Favorite Meals of 2017: Arthur Bovino

Since 2012 we have asked our friends about their favorite meals of the year and it’s become an enjoyable tradition. We don’t provide many guidelines for what we want in return. These meals can be home cooked, at their favorite local restaurant or can be from their travels and they can write as much or as little as they’d like.

If you’d like to look are previous meals from other years, here’s everything from 2012201320142015 and 2016.

Today we have a special post from Arthur Bovino, author of the upcoming book Buffalo Everything: A Guide to Eating in “Nickel City”. Arthur is here to share his favorite meals of the year from his travels to Buffalo and his favorite eats in NYC. I had the pleasure of meeting Arthur this year as he visited Buffalo twice while doing research for his upcoming book. If you take a look at his instagram account, you can see he ate at nearly 100 different Buffalo institutions over the course of the year and fell in love with several local dishes. The dude knows his Buffalo food.

You can read all of the other parts from 2017 here.

Arthur Bovino:  It’s always crazy to look back on a year of eating. But this year, because of the month I spent eating at more than 120 restaurants in Buffalo, it’s even more mind-bending. I gained 20 pounds seeking out Buffalo’s best wings, pizza, beef on weck, and Tom & Jerry cocktails. Not even kidding. I haven’t been able to work it off, but it was completely worth it. There was so much good food in Buffalo, you could write a book about it. In fact, I did! “Buffalo Everything,” to be published June, 2018 — shameless plug, shameless plug ;).

I’m going to leave the rankings to the book, and I think because I like structuring things around themes and geography, for the sake of tidy organization I’m going to break out my most memorable meals into non-Buffalo and Buffalo.

NEW YORK CITY: This was the year where I discovered (to my own disbelief) that the turkey burger at J.G. Melon — thin and juicy like a crazy peppery sausage patty — is one of my favorite burgers in the city (I don’t know who I even am anymore). But my best New York City meal was at Nur. Everything felt remarkably vibrant, fresh, and invested with a spirit of attention I’ve found missing while dining out. The Jerusalem sesame bagel and kubanah with Yemenite schug stand out as among the year’s best meals.

PIZZA: I fell in love with Buffalo-style pizza, but I’ll leave that to its own section and list the pizza outside the Nickel City.

The Sicilian slices at Sal’s in Mamaroneck and VIP Pizza in Bayside gave me reason not to give up on a style I feel isn’t made with the care they require. I did a memorable Jersey-shore pizza crawl (Pete & Elda’s, Federici’s Family Italian Restaurant, Vic’s, Porta, and Talula’s). And Quality Italian’s special Buffalo chicken parm Super Bowl special “pizza” made me want to make a version for Buffalo Everything.

It pains me to say, but the Lou Malnati’s Toro pop-up made me have to admit there might be a little space in my heart for deep-dish (at least, just for a second). There were shades of Di Fara in Anthony Falco’s Thin + Crispy™ bar pizza at Hair of the Dog. I particularly enjoyed the clam pizza at The Clam in the West Village. And the vodka chicken slice at Emilio’s of Morris Park made me think there are exceptions to my rule regarding over-the-top topping profiles that are typically just ways to hide inferior crust work.

But I fell for the plain cheese slice at Margherita in Jamaica, Queens (it usurped Amore as my favorite soupy slice this year), I’m genuinely grateful for Martina’s pizza Romana landing in the East Village, and was blown away by the pistachio pesto, orange, and Calabrese pizza at San Antonio’s Il Forno. The Doughdici at Sofia Pizza Shoppe, which I wrote about in The New York Times, is my pizza of the year.

ON THE ROAD: I managed to swing back through Atlantic City to make a pitstop at The White House for one of my favorite subs in the world, the White House Special — as good as ever. The barbecue at Pecan Lodge in Dallas lived up to the hype that had been building up around it for me for a few years. The bowl of red at Tolbert’s in Grapevine was one of my favorite small meals of 2017. The puffy tacos at Mirador and tamales at Tortilleria Los Hermanos in San Antonio (the last, an annual pitstop for three years running) sated what has become an inextinguishable craving for both. But Chef Johnny’s queso fundido, ceviche, pulpo, and whole fish with fresh chiles, lime juice, and avocado at La Gloria the night before judging his annual paella contest may have been my favorite meal on the road outside Buffalo.

