Sackets Harbor Brew Pub

I’ve been anticipating writing a post on the Sackets Harbor Brew Pub since I started BHS. Way back in 1999, when I worked for the Chamber of Commerce in Sackets, Steve Flynn owned the brew pub, and he and his dad were big men about town there. I believe poor Errol has passed, and Steve is no longer running the restaurant, though I could be mistaken. Back in the day, the brew pub was a feather in the cap of Sackets Harbor’s dining scene, along with the 1812 Steakhouse. Karen Cornish was cooking at the brew pub, Marty and Jane were kicking major butt at 1812, and The Boathouse and Tin Pan were still chugging away with great food. Then Steve opened Goodfello’s and Marty opened his second steakhouse in Madison Barracks, and all was right in my tummy.

In the 1999 – 2001 timeframe, the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company was alive, exciting - a hotbed of activity and a bastion of good eats. The brew master – I think his name was Alex? – was always hanging around, preaching the gospel of good beer and good times. Steve and Errol were hospitable and generous, participating in chamber activities and volunteering whenever we needed their help. And Karen Cornish was a gangster in that kitchen! I still remember a hand-breaded, fresh mozzarella ball she served, fried crispy, ooey, gooey in the middle, sitting in a pool of chunky tomato sauce and garnished with homemade pesto. That was my first taste of pesto, which has since made me its bitch. She also used some small-batch, gourmet steak sauce from Kansas to make a compound butter that she would melt over their steaks. The filet mignon I had there in fall 1999 is still stuck in my head as one of the top five steaks I’ve had in my entire life.

After all this history, you can imagine why I was eager to return as a food blogger and enjoy an epic repast at this temple of my youthful food obsession. With this in mind, my parents, Shawn’s mom, Shawn and I hit up the brew pub for dinner a couple weeks ago. I’m gonna warn you: our experience was not as rosy as my memories.

Look, I know February is not exactly prime season in Sackets Harbor. This is a summer town, fueled by Lake Ontario boaters, fishermen and cottage-dwellers. I expected it to be less than packed. But like I said, when Karen was cooking, Alex was brewing, and Steve was hawking, this place was bananas. Even in the dead of winter, the bar was jamming and the food was plentiful. But this time….not so much. We were one of two tables occupied in the chilly dining room. And while the bar was crowded, not much food was being moved out of the kitchen. Never a good sign for a place still claiming to be a five star restaurant on its website.

I will say, the bread was good, if utilitarian. I think the brew pub of yore made its own compound butter than came in a little dish with the bread. This bread was yummy, though – yeasty, soft, with a good chew and a light crumb. The butter packs were frigid, like the room – the dreaded Iron Butter in full effect. Our waitress remedied our cold feet and hands by pulling a portable heater up to our table, but there was no magic fix for the uninspired meal awaiting us.

Our round of wine and beers was similarly satisfactory. Dad and Shawn sampled the Thousand Islands Pale Ale and War of 1812 Amber Ale, and were pleased. My glass of pinot grigio was South American in original, cheap in price, and crisp in flavor.

I will say, my Mom absolutely loved her meal, which she ordered off the appetizer menu: crab cake with caramelized parsnips over carrot coulis with arugula. She graded her dinner a nine on the BHS scale on the strength of this dish, which I actually didn’t find all that amazing despite my fondness for parsnips. The crab flavor wasn’t predominate, and I suspect jumbo lump crabmeat was not used, despite the menu’s description. The parsnips were delicious, but an odd addition directly to the thin cake. This was a nice dish screaming with the flavors of fall, but not screaming with that crab cake richness and lushness I want from such an offering.

Please note: the excess coulis was not wiped from the edge of the plate

I ordered the 10 oz sirloin with sautéed onions and mushrooms, wilted spinach and mashed potatoes. It was fine. There was no sign of that terrific butter Cornish used to employ to great effect. Nothing interesting was added to the onions or mushrooms to differentiate them from something I could make at home. The spinach was nice, but again, no zippy seasonings or art to the preparation. It was steamed spinach. The mashed potatoes were mashed with some roasted garlic and again, were fine. Nothing special, which is why I’m annoyed. Look, I’m fine with ordinary food when it’s billed as such. I don’t expect new American cuisine at Bud’s Place in Apalachin, NY, or avant garde gourmet dining at Outback Steakhouse. But, according to SHBC’s website, the brew pub is peddling “five-star, upscale, gastropub fare.” This dish, completely sloppy on the plate, edges not even given a cursory wipe, was not modern, gastro-pub fare. It was your typical, NNY steak and potatoes dinner. Filling and boring. Don’t write checks your food can’t cash, people.

Sloppy plate, version 2.0

I will say, Stephanie’s seared scallop stack was pretty. She enjoyed the perfectly-cooked, large scallops perched on top of their roasted portabella mushroom cap, with red peppers and goat cheese. It smelled and looked delicious.

Dad’s sirloin echoed mine in its boring OK-ness. His side of zucchini was grilled crisp-tender, but with no special herbs or additions. His potatoes were roasted instead of the baked sweet potato promised on the menu, and he liked the bourbon steak sauce over top, though he didn’t rave about it or even insist I try it.

Shawn didn’t have anything remarkable to note about his blackened steak salad, except that he shouldn’t order steak salads anymore. LOL, Shawn’s not exactly a foodie, but that might tell you all you need to know.

I can’t tell you how depressed I am to just have described this meal to you, Big Hungries. I have had some fabulous meals at the Sackets Harbor Brew Pub in the past. I wanted this to live up to that standard. But it’s like the place has lost its mojo. Even the atmosphere felt different, stale…aging. I’m giving the brew pub a four on the BHS scale, with an admonition to shape up! You now have the revitalized Boathouse and inventive, hip, Hops Spot with which to compete! Whomever is running this place (I read somewhere it was a group out of Albany?), go find Karen Cornish, entice her back, and return the brew pub to its splendor. Don’t squander your amazing locale and built-in tourist trade to boring food and lifeless surroundings! And for crap’s sake, hire an expeditor who will make sure every plate’s edge is wiped before it leaves the kitchen. Sloppy plates are my pet peeve!

I’ve got a bunch of travel in my future, Big Hungries, so expect reports from Philadelphia, Merrimack, NH, and Verona, NY in the coming weeks. Don’t forget, BHS t-shirts are now on sale for $20, and Santa Fe Ole Food Company is giving 15% off to all my readers with the code bighungry2012 until April 16. My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!

Sackets Harbor Brewing Co on Urbanspoon


Dispatch from Dallas: Pyles of Yum

Last week, a particularly fun project at work took me to Dallas, TX for the annual Heli-Expo Show, which is a ginormous helicopter trade show attended by a very international jet-setty crowd. The product launch in which I participated was fun, but the people watching was beyond.

I won’t recommend the hotel we stayed in in downtown Dallas to you, the Hyatt Regency. It was aging, noisy, not particularly business traveler-friendly and not particularly luxurious. I’ve stayed in nicer Courtyards and Hampton Inns, to be frank. On the other hand the Omni Hotel, which is attached to the convention center and therefore exceedingly convenient for business travelers, was lovely. We attended several events there and all of the public spaces were modern and luxe.

I can recommend a terrific restaurant for downtown Dallas dining, however. Stephan Pyles is a renowned chef in the Dallas area, one who usually focuses his restaurants on tex mex flavors. At his namesake eatery, he’s experimenting with South American cuisine mixed in with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors in a gorgeous setting with a sweeping view of the open kitchen. The result of this curious amalgamation is an eclectic menu reflecting exciting cuisine and a nice break-up of the usual Dallas culinary landscape of BBQ and tacos.

Just as fun as the atmosphere, I was lucky enough to have dinner with a quartet of colleagues who were a total blast: BAE gents T, M and D, and a really fun dude from Sweden, H. I will keep their anonymity, but tell you that H’s tales of hunting polar bears and the real story of Stieg Larsson’s lover were almost as good as the ceviche, which is how we began our meal.

