"Dear Janice: Out-of-town visitors are requesting going to lunch for roast beef on weck. We are all senior citizens. Can you suggest a few of the best restaurants? I live in the Town of Tonawanda near the Amherst border, so we would prefer something in the northtowns, but we can certainly travel if the best are farther away. Thanks for your consideration.
-- Diana R.
The story of beef on weck is not necessarily heading for a happy ending, Diana. Once upon a time, the careful construction of beef and bun in Western New York was ubiquitous. Almost every bar or tavern boasted a huge round of beef that was surgically sliced right in front of the customer's eyes and then painstakingly piled atop a roll that had been topped during baking with coarse salt and caraway.
And that roll was pretty much unique to Western New York. Oh yes -- horseradish, grated that very day, is a necessary accompaniment.
You don't see many of those lordly beef hunks very often any more, and the resultant sandwiches aren't quite as good as they used to be.
Who knows why? Is it the price of the meat that is responsible? Health concerns? Or is it the fact that the Kaufman Bakery's jolly little baker went out of business several years ago? (Other bakeries provide kummelweck, to be sure, but it was Kaufman's that had the reputation.)
So I am having a little trouble answering your question, even though I applaud the spirit of your guests who want to experience a real Western New York culinary delight. Nothing is more admirable or interesting when you travel than to seek out an area's special culinary claims to fame. A reuben -- let us face it -- you can get anywhere.
To start, almost everyone in this area knows Charlie the Butcher (1065 Wehrle Drive, Amherst, and other locations). Charlie Roesch is a real keeper of the flame. He is a descendant of an old Buffalo family accomplished in the butchering trade. His grandfather, Charles E., was once mayor of Buffalo.
My favorite thing to order here, though it certainly is not typical of the genre and only shows up on Thursday anyway, is the Prime Rib on Weck. This cut boasts more fat than a round does and is, accordingly, meltingly delicious.
I am having trouble thinking of other places in the Northtowns. The places I'm suggesting -- none of which will come as much of surprise -- are out of that geographical range but easily reached on the Thruway.
Schwabl's (789 Center St., West Seneca) is as traditional as you can get. It is one of the area's oldest restaurants -- and its ambience is what it is supposed to be. That is, it is almost defiantly plain. The staff is friendly and welcoming, and the German potato salad is to die for.
There have been complaints in recent months, though, that it is hard to get a rare sandwich here. Schwabl's seems to run out of the pink (or even red) stuff pretty fast, so if you don't like your meat well-done, I would advise arriving early in the day.
Almost as venerable is Eckl's Beef & Weck Restaurant (4936 Ellicott Road, Orchard Park). Go there now to see the Christmas decorations. Located in an old house, it is much more of a full-service restaurant. Beef abstainers will be happy to know the lake fish is great here, and so are the fresh oysters.
A more modern incarnation -- it claims to have been around for more than 30 years -- is the Bar-Bill Tavern (185 Main St., East Aurora). It has an English pub ambience.
Send restaurant questions and complaints to longtime News restaurant reviewer Janice Okun at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will respond in this column.