Looking at Mike Andrzejewski’s resume, it’s easy to see why I asked him to participate in a Buffalo Foodie article and why he’s one of Buffalo’s most well known chefs. He’s honed his skills at some of Buffalo’s finest restaurants like Oliver’s, Rue Franklin and Tsunami. After Tsunami closed, Mike decided to open a more intimate dining experience with his sushi restaurant SeaBar, located downtown and remodeled to house a full kitchen along with more seating. Their menu has now expanded to offer dishes like Chicken and Waffles, Short Ribs and Duck Breast along side their imaginative and creative sushi menu. He just opened his newest restaurant, Cantina Loco, which offers a spin a Mexican fare. He’s also helped start up the very popular Local Restaurant Week and is a co-host of the Nickel City Chef Challenges.
Needless to say, Mike is a very busy man who has accomplished a lot in Western New York. Which is why we are so excited to have him on the site talking about his favorite places to eat, some food memories he has from his childhood and some of the back story about how the idea of Cantina Loco came to him. Here’s what he had to say….
Right now, what are some of your favorite places to eat when you have a rare day off?
Mike: I guess I’ll start at the top. Favorite places are really varied, its hard to get out a lot but some of the places I really like are my friend’s restaurants. Torches, Bistro Europa, Hutch’s (the Pablano Pepper is always great, he’s had it on the menu since day one and I really love it), Tempo, and Tabree. We all take pretty good care of each other so its really a pleasure to get out for dinner. For really casual faves are Family Tree on Bailey (best Pancakes around for a late Sunday breakfast), Zorbas Texas Hots, and Gin Gin Chinese. At Gin Gin get the hamburger tofu; it’s Asian comfort food.
Where do you like to grab a drink on the weekend or after work?
Mike: After work I’m usually kinda beat and it’s the only time I get to relax with Sherri (my wife) so we usually just go upstairs to our apartment. We have a great place above Seabar and its nice to just unwind (back in the day we really did party a lot, too much some may say) but I’m pretty old and beat up. Those days are behind us. Every once in a while well hang out at Europa, or sneak into Tempo after hours and talk shop or just bitch. I love to stop at Spar’s and taste head cheese and talk to Joe K, meeting Chris Daigler for a snack does my heart good.
If you had a friend visiting from out of town, where would you take them?
Mike: Anyone from out of town has to go to Oliver’s, hands down the classiest and best run restaurant in the city. For entertainment the Town Ballroom is a great venue and they are always doing something. They really work hard to keep live entertainment downtown. Also we’d stop by the Darwin Martin House. If possible I would love to get out of town visitors to a Nickle City Chef Event and really show off what restaurants do here.
What are some food memories you have from your childhood?
Mike: My mom made (makes) oxtail soup that I just love. Really slow cooked, savory and delicious. She also canned her own tomatoes, I can still smell them. She would use them all year and they really made a big difference in cooking. We used to pick strawberries for homemade jams at local farms, I kinda hated it as a kid but looking back it made us realize where food came from. Sometimes some of the wild berries we’d find in the fields were pretty amazing and I’ve been looking for that intensity and rareness of flavor since then. Eating Elderberry pie at my Aunts House in Angelica, NY may be the best memory of them all.
When did the idea for Cantina Loco first come to you?
Mike A: I actually have been kinda incubating the idea for a while. Several years back, while stumbling around Chicago after a food event we were working with several other notorious Buffalo restaurant personalities, we wandered into a dive place to grab a snack and and soak up the booze. I had a beef tongue taco that was a revelation. I wished that I could get this stuff anytime and just kept the idea back there in my head. I talked about it off and on for several years and the opportunity for the location at Elmwood and Allen arose. After partnering with Kyle Mackewizc things took shape and we went for it. Ideally, we want to create a place that’s really cool/hip, but also comfortable and warm. Kyle designed most of the interior and its really great, very unique and contemporary, but just someplace you want to be in. We are just working to make good food. Its been more of a challenge being consistent than I expected. Take out really presents a lot of difficulties. I really cant wait to get the restaurant dining room and bar open.
What would you like to see more of in Buffalo’s restaurant scene?
Mike A: 1) More chef’s and restaurant people participating in national food driven organizations like James Beard Foundation. We have great talent here, we should make our presence felt. 2) A place like the Purple Pig in Chicago which has great rustic food, cheeses, Bone Marrow and pig’s ear, all served with communal tables (but seems like people in Buffalo hate the idea of sharing a table). 3) Really great Paella, and REAL Iberico Ham. I personally WOULD pay for it regularly. Real house-made Pastrami, sliced by hand and served warm and juicy. 4) A super high end, fine dining place featuring extensive tasting menus, wonderful service, experimental techniques, and price is no object clientele. The best meals Ive ever had were at Susur in Toronto, before he went casual. I’m sure it was a good business move but damn I miss eating there. (Maybe we’ll start a dining club and do this once every two months or so. I don’t know if enough people would commit to it.) …and in my dreams Robuchon Atelier.
We’d like to thank Mike for taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer some questions for us. If you haven’t visited SeaBar, plan on making it your next dinner. Their downtown location on Ellicott has been newly renovated and looks wonderful, with a hip/modern dining room and an updated menu that will even satisfy eaters who aren’t looking for sushi. My recommendation is their unique Beef on Weck sushi rolls, they’ve been great every time I’ve tried them. Cantina Loco has opened for take out in Allentown but if you live a while away, unless you are going to eat it in your car right away, wait until they open their dining room and try their food in a proper setting (they’ll be serving up some foods you won’t be able to find anywhere many other places in Buffalo).