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Road Trip: Local Eats in Buffalo

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Earlier this year, some friends invited me to join them for a week at the Chautauqua Institution, an organization committed to lifelong learning that runs 9 weeks of programs during the summer outside of Buffalo, NY. I always loved summer camp as a kid and jumped at the opportunity to relax and feed my brain for a week.

I flew in the night before we were to leave for Chautauqua so that I could explore Buffalo a bit.  I had heard good things about the city from my friend Jodi Bart of Tasty Touring, but in my mind, Buffalo is one of those dying Rust Belt cities like Detroit.  Not having had good experiences in the Motor City, my expectations were low.

Buffalo surprised me.  While it’s true the city has shrunk in size as industry has moved away, Buffalo has reinvented itself as a center for higher education and the health care industry.  The city has a vibrancy and optimism that was refreshing and the friendliness of everyone I met was contagious.

For my short visit, I consulted Edible Buffalo for guidance on a restaurant and market to visit. They recommended Trattoria Aroma in the Elmwood Village neighborhood, Buffalo’s version of SoCo, for dinner.  The restaurant is charming with a bustling bar and a large patio area for al fresco dining.

Guests are greeted at the door by a chalkboard listing the daily local produce and featured farms.  The menu is packed with locally sourced dishes, name dropping a local farm in almost every dish.  I selected an appetizer of grilled local asparagus, with prosciutto, shaved parmesan cheese, a fried farm egg and a drizzle of truffle oil.

The dish was luscious and I could not help but groan a little with pleasure as I savored the first bite (slightly embarrassing when you are sitting by yourself.)  My server heard me and said, “Amazing, right?”  I happily nodded my agreement.

For dinner, I ordered a pasta dish that featured local produce.  The ripe squash, chard mushrooms and tomatoes tossed with a delicious handmade pasta was rich and surprisingly satisfying for a vegetarian dish.

Trattoria does a fantastic job of highlighting the best of Buffalo’s local meat and produce in their creative offerings and it was a lovely place to start my adventure.

Saturday morning, I got up early and visited the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market, located in a small parkway in the same neighborhood as Trattoria Aroma.  The producer only market was bustling this early July morning with plenty of offerings for any craving.

My favorite part of visiting markets outside of Austin is finding goodies we don’t have.  The first booth I saw as I entered the park was a produce stand with cherries. C-H-E-R-R-I-E-S!!!!!! I’m sure there were other vegetables and fruits on the table, but I could only see the cherries.   I bought a bag and exercised immense self-control to not eat it immediately.

The harvesting season in Buffalo begins in late May/early June and the market offered much of the produce that we see in early spring in Central Texas with an abundance of lettuces, Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, turnips, onions and asparagus.   Blueberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries were also plentiful.

As I wandered through the stalls, I was delighted to recognized so many farm names from the menu at Trattoria Aroma.  I mentioned to one farmer that I had enjoyed their eggs and asparagus the night before at dinner and she beamed with pride.  “It’s nice to work with such a great restaurant,” she said.

The market offers a number of prepared foods and meats as well.  You could fill your fridge with smoked sausages, chicken, rabbit or beef.  White Cow Dairy sells a variety of bottled yogurts and juices including low-fat yogurt.  You can buy a complete pasta dinner at the Pasta Peddler who sells both handmade dried pastas and jarred sauces and even pair it with a nice wine from one of two Niagara based vineyards.

I found popcorn in three varieties for the low price of $1/bag.  I bought one of each for Carla Crownover of Austin Urban Gardens who has missed popcorn immensely during her year without a grocery store challenge.  One vendor was selling Cherrywood Grilling Chips and I bought a couple of small boxes in hopes that I can convince Marshall Wright from Eat This Lens to smoke some bacon with it.  

There is even a salsa vendor, Saltamontes Salsa.  I gave the owner, Ron Glatzhofer, a mildly hard time about salsa in Buffalo until I learned that he had lived in California for many years.  The salsa was tasty, although not spicy enough for me.  I did buy some of his Buffalo Wing sauce which had plenty of kick.

The Elmwood-Bidwell market offers a great introduction to the local food scene in Buffalo and I had no problem filling my market bag with goodies for our vacation house.  When I was done shopping, I meandered across the street to Caffe Aroma (owned by the same folks as Trattoria Aroma) to grab some coffee and watch the World Cup game.  It was a pretty terrific way to start a week of vacation and I’m looking forward to the next time I can shuffle off to Buffalo.

View the full Buffalo Road Trip photo set.

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