Welcome to Day One of The 2015 Buffalo Eats Awards…. We’ve been doing this Buffalo Eats thing for a while now, and with the growth of the WNY food scene over the past few years, we felt it was time to start a recognizing those who are the best at what they do.
Today we are handing out 13 awards to some our favorite places and people (and in one case, one of our least favorite). Tomorrow we will unveil 11 more, including best Restaurant and Best Chef of 2015.
Except for Best Pizza (which was chosen solely by our friend and pizza fanatic, Alan Bedenko), the following awards were decided by a panel of seven members from the Buffalo Eats Staff. All seven of us are heavily involved in writing about the Buffalo food scene and like to think we (at least kind of) know what we are talking about. While there is always some room for error and disagreement, we feel really good about the winners that we chose and stand behind them. Plus half of our panel is composed of attorneys, so good luck arguing your point.
Congratulations to all of the winners and runners up…you guys are the reason Buffalo Eats is still alive, thank you for doing what you do.
Friendliest Chef: Jennifer Boye (Mansion on Delaware)
“Friendly” isn’t a quality one thinks of when talking about kitchen staff, but sometimes, you find a shining star amidst the vulgar and profane. Chef Jennifer Boye of The Mansion on Delaware is such a soul. Jen doesn’t have a mean word to say about anyone – a rare commodity in such a competitive environment. She is among the first to share her recipies, have you try her food, or let you get in on some veggies from her famed secret garden. She has a kind word for all, and constantly finds the best in people. Chef Boye is one of the biggest reasons that The Mansion on Delaware is as successful as it has been. You can feel the love in her food. Runners Up: Michael Dimmer (Marble + Rye), Mike Obarka (Ristorane Lombardo)
Best Use of Local Ingredients: The Black Sheep
Chef Steve Gedra is uncompromising in his commitment to the farm to table movement, and his relationship with local farmers is unparalleled. In addition to using almost exclusively western NY products, he co-hosts A Big Fuss, a major fundraiser that benefits a member of the local farming community each year. Steve has also worked hard to help other restaurants in the community leverage these relationships, so that everyone wins. Shortly after he opened The Black Sheep on the West Side, he planted a vast garden on the perimeter of the property, and serves and preserves his own heirloom vegetables and herbs at the restaurant. If you have ever wondered where the brain, kidney, face, and penis of your T-Meadow pig went, ask Steve. You probably just ate (and enjoyed) it. Runners Up: CRAVing, Elm St Bakery
Best Food Truck: OG Wood Fire Truck
2015 wasn’t the greatest year for food trucks in Western New York. Some old favorites closed up and the new class of food trucks just didn’t wow us. Thankfully, there was one very bright spot and that was the opening of OG Wood Fire. Owner Jay Langfelder is obsessed with pizza and you can taste his dedication in every pie that you order. He has a wood burning oven (in his truck!) and only uses the best ingredients to make the most authentic and delicious pies in WNY. Simply put, he’s making the best pizza in Buffalo (spoiler alert). Runners Up: Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs, Lloyd Taco Trucks
Best Restaurant/Bar to Show Your Ex-Pat Friends: Buffalo Proper
Sure, maybe Allen Street was the best place to hang out with your friends five years ago, before they left for Chicago or North Carolina or wherever else people go when they move away. But when those same ex-pat friends come home for a visit now, take them right to Buffalo Proper. Not only can you get incredible food and drinks, but it’s great to see such huge crowds willing to pay more for higher quality. The bar looks fantastic and, to be honest, it’s just a damn fun place to be. Runners Up: Big Ditch Brewing Company, Hydraulic Hearth
New Chain Restaurant That We Didn’t Need: Sonic
Anyone who follows Buffalo Eats on social media knows that we don’t like Sonic. They suck. It was disheartening to read that people waited in line for hours so they could be the first customers to order tater tots or lime-aide. We understand that years of being brain washed by constant commercials can do things to a person, but that’s still not an excuse. Naturally they chose Cheektowaga as their first location, so lets just hope that it’s taking Canadian money away from The Cheesecake Factory and not a quality local restaurant. Runners Up: Hero Burger, Checkers
Place that feels “Most like Portland/Brooklyn”: Tipico Coffee
Buffalo’s not the hipster town many people may want it to be, at least not yet. But that’s not to say we don’t have the pieces falling into place. Tipico Coffee was the last of the big coffee shops to open in 2015, and more than any other, walking through its doors made us feel transported. The space is beautiful in its simplicity, with exposed brick and sparse decorations. Those who’ve traveled to some of the more popular cafes around the country will nod their heads walking in, thinking “yeah, this feels familiar.” Runners Up: Vera, Five Point Bakery
Best Wine List: Ristorante Lombardo
While Ristorante Lombardo is known for its delicious Italian cuisine that has kept it at the forefront of Western New York restaurants for the last 40 years, it also boasts the best wine list in the area. Although it may not have the largest inventory, the wine list features an extensive collection curated by Co-Owner and General Manager, Thomas D. Lombardo. It offers not only exceptional Italian wines, but well-made wines from New York, the United States and other notable wine regions of the world. Ristorante Lombardo also offers patrons the opportunity to try exceptional wines by the glass that are typically only offered in the bottle given their high price point with the use of the Coravin. Excellent selection, variety and continual dedication to local wine has landed Ristorante Lombardo this accolade. Runners Up: Marble + Rye, Bacchus
Best Winery: Arrowhead Springs Vineyard
For the last 10 years, Arrowhead Spring Vineyards has continually demonstrated the potential the Niagara winemaking region of New York. Arrowhead Spring Vineyards produces an exception catalog of vinifera wines that are on par with some of the best in New York and the United States. The diligent farming practices overseen by co-owner and vineyard manager, Robin Ross and the exacting standards of co-owner and winemaker, Duncan Ross, combine in a wonderful synergy that results in wine of the highest quality. The winery’s exceptional red wines have earned it much acclaim and have earned it the top spot in the region. Runners Up: Leonard Oakes Estate Winery, 21 Brix Winery
Best Distillery: Tommyrotter Distillery
There is one reason Tommyrotter is best distillery of 2015…Gin. Tommyrotter Gin is so absolutely packed with balanced, nuanced, vibrant and delicious flavors that not only is it our favorite Buffalo-made spirit, but one of the best things we’ve drank in 2015, period. We absolutely cannot wait to see and drink what Tommyrotter does next. Runners Up: Lockhouse Distillery, Bflo Distilling
Best Brewery: Community Beer Works
CBW consistently churns out diverse, drinkable and delicious small batch brews – and this year seemed to be the biggest personification of that yet. Some of our favorite beers of 2015 hail from this Buffalo beer staple. From the one-off “Smells Like Otto’s Jacket Double IPA”, to the myriad of dry-hopped cask versions of their staple “That IPA”, to their “Kettle Sour Series: Juicy” – CBW had an amazing 2015, and that only looks to continue as they grow and expand. Runners Up: Old First Ward, Big Ditch Brewing
Best Restaurant Worth Driving 30+ Minutes: Carmelo’s Restaurant
To drive or not to drive from Buffalo, that is the question. Carmelo’s in historic Lewiston, NY is the original destination location, and they still do it the best. There is no doubt that this restaurant is well worth the drive with their constantly changing, creative menu items creating hearty, delicious and seasonal meals, and the most intimate and romantic atmospheres of any area restaurants. Alas, poor Chef Carmelo Raimondi has redefined what it means to eat Italian in Western New York, and one of the OG’s of the new style of cooking now sweeping throughout our finest local restaurants. Carmelo’s offers a dining experience rivaling the best our fair City has to offer making it a must visit on any urban food lover’s bucket list. Runners Up: Jaguar at the Bistro, Elm St Bakery
Best Bakery: Elm St Bakery
When it comes to be being an ideal bakery, Elm Street Bakery has nailed every aspect. Their location feels like a hip cabin in the woods with a beautiful wood fire oven as the centerpiece. Their breads and pastries are not only the best available in WNY but they offer a large variety of baked goods that change on a weekly basis. Whether you’re looking for an excellent loaf of sourdough or brioche, a oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, blackberry muffin or an almond croissant; Elm Street Bakery will not only have it, but it will be delicious. Runners Up: BreadHive, Five Points Bakery
Best Pizza Presented by Alan Bedenko: OG Wood Fire Pizza
Ordinarily, it might seem like an indictment to say that the best pizza in Buffalo is served from a truck, but it’s been true of tacos for a few years, so why not? OG Wood Fire makes the best pizza you’ll find in Buffalo. It makes the most authentic Neapolitan pizza you’ll find in western New York. The only drawback is that it’s a truck and that there’s no brick & mortar location where I can pair that margherita with a glass of red or a beer. This outfit knows pizza, and knows how to make it right. Literally no one comes close.
- Elm Street Bakery. I know it’s undergoing changes, but in 2015, the pizza at this now-iconic spot in East Aurora – a spot which, incidentally, every municipality in western New York deserves to have a version of – was some of the best around, with fresh and inventive ingredients and excellent dough from a wood-fired oven.
- 99 Brick Oven Bar & Grille. Tucked away in the village of Lancaster, this little roadside bar has a proper Marra Forno oven – wood with gas assist – and turns out some really great Neapolitan-style pizza.
- Pizza Oven Lockport. Although I’m not a huge fan of Buffalo-style pizza, which is baked in a pan with a generally thicker dough, sweeter sauce, and has a floppier consistency than the NY style on which I grew up, there is something magical – svengali-like – about Pizza Oven. The sauce is so sweet you’ll swear Karo syrup was in the recipe. It’s done in a pan and sometimes in a conveyor-belt oven. All of these things break my pizza commandments. But dammit, that sauce.That crust. The black char around the edges of the crust, some of it from cheese, some of it from what appears to be the caramelizing sauce, it all comes together to make something truly special.
- Rocco’s on Transit. Although owned by the same folks who own Siena and 88 Maple, Rocco’s is the only one that is doing it right. It’s got a casual atmosphere, consistently good food, and their pizzas are quite good – done in a wood-burning oven, they’re close in quality to that at 99 Brick Oven, but do yourself a favor and ask them to not slather olive oil around the crust. It make a huge – positive – difference.