Our ceviche trio, accompanied by a small bowl of palate-cleansing popcorn, was major league baller. We chose the tuna, scallop and salmon varieties, and though I didn’t expect to like the salmon at all, I actually adored all three, with the scallop, golden tomato and aji mirasol combo being my favorite. It was clean, pungently spicy, and exquisitely fresh – a briny, bright pop of flavor with perfectly soft, uncooked scallops. The tuna with jicama and grilled orange was silky and sweet as only raw tuna can be, while the salmon Veracruz-style was more earthy, with capers, green olives and jalapenos. The ceviche tasting is a signature experience at Stephan Pyles, and not to be missed. Even if you don’t groove on sushi, take a gamble and at least try a taste of one of these offerings – the citrus component of the sauce changes the texture of the seafood, giving it a “cooked” quality without any actual heat applied. This is food best sampled on a beach, with the sun beating down, no shoes on, and a man named Francisco catering to your every whim – but this Dallas hot spot is pretty close to the mark, and the inventive flavor combinations can’t be beat.

I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to order every item off the appetizer menu and skip the entrees. I mean, come on! Foie gras parfait? Tamale tart with peekytoe crab? Deconstructed scallop chowder? That is a wonderland of food, just as Sweden, apparently, is a wonderland of hunting endangered animals for dinner. However, in the interest of NOT appearing completely gluttonous in front of co-workers, I elected to order the pork chop with apple-onion cajeta and root vegetable crudo. Now, only being a hobbyist gourmet and not, like, formally educated, I assumed a crudo was a raw sauce, and I had no idea what a cajeta was. Now that I wiki it, I think the sauce on the chop may have been the cajeta, and maybe the side dish, which I quite liked and which our charming waiter told me was like a posole mac and cheese, was the crudo? Whatever it was, it was tasty. And the chop? Oh, the chop was exceptional. They actually gave me a choice on how I wanted my pork cooked! Medium, baby! The thick, smoky chop was just pink in the center, exceedingly tender, divine. The light arugula salad on the side was sweet but still earthy, with shaved root vegetables ohwaitmaybethatwasthecrudo? God, so confusing – I guess this means the apple and onion cajeta was the sweet, paprika-y sauce on top, the salad was the crudo, and the cheesy posole was a bonus dish of love? In any event, it was all fantastic. This Pyles dude knows what he’s doing.

And this is how I get led down the primrose path to dessert – when everything leading up to it is that good, I can’t help myself. But before we get there, I have to tell you about the cowboy ribeye, which I did not taste, but had to be amazing. This gigantic Fred Flintstone-looking slab of meat was piled high with crispy red-chile onion strings and dressed with a wild-mushroom ragout. If I knew D, who ordered it, a little better, I would have been all over asking for a bite, or six. He could have spared them – the plate was big enough to keep dearly-departed Andre the Giant busy for a few hours. Make sure someone at your table orders this when you visit Stephan Pyles, and don’t be as polite as I was about asking to try it.

OK, about that dessert. Holy expletive deleted, you guys. I wish I hadn’t been so full of so-called crudo, because it was stratospherically awesome. It’s not on the online menu, but I got the pumpkin panna cotta with salted caramel sauce, churros and homemade marshmallows (!!!!!). I want it again, right now. I want it every day for the rest of my life. Now, the panna cotta itself didn’t hold a candle to the same dish I had as an appetizer at the CIA last December. But the marshmallows and explosively good salted caramel sauce rendered everything else on the plate ancillary. The sauce was dynamite – thick, rich, sweet caramel spiked with crispy, crunchy sea salt. Never underestimate the power of the salty/sweet combo – I think it should be used at peace talks to calm people down. The pillowy-soft marshmallows were bruleed just a hint and giving off that edgy, burnt sugar taste that’s so satisfying, and they played with the fried, fluffy churros in a most pleasing way. This was, simply, sublime.

