Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Lake Effect

In mid October of 2006, Lake Effect Storm Aphid slammed into Buffalo, New York. The storm dumped over a foot of snow in the city and as much as two feet in higher elevations just outside to the south/east and left over one million people without power. While unusually early, this is only par for the course in western New York.
Lake Effect Snow Storms are a result of a large pocket of Arctic air moving over a warm body of water. With machine like efficiency they suck warm moist air up, condense it and then dump it when it hits land. The higher the elevation, the more severe. These events most often occur in  the Great Lakes region of North America and due to their size and geographic location, where this machine does it’s best work. While the area on the leeward side of Lake Ontario between Watertown and Syracuse is known as the “Snow Capital of the East” perhaps no other city in North America is more famous for it’s snow than Buffalo. It’s location at the eastern end of Lake Erie puts it right in the path of these monsters.
It is this type of weather that shapes to fine folks of western New York. They don’t just accept it, they embrace it. Late season NFL games and even the NHL’s inaugural  Winter Classic in 2008 are played in the snow. It’s so much a way of life they’ve even named a diner after this weather phenomenon, The Lake Effect Diner. Located just inland from Lake Erie in Buffalo it is a tribute to both the diner and old school restauranteering.
101_0022 In 2001 Tucker and Erin Curtin went looking for a diner. They wound up in Wayne, Pennsylvania and rescued a vintage early ‘50’s Mountainview Diner (Vin #446) from the wrecking ball. Relocated to Main Street in Buffalo it was fully restored and returned to its former glory.
101_0023 As for the menu, the commitment from the Curtin family takes a back seat to no one. Oranges are fresh squeezed for juice to order. Beef is corned and hams are smoked and cured in house. They grind their own beef and make their own sausage. This old school way of running a restaurant is married with diner classics like meatloaf, burgers, club sandwiches and of course, breakfast. They’ve also added their own touches to the menu such as pulled pork, chicken souvlaki and grilled pitas. I really like how they offer their fish. A haddock filet comes with your choice of preparation. Italian, lemon buttered, Budweiser battered or Cajun. A similar multiple choice is offered of their club sandwiches. Tuna, smoked turkey, corned beef, roast beef or smoked ham. I’d like to see more places offer this.
This type of dedication to all things tasty has garnered the Lake Effect Diner the ultimate seal of approval. A visit from Guy Fieri and the Triple D crew in 2009. Loved locally the spot on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives has put them on the culinary map.

So on to the food.

We started with a plate of Chili Cheese Fries. The fries are hand cut in house and served under a blanket of chili and cheese and topped with onion and a dollop of sour cream. The fries had good potato flavour but I’d order them well done next time. I like a little more crunch on the outside. The inside had that nice fluffy potato texture though. The chili was outstanding. Not spicy, very tomatoey and well seasoned. The cheddar, onion and sour cream complimented it perfectly. It’s enough for a meal in its self. 101_0028 Mrs. Sippi opted for the Beef on Weck. While not as good as Charlie’s it was still great. I prefered this bun and the horse radish had more jump to it. The jus served on the side was better and it compromised the integrity of the bun as she ate it. Just like it should.
101_0032 I went with the BBQ Meatloaf Bomber. The house meatloaf on a hoagie with caramelized onions, aged cheddar and home made BBQ sauce. It was simply great. The meatloaf has a terrific taste and the BBQ sauce and onions bumped it up a few more notches. I took half of it home and it was still great the next day.
101_0031 We shared a side of Griddled Mac and Cheese. A creamy mac and cheese that they put on the flat top. It was really nice but I didn’t care for the griddling part. The toasted cheese overpowered the rest of the dish I though. Mrs. Sippi concurred.
101_0038 She went for a Vanilla Malt and I had the PB&J Shake. The malt was really nice and something we don’t see much. It was a clear runner up to the shake though. It was liquid peanut butter and (strawberry) jelly sucked through a straw. She drank almost as much as I did and summed it up in one word, “Insane.” We blew through it so fast I had to order another shake. This time it was a banana split. It was good but not in the same weight class.
So for some terrific diner food and experience, visit Lake Effect Diner at 3165 Main St. in Buffalo, New York.

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You also visit them on the web.
Lake Effect Diner on Urbanspoon
Lake Effect Diner on Foodio54

Well that’s all for now. See you next time in the food court.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Authentic Gyros

As far as I’m concerned, anytime there’s revolving meat it’s, as Martha Stewart would say, “A good thing.” It should come as no surprise then that I’m a big fan of the Greek version of rotating meat on a spit, Gyros. 
From the Greek word for “Turn” it’s a sibling of the Turkish “Donair” and Lebanese “Schwarma.” Although it’s often made as a meatloaf of highly seasoned beef and lamb, authentic gyros are actually chicken or pork slices that are stacked on a skewer. The meat is vertically roasted on the spit with the heat and distance from the meat adjustable to speed up or slow down the cooking. 
It is to Greeks what hamburgers are to westerners. Consisting of meat on a pita the consumer can customize the sandwich as he or she sees fit. As a general rule, tzatziki, tomatoes and onions are what make up “Everything” but that can vary.
Oh, and it’s pronounced, Yee-Roes with a slight roll of the “R”.

