Niagara Falls, With a Side of Buffalo Beef on Weck

July 3, 2019

We’ve been to Buffalo about 10 times for business trips. On every trip, we flew in at the last possible minute and flew out at the first opportunity—but on every car ride back to the airport, we would always say: next time we need to go see Niagara Falls. Fast-forward, and there was never one visit to Niagara Falls on any trip.
Coming back from Zimbabwe and Namibia this spring, we were having drinks (first mistake) with Betty and Bubba* and describing our stop at Victoria Falls. Bubba was born in Buffalo and mocked us for flying halfway around the world to see Victoria Falls, having blatantly snubbed Niagara Falls so many times before.
We don’t respond well to mockery.
Then Bubba threw it down. He taunted us with beef on weck (which is, essentially, a beef sandwich with a salty bun), hot dogs, and chicken wings—all the culinary delights that are extremely hard to find anywhere outside of Buffalo. How could we have missed this as a food destination?
The closer: We’re planning a trip to Uruguay with a side trip to Iguazu Falls in November. Apparently the notion of visiting all of the Big Three Falls in one year was too tempting for us to pass up.
So, a trip to Buffalo, NY. On purpose.
It had the makings of tourist-hell-meets-meat-sweats.
What I am about to describe actually did happen; events have not been exaggerated for publishing (it’s a two-day town visit you will never find in any magazine, nor any of us will likely admit to in most public arenas).
Here we go.

Day 1 (or day one-half): “The Warm Up”

We landed around 6:00 p.m. and off to the hotel (the Westin in downtown Buffalo). Within 5 minutes of checking in, we were deep into pre-game cocktails at Patina 250 (a Shea design) on the hotel’s street level.
Tonight was a warm-up night:

  • Uber to Schwabl’s
  • Two beef on kummelweck sandwiches with super hot horseradish sauce, Bavarian-style pretzels, and chicken fingers (yes, chicken fingers)
  • Walk a block (the peak of our exercise for the weekend) to the Kone King. Two cones, two sundaes.
  • Uber to Bocce Club Pizza, which may be the highest-volume pizza place we’ve ever seen. Eat a giant pizza on the back patio, elegantly paired with bring-your-own booze.
  • Back to the hotel for nightcap at Patina 250.

As I said, a light evening.

Day 2: “The Big Falls With a Side of Wings”

Today was the big day. Off to Niagara Falls, which is about a 25-minute drive to Niagara Falls State Park on the US side.
Even on a Monday morning in early summer, it was tourist hell, with an abundance of selfie sticks—so you can imagine what this puppy would look like on a busy July weekend.
Niagara Falls is not a day trip. It’s about a two-hour trip (if you draw it out).
Go to Maid of the Mist and get tickets for the boat ride and observation tower, head to the boat dock, don the blue cape (the Canadian side issues red capes for the Hornblower), get on the boat. The boat ride is tacky touristy but worth it. You cruise pass the American Falls to the front of the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. It’s powerful and cool.
After the 15-minute boat ride, head to the observation tower to get another perspective. Draw out the trip by walking along the paths. Look at each other and say, “Are we done?” and head back to the car. With drive time, two hours.
At this point, it was tempting to try to get on the afternoon flight and head home. But Bubba pointed out we’d be leaving without chicken wings and hot dogs. It’s the culinary equivalent of leaving Paris without having eaten a baguette.

First stop:
John & Mary’s. This has to hold the record for the world’s largest menu. It has to.

  • Two orders of wings
  • Two sub sandwiches made with varietal meats
  • Chicken finger sub sandwich
  • French fries
  • Curly fries
  • Pizza Logs (yes, logs)

Antoinette’s for molasses suckers and sundaes
Back to Patina 250 for a cocktail.
It was 1:15 p.m.
Wondering how much more we could take? Us, too. So we decided on a three-hour break to maybe walk or nap or work or throw up—dealer’s choice—before reconvening at 5:00.
Then it was off to Founding Fathers (yet another Buffalo institution) for airline-worthy wine and brown alcohol (who orders wine in a dive bar? I at least attempted a G&T). Sadly, we didn’t have the fortitude for the all-you-can-eat nacho station. Next, we headed to Just Vino to try to redeem the wine from Founding Fathers.
Since we’d just started to digest lunch, naturally, it was time for dinner. We only had one in line for tonight: Lombardo.
Order: Two pizzas, Caesar salad for two (by which they clearly meant four), two pastas, a veal marsala, and three desserts.
Back to Patina 250 for a nightcap.

Day 3: “The Day of the Dog, aka Ridiculous to Absurd before landing at Obscene”

It’s not over yet?
As Bubba pointed out, we had yet to have a hot dog, and Ted’s was right across the street.  Who cares that’s it’s the middle of the MORNING?  We were like the rats following the Pied Piper. So after loads of coffee for breakfast because, honestly, eating breakfast would have been a step too far, we were off.
First important question: Why is a hot dog place open at 10:30 a.m? Number two: Why were we there with 15 other people at 10:31 a.m.?
Order: Two hot dogs. How’s that for restraint?
Off to East Aurora, and Elm Street Bakery
Order: Two pizzas (but they were individual size…we’re not animals), banana bread, five cookies, coffee cake
At this point, it was 11:45 a.m. and time for lunch. On to Bar Bill, 800 meters away. And we drove.
At Bar Bill, the gloves were off. You know when you were a kid looking up at a crazy-huge menu and thinking “I want to order everything on the menu?” Today, four reasonably normal adults (normal is clearly subjective) did exactly that.

  • Wings…not even sure how many orders at this point. (I introduced a vegetable into my body at this point in the form of the wingside celery to see if it resulted in a full-on rejection of anything remotely healthy. It wasn’t great.)
  • Beef on weck sandwiches. Because we had to compare, of course.
  • Pizza (I ordered that just to piss off Bubba who was focused on wings and weck)

But, wait, there’s more!
Our last food stop was the crème de la crème of beef on weck: Charlie the Butcher. A couple of giant beef sandwiches and, obviously, French fries.
Even though we were close to the airport, we still had a bit of time to kill. Our goal: Full-on dive bar. Our find? Crabapples. Brown alcohol, gin and a few games of darts and we were ready to fly.
Going through security, there was an audible sigh of relief. It was over. The gluttonous madness that looked like a two-day eating contest had ended. And we were still alive—for now.
Hall of fame:
Best beef on weck was at Schwabl’s (Charlie’s was second); the best pizza was at Bocce (see, we should have come home after the Falls); the best wings were at Bar Bill.
What did we learn?

  1. Never agree to a trip to Buffalo when you’ve had too much wine.
  2. Never plan a food trip to Buffalo.
  3. Never put Bubba in charge.

*”Bubba” and “Betty” are aka our friends John Kraus, international award-winning pastry chef, winner of Coup de Monde and the only US member of Relais desserts, and his wife/partner Elizabeth Rose,  owners of Rose Street Patisserie and Patisserie 46.  Keep this in mind as you’re judging our food choices with Bubba at the helm.

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