Best Meals of 2016: Part 1

Jay Langfelder (Owner of OG Wood Fire). It’s really a tough call with so many good things going on locally. It would be easy to go with anything from my Buffalo favorites (Toutant and Black Sheep) but still being completely Pizza obsessed, I have to mention my favorite two pizzas of 2016. The traditional Margherita at Fiamma Pizza e Vino in Rochester is as good as it gets anywhere in the country, the dough is flawless and the most flavorful I have ever had. On the more creative side, the delicata squash pizza at The Grange Community Kitchen in Hamburg was the best original pizza I have had in a long time. The combination of sweet and savory is always a combo that I love on pizza and Brad and crew really nailed it with this one.

Jake Strawser (Co-owner of Billy Club). There were two meals all year that I just keep going back to. The first was brunch at Black Sheep; I’ve had Steve, Ellen and Co’s food plenty of times before but something about our meal that just blew my socks off. On the diner forefront I was a little behind the times and finally made my first trip to Ristorante Lombardo and from the second we walked in the service, food and wine were aces. There’s something about Mr. Lombardo greeting you at the door like a long lost friend that just sets the tone for the phenomenal food and wine to follow.

Luke Copping (Photographer). The best meal that I had this year was a recent one at the Black Sheep. Steve Gedra had invited Hank Shaw – the author of numerous wild food cookbooks and the blog Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook to collaborate on a special dinner at his restaurant. Steve and Hank put together a latin inspired menu that heavily featured venison and other game meats in dishes like Papusas and Feijoada. We sat at communal tables, made new friends, had some incredible food that I’m starting to crave again by writing about it. (Featured photo by Jeff Biesinger)

Christa Glennie Seychew (Founder of Nickel City Chef). I find spontaneity (and occasional recklessness) to be incredibly restorative and invigorating. Lucky for me, both of my fave meals of 2016 had elements of unexpectedness that made them especially enjoyable.

Just after Terroir Symposium, my boss and I were invited at the very last minute to attend a formal pairing dinner held afterward at Frank, the AGO’s fabulous restaurant. It featured many of Canada’s best chefs. (There are some not-so-great pictures at the bottom of this article.) The whole meal was a hoot, but believe me when I say one should seize any opportunity that presents itself to eat food created by Jeremy Charles (Raymonds), even if it’s a single stunning razor clam. Sometimes flights from Toronto to St. John’s Bay aren’t insanely expensive, so it’s on my to-do list (and should be on yours, too).

In the fall I surprisingly received an invite to a popup featuring three young professional restaurant folk. I was impressed with their professionalism and so I agreed to attend. It was super fun because I got to sit with my good friends Christian and Dimmer (owners of Marble + Rye), and the food was quite lovely. If you consider yourself a food person, the Crucible is certainly worthy of further investigation.

There are a lot of good things to eat in town right now, things that don’t require a lot of money or time and are accessible to anyone willing to seek them out. I am utterly obsessed with chef de cuisine Joseph Fenush’s vegetable preparations at Toutant. I am almost always surprised by his culinary choices and these affordable dishes are remarkable showcases for his talent and obsessive nature.

Up in Black Rock, The Dapper Goose brings me more joy on the reg than just about anything I can think of. It has one of the two best wine lists in town (imho) and such genuine heartfelt hospitality. The cheese plate and the Korean/Nashville Hot chicken are pretty effing great, too. Grab a bar stool, introduce yourself to Tim and/or Keith, and let them dazzle you.

Rudy Watkins (Head Brewer of Thin Man Brewery).  In no particular order:

  • Pastrami Sandwich at Hershel’s East Side Deli in Philly. A huge, unwieldy pile of hot pastrami between two slices of bread that had no real chance. (above, photo from Bon Appetit)
  • Cheese & meat platter at Moeder Lambic, Brussels. We ended up stuck in Brussels after the bombings in March. Moeder Lambic became our hangout, chatting with the staff, snacking on the Mixte plate & crushing cask lambic.
  • A single Jalapeno Popper at Black Sheep / Nickel City Smoker’s Midnight Mass. Perfection.
  • A bowl of roast duck/pork & shrimp dumping/noodle soup at King Noodle in Toronto on a sub-zero afternoon.
  • Honorable mention to a late night slice of pizza in this super weird basement pizzeria in Louisville. If the 2nd floor of The Continental had a baby with The Max from Saved By The Bell where they played late 90’s hip hop at deafening levels it would be this place. Surreal.

