Road Trip: Buffalo Not-Wings

Hot Dog! Ted's.

Hot Dog! Ted’s.

Amongst all the wings, we ate other things too, on our recent Buffalo trip.  We also spent part of a lovely mid-70s-and-sunny day at Niagara Falls, which was awesome, but we didn’t eat anything there.  Not much on the U.S. side other than a nice grassy park, and the Canadian side is horribly touristy — we almost ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe but thankfully Mrs. Me, more clearheaded than the rest of us, vetoed that detour.

Here are some capsule reviews of our Buffalo non-wing food consumption:

Pearl Street Grill & Brewery: we did have wings here, but also other stuff, including an excellent “fish fry” which I guess is Midwestern for fish & chips.  Moist fresh fish inside a crisp savory exterior, with solid fries and above-average tangy tartar sauce. They brew some good beers there at Pearl Street too, in addition to Lake Effect IPA we got a giant 100 ounce “Widow Maker” tube of Sabre’s Edge, a double IPA-barleywine melange that we tapped ourselves at the table.  Buffalo, it turns out, is a beer town.

Ted’s Hot Dogs: like wings, I don’t know if a hot dog can transcend its own people without becoming something else, chorizo or bratwurst or whatever, but Ted’s comes awfully close. They “charcoal grill” their dogs and it sure seems to work well, resulting in a full-dog char bursting with flavor.  After consultation with locals, there are two prime ways to play the dogs, depending on preference: go with either chili and cheese, or else “the works” which is basically ketchup and mustard and relish and, crucially, Ted’s special hot sauce, which is better than any of the wing sauces I tasted all weekend.  Naturally I ordered one of each kind of dog, and although the chili is pretty bland, and similar to Ben’s in DC, the dogs themselves were so good that I powered both down in mere minutes, Takeru Kobayashi style (not really but that’s what it seemed like).  Ted’s also had the best fries of the weekend, fresh and thin and reasonably crisp and salty.  And good shakes if you like that kind of thing.  I think Ted’s has gotten the “touristy” label but, like the Anchor Bar, and really even more so, in my experience the food lives up to the hype.

Anderson's Cone Beckons

Anderson’s Cone Beckons

Anderson’s: purveyors of frozen custard and Buffalo’s beloved “beef on weck” among other drive-up fast food delicacies.  People who like frozen custard like Anderson’s frozen custard a lot.  I was all about this new-to-me beef-weck thing, which turns out to be sliced roast beef on a “kummelweck” roll that is topped with salt and caraway seeds, with horseradish sauce as the other key component. Salty beefy bready horsy wecky goodness.  Anderson’s is a classic 50’s-style drive-up joint so this wasn’t exactly gourmet, and I am informed there is better weckage out there; the Anderson’s version is basically like Arby’s but with better beef and a more interesting roll.  Serious Eats says go to Charlie the Butcher. Next time!  Not everyone digs caraway but I can (dig it).  Fries are okay if a little soggy, dill pickles are good, Anderson’s is good.  Especially if you like creamy frozen desserts.

Dug’s Dive: right on Lake Erie, great views, lots of outdoor seating. It helped that we were there on a lovely 75-and-sunny day. This strip of lakefront used to house factories, all closed now and mostly torn down but a few desolate shells are still up. Not sure about possible soil toxicity, but the alcohol will kill that stuff, right?  You can’t have Superfund without SuperFun!  We only had drinks here (beers and large strong gin & tonics), but they have food too.  Our kind of dive.

Anderson's Beef Weckage and Curly Fries

Anderson’s Beef Weckage and Curly Fries

Spot Coffee: I don’t know if Buffalo is really a coffee town in the same way that, say, Portland and Seattle are, but they sure do like their local coffee spots, including and in particular Spot Coffee, which was jumpin’ every morning while Starbucks (right across the street in one instance) was pretty vacant. Some in our group tried it and liked it, but I can’t attest personally.  About a half dozen locations in greater Buffalo plus a few elsewhere, including one random one in Florida.

Embassy Suites: served not only a full hot free breakfast every morning with eggs cooked to order, but also offered guests a free happy hour in the evening, with a bartender (hi Sharon, you rock!) slinging mixed drinks, wine, and beer.  The accompanying snacks – I think some pretzels, cheese, fruit, like that – were fairly desultory, but whaddya want with your free hotel happy hour beverages? We chatted with some people going to the Rod Stewart/Santana concert that night – but neither Rod nor Carlos hit the hotel bar while we were there.  No matter.  Well done, Embassy Suites Buffalo.  Rooms were good too.

Queen City Kitchen: airport bar conveniently located right across from the gate where our friends’ plane was supposed to already be, but was not, due to a broken seat which had to be fixed before takeoff.  They were delayed just long enough for us to establish a beneficial relationship with the bartender, quaff two refreshing Helldiver APAs from Buffalo’s Flying Bison Brewery, and polish off a spicy chorizo flatbread that wasn’t great but wasn’t bad and went down easy with the Helldiver.  Certainly exceeded expectations for an airport bar.  But which is it, Buffalo: Queen City or Nickel City?

 

Road Trip: Buffalo Wings

Duff's Hot Wings (WARNING WARNING WA-- no, it's okay)

Duff’s Hot Wings (WARNING WARNING WA– no, it’s gonna be okay)

Legend has it that the concept of snacking on fried chicken wings doused in hot sauce was born at Buffalo’s Anchor Bar in 1964.  It says so on their menu so it must be true?  Hard to believe nobody ever fried and ate a chicken wing before that, at least in the South if not in upstate New York.  Maybe the sauce is part of the key, although you can get “Buffalo wings” without any sauce, even in Buffalo.

Anyway, we recently visited Buffalo for the first time, and naturally had to test the wings at their source.  We feasted on wings from three different places, and they were all good, but in the end I don’t think chicken wings are capable of transcending their genre in the same way some other foods are.* A great wing is still just a wing.  For me, anyway.  Plus what used to be a cheap bar snack now costs about $1/wings – 10 wings for $11 seems to be the going rate — not outrageous but hardly a bargain. Still, we enjoyed the food! In each wingy establishment we ordered both mild and hot wings – we did not go Nuclear or Suicidal or any of the other this-one-goes-to-eleven crazy (allegedly) hot options.

* Like: biryani, mole, pizza, just to name a few off top of head.

 

Duff's Mild Wings

Duff’s Mild Wings

Duff’s: many locations, less flair than Anchor Bar, locals tend to favor Duff’s “Famous Wings” and their hot sauce was the hottest we encountered, but it didn’t penetrate my soul like a great spicy vindaloo, for example; instead it just made my mouth tingle but the burn went no further.  They say “Warning! Hot is VERY VERY Hot!” but I think they overstate. The wings themselves seemed tired, although in fairness we got takeout so they might have been fresher had we eaten at Duff’s.  On average the pieces weren’t all that meaty, either.  Nothing wrong with them, but just average overall.  Duff’s is also missing out on a huge marketing opportunity by not selling Duff Beer (it’s not just fictional!). 10 wings for $11, 20 for $19.

 

Pearl Street Hot Wings

Pearl Street Hot Wings

Pearl Street Grill & Brewery: down by the river with huge decks and views, more about this place in the next post, for wings were only our appetizer here. And they were good: hot wasn’t as hot as Duff’s but had a nice kick, the coating was nice and crisp, and the chicken seemed meatier and fresher.  The accompanying Lake Effect IPA didn’t hurt.  One pound of wings for $11, two for $21 — inconvenient for comparison! Probably about ten/pound? Given the proximity to Canada, I should just be glad no metrics were involved. They also offer a “barrel” for $47 — would I rather have a barrel of wings, or monkeys? Or winged monkeys?! Now I’m getting ideas.

 

Anchor Bar Hot Wings

Anchor Bar Hot Wings

Anchor Bar: locals think the Anchor has dropped in quality over the years, becoming a tourist trap, and it is touristy, with plenty of merchandise available.  There’s one in the airport now (hello tourists!), but we went to the original Main Street location. I’m here to tell you their wings are still good, in fact the meatiest and freshest-tasting of the three places listed here.  Their sauce isn’t exciting, ironic since they bottle it and sell it all over the place, and for people who crave great wing sauce, I can see why Anchor Bar falls short.  Sauce is important and can elevate a wing, but it can’t make up for flaws in the chicken itself.  Anchor Bar had the best chicken, sauce aside, and I liked it best for that reason.  10 wings for $11, 20 for $17.

Of course there are many other Buffalo wing sources Buffalo Buffalo wing sources sources of Buffalo wings in Buffalo NY.  (Disambiguation!) Every restaurant or bar sells them, and you could probably knock on random doors and get good wings from the populace at large — Buffalo folk are uniformly friendly and wings are omnipresent.

Somehow, though, we forced ourselves to eat other foods too, more about which in the next post.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Best…Taste…Ever

Thai Taste's Charcoal Grill

Thai Taste’s Charcoal Grill

The 2014 Taste of Wheaton has charcoal and citrus in the nose, with a sweet corn bouquet; it hits your palate with a blast of graphite, hints of soy and fish sauce, and meaty undertones, before receding into a lingering, feral, umami-saturated finish.

