Call it the triumph of the three-bean salad.?John, Pat and I met for lunch at Buffalo's Cafe 59 on a brilliant weekday. We chose a seat in the side room with table service; a second room on the other side of the main entrance was filling with people who ordered at the counter and took their food to a table.
We settled on sandwiches and then scanned the interesting side dishes, including sweet and sour pickled beets ($2.50); grape leaves stuffed with rice and currants ($4.75); hummus with roasted garlic, smoked paprika and pita ($4.25); and three-bean salad ($2.50).
Pat said she dislikes three-bean salad, so we ordered a cucumber salad along with it.
When the salads arrived, the server set the bowl of three-bean salad in front of her, and it was a masterpiece. The three beans – garbanzo, cannellini and kidney – were plump and bright; bits of celery, thinly sliced red onion and the red wine vinaigrette added wonderful bursts of flavor.
The dish looked so good that Pat actually stuck a fork into it, and she was astonished at how good it was.
By the end of the meal, she was a convert. The soup bowl full of salad was so generous that even though we'd all eaten our fill, there was still enough left to take home. And it went home with Pat and John.
This little story illustrates a point about what Cafe 59 is trying to do. Along with its commitment to locally grown or made food, ranging from fresh vegetables to locally produced condiments, sausage and baked goods, some menu items are unusual – pickled beets? artichoke hearts?
Prepared right, these simple foods can be absolutely delicious. Case in point: the cucumber salad, sliced and served in a light brine. The menu says it is seasoned with dill, but our server returned to the table to tell us that it was being prepared with fresh basil. Yes, please! The cucumber was bursting with fresh taste, and the thin strips of basil were an excellent counterpoint.
Our sandwiches were wrapped in paper and then cut through the paper for ease of handling. The cold sandwiches were made on fresh Costanzo's rolls and could have been made on Father Sam's wraps.
The pizza panini ($7.95) was served warm, with an astonishingly thick layer of sliced pepperoni in the center, topped with a nicely simmered pizza sauce and a layer of melted provolone. It was delicious.
The turkey and zucchini sandwich ($8.25) was an unusual creation – we'd never seen slices of gently cooked and cooled zucchini in a sandwich. But it was exceptional, adding a different taste to the sandwich, which was made with fresh, sliced turkey, field greens, red onion and a dash of balsamic vinaigrette.
The C59 chicken salad ($7.95) was also extraordinarily good. The white-meat chicken salad was kicked up with dried cherries, pecans and sage. The sandwich also contained a layer of tender and tasty field greens. Every bite was bursting with flavor.
Each sandwich was served with chips or pasta salad. The pasta salad, which could have been a throwaway dish, was made with care. The elbow macaroni was mixed with bits of carrot, celery, red pepper and cauliflower florets, and it was seasoned with oregano.
We saw a truly enormous salad served at another table, with tabbouleh and hummus flanking a mass of bright field greens. That, we were told, was the Mediterranean salad ($7.95). We agreed that the three-bean salad could be a side dish for four people or a delicious lunch for two with a cup of soup ($3 for a cup, $4 for a bowl) or a fresh bagel, roll or croissant (with butter and locally made jam, $2.25).
Not only is the food made with care, it can be made to order. There are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, and other dishes can be modified to fit those and other allergies or diet restrictions.
Our recommendation for a visit to Cafe 59 is that you order something you like and then something else you might be curious about or have never tasted. You might be converted.
4 pennies (out of 4)
Where: 59 Allen St. (883-1880)
Hours: Open from7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.Wheelchairaccess: Yes