Although national sites may point to fall as the best season in which to open a new restaurant, May and June appear to be two popular months to open a restaurant in Buffalo.
Warmer weather and more hours of daylight fuel eaters' willingness to try something new — such as not ordering Skip The Dishes while perusing Netflix — while the peak of the local growing season provides an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables to brighten dishes.
Here are 10 new restaurants — with a nod to one patisserie with a restaurant bent — that have opened in the last two months. Read about each restaurant's background and consider a few dishes to try.
500 Seneca St. Suite 119. 322-6004. Opened May 1.
What it is: Long before chef James Roberts opened Toutant three years ago, he'd post Instagram photos of meals he'd prepare for restaurant help. The dishes were often Asian-inspired; rich-yet-colorful bowls of ramen starred frequently.
Too far outside Toutant's spectrum to serve at the Southern-Creole restaurant, it made sense that Roberts' next project, Dobutsu, would introduce his personal favorites. On the menu are three different bowls of ramen, two poke bowls and two rice bowls, a sterling, focused selection.
Why you should go: Complementing the ramen is an emphasis on impeccably fresh seafood; Japanese hamachi, Gulf Coast soft-shell crabs and Florida red grouper are among the fish flown in fresh over the last few months. The omakase option, where a table can leave its entire meal up to the chef (tiers of $60/$80/$100), is not seen in too many Buffalo restaurants.
The cocktails are definitely higher-end — prices range from $10 to $12 — but the program, as well as the beer and wine, is well-curated.
What we'd get: An order of the steam buns, which rotate in flavor — one was recently banh mi-inspired — and then the big-eye tuna poke bowl ($16). We'll save the ramen until the weather cools.
[Related: Starters at Dobutsu]
707 Kenmore Ave., Tonawanda. 440-9397. Opened June 13.
What it is: It's been five years since brothers Frank and Paul Tripi began selling hot dogs out of a bright yellow truck, representing the first official hot dog food truck — not to be confused with a hot dog cart — in the Buffalo area.
Providing proof that selling creative hot dogs made with real ingredients is possible in a city where two Wardynski dogs and a soda run for $4.50, the Tripi brothers officially opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant on June 13.
Why you should go: There's the touching story of the Frank super-fan who made a model of the restaurant logo out of Legos, plus the first half-smoke sausage available regularly in the Buffalo market. The Washington, D.C., specialty intrigued The News' Andrew Galarneau, who made it high priority in his Starters visit, detailed below.
What we'd get: Frank's fries ($3.09 small, $4.19 large) rank among Buffalo's best, and an array of dips means the bites won't become redundant. The half-smoke ($6.99) falls in our must-try category, and for adventurous hot dog lovers, the Violet Beauregard ($5.69) – featuring blueberry barbecue sauce – will startle your taste buds, in a good way.
703 Seneca St. 331-3242. Opened May 5.
What it is: The heralded beef-on-weck purveyors of Orchard Park have taken to the city, nestling in the growing Hydraulics District inside a giant former industrial space, the Larkin Center of Commerce.
Eckl's@Larkin not only boasts distinctive branding, but it's added more of an upscale steakhouse bent. Their Facebook page is worth exploring, as tantalizing prime rib-on-weck egg rolls, beet pasta specials, dry-aged meat and a raw bar have been featured over the last few weeks.
Why you should go: For city dwellers who might not have trekked to the Southtowns, the beef on weck ($15) alone is worth the visit. If you're not a vegetarian or vegan, tell me the image below does not activate your salivary glands. The Larkin location is appealing, too, as the neighborhood seems to attract trendy businesses — beyond restaurants and bars — by the day.
What we'd get: Not to beat a dead horse, but the beef on weck is a must. The vegan Beyond Burger, increasing in its availability (along with the Impossible Burger) across the area, can be had for $18, too. Or, if you've tried the roast beef before, the dry-aged beef special ($80), 16-ounce wagyu strip steak ($79) or the cocktail slate ($50) all represent splurges. Full menu is here.
1416 Hertel Ave. 846-1439. Opened June 21.
What it is: The early reports on social media on this Hertel boulangerie-patisserie are interesting because the hype meter has been set sky-high. Does Pastry By Camille match or exceed the quality of famed New York City or Paris pastry shops? The fact that the new business is even considered in that echelon is a huge compliment to what Camille Le Caer is attempting for his first Buffalo project.
Pastry By Camille's motto is to "spread love and positivity through desserts," and the macarons (not to be confused with macaroons) are the stars of the menu. There are staple flavors such as Madagascar vanilla, cafe (coffee) and sea salt caramel, among others, with a "Macaron du Jour" category that's touted blood orange raspberry, red wine dark chocolate chili pepper, and cookie dough in the past.
