By: Natalie Grigg
Guest Editor: Vincent Sherry
Where do you go whether it’s rainy, sunny, warm, or cold for a good meal in a unique location? That would be Tastings Cafe, of course.
Located in the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Tastings Cafe recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. The building itself was an existing space, but if you ask owner Maria Kahn, she would tell you it was made just for her. With its orange and blue decor, Kahn’s own signature colors from her Tastings Gourmet shop, the space is open, airy, cheerful and vibrant. And it has a secret: a patio known only to a few that has one of the best views the city can offer.
Tastings came about after the previously run cafe hit a dead end, and Kahn was contacted to submit a proposal for the space. She was the lucky winner, and business has doubled consistently since she opened. The cafe is an expansion of Kahn’s first endeavor, Tastings Gourmet Shop, which is conveniently located just up the street at the intersection of Elmwood and Amherst. Since the Burchfield prohibits cooking on site (a common practice amongst galleries and museums), Kahn makes everything fresh at her location on Amherst Street and transports it to the Arts Center.
So, what can one expect to see on the menu? Everything is made from scratch, from the homemade butters to the soups, and all of the products that she has created are vegan-friendly. She brings in as many local ingredients as possible and taps into our farmers markets in the summer months. Of course, you won’t miss out on Kahn’s signature spreads such as Olive Madness, Hazelnut Pesto and Sensational Sun Dried Tomato Spread. From there, plan on seeing an eclectic blend of salads, soups and sandwiches, along with homemade desserts.
Kahn has said that all of her dishes are inspired by her travels. For example, her sun-dried tomato spread originated after a lunch in Amsterdam. The result, a blend of sweet and savory flavors, will tempt you to use your spoon and just eat it right out of the container. And that’s before you’ve layered it with the Hazelnut Pesto. Together you have an orchestra of flavors playing in your mouth.
But what is the hottest-selling item? Why that would be the Best Ever Tuna Fish sandwich, containing Kahn’s own Peruvian Pepper Sauce. All I can say is that this really is the best tuna sandwich I have ever eaten. A glutton for punishment, I tried the pepper sauce by itself, and to say it has a kick is an understatement. But the unique thing about this sauce is that when added to the tuna sandwich, it takes on an entirely new taste. When I first took a bite, I tasted the sweetness of the pepper but no heat. This was after an in-depth conversation about how hot the pepper is and how Kahn is constantly looking for a new supplier for this specific pepper. But as Kahn sat watching me, I could almost see the sign “Wait for It” lighting up because after the sweetness lingers for a little bit, BAM, it is then that the heat hits right in the back of your mouth. But we’re not talking reach-for-water, your-mouth-is-on-fire heat. I’m talking about just enough of a kick to turn on your taste buds and have you taking another bite.
For the most part, breakfast and lunch are the busiest times for the cafe, which has extended hours whenever there are events or openings. Though quiet during the summer, the cafe picks up once school begins and even offers student lunch specials to promote healthy food over the fast food most college students eat.
But it isn’t only students that you’ll see here. You’ll see faculty and staff, suburbanites who have followed Kahn in from the Williamsville Farmers Market, and even some staff members from Albright-Knox across the street.
So, where does Kahn plan to go from here? Well, she describes this as the first of her museum cafes. As for her more immediate plans, stay tuned next summer as Kahn embarks on a tour of eight countries and keeps patrons updated through a food blog so that they can see what she is experiencing and what she just might bring back to share.
Natalie Grigg is a mom, lawyer and avid eater.
Vincent Sherry, a Buffalo native, is a freelance reporter and copy editor. He also tutors second-language learners of English. He graduated from Howard University in 2007.