It’s been no secret that for four years Alli and I have tried to shine a spotlight on Western New York’s locally owned and operated restaurants. We thought that there was an endless supply of local establishments that we could write about, but we’ve hit a wall and it’s time we stopped lying to ourselves. We’ve been willfully ignoring some of Western New York’s greatest restaurants and starting today, we’ve decided to change the direction of the blog and focus on the places that we really love and believe in. I’m sure it goes without saying, but we think it’s pretty obvious that some of the best food in Buffalo is coming from national chains. We thought we wanted to support local businesses like everyone else, but how can you ignore what restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden and TGI Friday’s have been doing for our culinary scene?
The Cheesecake Factory has become a culinary destination for Canadian tourists because of their ground breaking desserts and a menu that fuses American-Italian-Chinese-Mexican-Japanese cuisines. I mean what locally owned WNY restaurant can offer Reese’s ® Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake, Mini Corn Dogs and three pounds of Orange Chicken all at one time? Olive Garden is setting the standard for Italian cuisine in Western New York and judging from other food writers, maybe even the country. With executive chefs that are trained in Tuscany and endless soup, salad and breadsticks, it’s pretty easy to see why waits for a table can reach three hours on the weekends. Let’s not forget about T.G.I. Friday’s, who have redefined what American comfort food can be and in 1974 brought America the Potato Skin. The restaurant has been endorsed by Chef Guy Fieri and The Simpsons; what else do you need?
Before being duped into thinking that supporting local restaurants and eating locally grown food usually was the healthier and tastier option, T.G.I. Friday’s used to be one of our frequent date night locations and we decided to relive our youth and visit their restaurant this weekend for dinner.
- Restaurant Type: Casual, Family Friendly, TV Viewing Friendly
- Cuisine: Gastropub, Asian-Fusion, Tapas
- Prices: Almost everything is under $12
Walking into the restaurant after having not visited for over four years was surreal. It was like nothing had changed, the familiar sights of sports memorabilia and booths with mini televisions were a welcoming sight. Since we visited during off-hours, Alli and I had a booth all to ourselves and watched an ESPN “Outside the Lines” segment about the UFC. It really set the tone for a romantic afternoon date.
We decided to spoil ourselves and order some drinks to start the meal. After looking at the draft beer list and considering their various craft/regional selections (Labatt Blue Light, Blue Moon), I opted for a #9 from Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewery (or as I call them, the Ben & Jerry’s of beer). I went all in and ordered a tall draft glass and was excited to see the beer barely had any apricot smell and that Friday’s was serving it correctly, almost completely flat and clearly from a very stale keg. Alli’s drink was somehow even better, she ordered their Tropical Berry Mojito Shaker off their post-prohibition cocktail list. Over the past year we’ve been trying different cocktails and thought that the best in the area were at Vera Pizzeria or Mike A’s Lounge. But after taking a sip of Alli’s drink, it’s clear that Jon Karel and Tony Rials have their work cut out for them. The drink nailed the sugar to alcohol ratio (by our guesses, close to 15:1) and unless you really paid attention, you could almost completely miss the alcohol all together.
After looking at the appetizers menu for hours the night before, we decided that we couldn’t get just one thing and ordered the Pick-Three-For-All. We opted for their new pretzels with craft beer/cheese dipping sauce, their garlic-parmesan boneless chicken wings and their potato skins (obviously). The freshly baked pretzels were great, almost completely saturated in butter and served with a dipping sauce that had a great bitter taste that didn’t resemble craft beer or cheese at all, really perfect. The garlic-parmesan wings were recommended by our server and he couldn’t have chosen any better. The incredibly crunchy wings were coated with a huge amount of batter and fried but somehow still slightly cold (because who wants warm wings, I sure don’t). There was nearly no chicken meat inside, instead the wings were roughly 90% fried crispy coating and then lightly coated in a sauce that didn’t resemble garlic nor parmesan. It was a great choice from our server. The potato skins were probably our most anticipated dish of our trip and something we’ve been secretly craving for years. Friday’s didn’t let us down, the skins were clearly frozen prior to cooking and with almost little to no bacon on top. The cheese wasn’t melted but appeared to be actually baked onto the potato. As Alli and I devoured our order, it was clear that we had been missing out over the last four years. I dare you to find a better version in Buffalo.
Even though we had stuffed ourselves silly with appetizers, we somehow managed to order two more dishes for our main course. Alli went with her long time favorite dish, the Asian-inspired Sesame Jack™ Chicken Strips while I ordered their new Korean BBQ Tacos off the sandwich menu. Next to the potato skins, the Asian-inspired Sesame Jack™ Chicken Strips was probably our favorite menu item when we were Friday regulars and was another dish that we’ve sorely missed over the years. The plate came to our table and we could almost smell and taste the nostalgia. Again, the pieces of chicken had that perfect breading to meat ratio of nine to one (who really wants to eat the meat part?) and the syrup-like thick and sugary sweet sauce was a perfect companion to the burnt sesame flavor the chicken. I was nervous about ordering the Korean BBQ Tacos and venturing out of my Friday’s comfort zone, but my gamble really paid off. For years I’ve been planning to visit Los Angeles to check out the famous Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, the food truck that is basically responsible for starting the food truck craze and popularizing Asian-Mexican fusion cuisine. Well, I can comfortably cancel that trip after trying Friday’s Korean BBQ tacos because I doubt that anything can top them. The incredibly thin and well done strips of beef had just enough marinade that gave them a lovely salty flavor and the sporadic drops of their sriracha sauce either provided intense heat or sometimes nothing at all. The dish was served with a side of jasmine rice that had no distinct flavor, a great addition to an already amazing dish.
We really wanted to finish the meal with one of their desserts, the Oreo® Madness sounded fantastic, but we were just too full of fried awesomeness to continue. The meal was really a revelation about what we have been missing since we started focusing our meals towards locally owned restaurants that try and use fresh, local ingredients. We had almost completely convinced ourselves that we made the right choice, but we’ve always had these secret urges to visit our real favorite restaurants yet never did for fear of being ridiculed by our foodie friends. We are happy that we finally went with our gut and visited one of Western New York’s true great restaurants and were reminded about everything that we’ve been missing. When Alli and I walked out of the restaurant that evening, we looked at ourselves and said “T.G.F.F.” Thank God For Fridays.