With the quality of food being put out at Stephan Pyles, I’m not surprised at all I had a bit of a time getting our reservation on short notice. If you’re in Dallas, and looking for an impressive place, modern cuisine and ambiance, this is the place for you. I give it a nine on the BHS scale, and I think my compadres were similarly impressed. We may not have experienced any polar bear or caribou, but between the yummy ceviche, huge entrees, and astonishing dessert, I didn’t need anything more adventurous. Bravo, Stephan!

Don’t forget, Big Hungries, the Santa Fe Ole Food Company is giving my readers 15% off all their mail-order products now through April 16. Just go to http://www.santafeolefoodco.com/ and use bighungry2012 at checkout to collect your savings. My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!

PS. This is Tommy, husband of Big Hungry Jill. He is awesome for many reasons, not the least of which is the time he bought me a muffin to nosh on during my morning drive home from their house in NJ, most definitely saving me from falling asleep at the wheel and meeting my demise in a fiery car crash. You can see he is sporting a really rad shirt. You too can be the proud owner of a shirt like this, and represent Big Hungry Nation. Because I’m redoing the artwork for BHS right now and getting some new graphic design stuff together, I’m calling a fire sale on my existing stock of shirts. If you would like one, for only $20, leave a little contact info in the comments below, or contact me on the Facebook. These are the perfect shirts in which to act like a gluttonous little piggy, so make sure to get yours today. Oh, and by the way, you and I both know I am not meant to die in a fiery car crash. I will totally get taken down at the age of 109 by a too-rare pork chop or a pack of wild boars or something. One of these days, the pigs are bound to fight back.

Stephan Pyles on Urbanspoon


Taste of Eastern Europe in Binghamton

One of the things that’s struck me as odd ever since I moved to the Triple Cities in 2000 is that, despite the large population of Eastern European people in this area, there is not a proliferation of ethnic restaurants that reflect this community. Nay, our most famous and prevalent regional dish is spiedies, of Greek origin! Of course, we have countless church festivals throughout the year which proudly feature handmade perogies, stuffed cabbage (called holupki) and rugelach cookies, but until recently, there were no permanent spots that made these delicious treats available.

Right before the flood last fall, though, I spotted a new take-out menu floating around the desks of my comrades at work. On Court Street in Binghamton, A Taste of Europe had opened up, and they had perogies! Oh happy day! Melinda, who is of Russian descent but grew up in a home as thoroughly American as I did, joined me a couple weeks ago for our forray to this new delight.

The first thing you should know about dining at a Taste of Europe is that the space itself is very simple and homey. Almost what I would guess a little café in Eastern Europe would really be like. The place is small, and the attention is individual and hospitable. In fact, the owner waited on us, and his ministrations were so thoughtful and frequent, they were nearly overbearing. He explained each course to us, and created several special dishes not exactly on the menu so that we could taste a variety of offerings.

The second thing you should know is that you must order the Russian soda. The owner told us students at BU order this by the case, and I can see why. My pear variety was bursting with fresh pear taste, not too carbonated or too sweet, but the exact liquid equivalent of juicing a pear and lightening that thick lusciousness up with a little soda water. Excellent. Melinda had the cherry, and it too was fantastic. Do not miss these fruity treats.

First up were the two salads we ordered as side dishes to our meal, a cabbage/carrot shredded affair and a potato/ham/pea. I vastly preferred the shredded carrots and cabbage in a sweet vinegar dressing, which was refreshing against all the rich foods we were about to be served. The potato was dressed in a mayonnaise/sour cream dressing that didn’t do much for me, though the bits of ham, green peas and carrots in the mix were nice. I guess this didn’t feel particularly ethnic for me, but more like something brought to a church potluck? I didn’t care for it.

