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Go to that restaurant while you still can, says The News' food critic

The news hits like the death of an old friend: That restaurant I really liked is closed? I didn’t even know it was sick.

The memories start to unreel, of the laughs shared at the table that night, of the dishes you swore you'd try when you came back.

But somehow, despite walking through a hundred restaurant doors since, you never did. A sour burp of regret wells up.

Telling stories of our community's restaurants throughout their life cycles – the opening birth announcements to the closing obituaries – is my job at The Buffalo News.

We lost Kentucky Greg's and Rue Franklin in the last couple years. Garlock's and Oshun and DeFlippos all had their mourners.

The news from DiTondo's brought a much different response. Finding DiTondo's was for sale startled fans, but the news contained a seed of relief: They could make sure of at least one last visit to let its atmosphere – and its sauce, if they wave off a bib – sink in.

So I asked digital readers two questions:

If you could have one more meal at any closed-and-gone Western New York restaurant, what would it be?

What Western New York restaurant that is still open do you keep meaning to go back to, but haven't?

The former Garlock's Restaurant in Lockport. (Buffalo News file photo)

May the tension between those questions yield the motivation to inoculate you against restaurant regret.

Responses suggested these questions may also be helpful in dynamiting dinner inertia, also known as the "I dunno, where do you want to go?" factor. Keep them handy for when it strikes.

Answers drove home the point that striking memories can come from anywhere on the humble-to-snazzy spectrum.

Kentucky Greg's Hickory Pit, the late lamented Depew barbecue, was Mary Mammoser Machina's answer to the first question. Where would she like to return to? Carmelo's, the Italian fine-dining restaurant in Lewiston. Come to think of it, I awarded Carmelo's 10 plates in 2015, and haven't been back since. Hmm.

The full rack St. Louis cut ribs with tater tots and Texas toast from Kentucky Greg's Hickory Pit. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The Cloister, Park Lane and Lord Chumley's, three of Buffalo's grandest rooms, were missed by many, some for the way they could make eating dinner an event that made you feel like minor-key royalty. If not king and queen, at least duke and duchess.

Like Michelle Stevens, who missed Chumley's, many could find fine dining – albeit in less ostentatious surroundings – at the place to which Stevens had been meaning to return: Ristorante Lombardo. Hutch's, Oliver's and Russell's were on many minds, too.

Fans of Steven and Ellen Gedra can still get to the Black Sheep, but that doesn't stop them from missing the hot-tub intimacy of Bistro Europa, their tiny first restaurant. "You can still love the Brooklyn Dodgers," said Tom Przybylak, "even though they moved to L.A."

When Buffalo chefs go out to eat, here's where they go

Homey places can pluck heartstrings just as easily. Thad J. Komorowski wanted another visit to Pete's Market House in Niagara Falls, which served one of the best bang-for-your-buck steaks around. Wurzburger Hof left a schnitzel-sized hole in many hearts.

Andy Golebiowski added another German memory: Troidl's. His meaning-to-get-there? Seabar. Chef Mike Andrzejewski's places came up in responses to both questions. Seabar, Andrzejewski's Ellicott Street spot that earned 10 plates from me, remains open for business, dispensing deliciousness in both meaty and aquatic forms.

His pan-Asian Tsunami is gone, as is Bourbon & Butter. Their memories remain, especially his luxe Mike A's at the Lafayette. With Edward Forster in the kitchen, its 10-course tasting menu was the first time I was ever moved to award 10 plates. Le sigh.

They call them brick-and-mortars, but restaurants are made of people. Christopher Puchalski wants one back at Sterling Place Tavern when John Gardon and Judy Russo ran it.

John Gardon and Judy Russo used to run Sterling Place Tavern. (Buffalo News file photo)

At the Hourglass, when Terry Bechakas was behind the bar, he poured Dennis Kozuch his first old Chablis. "I was never the same," said Kozuch.

You may think that as The News' restaurant critic, I get to eat where I want. I don’t, mostly. My dining nights are usually new places and others never reviewed, at least not by me.

I haven't been able to get to some of my favorite places for years. Maybe reading this has you thinking of a couple spots.

Now imagine I told you they were closed. Fire, heart attack, tax problem, landlord raised the rent, doesn't matter. Gone.

Go see an old favorite while you still can. When the obituary makes you swear softly under your breath, it'll be too late.

Common responses: Restaurants that are missed

Rue Franklin. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

  • Rue Franklin, the French-inspired fine dining jewelbox, offered first-class food and a destination courtyard.
  • The Cloister is remembered for its décor – crystal chandeliers, carved wooden horses – as well as its prime rib and oysters Rockefeller.
  • Scirri's, on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore, produced veal of such memorable quality that after it closed, a former cook's reappearance at a place called Mama Colucci's warranted a mention in The News.
  • Blue Monk was a craft beer specialist that managed to not only pull off a cohesive menu, but create a sense of place.

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