We're talking about beef on weck again. Here is a recent email from Chuck L.:
"Dear Janice: You are spot on. Many restaurants in Western New York serve substandard Beef on Weck. When we have people in from out of town, my wife can't understand why we have to drive by so many restaurants to get a good one. This treasure is slowly slipping away."
Chuck wrote in response to my Dec. 28 column bemoaning the fact that the iconic sandwich is fast becoming an endangered species. I listed my personal requirements for the sandwich: hand carved in front of the customer; ultra thin, neat slices piled atop a roll thickly encrusted with caraway and coarse salt; and fresh horseradish. (I prefer rare beef, but can be flexible.)
At that time, I suggested visiting one of the Big Four: Schwabl's, 789 Center Road, West Seneca; Charlie the Butcher, 1065 Wehrle Drive, Amherst; Eckl's 4936 Ellicott Road, Orchard Park, or the Bar-Bill Tavern, 185 Main St., East Aurora. And I thought that tied things up nicely.
More fool I.
I heard from at least 100 people denouncing my suggestions and/or suggesting other places to try. I could not visit them all, so I chose the places mentioned most often. My conclusion?
Nothing is perfect -- at least not any more. But here are some possibilities:
Nostalgic BOW: Kelly's Korner, 2526 Delaware Ave., with School 81, my alma mater, visible out the window. It is a neighborhood corner bar with all the right bar appurtenances and the beef was juicy and rare. It was not carved or assembled in front of us -- an almost universal failing these days -- but the sandwich was ample and the roll was great. ($5.75)
Traveling BOW: The food truck known as Roaming Buffalo specializes in local cuisine. Check its location at www.theroamingbuffalo.org. The beef is already sliced. If you want it really rare, it will be cold, because they won't dip it in heated juice, to prevent further cooking. If you want it what they call "medium," which turned out to be medium rare, it will be warmer. Nice beef; tasty. ($7)
Humongous BOW: Vizzi's, 967 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore. A full 1 1/4 pound of what is pretty ordinary meat, assembled in the kitchen and cooked medium to well. The server told us that she only knew one person who actually finished it, and she helpfully brought us takeout containers as we were served to enable us to take out some of the meat right away so we could get our mouths around the sandwich. Quantity is a big thing here. ($8.95)
Unusual touch: Ebenezer Ale House, 4348 Seneca St., West Seneca, a cute restaurant with a big beer list. The beef was medium, cut, somewhat raggedly, in the kitchen. But, because it was prime rib (which puts it in a different class than the more usual and drier round), it was juicy and tasty. The roll crackles when you eat it. It is a Costanzo roll dipped in coarse salt in the restaurant kitchen, we found out, and there is a lot of it. I loved it. The potato chips in accompaniment are house-made and a wee bit spicy. And, I'm digressing here, but I have to tell you, the onion soup was great. ($9.99)
Best-known BOW: Swiston's Beef and Keg, 101 Young St., City of Tonawanda. Just about everyone who lives in Tonawanda wrote to remind me of this historic establishment, nicely situated on the Erie Canal and boasting exactly two items on the menu, chili and BOW. The meat is not carved in front of you -- it floats in gray liquid and they pull it out and assemble it to order. Sometimes, I am told, you can get rare. We found it to make a fair sandwich. The horseradish was fresh, house-made and really cleared the sinuses. ($5.25)
Please note: We will be eating vegetarian for a while.
Send your restaurant questions and comments to Janice Okun at firstname.lastname@example.org.