Just north east of Toronto’s downtown core is Greektown. Home of the massive Hellenic celebration, “Taste of the Danforth,” it’s one of the largest Greek communities outside of Greece.
It’s also home to Messini. A small restaurant serving genuine Greek food in a friendly atmosphere. Owner Marinos Dafnas opened his cafe in 2002 with great anticipation. Having “Test driven” some of his menu at the ‘02 Taste of the Danforth festival the feedback proved invaluable and he was able to give patrons a taste of what would be in store.
Dafnas honed his skills and recipes cooking in his native Greece as well as Germany before immigrating to Canada. He worked fine dining in Vancouver and Montreal before realizing his dream of opening his own place. The result of his years in the business and his commitment to the restaurant and product has made Messini an anchor in the heart of Greektown. 
My lunch visit saw dozens of people either dining in or taking out. It’s no surprise either. The food is fantastic.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present some of the most authentic Greek food the city of Toronto has to offer.

My lunch meal was a combo of a gyro with a side salad and drink.
Although I had the lamb before and it was tasty I opted for the pork as it’s more traditional. I have to admit, I prefer the meatloaf style gyros better. It’s what I always thought was a gyro and and as such, in my head, I think if this as more a schwarma. As far as what it is, it’s excellent. The pork is simply seasoned and spit roasted of course. The result if a very nice tasting, tender and juicy meat. The works in this case was tzatziki, tomato, onion and French fries as is normal in the Greek city and restaurant's namesake, Messini. The house made tzatziki is awesome but the French fries don’t really do it for me. I removed most of them and would omit them in the future.
Another misnomer is that “Greek salad” is a lettuce based salad. In actual fact Horiatiki Salata, the menu item often named “Village salad” is the traditional version. Chopped cucumber, tomato, green pepper and onion, dressed with salt, pepper, oregano, olive oil and garnished with feta and kalamata olives. Messini’s version is simply incredible. The vegetables are very fresh tasting and the feta is rich, salty and pungent. The oil has a nice clean flavour. It’s worth a visit just for he salad.
A side of grilled pita with an olive tapenade was also served. It too was very nice.
You can find Messini at 445 Danforth Ave in Toronto.

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You can also visit them on the web
Messini Authentic Gyros on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now. We’ll see ya next time in the Foodcourt.

What the Heck is Kummelweck?

From the German words, “Kummel” meaning “Caraway” and “Weck” meaning “Roll” it’s essentially a Kaiser with a salt and caraway seed topping. It’s most famous as one component of Western New York’s “Beef on Weck.”
Some folks, such as Charlie the Butcher claim that Beef on Weck was invented in the 1880's by an unknown German immigrant. Possibly William Wahr who is credited with inventing the Kummelweck in Buffalo. 
Another claim is it was invented at Buffalo’s Delaware House tavern in 1901. In anticipation of the 1901 Pan Am Exposition, Joe Gohn opened a tavern across the street from one of the expo’s main entrances and offered a twist on the French dip sandwich. Hoping the salty top would promote more drinking.   
One thing is for sure, the Beef on Weck is as ubiquitous on the Niagara Frontier as the Buffalo Chicken Wing. Slow roasted beef is hand sliced thin and served on Kummelweck. The top of the bun is dipped in the au jus and garnished with horseradish.

In 1914 future Buffalo mayor Charles E. Roesch (I) opened a butcher shop in the Broadway Market. Fresh meat and poultry would build the business. Charles (II) would take over the Charles E. Roesch and Company eventually.

In 1980, Charles (III), or “Charlie the Butcher”, outfitted with his signature hard hat took control of the shop. From a quiet chemist starting work in the family business in the early '70's Charlie has transformed himself into a local icon and his business into a small empire. Charlie the Butcher's Kitchen would open in 1993 joining Catering and "Express" locations. Local and national television appearances on shows such as Good Morning America and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee have led Charlie to be knows as Buffalo's unofficial "Food Ambassador."

That's Charlie with the hard hat
Hamburgers and other fine fare such as pulled pork or turkey sandwiches as well as malteds, shakes and loganberry drinks fill out the menu. It’s the beef on weck that draws ‘em in though. “No one slices like Charlie the Butcher” he claims and it’s hard to argue. The beef was beautifully sliced thin. They also serve Western New York's own Sahlen's hot dogs.

Hand carving roast beef
So enough with the back story, now on with the food.
Of course we had the beef on weck. Hand carved right at the ordering counter this sandwich could probably have used a little more jus and I would like the horse radish to have had a little more kick. Those are only mild complaints though. The beef was tender, juicy and incredibly tasty. The sandwich, as advertized struggled to maintain structural integrity which is exactly how it should be. I’d probably ask for extra jus in the future and even though I added a good dollop of horse radish from the dish on the table I’d add more.

It came with it’s usual accompaniment of a pickle spear which was fantastic. Fries are a normal side (or German potato salad) however we opted for BBQ seasoned potato wedges. They were okay.

Being a burger lover I needed to try Charlie’s. Ground fresh daily the 1/3lb burger came cooked medium and was very juicy and flat out tasty. 

The big surprise was the grilled bologna. A 1/4” slice of bologna, grilled and topped with sautéed peppers and onions and a slice of cheese. Served on a kaiser it was fantastic.

You can find Charlie the Butcher’s Kitchen at 1065 Wehrle Drive in Williamsville, New York. 

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Find their other outlets by visiting their website.
Can’t make it to Buffalo? Make your own at home. Charlie shares his secrets here.
Charlie the Butcher's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all from the foodcourt for today. Hope to see ya soon.