It was a Ted’s hot dog that brought Melissa McCart back to Buffalo. But it was the craft beers at Blue Monk and the carpaccio at Tempo that proved the city has more to offer than her childhood memories recalled.
The food critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has roots in Western New York – her mother grew up here, and her grandmother and uncles still live in the area. So when she returned recently to tally up Buffalo’s dining scene, the crisp charbroil of a Sahlen’s was on her mind.
She started with a foot-long with relish. But by the end of the weekend, she had determined the city is “burnishing its reputation with a crop of good restaurants that offer waterfront views, renovated hotel restaurants and stylish dining rooms serving inspired food.”
McCart isn’t the only writer discovering Buffalo’s resurgence this summer.
“C’mon now, snobby Torontonian – there’s more to Buffalo than outlet malls,” wrote Denise Balkissoon of Toronto’s weekly, the Grid. “Stay awhile and enjoy the whole urban package: sophisticated art, dusty antique stores, American microbrews and, sure, a little tax-reduced shopping.”
And then there was the New York Times, which detailed growth fueled by the Medical Campus under the double-edged headline, “Once Just a Punch Line, Buffalo Fights Back.”
The story provoked plenty of satisfaction from city residents and ex-pats, along with the inevitable grumbling that we look like fools for fawning over the good press.
Some might think it’s tacky and desperate to get excited when Buffalo gets a round of favorable attention. Maybe it looks a little bush league.
But let’s face it. We’re still a city looking for validation. And there’s good reason. People who live here have witnessed the reawakening of the waterfront and heard the clank of the construction cranes, but it’s going to take more than self-knowledge to get the word out to those who think of Buffalo as simply snow and football.
McCart, who has spent most of her adult life in New York City and D.C. before a stint in south Florida, has always had a soft spot for Buffalo. Her memories of childhood visits include warm recollections of standing in line at Ted’s Hot Dogs and eating fish sandwiches at Pete’s Pub at the Icehouse in East Aurora.
But, she said, her visit as an adult proved that new restaurants in Buffalo are building momentum, while the city has retained an authentic connection to its food culture that she just hasn’t found in bigger cities.
“While it’s true that not all restaurants with a soul serve good food, when you can find that combination, that’s really delightful,” McCart told me by phone. “In really expensive cities, it’s really hard to find.”
McCart’s assessment, focused on food, coincided with travel pieces in the Post-Gazette that sent visitors to the Darwin Martin House and to Graycliff, which it called a “well-kept secret on the shores of Lake Erie.”
It’s these types of stories that will chip away at the rusty reputation in the minds of those who haven’t experienced the region’s re-emergence first-hand.
Western New Yorkers, to be sure, have been a bit too oversensitive to the jabs and punch lines that have dogged Buffalo for decades. Getting worked up over lame jokes is one thing. Getting fired up over positive praise isn’t shameful. Some might just call it pride.