Apparently, it is de rigueur to spend the last days of the year reflecting on what you ate and presenting your annual review in a digestible little package. And I am nothing if not a slave to trends.
But before we get to the meat of the matter, let me preface this roundup with a caveat. The following list represents some of my favorite bites and sips of the year. But favorite does not necessarily equal best (although some of my picks would certainly be in the running). Favorite has an emotional component to it. To declare something “the best” requires thoughtful and objective analysis based on a predetermined set of judging criteria. This is not that. It is simply a rambling reflection on the food and drinks that stood out in my mind. These are the things I wanted to eat two, three, four times, or more in 2017.
Brunch (and Pretty Much Everything Else) at The Dapper Goose
Most of this list falls in no particular order. Except the first entry, whose position at the top is intentional. And that’s because no one restaurant in this town saw more of my face and money, or earned a greater share of my affection in 2017 than The Dapper Goose. And that’s because no other local restaurant has a better equilibrium of excellent food, drink, and genuine hospitality.
I have been so many times and tried so much of the menu, it is difficult to land on a favorite meal or dish. But for the sake of brevity, I will focus on brunch, which Dapper does remarkably well.
If you go, start with the bread basket served with jam and salty butter. If there is a piece of olive oil cake tucked among the rye, sourdough, and biscuits, be sure to lunge on it. You want to eat that shit before anyone else in your party. From there, you’d be remiss not to order the cured salmon on rye. The exact preparation changes from time to time, but it’s always grounded with a thick schmear of chevre and generally topped with something pickled. For good measure, you should also order the Southern-style spicy chicken sandwich on a butter-rich, house-made burger bun crowned with bread and butter pickles and a healthy slather of mayonnaise.
And because I think brunch dessert should be a thing, end your meal with the old fashioned doughnuts that, gloriously, taste like something your great-grandmother might have fried over a hot stove in, like, 1927. The sickeningly sweet, artificially flavored hubcaps we have come to know as doughnuts in this backward modern world of ours don’t hold a candle.
Soup a La Ed Forster
In February, I guest judged the Nickel City Chef competition that pitted challenger Ross Warhol against Edward Forster. It was battle Iroquois corn, and between two chefs over three courses, I was served a lot of excellent, inspired food. But I especially loved Ed’s ginger-tinged corn kernel bisque with fermented blackberries, pillowy Parisienne gnocchi, and assorted other crunchies and goodies. You won’t find it on any restaurant menu, unfortunately. But you can get a taste for Ed’s work at The Dapper Goose, where he works alongside Head Chef Jesse Ross. Or get tickets to Nickel City Chef 2018 and watch him in action.
Shakshuka at Buffalo Proper
I’ve had a lot of meh shakshuka. The version on Buffalo Proper’s brunch menu is the antithesis of meh. Where bad shakshuka is thin and underseasoned (or acridly overseasoned), Proper’s is rich, perfectly reduced, and pleasantly smoky and spicy by way of house-made harissa. The whole thing is enrichened (and the acidic edges of the tomatoes smoothed) with White Cow Dairy labneh and mild feta. Served with BreadHive sourdough epi bread for mopping, it was—for me—a2017 brunch game changer.
Chorizo at Casa Azul
I am a fan of Casa Azul’s tacos, but more than anything else on the menu I love the chorizo skillet I ate there back in March. It comprised a mince of garlicky, ground sausage bound by a mildly spicy sauce of chile de arbol and fruit-forward dried guajillo and ancho. The clincher was the side of fresh corn tortillas so pillowy I had half a mind to rest my sweet little head on them. A cursory Google search suggests the dish is no longer on the menu, which may mean I have to find a new Casa Azul favorite in 2018. My life is very difficult.