AT HOME: We cook at home a lot, but beside a chilled homegrown cucumber soup with garden tomatoes, fried garlic scape, pickled carrots and fried maiitake mushrooms, I don’t remember most of it. The meals at home that have been the most memorable have all been for the book: Buffalo chicken pot pie, wings, Tom & Jerrys over Thanksgiving, Utica greens, and pasta con sarde that I think was the best thing I made all year. Toasted pignoli and breadcrumbs, fresh, fried and just-cooked through sardines… I’m glad that one is written down.

BUFFALO: There’s so much good food in Buffalo. I’m grateful for having had the chance to explore the city in depth over a month and for having been able to meet some of its great chefs, writers, and food pros. It also convinced me that there are so many more places I still want to visit… there’s no chance I don’t return frequently to hit up favorites and check off the 20-30 more places I still want to try.

  • Wings: I’m ruined for wings forever now. Thanks, Buffalo. I’m going to have spill for airfare whenever I really crave wings. They just don’t measure up back in Manhattan. I could list all 25 Buffalo wing spots that made the book, but sitting back and thinking about it, I’d have to say that if I could snap my fingers and sit down to any of the terrific wings I ate in 2017, I’d probably find myself at 911 Tavern, Bar Bill, Kelly’s Corner, or Gabriel’s Gate for my baseline orders. For tricked out wings, I’d teleport to Elmo’s for double-dipped BBQ Cajun(!), Abigail’s (in Waterloo, N.Y.) for their wings (the sauce incorporates both blue cheese and celery), and at Wiechec’s or Bases Loaded for an order of garlic Parmesan wings… perhaps my most favorite wing discovery.
  • Buffalo Pizza: I’m a convert. A believer. A proselytizer even. Buffalo pizza may be one of the more underrated, unhyped styles deserving attention in the country. I’m haunted by La Nova’s thinner take on Buffalo-style, especially its sesame crust. I’m now just frustrated that more places near me don’t do this (I forgot how much I like pizzerias that do that). I know it might be controversial, but I really liked Mister Pizza’s sloppy-cheesy cup-and-char slice. The Stinger pie at Santora’s (the Transit Road location in Depew) was one of my favorite pies in the city (and of the year) along with Deniro’s and Leonardi’s. Both gave Bocce a run for the money in my book for the title of the city’s best parking lot pizza (pizza you can’t wait to get home to eat). Bocce lived up to the hype… the trim (“Bocce cookies” according to the pizzaiolo behind the counter) was some kind of crazy pizza metallurgy: crispy-caramelly-savory goodness. And speaking of parking lot pizza, while it’s not technically in Buffalo or Buffalo-style per se, Lock City Pizza was one of my most memorable pies of 2017. The stacked piles of thin pepperoni, the cornmeal-studded crust, the deliciously greasy spiciness with every bite. I’m grateful for my new pizza friend @SexySlices for having shared it with me.
  • Buffalo Beyond Wings and Pizza: I could have revisited Toutant every night for that crazy-good homemade bologna sandwich with ooey-gooey melted American cheese and frozen tasty cocktails. The steak in the grass sandwich at Dandelions with actual dandelions was one of the better steak sandwiches I can remember having. The pretzel roll at Breadhive was the best pretzel roll I’ve had in years… making it into an Aaliyah with steamy scrambled eggs, butter, peppery house breakfast sausage, and cheese-pull Cheddar was one of my year’s best breakfasts. Even if you’re a tourist visiting and don’t live in Buffalo, the “sexy brats” from Spar’s are worth finding some charcoal to grill. Go cook ‘em in the picnic areas in Front Park and Martin Luther King (they’re that good). A tasting menu at Las Puertas was probably my overall best meal in the city (varied in taste and texture but all beautiful and delicious). The salty peanuts and homemade chocolate sauce on the soft ice cream at Anderson’s and the dense, creamy Lake Effect ice cream were both terrific sweet stops. The sour cream pineapple pie and chocolate cream pies at McPartlan’s were understated and awesome. Black Sheep’s sticky toffee pudding overloaded some of the taste sensors in my brain. The steak and bologna sandwiches at The Pink, the grilled cheese at Duff’s (I know, it sounds like I’m just reading off the kid’s menu now, but the reverse-griddle and its extreme cheesiness!), the beef on weck at Eckl’s, Schwabl’s, Kelly’s Korner, and Charlie the Butcher… the Tom & Jerry cocktails at McPartlan’s and Schwabl’s, the Lovejoy Street chicken finger sub at Lovejoy, the sausage sub at John & Mary’s, the doughnuts at Paula’s and Famous Doughnuts, the pierogies at R+L

I’m out of breath just writing this. And I’m leaving out pages and pages of food in Buffalo. Can’t wait to come back.