The other day, given the looming grey skies and cold February weather, I found myself craving what I always considered the ultimate comfort food, back when I was an ardent advocate of the plant eating lifestyle. With so many vegetarian and vegan places opening, I wanted to share one of the city’s best, soothing, and most reliable vegan options that has become somewhat of a dining ritual.
Santasiero’s serves up some of the best deals in the city, now that is a well known fact. But what some don’t realize is that it is also one of the best vegan values around as well. Their “full” sized version of pasta fasoola (their spelling) is one of the largest, most comforting, satisfying, and cold-weather-assuaging meals that I have come across while living in Buffalo these past twelve years. For me, it doesn’t get much better than a steaming hot, and absolutely heaping, bowl of an onion, garlic and tomato tinged broth, chock full of chickpeas, butter beans, and ditalini pasta. Also rounded out with a side of their famous hot Hungarian peppers (comes included), this dish is a great exercise in something being created much greater than the sum of its parts – a few ingredients coming together into a harmonious exchange of textures and flavors. And also of note, the kitchen typically has gluten free penne and/or spaghetti cooked off to boot – just ask if you don’t manage to see the postage stamp sized sign hung on one of the walls. I have enjoyed this dish countless times with that option as well. Actually, I don’t eat the gluten free pasta for health reasons, I love it because it doesn’t weigh me down for the rest of the day.
Also of note, for those that say that this dish can be one dimensional, or lacking in flavor, that really is where the “fantastic four” come in. Much like, the holy trinity in creole, or Cajun, cooking, there is a harmonious layer of flavor that can be added at the end of a dish, vs the beginning of cooking, as in the trinity. Something as simple as salt, pepper, red pepper flake, and grated parmesan cheese (obviously omit if vegan) can help to transform a dish completely. The ingredients bring out hidden nuances of flavor, and serve to give the dish just the right amount of “oomph,” to please the individual palate. And those can always be counted on, seeing as they are all permanent table fixtures that we have all come to relish as part of the Santasiero’s experience. Something so simple, yet one of the only local Italian restaurants to do so.
That same visit, my dining companion enjoyed a satiating and quite memorable eggplant parmesan sandwich. Usually going for something meat based, but wanting to switch things up because of this article’s non-meat-based direction, he was pleasantly surprised in the final result placed in front of him. So surprised, because after our waitress took our orders and walked away, he lamented the fact that he should have just went with the meatball bomber. But he was quickly silenced after the first bite. Now we all know that eggplant parmesan at most restaurants can be a crap shoot. Either underdone or overdone, there always seems to be too large of a range of what it can come out as, versus what it should come out as. This dish was succulent, balanced, and perfectly cooked. The eggplant was rounded out with just the right amount of cheese and sauce (this is parmed after all), served on a ubiquitous but just fine Costanzo’s roll. I must say that this was also an amazing vegetarian lunch. To take things one step further, I suggested he order a side of those amazing hot peppers, which he happily obliged, and that took things to an almost euphoric next level. He now has a second favorite meal at Santasiero’s – he’s also a huge fan of the gluten-free pasta fasoola.
One of a restaurant’s greatest strengths can, and should be, consistency. And yes, everyone has their own version of their favorite red sauce joints. However, there is definitely something to be said for Santasiero’s – between their value, portion sizes, and reliability, this place stands the test of time. As our visit showed, there is much more to enjoy than a standard plate of spaghetti and meatballs, when one is yearning for some simple comforts, even while employing a dietary restriction or two.
Santasiero’s | 1329 Niagara Street | Buffalo, New York 14213 | 716-886-9197 | Cash only – ATM on site | No coffee served | Full bar | Lunch and dinner seven days a week | Luigi’s bread served gratis at the table (add butter, parmesan cheese… and peppers if you have them)