Bone Marrow & Dessert at Las Puertas
So, you order bone marrow and expect it to arrive delightfully grisly and gelatinous in a canoed cow’s femur, right? Not so at Las Puertas. In April, Chef-Owner Victor Parra Gonzalez upended preconceived bone marrow notions by reconceptualizing what is generally a primal, visually crude sort of dish into something pretty, fresh, and finessed. To that end, he combined marrow with chuhuahua cheese to make a silky, savory crème anglaise, which he served puddle like in a shallow bowl with roasted beets, quartered strawberries, habanero sauce, cotija cheese, and crumbly almond shortbread. It was a real stunner.
It isn’t on the menu these days, but go anyway and see what other alchemy he is cooking up. While you’re there, be sure to order one of Jenn Batt’s desserts. They are my favorite in the city,
Breakfast Nachos at Cantina 62
On my single 2017 visit to Cantina 62, the eggs atop breakfast nachos were not perfectly (i.e., softly) scrambled, and the chorizo was not as luscious or as flavorful as Casa’s. But it didn’t matter. The nachos were perfectly salty, flavorful, and freshly made with homemade chips, banging queso, and heaps of green onion and peppers. To really gild the lily, they were served on a manhole sized, deep-dish platter. Dead.
These might be close to the best nachos in the city (of course, I would need to perform some rigorous taste testing to know for sure). If you are a little bit hungover and a lot of bit hungry, like I was, they are worth the drive to South Buffalo. Or is it considered Lackawanna? Guys, I don’t know.
Pumpkin Soft Serve & Lemon Meringue at Churn
Save for my love of mimosas, eyelash extensions, and all things rose gold, my obsession with Churn’s vegan pumpkin soft serve is the most basic thing about me—or so I like to joke. But in reality, it’s not basic at all. That’s because, unlike most pumpkin spice garbage, the flavor profile is decidedly not reminiscent of potpourri, and I would wager good money that there is actual pumpkin in the recipe. I further suspect that it’s the very presence of pumpkin that makes vegan pumpkin Churn’s most decadently creamy flavor yet. Truth be told, Churn’s standard vegan coconut soft serve varies from batch to batch and is sometimes too icy. Not so with pumpkin. It’s always texturally on point.
But before there was pumpkin soft serve, there was the lemon meringue Churned Up (i.e., Churn parlance for “a bunch of stuff mixed into ice cream”). In this case, that meant pie crust and lemon curd in vanilla topped with a mound of Fluff-like torched meringue. It sounds simple, but its near-perfect execution was a swoony reminder that there is a skilled pastry chef at the helm of Churn’s kitchen. The fact that it was offered for just one week in August was the only reason I didn’t eat a dozen of these.
Whole Milk Latte at Remedy House
The owners of Remedy House spent a lot of time testing different milk products for their espresso drinks. They landed on Teacup Farm’s low-heat pasteurized, unhomogenized whole milk, and it makes all the difference. Minimal processing and quick turnover (the milk goes from cow to cup in a matter of days) help retain the product’s grassy and buttery flavors, which perfectly offset the natural bitterness of brewed coffee. The result of their strenuous research is the most balanced, subtly complex latte I’ve had in a long time.
Golden Beets From Oles Family Farm
I visited Alden’s Oles Family Farm back in November on behalf of The Buffalo News and was lucky enough to get my hands on some of their exquisite organic produce. I counted golden beets, carrots, potatoes, leeks, celeriac, and brussels sprouts among my haul, and in a side-by-side comparison found them all to be remarkably more intense and purer of flavor than their conventional, store-bought counterparts. I fell particularly hard for the beets though, which I took to munching raw and whole like one might eat a hand apple. They really are that good. I can’t recommend their CSA program enough.
The Fried Chicken Sandwich at Melting Point
Another fried chicken sandwich? YES. This one comes on a flaky, cheesy homemade biscuit and is only available on Tuesdays. And I think we can all agree; limited availability makes things taste better.
Evidently, 2017 was, for me, a whirlwind of Mexican and Mexican-ish food, stuff served in skillets, dairy products, deep-fried poultry, and The Dapper Goose. I know I missed a lot of other great dishes, but I am just one person. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments!