Trapped in the bitter depths of winter, I made myself promises. “There will be strawberries,” I vowed, grimly chipping bulletproof ice from my windshield for the umpteenth time. Real strawberries, so brimming with sweet juice my fingertips are stained crimson as I finish off the quart over the sink without reaching for sugar or cream.
Nothing whets a craving like the impossibility of satisfaction, which is what makes summer eating so wonderful. When the days get short Western New Yorkers abide, marking mental calendars to await experiences only available one week, or month, every time the Earth circles the sun. We return to eating venues open only while warm breezes blow and events that come once a year.
That time is now.
This is the weekend that we celebrate as a community two of our favorite things: eating and festivals. The Taste of Buffalo (See story on this page) has come to be one of those uniquely Buffalo seasonal signposts. Broadway Market=Easter. Turkey Trot=Thanksgiving. St. Patrick’s Day Parade=Maybe Winter is Almost Over.
The Taste of Buffalo is really a reminder that summer has come to Buffalo. And that means it’s time to enjoy the food that might be available year-round but tastes a little better outside on a hot day.
A true summer setting can be enough to elevate the humblest nonseasonal bites. If you’ve never eaten french fries from a snack stand by the beach with sand between your toes, I feel sorry for you, because the everyday french fry will never seem as glorious sitting at a table underneath fluorescent lighting.
Consider, if you will, the common s’more. There is no shortage of graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey’s bars year-round. You could make them in your kitchen every Saturday. Yet the civilized s’more never tastes as triumphant as one made crouching by a campfire, woodsmoke in your eyes and bug spray in your hair.
What is simpler than a snowcone, shaved ice and syrup? Yet there is no call for them inside any venue you can name. It’s a treat that only makes sense in the open air at a festival or fair. Ghastly artificial colors flavors not found in nature, you say? If the sun is shining, suddenly that bubble gum flavored snowcone makes sense, even if it’s the same color as windshield de-icer, my wintertime friend.
There are taste sensations that need pinpoint context, like the way certain Erie County Fair offerings only make sense on asphalt amid crowds of sunburned people. Perhaps chunks of battered deep-fried mashed potatoes on a stick might make sense as a meal elsewhere, but they hit the spot in one particular spot: the midway.
The torta, or Mexican sandwich (chorizo, queso fresco, refried beans, roasted onions, pickled jalapenos) sold by the trailer next to Monte Alban, the Mexican grocery store in Medina, would taste great anywhere. But you can only get it there, only in the summer.
Another sure sign of summer: the Chiavetta’s chicken barbecue signs in church and school parking lots. (Chiavetta’s even has a calendar Web page detailing these fundraising events at chiavettascatering.com.) The chicken at Wendel’s Poultry Farm is so good, it has city folk making the drive to East Concord for take out at the roadside stand available Saturdays and Sundays. (They sell out early, so call ahead.)
July, especially, brings Buffalo’s triple play of food heavyweights within days of each other: Taste of Buffalo, the Italian Festival and Canal Fest. You’ll need to pace yourself for these.
So loosen your belt, wear drawstring shorts and dig in. Summer food is only here for a few short months.
On the plus side, that means apple cider can’t be far away.