All of which is to say, and I think Comic Book Guy would agree, this was the best Taste of Wheaton ever.  But why?  After all, the usual suspects were mostly again accounted for.  Well, there were three key differences this year, all better than previous years:

One, the vast majority of dishes were available for $1, or else $2, and the $2 portions were mostly quite large.  Only a few offerings were higher, like the Limerick Pub’s $5 crab cake sliders.  In past years, many dishes were in the $3-5 range, but it’s much better to have cheaper options, for maximum diverse sampling.  The organizers must have pushed for this, and it is a big improvement, glad all participants played along.

Thai Taste Cooking Demo

Thai Taste Cooking Demo

Two, the cooking demo is a great addition.  I only caught the first one, with the Thai Taste folks making pad thai, but there were others throughout the afternoon. The setup was in a tent with plenty of seats and a mirror for viewing the cooktop.  Sponsored and MC’d by Yelp (!), there was a good mix of action and discussion, and patient viewers got samples of the finished product.  I hope they keep doing this in future years.  At the Thai Taste demo, they were heavily cross-selling Hung Phat, the grocery store behind which TT lives, and it truly is an excellent twofer.  The most interesting part of the demo was when she put salt in the pad thai at the end, despite having already added a fish/tamarind sauce.  There was also talk of a “secret ingredient” but I’m not sure what they meant by that, might have been kidding but who knows?

Three, it seemed less crowded this year.  Still plenty of attendees, enough to feel like a big outdoor party, but easier to maneuver than in the past, and manageable lines.  Can’t control this, of course, but it was a nice atmosphere – “nice” in that classic, ferally urbane Wheaton way, of course.

Some details on the food:  Hollywood East, Ming Tree, and Saigonese each offered orange chicken, among several other $2 plate options from each place.  Hollywood in particular was serving enormous portions.  I settled for a delicious pork dumpling, which I doused in chili sauce.

Charbroiled pork or chicken was also available from several tents.  I chose Thai Taste, since (a) they are a first-year Taste participant and (b) Mrs. Me and I had already tried and loved their pork-on-a-stick.  I could have just stood next to their grill for hours, it smelled so good.  Popular too, they were having difficulty keeping up with demand, with a large line building, waiting for the pork to finish cooking.  Thai Taste also sold me a $2 cup of Thai iced tea — I did not need any convincing, and it was the perfect beverage on a warm day for someone who didn’t have quite enough coffee this morning.

Food to the left of us, food to the right of us, food in front of us… (Charge of the Taste Brigade)

Food to left of us, food to right of us, food in front of us, griddled and grilled… (Charge of the Taste Brigade)

I also tried an empanada from Pollo Campero, where I have never eaten but clearly need to.  The empanada had gone soft from hanging out in the warming oven, but was otherwise delicious, plump with tender stewed chicken and just enough creamy, zesty tomatillo sauce.  They were also selling a lot of “campenitos” – little buckets of fried chicken pieces, kind of like those KFC bites buckets except I think with a better chicken-to-coating ratio.

Other $1 options, all good or better quality too:
Cobanos: pupusas, tamales, chicken taquitos
Pollo Sabroso: pupusas, fried chicken wing, saltenas, plantains
Umbertos: tacos (also $2 quesadillas already sold out by noon, if I was reading their sign right)
Limerick: potato croquettes, Irish meatballs
Moby Dick: various sushi
Marchone’s: Italian sub sections

Ledo and Little Caesar’s each had slices for $2, and IHOP was there too, and while I don’t usually eat at those places, they were doing a solid business, and I have to admit it’s good to have them participate, more options for more people.  We like options.  I also didn’t try anything from the Ana G. Mendez Culinary School or Green Plate Catering, both of which were also doing cooking demos later in the day.  Green Plate’s food looked good but far too healthy for me.  The Mendez School is a new and interesting local food scene addition, related to this Puerto Rican entity, and more info on the new local digs here.

Other notes: the wine tent (with food pairings) was huge, and evidently hugely popular despite charging extra for tickets.  Kids seemed to be enjoying the rides. Orquesta la Romana sounded great, especially the tight brass section, and lots of folks were grooving on the lawn.  Soul Crackers had just taken the stage and had launched into a heartfelt rendition of Take Me To the River as I was leaving.

All in all, a fun, happy, tasty, well-done event. Thanks and congrats to the organizers and sponsors.  Next year, my expectations will be even higher!

Recent Wheaton Food Stuff

Lazy sunny Saturday, lazy headline.  Lazy post too, probably.

Taste of Wheaton is tomorrow.  Or, tomorrow!  (?)  (punctuation!!) Hard to decide how excited to get about the Taste at this point.  I am interested to see how the cooking demos go, including one (at noon) by  Max Prasertmate of the new-to-Wheaton and very good Thai Taste by Kob.  Otherwise, as suspected, participants are the usual suspects (plus Thai Taste!) (thanks to BEI for posting this link in comment to previous post).

Ate at The Chicken Place (2418 University) recently for the first time in years. Their food was about as remembered: pretty good overall, nothing special, but probably underrated considering nobody ever talks about them.  They do a very good charbroiled chicken, and Mrs. Me digs their plantains.  Lomo saltado is only okay, not saucy enough, but the components are fine.  I made the mistake of looking at their Yelp file, which has several recent very negative comments that don’t really hold up.  In particular, I found the Chicken Place service to be super friendly, just as it was years ago, from the owner (?) to all the servers.  They even called me back to tell me it would be 15 minutes longer than originally predicted for the chicken to be ready.  How many restaurants bother to do that?   So we like the Chicken Place.

A new Latino restaurant, called El Catrachito, has opened in the former Gloria’s/Irene’s III/etc. space just a few storefronts down University from Chicken Place.  I can’t find a website for them, but I did find that they had a “food violation” reported but then passed inspection just this week.* Is it better to be investigated and found to be fully sanitary and compliant, or is it better not to have any complaints in the first place?  Anyway,  there were lots of people eating at El Catrachito the other night, so obviously someone likes it.  Will try to go at some point.  I’m weary of every new restaurant being Salvadoran around here.  Bring me all your vindaloos and biryanis!!

* Who knew WUSA posted this stuff??

Taco Loco, or whatever, next door to El Pollo Rico, still isn’t open (is it?) despite being “coming soon” for like a year now.  Honestly I can’t be bothered to investigate further.  Someday I’ll be over there again to peer in the windows.  Maybe they gave up?  Or maybe it’s really open and I am just out to lunch, or “out to lunch” again.

Tonight we are going to friends’ house where they will grill pork chops in apple sauce in honor of Ann B. Davis, a fitting tribute in which we are excited to participate.  Naturally, we are bringing limes.

Taste of Wheaton and Other Notes

Yeah yeah, I’m still here.  Just back from a  weekend trip to Buffalo, where (you may already know) they are famous for the wings of the chickens.  They are also famous for professional sports futility and presidential assassinations and The Lake Effect and probably other things, but I will limit my upcoming report to the wings, and a few other culinary adventures. Buffalo is actually a pretty fun place.

Also coming soon, reviews of Woodberry Kitchen, which I have been having trouble wrapping my brain around, and probably some other places where I ate months ago and haven’t gotten around to discussing.  Fortunately I took a few notes at a few places, so I can still write about them.

Also also, the 19th annual Taste of Wheaton will be this Saturday Sunday, June 8, from 11-5 in the usual Wheaton Triangle location.  New this year: local chefs doing cooking demos.  Sounds fun!  I’m assuming the participating restaurants will be the usual suspects, but I haven’t seen a list yet.

Philly Phat Pho

Nam Phuong, self-proclaimed "best Vietnamese in Philly"

Nam Phuong, self-proclaimed “best Vietnamese in Philly”

Sometimes the headlines write themselves.

Road trippin’ to Philly over the weekend, we returned to the Vietnamese shopping plaza on Washington between 11th and 12th, just off Broad Street, home to Dung Phat Plaza and Hung Vuong Supermarket and, most critically, Nam Phuong, self-proclaimed “best Vietnamese restaurant in Philly” and who am I to argue?  In truth it is the only Vietnamese restaurant in Philly at which I have dined, so I can’t compare it to the others; in some existential sense maybe it is the only Vietnamese restaurant in Philly?  Does it depend on the meaning of “is”?

Anyway.  Dung Phat (*this* close to Hung Phat; I wish I understood the Vietnamese language) may be the whole block or just a piece of the plaza, which overall is kind of Eden Center’s grubby younger sibling.  Several restaurants, a big supermarket, lots of other random stores, awkwardly arranged. We first visited during the blog hiatus, a year or so ago. This Philly neighborhood could be charitably described as “transitional” except I don’t think it is actually transitioning.  Grittier and more feral than Wheaton, let’s say.  It’s almost surprising that Nam Phuong* has a website.

* WordPress suggests “fungi” instead of “Phuong” — I guess WordPress doesn’t speak Vietnames either.

