More than a wing city: Buffalo cuisine exceeds the blue-collar hype


Kelsie Engert, Staff Writer

We’ve all come across some version, arguably distorted or very real, of the classic “Buffalo wing,” or perhaps “Buffalo chicken.” Buffalo has branded its signature food. Placing the word “Buffalo” in front of a food or dish automatically sets the bar high–to what some would deem an unachievable standard outside of Buffalo. It’s no secret that Buffalo has found its niche in the wing department, and more recently its close cousin, pizza.

When it comes to Buffalo food in general, the media often delves into the blue-collar classics–the wings, pizza and let’s not forget, the famous beef-on-weck. However, locals know that Buffalo has got a whole lot more than just bar and finger food. It’s a food town at heart, thriving with a variety of cuisine at every level of dining.

The New York Times has talked about food “beyond the Buffalo wing,” while still fixating on Anchor Bar and Charlie the Butcher. The New Yorker has written on the Buffalo wing history itself. USA Today has published countless articles attributing Buffalo food to Anchor Bar, Duff’s, Mighty Taco, Ted’s Hot Dogs, Bocce Club Pizza and Charlie the Butcher.

Food and Wine Magazine recently called out the New York Times and the New Yorker on this outrageously wry depiction of the Buffalo food culture, acknowledging that Buffalo has much more than just pizza, wings and beef-on-weck and it’s emerging from the “Rust Belt rubble” into the “comeback kid” restaurant scene.

Despite its undisputed reputation in the blue-collar food genre, Buffalo has not received the appropriate recognition for its undeniably impressive food scene… yet.

Joshua Blumberg, Buffalo State College Hospitality and Tourism professional, Campus House general manager and former service professional at Lombardo’s Ristorante, claims Buffalo is currently reemerging into a city that hosts more high-end dining experiences through the renaissance of “upscale urban bistros.”

Blumberg defines these restaurants as having unique and interesting beverages and upscale foods with more modern and casual atmospheres, typically distinguished with tin-stamped ceilings and hardwood floors. At the core of the “upscale urban bistro” is the casual, welcoming ambiance. People are not expected to dress up for a fine dining experience like they would have in previous years.

While the concept of “upscale urban bistros” is not unique to Buffalo, the influx of these particular restaurants in Buffalo is extremely high, when taking into consideration the city’s demographics and population. However, Blumberg attributed Buffalo to a major role in the farm-to-table movement, in which food is served hyper-seasonally.

Restaurants such as The Roost and Carmelo’s are prime examples of this restaurant movement that are thriving and have sparked many more around the city, and it’s finally starting to reach the media.

Steve Ambrose, founder of Buffalo Dinner Club and YuMedia, accredited Buffalo’s melting pot of citizens of all demographics to the recent expansion in the variation of food in Buffalo.

“It has put us on the national radar and garnered Buffalo a lot of well-deserved and overdue attention,” said Ambrose. “The wings and beef on weck put us on the map, and we do have to acknowledge and respect that, but there is so much more to Buffalo food culture that they have not even seen or experienced.  That’s what excites me most!”

Besides the diversity in cuisine, what exactly makes Buffalo’s hyper-seasonal upscale urban bistros so different?

According to Blumberg, “local ownership is what has made Buffalo’s cuisine so different. There is a lot more connectivity between the restaurant owners/chefs and their guests. There is a real community aspect that you don’t get anywhere else, and it works in a small community.”

Ambrose suggests that there is a friendly competition among the Buffalo restaurants that allows them to learn and grow from each other. While it may seem implausible, the cold winter weather has made dining out a hobby for many Buffalonians, like myself. Many blogger influencers have put a spotlight on the dining-out culture and have pushed restaurants to serve the “next big thing” that will have people talking and wanting to check them out.

Blumberg comments on the cold weather theory, “the envelope has been pushed. Even small neighborhood restaurants require a signature item.”

The competition still remains friendly this way, when each place has their own unique trademark. Buffalo cuisine is thriving at every level, whether you’re looking for a fast pizza from Bocce’s, an urban bistro experience at Marble and Rye or a classy fine dining meal from Tempo.

It’s not often that you find a city the size of Buffalo going beyond the scope of large commercial cities in its food culture. The ever-increasing quantity and quality are striking. But then again, Buffalo has many other things that a city its size has no business having; and yes, I’m referring to the NFL team that has managed to force itself into just about every article ever written on Buffalo.

The point is, if you’re going to test out Buffalo food, try it all. Start with the classics that gave it fame in the first place, then work your way around to the restaurants that are changing the course of “Buffalo cuisine.

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