Interview: Leslie Zemsky

Today’s Buffalo Foodie is Leslie Zemsky. Her job title is the “Director of Fun” at Larkin Square. Seriously. For a couple years now, she’s been in charge of bringing people to Larkin Square with fun events that appeal to a wide audience. She’s done a great job. The incredibly popular Food Truck Tuesdays has brought in crowds in the thousands, their author series with Talking Leaves has showcased dozens of writers and the Larkin Market was very popular when it debuted this summer. She’s also active with the local arts community, working on the board for the Albright Knox Art Gallery and curating Buffalo’s smallest art gallery in Hydraulic Hearth’s (716) GAL-LERY (along with AJ Fries). I’ve only recently met Leslie, but you can tell she loves what she does. She also loves food, which is why we asked her about her favorite places to eat and rink in Buffalo. Here’s what she had to say…

Right now, where are your favorite places to eat in WNY?

Leslie: I know this may sound biased, however, my favorite place to eat lunch is the Larkin Filling Station. I am sad when I have to eat elsewhere! As a regular, I tend to order the specials.

Last week head Chef Stefan Coker created a meatball taco. I ordered it EVERY Day! I love spaghetti and meatballs..this was a taco version with the warmth of the sauce and meatball almost melting the taco, so it had to be eaten with a fork! The soups change very week and are so good.

With the Hydraulic Hearth newly opened, I am enjoying working my way through their menu. My son Harry is running the restaurant. They are offering matzo ball soup on the menu. I will admit that I do not do a lot of home cooking, however, I do like making the traditional foods for the Jewish holidays, including Matzo Ball Soup. Harry grew up liking my soup with the small matzo balls. Chef Rick Grazzo is making and serving his in the very traditional NY deli style (think Katz’s Deli) with a delicious clear chicken broth and one matzo ball (plus a carrot). Last night I enjoyed their arugula pesto pizza with shaved brussel sprouts. The brussel sprouts really added a nice crunch and slightly bitter taste to the pizza. I can’t wait for them to start their collaboration with Bread Hive Bakery for their Bagel and Brooze Saturday brunch! I imagine this will be a regular go to on Saturdays in Buffalo.

If not dining in Larkinville when my husband and I go out to dinner, we almost always head over to Ristorante Lombardo. For us it is a neighborhood spot that also serves some of the best food in Buffalo. We tend to dine late and like to sit at the bar or in the warmer weather you can’t beat sitting on their beautiful patio. Howard almost always orders the Continental and I often go for the Bolognaise. We usually share a Caesar salad..made table-side! My favorite dessert used to be their frou frou cake…now it is their mudpie..pairs well with red wine! The food is so good, but more important to us, is the warm greeting received from one of the Lombardos, Father or son, Tom! John at the bar knows the red wine we like,( Super Tuscan) and the sound level is one that we can have a conversation!

Lately we have been going for Indian Food. We like Taj Grill in North Buffalo. We always order their garlic naan bread and lamb vindaloo and then try something new as well. I have enjoyed several excellent dinners at Black Sheep, enjoying the food and the vibe of the restaurant.

I also find myself dining from the Food Trucks often! Tuesday night dinner is from the Food Trucks for six months of Food Truck Tuesdays! I am often asked, which is my favorite food truck? That’s like being asked which is my favorite child? I like them all equally! However, I will say that some of my go to Food Truck meals include the mac and cheese plus pulled pork from Whole Hog. The Frank Bruni from Frank’s Truck. That is a classic NY style beef hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard..its delicious and is there Healthy Option to boot! I also like the sausage and pierogi offerings from Betty’s along with the falafel sandwich from Amy’s. The BLT from Black Market Food Truck is delicious too! An easy entertaining tip is to look to the Food Trucks. I have ordered in advance take out for family gatherings from Whole Hog and R&R BBQ. Whole Hog makes the most amazing brisket…it is now the centerpiece at our Jewish holiday dinners! I have ordered Sassi Cakes cupcakes in advance for parties as well. I suggest ordering a mixture of the mini ones so your guests will happily try several!

Next step up from the food trucks I also have a fondness/weakness for a sandwich and bag of chips from Marcos Deli on Hertel. One sandwich is enough for lunch and Saturday and Sunday!

Where do you like to get a drink with friends?

Leslie: Olivers has been the meeting spot for my gal pals who are gathering for a drink. Its conveniently located, and a comfortable bar spot for a group of women. With the Hydraulic Hearth open just a week, that will now be my spot for an after work drink! Can’t beat the commute, walking across the street from my office in the Larkin at Exchange Building! The craft cocktails are amazing. Chris Guilmet is making his own bitters and using all fresh ingredients in his drinks. So far I am favoring his his version of a sidecar, the Hydrocar. Next up to try is the 716 (named after the address, 716 Swan St.) using Lockhouse Distillery vodka. I just bought a beer guide book so I can study up more on beer. With Community Beer Works brewing there, I want to learn more about beer!

If you had a friend visiting town, where would you take them for a good ‘Buffalo’ time?

Leslie: Besides the above listed places, I like taking out of town guests for lunch to the AK Café inside the Albright-Knox. You can’t beat the view and the food is really good. I usually get the quiche of the day along with a side salad.

I have a friend visiting from New York in a couple of weeks, She will head straight from the airport to our Holiday Live at Larkin event on December 5th so she can experience a Larkin Square food truck event. We plan to head across the street to the Hydraulic Hearth after the event. Depending on the season, a Saturday morning must is meeting my running friends at Starbucks on Elmwood Ave. near Bidwell Pkwy. We start and stop our morning runs from there. When the Bidwell Market is open, we head over there post run and coffee for some food shopping!

What are some of your favorite food memories from your childhood?

Leslie: Swanky-Frankys! Hotdog stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon! Our family favorite was my mom’s baked spaghetti…sautée a pound of ground beef, drain fat, add a jar of Ragu traditional sauce. Stir, meanwhile cook a pound of spaghetti. Combine in a casserole dish and top with grated cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 until cheese is golden and bubbly. And a Detroit favorite was Maurice Salad (recipe below)…served at Hudson’s Department store. We made it at home for Christmas Eve dinner with a choice of Oyster stew or a red green soup ( a can of tomato soup and a can of asparagus soup, then pour into soup bowl tomato soup on one side, asparagus soup on the other)

maurice saladWhat other types of cuisines or restaurants would you like to see more of in Buffalo?

Leslie: Buffalo has had a new restaurant boomlet in the past 6 months, so looking forward to trying many of them, so at this point not looking for more, just more time to get to our many new places!


We’d like to thank Leslie for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions! Photo source:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *