Water flows like a river through our list of 100 Things every Western New Yorker should do at least once.
From Darwin Martin House’s summer home, Graycliff, we marveled at Lake Erie. Kayaks carried us past the grain elevators down the Buffalo River. A rainbow rose over one of the stunning waterfalls at Letchworth State Park. And the Maid of the Mist drenched us in the spray from Niagara Falls.
This week, we celebrate the simplest and spontaneous options. Find a spot by the water and eat.
It could be a picnic you pack and enjoy at one of the new tables downtown at Canalside. Or take that basket to Grand Island, and have a picnic on the beach. Near Niagara Falls, Whirlpool Park offers great picnic sites with dramatic water views.
For the simplest waterside food fix, seek out a scenic restaurant.
Two of us headed to the City of Tonawanda and to Smoke on the Water, a tiny place on the banks of Ellicott Creek.
The day wasn’t quite warm. The menu featured a special called Where The Hell’s Summer Chili. But as soon as we walked in, it felt like summer. The tiny place, big enough for just a few tables, was like something you would find in the Deep South. Reggae was playing, not too loud. The sweet smoky aroma made us think of campfires and creeks.
“In winter it’s very cozy,” said chef Kevin Richert, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Lindsay, and brother JJ.
Then something magical happened. The sun came out. Enchanted, we stepped out on the patio, which was surprisingly sizable. A few folks, hardy people like ourselves, were already out there.
Francie Pleskow of Williamsville was eating barbecue with her son. She had smoked turkey and he had the ribs, which were thick and gooey.
“I love being on the water,” she said, adding she grew up sailing. “My dad had a boat just across the way.”
Now, early in the season, the boats stood motionless. The canal’s surface shimmered like glass. To our left was a bridge over untroubled waters. Time seemed to stand still. Suddenly, it was summer.
A water view can be therapeutic no matter what the season. The folks at the Dockside Inn, across the water in North Tonawanda, must have had that in mind when they made the decision to renovate so the place could be open year-round. They now have an upstairs dining room. Its narrow patio overlooks the lower patio and, with its railings, makes you feel as if you are on the deck of a boat.
History surrounds you. The building dates to the glory days of the Erie Canal, and a table in the bar area traces that famed waterway. Framed photos show how things looked more than 100 years ago. A glance out the big windows can tell you what has changed and what has not.
A growing number of places around town have that maritime feel on the menu.
William K’s, the elegant newcomer at the Erie Basin Marina, has dramatic windows over Lake Erie. It’s a perfect place to watch for freighters. Linger with a glass of wine and if anyone tries to disturb you, say you are waiting for your ship to come in.
Also new this summer is Charlie’s Boat Yard, on Fuhrmann Boulevard where Dug’s Dive used to be. In Delaware Park, a restaurant is opening shortly in the Marcy Casino, overlooking Hoyt Lake.
And let’s not forget our old favorites. Dress up and head to Acqua, on Niagara Street, with its multilevel patios overlooking the Niagara River. Kick back at River Grill, on Aqua Lane in Tonawanda, with its fake palm tree – and live bands, so you can request “Smoke on the Water.” Sip a beer in Hamburg at Dock at the Bay, a bona fide historic beach club, in an inn that dates to 1805. It is said that ghosts linger here. Clearly they could not bear to give up this view.
The summer is short. Our list is long. See you on the water.
Your table is waiting.