Next up, we split an order of 15 perogies, and they let us split the order for half potato and half cheese. We expected 15 to be way too many for us to finish, but were pleasantly surprised when the plate was brought out, and they were tiny little dumplings, about a third of the size of commercial varieties I’ve had before. The dough was superior to commercially-made perogies as well: thinner, lighter, silkier. They came swimming in the requisite pool of melted butter, and were served with little side cups of sour cream and sautéed onions. The potato were your classic offerings, though wrapped in that delicate skin – they were totally yummy with a little dollop of sour cream on each. The cheese were filled with what I’ll call farmer’s cheese, a fresh, soft-curd cheese not unlike ricotta in its bland milkiness. These were dynamite with the sautéed onions. This entire dish was what we really came for, and one of the favorite parts of our meal.

The meat course did not disappoint. We ordered both the chicken schnitzel, which the proprietor told us was a new addition to his menu, and a kind of breaded, deep-fried meatloaf with a name I couldn’t pronounce. I think the best way to get people to accept your ethnic cuisine is to deep fry it, so this guy is on the right track. I loved that neither were greasy or dried out, and both had great flavor. The little meat loaf offering was probably a mix of beef and veal – the texture of the meat was very finely ground, and it was very wholesome and filling. Less successful, for me, was the side of kasha, or buckwheat, we ordered. I had seen kasha on an episode of Man Vs. Food, and was pretty excited to try it, since grains + caramelized onions usually = yum, in my book. But this was a really bland, really heavy dish, for me. I’m sure it’s a total comfort food to those raised in that part of the world, but I didn’t care to take more than a couple bites.

We were too full after this festival of flavor to try dessert, but I have no doubt this is another course that soars at a Taste of Europe. The owner did bring us chocolates, and they were terrific. I will give A Taste of Europe a 5.5 on the BHS scale; it’s not out of this world amazing, but if you’re in Binghamton looking for a culinary adventure, this is a fun little spot, and if you’re craving perogies, it can’t be beat.

Don’t forget, Big Hungries, the Santa Fe Ole Food Company is giving my readers 15% off all their mail-order products now through April 16. Just go to http://www.santafeolefoodco.com/ and use bighungry2012 at checkout to collect your savings. My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!


Queen City: The Sequel

Our little jaunt to Buffalo a couple weeks ago included not only a fun pageant, shopping, and dinner at the Creekview in Willamsville, but the chance to catch up with Kristina, one of our former Miss Thousand Islands. She now lives in Buffalo and has embraced all that the Queen City represents: The Bills, chicken wings, Loganberry soda (OK, I don’t know if she likes this, but I do), and local eateries. At dinner, she encouraged us to come into Buffalo proper the next morning and do brunch with her and her fiancé, Pat.

Betty’s Restaurant isn’t quite an institution yet. It just opened in 2004. But I’m thinking it’s well on its
way. With a homey, funky, artful interior and what is probably a totally charming summertime patio for outdoor dining, Betty’s comes off like the inherited Victorian mansion of your ex-hippie friend who now pulls down six figures but once refused to wear proper undergarments. It’s beautiful but also quirky, with warm wood accents and modern art lining the walls that was created by former servers. The service itself is casual and friendly, which matches the fun, decadent and fresh cuisine to a T.

The menu is modern American with a heavy bent towards comfort food. The dinner offering includes pot pie, potato pancakes, and pepper jelly – all those lovely P-words you want to eat. As for Sunday brunch, between the lavish specials menu and standard bill of fare, we were salivating before we even placed our orders.

On recommendation from the waitress, I chose the Mickey’s Casserole from the brunch menu. It was fabulous, though not as fabulous as some of the other dishes at our table. The crunchy pastry square enveloped scrambled eggs, mild breakfast sausage, and mild cheddar cheese. I would have liked it more if either the bread had been more flavorful, the sausage spicier or the cheese sharper. As it was, the casserole made a somewhat boring vehicle for the really yummy, sweet and savory caramelized onions which were up on top. The potatoes alongside were flat-top fried with lots of herbs, but also needed a punch for me. I used ketchup, but a little dish of sausage gravy would have made these sing. They were chunky and pleasingly crispy, but a tiny bit under-seasoned for me. Mixing them with the onions, though? Killah. Breakfast casserole is usually one of my favorite things in the world, but I make mine at home with both bacon and sausage, and use sharp cheddar and Italian bread in the mix – as it turns out, I should stick with my version.

