Look around The New Main Street in downtown Buffalo these days and you’ll find plenty of new food to eat. A spacious food hall, a Parisian café, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, and until recently, a French fry restaurant.
Turns out it’s cars that bring milkshakes to the yard.
But unlike the return of vehicular traffic to a few of Main’s busier blocks, some things are better left untouched. Like Sue’s N.Y. Deli, a fixture in Theatre Place for more than two decades. It’s moved around over the years, expanded to a second location near City Hall, changed names—the deli merged with The Juicery in 1985, though it no longer sells juice—but the same idea prevails: fresh, healthy food, served with a smile.
Or a “honey.”
I’ve eaten many lunches here over the years, have savored lots of soups and salads and wraps, oh my, but nothing feeds me better than the way the co-owners treat me: like their son, or nephew. Family-owned and operated, that love seasons every order.
“Here you go, sweetie,” says one of the two maternal hosts who operate the counter. “What can I get for you, honey?” the other one asks with a relieving sigh. (We’re all working hard.)
A tall, kind man works the register. He’s sweet as day. These are dear, genuine, gracious hosts. I don’t take it personally—surely, I’m not the only one they treat this nicely—but also, I do.
This goes a long way in the middle of a busy workday. On a typical lunch hour, when the line has curled inside the Theatre Place lobby, the team behind the counter is busting their butts getting orders out. Most, if not all, of the staff appear to be people from other countries, women of various ethnicities and languages. The Mediterranean-geared menu is another ingredient in that soup.
To the right of the counter, where you can take visual stock of the daily salad selections and a bevy of buttery baked goods, is a dining room overlooking a once-again-bustling Theatre District. Those walking by also get a good look at the delicious menu.
My go-to, a B.L.T. on wheat toast ($6.95) with added Swiss cheese, is simple and crisp. I get it with a side of the vegetarian lentil salad, if available. This meaty, creamy mix is hearty, spice-heavy and satisfying.
My other go-to is a Gyro Greek wrap ($6.95) on thick pita with fresh vegetables, tahini dressing and a clean, satisfying meat blend. I like to get that with a side of spinach salad. A small serving of these salad specials can be added to any dish for a nominal fee, or come served as a meal ($5.25 small, $7.95 large). You can even split your order and try more than one. Yet another go-to.
The signature Veggie ($6.95 to $8.99) is a pita pocket or salad stuffed with assorted greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts and dressing. Varieties include tuna, chicken, egg salad, hummus, vegan and the Chewy Nut Veggie, which is exactly as it sounds.
Other specialties include cheese melts ($7.35); a refreshingly light Buffalo-spiced Chicken Shawarma wrap ($6.95); and a house favorite, Sue’s Salad ($7.45) topped with jack cheese, hard-boiled egg, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, sprouts and miso dressing.
You also can order a hot breakfast in the morning, including pancakes ($4.50 for a full stack), omelettes ($4.95 to $6.95), egg and cheese sandwiches ($2.95, meat is $1 extra) and toast for just $1.50. I know downtown has been a Twilight Zone, but are they kidding? What a bargain. In fact, nothing on the breakfast or lunch menu costs more than $10.75.
The only pet peeve I have, besides an offensively onion-packed tuna-mac salad, is that to-go orders are packaged in Styrofoam containers and then wrapped in a plastic bag. This is unnecessary and easily avoidable in 2017.
Also, there don’t appear to be recycling receptacles for bottled beverages or plastic cutlery; I always leave my Snapple bottle on the counter as a hint. Consistency is a comfort these days, but eco-friendly change is always in style.
Sue’s N.Y. Deli and The Juicery
622 Main St. (855-1216); second location at 130 S. Elmwood Ave.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Elmwood location). Closed weekends.
Price range: $5.25 salads to $10.75 platters
Parking: Street, nearby public transportation
Gluten-free: Many gluten-free and vegetarian items available.