Why you should go: Good luck finding another authentic French patisserie in Buffalo, and the novelty is a major reason why the establishment is worth checking out. Galarneau's Starters proves the dessert shop's depth extends well beyond macarons, and the personable Le Caer will happily answer any questions about the occasionally unfamiliar pastries or breads.
This is not a place to expect giant, filling portions — it's as much about appreciating the art of dessert as it is cherishing the quality and care required for their creation. The best bet for customers, especially in terms of selection, is to visit the business early in the day, when few items have sold out.
What we'd get: Our choice would be mood-dependent: either the strawberry-basil-mint crepe ($7.50), vanilla eclair ($7) or the beef-on-weck baguette, topped with horseradish mayo and served with a side salad ($10). Among Facebook commenters, the maple syrup cheesecake and lavender creme brulee, both $8, are among the favorites so far.
*Note: Also endearing — how the "Johnnie Ryan Soda au sucre" appears on the menu.
416 Main St., Medina. (813) 727-8817. Full menu was available May 9.
What it is: Medina isn't the first town you'd expect to push the culinary envelope, but chef Benjamin Pecoraro presents modern cuisine in an absolutely dazzling, Erie Canal-themed restaurant.
Given the chef's background at Vera Pizzeria, pizzas cooked in a small countertop oven grace the menu, while everyday bites such as pasta, tacos and seafood are heightened with elements like jalapeno-watermelon puree, "pickled things" and beet-strawberry compote.
Plates like Spring, which weaves together scape hummus, peas two ways, strawberries, "pickled things" and a house herb cracker, might not entice the conservative Buffalo eater, but the pizzas and some of the alcohol offerings are more approachable, with Genesee Light and nearby winery-cidery Leonard Oakes popping up on the list.
Why you should go: Read Galarneau's restaurant news item on Mile 303 to learn more about the eatery's elaborate design and influences, aided by insight from co-owner Tim Hungerford.
Part of going out to eat is appreciating the setting, and the Medina restaurant spared no expense in ensuring customers would marvel at everything, from the eye-catching turquoise canal sculpture to the irregularly shaped tables to Japanese elements.
What we'd get: The July menu of pizzas has a holdover from past months: 4th or a Pet ($14), which is topped with scape pesto, corn, red onion and goat cheese, packing ample flavor without the need for meat. The month's featured pasta is gnocchi with cheese sauce and beet salt, for $12.
423 Elmwood Ave. 768-1878. Full menu was available June 1.
What it is: There's no avoiding the surge of vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants opening in the Buffalo area, and Root & Bloom — a chief example — has big plans for an inside space when the weather cools. For now, housed in a rather-hidden gazebo behind 423 Elmwood Ave., the eatery run by James Ernst and chef Sarah Sendlbeck is earning notice for offering the city's first plant-based brunch.
An interesting fact: the owners rented a house in Joshua Tree, Calif., for six months to develop ideas and inspiration for their plant-based menu and the cafe and market's decoration.
Why you should go: The setting is perfect for the Buffalo summer, with a feeling of comfort and exclusivity in the covered gazebo and sun-drenched outdoor seating. Enter in the alleyway to the left of the Benjaman Art Gallery to reach the gazebo, as construction continues on the future indoor space.
Root & Bloom has started a Yoga and Brunch series on Sundays each week, too, which fits a Buffalo-wide trend. (Seriously, everyone is doing yoga and brunch — every so often with goats).
What we'd get: A visit to Root & Bloom for its Uprooted series (plates for $12.50) — scheduled for every third Saturday from June through September — is intriguing, but The News' Samantha Christmann explored the regular dinner menu, lavishing praise on the Mavis ($14), which are three jackfruit sliders piled high.
For vegans who feel left out when friends order monstrous plates of loaded nachos at restaurants such as Cantina Loco or Deep South Taco, the Tito ($12.50) takes these specific diets into account.
174 Buffalo St., Hamburg. 648-6554. Opens to the public July 11.
What it is: For a restaurant with the history and reputation of Hamburg's Daniels, a reimagined approach and menu is a big deal. It's unfair to call chef-owner Scott Donhauser's new offerings a "pub menu," as there's still a certain elegance and creativity added to blue-collar fare. Take the restaurant's eponymous burger ($15), which is rolled in potato chips and topped with blue cheese, Tabasco-battered onion rings and spinach salad on a pretzel roll.
Why you should go: Donhauser and his wife, Lisa, the co-owner, have put their own stamp on the fine-dining restaurant brought to prominence by Dan and Debbie Johengen over the course of 23 years, adding a full-service bar inside and patio seating outside, among other upgrades. A list of more affordable wines joins the food changes, too, with bottles ranging from $20 to $50.