We were instructed by the locals not to order off the “today’s specials” board, since it hasn’t been changed in years; today is every day and the dishes aren’t special.  No problem: the menu boasts over 200 rice, noodle, soup, and other options. Based on two visits (with big groups), soup is the way to go here; the rice and noodle dishes are okay, just standard.  The soups are excellent, both various pho offerings and dozens of nuanced noodle soups.  On the recent visit I tried the (#146) beef noodle soup “Hue Style – Spicy” and it was a big, brilliant bowl of fiery, rich beef broth, abundant thin beef slices, and various vegetables, especially leeks. Deep reddish-brown and yet with some clarity, the broth was an ideal savory-spicy balance.  I sweated some — rub a dub in the pho tub, owwwwww! hot –but not too hot.

Other highlights include the Vietnamese crepe (#109), a crisp omelet stuffed with seafood and sprouts, and the make-your-own-spring rolls (#???), where you get to dunk dried rice paper into water and then roll up your choice of greens, sprouts, and barbecued pork (I think).  Fun for the whole table, if you like that kind of thing.

Hung Vuong Supermarket

Hung Vuong Supermarket

The BBQ pork rolls might also be good, I bet they are, but our order never showed up.  It did show up on the bill, oopsie, but they took it off.  Actually, the service is generally excellent, the pork rolls were the only blip. Portions are outrageously large and prices are low, overall great value here considering the quality is between solid and excellent depending on what you order.  Compared with Wheaton’s Mi La Cay, Nam Phuong is bigger and cheaper (by $1-3 per dish, and grungier, but portion size and average quality are about the same, I would say.

Nam Phuong also offers seemingly infinite permutations of bubble teas — the blue taro flavor is our group favorite, but people seemed to like the cappuccino, and the list went on and on with flavors and styles and I don’t remember any of it because tapioca (the “bubbles”) is on The List of things that, I believe, are a culinary affront to humanity (your mileage, like Mrs. Me’s, may differ).  I should do a post on that sometime.

After lunch we took a spin through Hung Vuong supermarket across the parking lot, bigger and more feral than H Mart, but with a greater variety of sauces and pastes (like, several dozen different shrimp pastes), and a pretty good sweets aisle where Mrs. Me picked up some sugary mango candy to go with a tin of tamarind drops, her new addiction.  They are quite good, I have to admit.  HV had limes but only in bags of four for $2, not a bad price but they all had brown spots.  Wheaton Safeway today had .50 limes and while small they are juicy, so maybe things are looking up, lime-wise. And that’s how you work limes into whatever blog post.

A Few Words About Country Boy

I tried to think of a title playing off John Denver’s Thank God I’m A Country Boy but in fact I am not a country boy, I am at best ferally urbane, more likely just a recovering suburbanite. Also just not feeling it this morning. And so I gave up on a punny title.

However, thank goodness there is a Country Boy (Market), not really in Wheaton, but hidden up there in the northeast quadrant of Georgia-meets-Randolph (2211 Randolph), not that you can see it from either road, especially not from Georgia.  You have to use the force (or maybe just stretch out with your feelings, Luke) to zig zag across parking lot driveways and bad drivers flouting erstwhile one-way traffic patterns.  Or you can just follow the sweet stench of mulch.

Country Boy specializes in mulch, with good variety and reasonable prices.  If this were The Most Interesting Blog in the World (which clearly it is not), I might say that I don’t often buy mulch, but when I do, I go to Country Boy.  They have little bins out front where you can see the different kinds, you can touch it, sift it through your fingers, I suppose taste it if that’s your thing.*  And then you go inside, tell them what you want, don’t forget to pay for it! – and then one of their employees will load the mulch-bags into your vehicle.  Piece of cake mulch.

* We had a bottle of wine the other night that smelled a little mulchy, not in a bad way.  Terroir!

Other reasons to visit Country Boy: above-average beer selection, although with hit-or-miss pricing. Wine selection is not as good.  They carry a huge variety of delicious jarred food products from McCutcheons, a Frederick, Md. company specializing in apple and other fruit spreads, but also pickled things and salsas and whatnot.  They had me at pickled things.

CB also has plenty of fruits and veggies, of varying quality, but did not have any limes when last I visited a few weeks ago.  The Brussels sprouts were tasty but no substitute for limes (literally). But when the shopping list involves mulch and pickles and apple butter and beer, boy howdy, Country Boy is the place.

There is probably no truth to the rumor that John Denver opened for Led Zeppelin when they played Wheaton in 1969.  There is probably not even a rumor. Nevertheless: