Kevin G. is a man of few words. In an email headed simply “Stews,” he wrote me the following: “Who serves the best in town? Beef, lamb, etc.” That was the message in its entirety. Over and out.
But wait a minute – although it’s a brief query, it’s also a difficult one.
The reason is this: In the culinary world – or in my culinary world, anyway – there’s a great divide between “restaurant cooking” and “home cooking.” And stew often fits into the second category.
When it comes out of a home kitchen, stew, like soup, is the kind of dish that a (hopefully adept) home cook prepares after opening the fridge and gazing into it for a long, long time, waiting for inspiration to strike.
But restaurants usually don’t work that way. They may rely on seasonal or local products for inspiration, but consistency has to be the goal, so they need recipes, and if the chef does what he is supposed to when he makes out the shopping list, there aren’t that many leftovers to work with. So not too many local restaurants serve stew as such, at least not on a regular basis.
One exception is the Shannon Pub, 2250 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda, where they serve – no surprise – Irish Stew, made as it should be, with lamb. Also Beef and Guinness Stew. Both are served at lunch or dinner.
What’s in a name, though? Chester’s, 9416 Transit Road, East Amherst, has Crawfish Etouffee on its menu. Etouffee is a kind of Cajun stew cooked with tomatoes, onion and peppers, and served over rice.
Though you didn’t mention seafood specifically in your question, Kevin, I have two other fishy stew ideas for you.
Shango, 3260 Main St., features a Creole Bouillabaisse that includes shrimp, crab, scallops, mussels and catfish, served in tomato broth with fennel and other goodies.
And at Hutch’s, 1375, Delaware Ave., you can order the Mussel Stew with lots of vegetables.
On another subject, here’s an interesting and inspiring email responding to my recent column on steakhouses:
“Janice: I’m a strict vegetarian, not vegan, for 15 years. Previously, I’d been a enthusiastic carnivore, but based on a bet with my daughter, who said I couldn’t be a vegetarian, I tried it and liked it. That’s another story.
“For work and pleasure, I travel the world and my vegetarian ways have made this interesting. But now to the point, some of the best vegetarian meals I enjoy are at the best steakhouses. On a busy night, I order a la carte from the salad and sides menus. On a slow night, especially if I call ahead, the chef will make a vegetarian surprise meal from whatever they have in the kitchen. Their enthusiasm is amazing. I believe such a request reminds them why they went to cooking school originally.
“These meals are consistently so tasty that my wife, not a vegetarian, frequently says to the waiter, ‘make two – I’ll have the same thing.’ ”
– Dr. Philip G.
Send your questions and comments about dining out to Janice Okun at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will respond in this column.