DJ’s Cafeteria boasts “Buffalo’s best Philly Cheesesteak and wings” on its sign, a pretty strong claim for the lunch counter recently opened across the street from the Buffalo Zoo. The menu features wings, fish fry, gyro and fried rice, an eclectic mix all hovering around the $5 to $9 mark. DJ’s is a no-frills kind of place, with mismatched tables and chairs, homemade signage and grandma’s kitchen curtains tacked up to shield the back room from the dining area. It’s a humble spot, but sometimes, that’s just what the palate ordered. We stopped by for lunch and had the place to ourselves, the better to watch “Naked and Afraid” on the shop’s big screen.
Well, I’m pleased to report our food was better than the roasted gecko the participants were eating on our ill-advised mealtime viewing session. We ordered wings ($5 for six), a gyro combo with fries and a drink ($7) and a Philly cheesesteak ($8), also with fries and a beverage. The food took about 10 minutes to come and the very friendly proprietor apologized for the wait. She sprinkled the fries with seasoned salt after explaining “they come plain,” so the sodium-averse will be pleased to hear no fried goods come oversalted at DJ’s.
All of the food is perfectly serviceable, but not extraordinary. The gyro meat was tender and came generously dressed with tzatziki sauce, neither too garlicky nor bland. A thick slice of tomato and shredded iceberg lettuce came bright and crisp, despite being out of season, and unlike versions we’ve had elsewhere, a few strips of onion did not overwhelm the rest of the flavors. Some feta cheese would have kicked things up a notch, but it was a decent sandwich, nonetheless. While the fries could have used a few more minutes in the fryer, the seasoned salt was a nice touch.
Was this the best cheese-steak we’ve had in Buffalo? No, but it wasn’t bad either. A generous helping of shredded beef was studded with peppers and sprinkled with enough melted cheese for flavor, but there was none of the Cheez Whiz found on some authentic versions. The roll was fresh and not overstuffed, and the sandwich was hot and moist, without crossing into greasy territory.
Our wings – which we ordered hot – were much smaller than most and the sauce was slightly barbecue-esque in sweetness, but definitely not hot by our scorched-tongue Buffalo sensibilities. The wings were cooked well, neither dry nor dripping, and sauced adequately.
DJ’s Cafeteria would make a perfectly serviceable stop with the kids in conjunction with a trip to the zoo, conveniently located directly across the road. It made a fine lunch, although my dining companion and I agreed we would not drive out if we weren’t already in the neighborhood. The best in Buffalo it’s not, but it’s also not the worst. Like so many wing and fried-accessories spots in the area, it will get the job done in a pinch.
Where: 285 Parkside Ave. (259-9718)