Hey Mickey, you’re so fine

Kristina’s sausage and potato quiche, off the specials menu, was everything I wish my selection had been: savory, fatty, unctuous and salty. The sausage sang, the cheese was zingy, and tender potatoes gave the wedge of eggy delight some heft. Mine looked prettier, but hers tasted better. I think she won.

Oh wait, hers was prettier, too. That’s not fair.

Mom and Allie ordered a totally epic blueberry French toast casserole abomination of deliciousness off the specials menu. If there is anything even remotely resembling this dish on special when you visit Betty’s, GET IT. I’m not usually a sweets-in-the-morning person, but I could grow to love a dish like this: a thick slab of eggy bread mixed with fresh blueberries (maybe frozen – after baking, who can tell?) with sweetened cream cheese and a healthy drizzle of bright red strawberry syrup. This dish is a valentine to your stomach. It was sweet, but not sickly sweet, thanks to the tang of the cream cheese, and the density mimicked bread pudding without the mouth feel being too heavy. A very successful dish.
Won’t you be mine?

Dad and Pat were holding court at the far end of the table, so tasting their items would have been a pain. Dad got the steak and eggs, which he said was good, although one of his egg yolks was either cooked through or broken, so I know he was a little bummed about the lack of golden, yolky goodness to dip his steak into. Pat got sausage gravy and biscuits, which I was jealous about. I didn’t taste it; I wish I had. But I don’t know Pat that well, and I didn’t know how he’d feel about me eating the majority of his breakfast if I found it to my liking. Oh! I almost forgot to mention the sneaky side of bacon I ordered “for my Mom” halfway through breakfast! It was very subtle in smoke and cure. Different from most hash houses, and quite lovely.

Steak. Eggs. Man food.

Though my breakfast wasn’t my favorite of the plates on our table, I did find all of the food, plus the service and the warm atmosphere, to be above average, and breakfast here was a great experience. I wish I was a local, because I would be a regular. And isn’t that the best endorsement you can give a restaurant? We scored Betty’s a 9.5 on the BHS scale, a highly scientific and democratic evaluation method. That translates into: eat here.

If you’re in Buffalo for a Bills game next season, or a Sabres game this season, or whatever, put Betty’s on your list. Go for lunch, try the pot pie, and then come back and tell us about it! This place has the goods, and will fill your tummy with the stuff you really want. Except I’m craving French onion soup right now, which I don’t think is on Betty’s menu, and also, I’m not in Buffalo at the moment, so forget that whole train of thought. Don’t be like me!

Next week: perogies and kasha and Russian soda in the heart of downtown Binghamton. It’s a taste of Europe, my comrades! My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!

PS: Remember all the hubbub I stirred up in the 2011 Big Hungry Awards and in other posts about the delicious box of wonder and spicy delight my friend Big Hungry Laura sent me for my birthday last year, namely, green chile sauce from Santa Fe Ole? Well, the owner of that company, James Wrench, who happens to be from Cazenovia, found out that I've been dropping his company's name cospicuously all over the interwebs. Dude, what can I say? This is some monster sauce! So, he wrote to me last night, because he wanted to thank me and my readers for giving him so much love. Uh, he should be thanking Laura, but I'll take the gratitude! Anyway, he's providing Big Hungries with a coupon code for 15% off  any purchases from his site between now and April 16, which is tax day for all you math-minded food lovers. If you've been wanting to try my recipe for pork chile verde or any other application for red or green chile, now's the time! Just go to Santa Fe Ole's Website and use the code bighungry2012 to redeem this fun offer! Thanks, James! Remind me to tell you sometime about all the shenanigans my church friends and I used to get up to in Cazenovia, which is where our diocese's retreat center was located.

Betty's on Urbanspoon


Urbanspoon Rocks!

