I like the Taste of Buffalo. I understand that for some the crowd is intimidating and at some points even challenging. People who normally have neutral views about families with strollers will suddenly despise them and begin to have dark thoughts. But when you are fitting a couple hundred thousand people onto Delaware Avenue, things are going to get tight. Add 80+ degree weather, it can get rough. But I still love it, I mean it’s a festival that is solely focused on food. Does it really offer the best of Buffalo’s restaurant scene? Obviously not, but that’s a whole separate conversation. What it is, though, is an opportunity to get out of the house and try out a (hopefully local) restaurant that you’ve never had before.
This year was really different for us. We didn’t have time to prepare properly, in previous years we would have looked over the entire menu of the event and figured out what we wanted to try first. But we arrived into Buffalo in the early hours of Thursday very jetlagged and with no internet for the two weeks we were on the cruise ship…so we couldn’t prepare ahead of time. We also were asked to be judges for both the Taste of Buffalo and one of Nickel City Chef’s Challenges, which were both honors for us. So, that said, this recap will be different then previous years because for the most part we didn’t have a choice of the restaurants we ate at. So here’s how our day went…
About a month ago I got an email from Laura, the Public Relations Chair for the Taste of Buffalo, and was told that I was one of the lucky ones to be invited to be a judge for the festival. Needless to say I was extremely excited; I don’t think I’ve hidden my desire to be a judge since we started Buffalo Eats in 2009. When I arrived at the Hampton Inn to pick up my judge pass I was surrounded by politicians and various TV personalities. It felt kind of cool and I felt proud of how far Buffalo Eats has come over the last 2 years.
In case you are wondering what the Judges actually do, here are the guidelines for judging (or at least how it was this year). Each judge was assigned 4 to 6 restaurants and had to sample every menu item that was offered. Which means that every time I went up to the restaurant, I showed them my green pass and asked for 1 of everything. I then gave a ranking of 1 to 10 for each item (horrible to outstanding) and judging went from the start of the festival Saturday (11 am) until 1:30pm.
Here are some pictures (pictures of all of the food are available here) and what we thought of the food that we were assigned to try:
JP Bullfeathers – Food Porn (2/24/09)
I enjoyed their Tempura Battered Green Beans (pictured above) but this probably wouldn’t have been a place that I would have visited normally. We also tried their Jack Daniel’s Chicken Fingers (decent), their Mac N Cheese Lollipop (a lightly battered ball of mac n cheese that’s been deep fried..not that good). We’ve had a couple meals at JP’s and nothing has ever really blown me away, sure I enjoy a Chicken Finger every now and then but on Elmwood it’s not really on my radar. However, I don’t mind grabbing a beer there but it’s been a long time since I’ve done that.
Tandoori’s Indian Cuisine – Food Porn (5/19/11)
Our next assignment was Tandoori’s, a restaurant we just visited 2 months ago. Their Taste of Buffalo stand is somewhat legendary, with live music and dancing it’s hard to miss. Above is their Sabzi Pakora (vegetable fritters) which are covered in their sweet and sour sauce. It’s something that even a picky eater could enjoy. Their Baked Chicken Wings with curry actually surprised me by how much I enjoyed them. The term “Baked Chicken Wings” normally can turn me off immediately, but they actually had a slight crunch to the skin and the meat inside was very juicy. Their Na’an wasn’t as good as we had in the restaurant but that’s to be expected.
31 Club – Food Porn (3/28/10)
Next stop, the fine dining restaurant 31 Club which is located a block away from Chippewa. We had a pretty good meal at 31 Club during the Spring 2010 Restaurant Week but haven’t been back since (slightly out of our price range). I was a little shocked they were at the Taste of Buffalo, their restaurant is on the more upscale side and their food definitely is prepared with care. So having a booth on a hot day selling foods for 3 dollars, it seemed like a weird fit. We tried their Stuffed Banana Pepper Sandwich (good roll, good cheese, didn’t like the marinara sauce) and their Arancini Two Ways which are rice balls that are lightly battered and deep fried and are covered in marinara sauce or Gorgonzola sauce, Alli (as she enjoys many things that are deep fried and covered in cheese, don’t judge her) really enjoyed the latter. The Gazpacho Shooter was pretty disappointing. It was filled with lump crab but all I could taste was the cold Marinara sauce.
Sakura Sushi – Food Porn (8/2/10)
We visited Sakura many times after having a really good experience at last year’s Taste of Buffalo. Alli was really pumped that we could run over and get their Spicy Crab Roll (far left, she definitely has her favorites). A lot of people wouldn’t expect the quality of sushi being served at a festival on a 85 degree day to be good, but everything was fresh and flavorful, especially the spicy tuna. It was easily our favorite assignment, their Shrimp Shumai (basically a dumpling) was also really great and I’d love to try it again.
I’ve never been to Polish Villa…actually it was the only restaurant on our assignment list that we hadn’t visited previously. This was near the end of our tasting and I was starting to feel pretty damn full. Even battling through the stomach pains, I managed to get a couple bites of their Polish Sausage and enjoyed it. Their Pierogies were just OK, their Farm Cheese filling was really good but the Sauerkraut and Potato didn’t really impress me. They were also serving a somewhat soggy iceberg lettuce salad that had a sweet, light cream dressing that seemed like it was on the menu just to have something “healthy”.
We also were assigned Prima Pizza, a place that many of us have eaten at ridiculous late hours when we wanted a cheaper option from Jim’s Steakout. We didn’t manage to take any pictures of the pizzas or Calzones but everything was better then I remember, which isn’t really saying a lot. We’ll try to make our way down there (when it’s still light outside) and do a proper Food Porn in the near future.
So that was how our food judging went at the 2011 Taste of Buffalo. It went by really fast and I made the mistake of trying to eat all of the food myself. Next year (if we are invited) I will try to just take bites and save myself so that I don’t need to be rolled home like Violet Beauregarde. Check back for Part 2 and read how awesome it was to judge at the Nickel City Chef Culinary Stage and have Tacos that were made by two of Buffalo’s most talented chef’s.