ahi tuna nachos from The Riverstone Grill, eight or four tickets: This may set a high standard at the beginning of your trip, but the snack sealed Riverstone Grill’s place as “Rookie of the Year” at the Buffalo Zoo’s Polar Bites. Read more about Riverstone Grill here, and note that the ahi tuna nachos are designated as “healthy” by the Independent Health Foundation (see the heart on the menu).

2) Avocado Cream Cheese Pie from Indian Falls Log Cabin, six tickets: Avocado hasn’t drooped much from the spotlight of “hip” fruit, and the notion of sampling a creative, light pie at the beginning of your trip makes sense. Read more about Indian Falls Log Cabin—based out in Corfu—here.

3) Fish sauce chicken wing from Niagara Seafood, Inc.: One of the 11 newcomers to the Taste of Buffalo this year, Niagara Seafood takes a Vietnamese approach to a Buffalo staple. While I’ve never tried a fish sauce chicken wing in my life, this weekend is a perfect—and generally cost-effective—way to experiment new foods. Read more about Niagara Seafood here.

4) Korean short ribs from Papaya, eight or four tickets: I’m leery about snagging meat at Taste of Buffalo—not because of the quality, but because of the value—but short ribs are generally well received, and this is the first red meat on your potential trip. Hopefully these aren’t low on flavor. Read more about Papaya here.

5)) Fried turkey from Garris Bar-B-Que, eight tickets: Sure, this is a comfort food, but I’m a sucker for the skin on fried turkey, and it’s a nice departure from the typical fried chicken. As long as the product is juicy, it should be a nice stop in the middle of your culinary adventure. Read more about Garris Bar-B-Que here.

6) Great balls of fire from Joe’s Crab Shack, eight or four tickets: Okay, so we’re not being very health-conscious in the middle of our adventure. It’s fine—just run or walk an extra mile next week.

These fried balls of jalapenos, shrimp and crab (pictured, right) will satisfy a seafood craving and allow you to try another Taste of Buffalo first-timer—yeah, yeah, they’re a chain, I know. These bites will be spicy, though, so make sure you sip some water. Read more about Joe’s Crab Shack here.

7) Purple popeye sandwich from Manhattans, seven tickets: Doesn’t this sound really good? “Crispy breaded eggplant topped with spinach, roasted red peppers, provolone and asiago cheeses then drizzled with honey Dijon sauce” is what makes up a purple popeye, and it’s an Independent Health healthy option, too. Read more about the Lockport staple here.

8) Braised pork banh mi from Black Market Food Truck, eight or four tickets: Hey, it’s only your second sandwich, and I know your stomach is getting full at this point. The Black Market Food Truck is winning media awards for a reason—these guys know banh mi inside and out.

Read more about the Black Market Food Truck here and learn about their deli inside Waiting Room.

9) Cookie bottom cheesecake from Chrusciki Bakery, eight tickets: A cherry topping is available, too, and here’s a sweet-tooth favorite from the local dessert experts. Grab napkins, because this stop may be sticky. Read more about the Chrusciki Bakery here.

10) Frozen Greek yogurt with blueberry sauce from Sweet Melody’s, eight tickets: Jump into the froyo craze with a healthier version—it may not be as sweet as you’re expecting, but hey, you just ate cheesecake. Read more about Sweet Melody’s here, and then find the nearest wine slushy vendor.

(Header photo and crowd shot courtesy of Chuck Alaimo from last year’s Taste of Buffalo gallery—see it here).

TAGGED: black market food truck, chrusciki bakery, garris bar-b-que, indian falls log cabin, riverstone grill, sweet melody's, taste of buffalo, tops markets

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