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Dockside to become a year-round spot in North Tonawanda

When summer finally returns to North Tonawanda, housemade ice cream will be on the menu at Dockside Bar & Grill.

The restaurant at 153 Sweeney St. is in the midst of a major renovation that will expand the canalside North Tonawanda restaurant, and enable it to remain open year-round.

“We dug up the patio and will put in a basement,” said Dunbar Berdine, the restaurant’s chef. “We’re putting in two floors of convertible space. And we’re tripling the size of the kitchen.”

It’s a three-story addition, if you count the new basement.

The new place will add about 100 seats, to offer summer seating for 250, counting the side patio, and 200 in winter.

The kitchen will be expanded to serve the new space. “I was working with half a walk-in (cooler), and now I have three times that much,” Berdine said. “I’m getting a whole bunch of goodies that will let us do things we couldn’t do before, like make our own ice cream. All sorts of fun stuff.”

Traditionally, Dockside has been a summer-only place, closed from roughly Labor Day to St. Patrick’s Day, Berdine said.

Now “it’ll be usable in the winter as well,” he said. “The party room upstairs will be for when we’re super busy in the summer, and also we’ll be able to section it off for private parties and bigger events in the winter.”

The place closed Feb. 1. Plans are to reopen by early May. (Hat tip: Scott Brown)

On the block: Torches, the fine dining restaurant at 1141 Kenmore Ave. opened by J.J. Richert and brother Kevin in 2007, quietly went on the market about three months ago.

The business and its contents is for sale; the Richerts lease the space. Since he put it on the market, people have told him they heard he was facing bankruptcy, divorce, a brotherly feud, J.J. Richert said, but that’s not so.

“I just want the chance to go out on the top floor and not have it go another way,” he said. “We’re looking to divide our time a little bit and spend some time in the Caribbean. Plus I’ve got those two babies now. That changes your priorities, you know what I mean?”

Since opening Torches, J.J. Richert became an original member of the “home team” for Nickel City Chef, the popular live cooking competition showcasing Western New York culinary talents. His wife Cynthia Richert was key to his success, he said, as Torches’ front-of-the-house manager and pastry chef, all while taking care of their children.

“It’s been eight very trying, very blessed years,” he said. “I opened Torches at 25 years old. I’ll never forget Kevin and I putting on suits we had from funerals or something, after spending hours and hours on this business plan. Kevin and I got laughed out of every bank in town. It was the most degrading feeling. That was one of the things that drove us even harder.”

In 2012, the Richerts also opened Smoke on the Water, 77 Young St., Tonawanda, which is doing “staggering” business, he said. He’ll be side-by-side with Kevin again in that kitchen. “We’ve opened a wildly successful barbecue restaurant we own brick-and-mortar,” he said and their catering business, relaunching as High on the Hog Catering, is growing too.

They’re going to take a few months off to unwind in the islands, and come back recharged, he said. Torches and the next-door Garage Deli are listed with M.J. Peterson, he said. “Give them a call if you’re interested.”

It’s showtime: On Thursday night, Taste of Education offers a tasteful evening that includes an Iron Chef style live cooking competition and a glimpse at the next generation of culinary talent in Western New York.

High school-level culinary students from Carrier Educational Center, Niagara and Orleans Career and Technical Education Centers, and Hewes Educational Center of Chautauqua County will offer samples of a dizzying variety of dishes.

Momofuku’s bo ssam (Korean pulled pork), Vietnamese shrimp summer rolls with peanut sauce, sweet plantain ravioli with chorizo chipotle sauce, chiles rellenos, chicken cordon bleu, paella, shrimp remoulade and pralines are among the dozens of dishes culinary students will present for tasting.

Then three chefs – Bryan Mecozzi of Black Iron Bystro, Jon Wilson of Ralph Wilson Stadium, and Cody Castiglia of Della Terra at Embassy Suites – will go head-to-head, assisted by students, with the results evaluated by a panel of judges.

The 11th annual event, run by the New York State Restaurant Association’s Western New York chapter, raises money for scholarships to support local culinary students involved in the national ProStart culinary competition.

It’s at 6 p.m. Thursday at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens, 6461 Transit Road, Depew. Tickets are $20 at the door, or call 432-2300. Cash bar.

Rainforest coming: A Rainforest Café is expected to open this spring on Old Falls Street next to the T.G.I. Friday’s in the Sheraton at the Falls, across Third Street from the Seneca Niagara Casino. The opening of the internationally known restaurant and attraction, whose decor takes on the feel of a tropical rain forest, is targeted for the end of May, said Michael DiCienzo, vice president of development for Canadian Niagara Hotels, which owns the Sheraton.

The operation will have about 200 employees, and job fairs are being scheduled for the end of March and April, DiCienzo said. – Aaron Besecker

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