Luci Levere (Pastry Chef at Elm Street Bakery). I had the good fortune of spending one week in Paris this year. Every bite could be included on my list of best meals of 2017 but my favorites included a seven course tasting dish at Verjus, a tiny but cozy bistro in the Palais Royale section. Each course of the tasting menu was fresh, unique and beautifully paired with the wine selections. An adorable french dog under the table caught all of our crumbs. Our other standout favorite meal was at the highly acclaimed L’Arpege restaurant. Those vegetables, the service, the intimate environment and the opportunity to meet Alain Pasard will not fade soon.

My favorite local meal was recent. Lait Cru Brasserie pulled off one of the most beautifully executed wine pair dinners in early December. Jill Gedra organized a lovely and educational evening of French wines from Polaner. They paired perfectly, and accentuated the thoughtful and expertly seasoned french fare from Chef WIll Peterson. We left after much laughter, much delicious wine and food, and a memory of the best meal of 2016 in Buffalo. French food is definitely having a moment and I hope the trend continues in the upcoming year.

Josh Smith (Owner of SATO, SATO Ramen & SATO Brewpub). This year we had a long trip back to Japan and we visited some of our chef friends and were spoiled a little bit. One dish that stood out was a clear broth Shio Sea Salt Ramen from Satomi’s hometown on the coast. Soft but complexly layered. In NYC we really enjoyed Torishin, a Michelin starred izakaya. Only the yakitori pros can prepare delicious rare chicken skewers. Locally, one of our chefs, Matt Ronca, helps out with The Crucible pop-ups and we really enjoyed the whole pairing at Marble & Rye.

Erin Moser (Owner of Crown Buffalo). My fave meal of the year by far has to be the Hot Little Mess at the Mess Hall on Ridge Road in Lackawanna! Pictured is the breakfast version: a buttermilk fried chicken tender and juicy egg wrapped in a crepe & topped with sausage sage gravy! There is also a meatloaf brunch version of this as well as the original Dirty Mess dinner-sized option over a biscuit instead of a crepe. Hands-down, this is my Sunday start every week!!

Greg McClure (Drummer of Del Paxton). Full disclosure, I’m not a foodie. I’m assuming that I’m being asked to make this list cause I’m in Del Paxton, so I’ll make my list for my top meals I ate while touring with Deli Paxton (food joke).

3) Freds Diner in Akron OH – A random Google search on my phone took us to Fred’s. It was just classic greasy spoon done perfectly.. and I mean perfect. Slightly hostile. Great food. Fair price. If you know my band, you know we were happy, and I was the hero that googled us there.

2) Dashi in Durham, NC – I’m a sucker for ramen joints. Got myself this tasty little dish. There were noodles in it. Vegetables of sorts. An egg. They cut that thing in half. Sure, do whatever you want to that egg because I LIKED IT!

1) Slows BBQ in Detroit MI- Imagine you’re dead…OK good, now that you’re dead you go to Heaven.. and turns out Balinda Carlisle is right: Heaven is a place on Earth.. Heaven is a sandwich in Detroit.

(side note: Del Paxton’s full length album comes out on March 3rd via TopShelf Records, go buy it or at the very least listen to it on Spotify)

Buffalo Eats

About Buffalo Eats

Donnie Burtless is the founder of BuffaloEats.org. He also co-hosts two podcasts: Grain of Salt and The Burtlist. He's judged over 30 different food contests around Western New York and has written for Buffalo Spree, The Public and Visit Buffalo Niagara.