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French comfort classic brings customers back to Webster’s

Until a recent burst of new restaurant investment, North Tonawanda didn’t have much of a reputation as a dining destination, unless your definition of dining stops at pizza, wings and fish fries.

Then the Remington Tavern opened, the Dockside Bar & Grill expanded, and Webster’s Bistro replaced Nestor’s, a restaurant that specialized in hot dogs. The result is a delicious dilemma for people in North Tonawanda who want something different for dinner.

At Webster’s, one of the surprises since its 2013 opening has been learning how many people are attached to classic French comfort food, dishes that Julia Child would have based a show on. One of the biggest sellers, even during the steamy summer months, has been Webster’s version of beef bourguignon, which sells for $23.

Chef Jeremy VanAntwerp said he starts the dish with Angus steak tips left over from sirloin and rib-eye cutting. He browns them in butter, then in the same pan, browns pearl onions and button mushrooms. (His recipe is based on Child’s, except he uses butter instead of unsmoked pork belly chunks, adding richness without using pork.)

He drains off the butter and adds a gallon of red Burgundy, then cooks it down to syrup consistency as it picks up flavor from browned bits left in the pan. Then he puts raw aromatic vegetables – carrots, celery, onion – into the bottom of a big roasting pan, and tops them with the meat, before adding the wine mixture,. He also adds reduced veal stock, bay leaves, a little water and tomato paste, “to cut the richness a touch and lighten up the sauce.”

It’s covered and roasted in the oven for about two hours. He takes it out, lets it rest and throws fresh thyme and parsley into it while it’s cooling down. Then it’s back into the cooler. Like many stews, it’s better the next day.

To serve, it’s heated up with a little more red wine and herbs, and topped with potatoes and carrots that have been sautéed in more butter, added for color and more body. It’s served in a brightly colored enameled cast iron crock. “When you open the top and the steam comes out, the herbs are the first thing to hit you.”

When van Antwerp started at Webster’s, “I didn’t think I would be making bourgignon in the summer,” he said. “I was very wrong.”

Info: Webster’s Bistro & Bar, 102 Webster St., North Tonawanda (264-4314)

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