Happy Monday, Big Hungries! I'm excited to point you towards my first-ever blog post now live on Urbanspoon. Now, if you hit up Urbanspoon to find out about a restaurant, you also may see my take on the place.

Hoping this drives more Big Hungries to my secret lair as well. That lair being this blog, you know, not like a real place where I hoard bacon marmalade  and secretly eat cinnamon rolls all day or something.

Anyway, look for many more Urbanspoon reviews and link-backs from BHS, too. I'm excited to branch out onto this new media and expand the Big Hungry empire a little, and I hope you like the aspect of being able to read other bloggers' reviews of a restaurant I've visited, to read more opinions. Urbanspoon rocks!


The Aptly-named Queen City Visit

Before I begin telling you about our quick trip out to buffalo last weekend, I need to get some self promotion out of the way. Y’all know I have a Twitter handle, right? You guys, it’s really fun, and you should totally follow it: @BigHungryShelby. In addition, there’s always fun a-brewin’ over on the Big Hungry Shelby Facebook group. It’s open to all, and chock full of extra photos from the restaurants I visit, plus rando chow thoughts, quotes, recipes and more. Join us!

Now, back to business. We loaded up the family truckster on Saturday morning with a beauty queen and our fancy threads, and hightailed it to the Queen City (Buffalo) for the Miss Niagara pageant. Needless to say, a good time was had by all. There was shopping and eating and eating and shopping, plus some sequins and a lot of laughter. The best kind of weekend getaway!

Nine out of 10 busboys find these  pretty young things ogle-worthy

My parents, our Miss TI Allison, our former Miss TI Kristina and I did dinner at the Creekview Restaurant in Williamsville for a number of reasons. First off, Allison’s a vegetarian, so going to Grover’s for cheeseburger soup, wings and gigantic, sloppy burgers wasn’t going to fly. In addition, we were staying at the lovely Courtyard Amherst, and attending the pageant in Lockport, so going all the way into Buffalo proper for dinner would have been out of the way. Incidentally, this hotel is going through a pretty luxe renovation right now, the rooms were reasonable, clean, and had a cool extra sink area outside the bathroom that was a nice feature. A good place to stay if you decide to give Buffalo a try.

The atmosphere at Creekview is instantly welcoming. The warm, knotty-pine-paneled walls and gorgeous, rushing creek view render you relaxed and ravenous before the menu can even hit your table. We ordered a very Buffalonian starter: stuffed banana peppers, as well as a Mediterranean mezze plate that I knew Allison would enjoy. Stuffed banana peppers seem to be on the appetizer menu of every restaurant in Buffalo, from four star to wing dive. These passed the hiccup test with a hefty dose of capsaicin, and were stuffed with a nice, firm, herbed ricotta. They were swimming in a buttery, spicy light broth. It could have just been EVOO and juice from the peppers, but I liked it. These babies aren’t for the faint of heart or the ulcered of stomachs, but they suited me just fine, and Dad seemed to like them, too.

The mezze platter of toasted pita triangles, pesto, tapenade, roasted red peppers and goat cheese was a hit with the whole table. Dad was the table-side preparER of macked-out pitas for each of us, constructing perfect bites of creamy cheese and righteous, earthy black olive tapenade. The pesto with this was very light compared to even the pesto I make at home. I suspect there was some parsley cut into this, very little pine nut and parmesan in the sauce, and a blended oil instead of straight EVOO.

I didn’t get a picture of Dad’s butternut squash soup, but if this is du jour when you hit the Creekview, order it. It was very complex for a squash soup, which is so often cloyingly sweet. This rendering was cheesy, with a hint of nutmeg and something else, I’m guessing beer, to cut the saccharine squashiness and add splendid depth of flavor.

Rather than order a full entrée, I chose two items off Creekview’s small plates list for my dinner. I wasn’t crazy about the shrimp and grits, and honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking ordering these above the Mason Dixon line. The shrimp were cooked a little past how I prefer them, and the sauce they were in – a loose, garlicky, spiced tomato sauce – was satisfyingly garlicky, but not deep enough in flavor for me. I like my shrimp and grits sauce redolent with Worchestershire and hot sauces, and green onions. Whither the green onions? The grit cake was firmer than I like as well, but nice and cheesy. I just think grits need to be creamy in order to meld with the sauce and make a cohesive dish. Apparently, Creekview’s chef has another point of view, which is fine, but I’m not a fan.

Pet peeve: the plate wasn’t wiped before it was brought to me. See all the red splatters?

The potato pancakes, however, completely saved the day. These were super – thin, fried discs of shredded potatoes and onions, made surprisingly sweet either by the onion or maybe some shredded apple in the mix? I’m not sure on that one, but what I do know is that the chunky, homemade apple sauce served alongside was bangin’, and the sour cream and bacon also accompanying made for one happy, big Shelby who was no longer hungry.

Dad ordered another item from the Buffalo pantheon of required eating: beef on weck. For the uninitiated, this is a roast beef sandwich on a “kimmelweck” white roll studded with coarse-ground salt and caraway seeds. Creekview’s is served with really gorgeous French fries and a side of horseradish. With all the salt, you’d think this would be one of my faves, but I actually find the caraway seeds to be overwhelming. Dad liked it, and said the beef was tender, but I don’t think it knocked him out, necessarily.

The other notable dish on the table was Allison’s ravioli, in a basil and walnut pesto cream sauce, accented with artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers. Allie was a fan of her dish. Again, I found the pesto flavor to be a bit timid for me – but maybe that’s because I’m not a big walnut person? I love an old-school, classic Genovese pesto, rich with cheesy pine nuts and nutty parmesan. None of this wimpy, parsley and spinach-infused walnut pesto tomfoolery! Goodness, I’m digressing from the dish, which Allie quite liked. The ravioli were nice and firm, the sauce wasn’t overly heavy, and the artichokes tasted fresh rather than canned. It was good, and look how pretty:

Again, though: see the feeble plate-wiping attempt that did not succeed? Only Type A me would ever notice this. Oh, and the judges on Top Chef.

Kristina ordered the penne parm, and Mom had the chopped sirloin. Neither were bowled over. Mom’s steak was a little overdone, and I think Kristina’s was a little blah. In addition, our service was rather slow, although it was Saturday evening and the place was jamming. We wanted dessert, but had to rush to make the pageant after spending an hour and 40 minutes on our three courses. I took a vote on the BHS score, which I have averaged and rounded up per my own prerogative (it is my blog, after all) to a 6.5. And that’s about right – while some of the items on this menu were lovingly crafted, others were sort of weak. The ambiance was lovely and the hostess friendly, but our server was just the slightest bit gruff, and if any of the busboys stopped and stared at our table again (remember: beauty queens, fancy threads), I was going to throw pesto on them.

You know, I would actually recommend Creekview Restaurant as a fantastic lunch stop. I was most happy with the smaller plates and appetizers on the menu, and despite my caraway aversion, Dad’s sandwich looked pretty yummy. That soup was killer, and the pancakes were divine. So add Creekview to your standby list for a future Buffalo visit, and stay tuned, because next week, I have a review of the breakfast spot we hit the following morning, which completely knocked my socks off: Betty’s, on Virginia St. in Buffalo.

I’m so glad I was finally able to make it out to Western New York for a blogging trip. To add to the fun, Shawn, Melinda, BLD and I are visiting Big Hungry Rob and Big Hungry Chris in Rochester at the end of March, so I’m hoping for some yum-o writing after that. I want to head back to Buffalo to hit up a few more notable establishments, like Grover’s, which was featured on my beloved Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, as well as Pano’s (one-time sous chefery of Gabe Aubertine, of Bella’s and Fireside fame), The Chocolate Bar, and Fat Bob’s Smokehouse. Do you have a favorite Buffalo eatery I need to check out, or do you live there and would like to host me for a weekend? Spill it in the comments, below! My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!

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