The swing in concept may be exciting for Hamburg residents who've learned to trust the Donhausers' culinary ability, and even though only dinner will be served initially, lunch is on the way. Here's the opening menu.
What we'd get: The Bloody Mary, with Grey Goose vodka, bacon, shrimp, jalapenos and "too many other ingredients to list" for $20 leaps out to us as a potentially rewarding risk, while the beef on weck wings (single $12, double $20) were lauded during the soft opening meal. The Beer & Brat macaroni and cheese ($18) strikes us as a rich, luxurious comfort food, too.
211 Lafayette Ave. 883-1738. Opened in April, although the food menu was delayed.
What it is: The majority of the press for the Tabernacle, a project of Sweet_ness 7 Cafe owner Prish Moran and cook-turned-artist Jeremy Twiss, centered on the brilliant murals that adorn the walls, relaying an odd yet continuous narrative, which The News' Colin Dabkowski explains below.
But the Tabernacle is more than a mesmerizing space, as News contributor Lauren Newkirk Maynard found in her slew of visits for a Starters post. The food offerings can be a little unusual, such as a burger topped with Cheetos, or raw vegetables with hummus, but the new spot also serves brunch, refreshments like ice cream sodas, and all-day breakfast.
Why you should go: To take in the art and enjoy a cocktail or a beer while exploring what Moran has concocted for that day's menu. Many of the dishes are built around sharing — the Ploughman's Platter, for instance, whose description reads "I AM LARGE" — and there's enough space in the former religious hub for a group of friends to gather comfortably.
What we'd get: Loaded potato skins (Irish cheddar melted over baked skins, with Mexican beans, peppers, onions and sour cream, $12 for a small, $16 for a large), with an Allagash White to drink while staring at the ceiling. It's one of the times where staring at the ceiling isn't weird — it's actually encouraged.
4038 Hoover Road, Hamburg. 980-6677. Opened June 11, is open only mid-May through September.
What it is: After her father died of a heart attack last year, Bedrock's Erica Sikorski has carried on his restaurant legacy by continuing Bedrock Eatery in Hamburg, a seasonal operation now focused on healthier eating. Her own digestive issues and search for a suitable diet played into her vision, too.
Don't confuse Bedrock with a stop solely for vegetarians, though, as the "Hunters" section delves into fried bologna, a lean bison burger as well as a patty stack in the Swiss Fun.Gi. Menu items are tagged with P (paleo, part of the restaurant's inspiration), K (keto) in addition to the typical GF, V and Veg, as well as the humorous "Guilty Pleasure" designation.
Why you should go: If the sense of humor in the menu is any indication about the restaurant's ambiance, then it's definitely worth checking out. There's a salad called the Fainting Goat (steak, goat cheese, pickled onion, pumpkin seeds and more for $16), plus the Romaine Empire ($15) and Stone-Age Slushies ($5 for 20 ounces, non-alcoholic).
Those Truly mocktails that keep popping up in all of our Smiles galleries are available in wild berry, grapefruit and pomegranate, too.
What we'd get: The French BLT ($13) would be our go-to, with chopped bacon, crumbled blue cheese, local farmers' romaine and cabbage blend, sun-dried tomatoes, sea-salt and pepper french fries. In line with Sikorski's concept for the restaurant, the salads are tossed in a preservative-free oil and vinegar blend with Mediterranean herbs.
1081 Elmwood Ave. 886-9081. Re-opened under new ownership June 25.
What it is: Without Pano (Georgiadis) himself to do it well (very well), the Greek restaurant's new owners Mark Chason and Mariana Botero-Chason have freshened the experience with a new color scheme, more natural light and subtle changes to the menu.
Galarneau took an extended look at the changes, below.
Why you should go: Without putting too much stock in Yelp reviews, the early returns on the new Pano's have not been pretty. But the first month — or even few months — of a restaurant's opening can be littered with rocky service, long wait times and inconsistent food, all of which has seemed to plague the new ownership and staff.
It's unfair to write off Pano's as a failed relaunch so quickly, in other words, and there's still plenty of diversity in the new menu, with two saganaki dishes added.
What we'd get: We'd stick to Greek specialties: the chicken souvlaki wrap ($10.99) or the spanakopita ($11.99). A visit to the new Pano's doesn't top our list — patience is warranted — but the redesigned interior does look gorgeous, if only to see while stopping in for a drink.
*More: Casa de Sabores, Feature Meals.
*Reopenings to check out: The Yelling Goat, Phoenix 269.