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Starters: Standout beef-on-weck pizza at Buffalo's Best Cucina

The Barrel Factory in the Old First Ward is a mammoth complex hiding in plain sight nestled next to Gene McCarthy’s.

Housing Lakeward Spirits, Pressure Drop Brewing, a beautiful event space and several other local businesses, Buffalo’s Best Cucina is its newest addition, serving up a broad menu centered around their pizzas and panini. The restaurant is the third establishment from owner Tony Formato, after Buffalo’s Best Grill & Catering, 3700 Southwestern Blvd., Orchard Park, and Buffalo’s Best Pizza & Wings, 4510 Lake Ave., Blasdell.

Ordering from the tables at the rustic Lakeward Spirits tasting room, I started with the Barrel Platter ($12) consisting of smoked white fish and gin spread, beer-braised sausage, gouda macaroni and cheese, and blush eggplant caponata.

An oddball sampler of German, Mediterranean and American snacks was tasty in its own right (particularly the sausage), though the combination of the lot left something to be desired texturally.

The Barrel Platter, a hodgepodge of savory bites. (Phil Wagner/Special to The News)

Some of the focaccia toast points included in their charcuterie plate ($14), or even a small piece of their pizza dough would have been a welcome crunch in an otherwise very soft pairing.

Their panini selection follows a similar ethnic array to the Barrel Platter, including a Caprese ($10), eggplant and arugula ($10), smokehouse chicken ($12), charcuterie melt ($13), and a reuben ($11).

Testing their First Ward mettle, I went for the Buffalo Steak ($12). Possibly the most “Buffalo” food item I’ve seen on a menu, it’s made up of thinly sliced, tender roast beef, a blue cheese hot sauce, onions and stuffed banana peppers.

If it came on a kummelweck roll, we’d have it on the city flag right next to the schooner.

The Buffalo Steak panini. A marriage of several distinctly "Buffalo" ingredients, pressed and grilled. (Phil Wagner/Special to The News)

The mash-up of favorites proved a hearty and familiar combo, though the ingredients felt a little thrown together for the sake of rounding the “Buffalo bases," including the sides of potato and macaroni salad. It’s a lot of soft and wet for a sandwich. A harder, hotter press or the inclusion of a few crunchy ingredients would have rounded out what was still overall a very satisfying experience.

The beef-on-weck pizza ($14, featured image) was hands-down the highlight of the night. I’ve seen the concept done elsewhere, but Buffalo’s Best Cucina has it nearly perfect. This thing is a show-stopper, and for the value I would have preferred in hindsight to have focused the entire meal around a few other varieties.

Seated atop a blanket of Swiss and mozzarella, the beef is tender, juicy, and well complemented by the addition of sautéed onions. The horseradish creme sauce could have done with more bite to cut the richness of the pizza, and I would have preferred the kummelweck sprinkle be confined to the crust and more heavily seeded.

Minor gripes aside, the dough, which in my opinion the heart and soul of a pizza, was executed flawlessly. Thicker and denser than a traditional Neapolitan, the undercarriage was toasted and crisp while retaining the pull and chew you’d find in the best New York styles. It’s a wonderful and distinct hybrid that any pizza enthusiast should be excited to test.

A week into operations, the menu at Buffalo’s Best Cucina is sound and intriguing in concept, but at times a hair off in execution. The pizza alone is a surefire success in the making, and will only get better with time and volume as the fledgling restaurant continues to establish itself. It’s an excellent addition to an already impressive business complex that warrants a visit for anyone interested in craft drinking and food to pair.

INFO: Buffalo’s Best Cucina, 65 Vandalia St., inside the Barrel Factory. Phone: 480-1101. Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, 3 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The Barrel Factory is home to Buffalo's Best Cucina and several other local businesses. (Phil Wagner/Special to The News)

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