From time to time, as The Buffalo News’ designated eater, people ask what I’d choose to eat at a Buffalo Sabres game.
The look on my face is usually answer enough. Sometimes if I can’t say anything nice, I’d rather say nothing at all, especially when faced with wilted pepperoni slices at $8.75 a throw.
The good news is there are lots of spots to feed a wide variety of hungers before any KeyBank Center event. Here’s where I’d take people, depending on my intentions and my guests.
170 Ohio St.
For old-school Buffalo tavern ambiance, you can’t get any older than the Swannie House. At probably the second-oldest drinking establishment in Buffalo, they started pouring drinks in 1886.
The bustling waterfront has dwindled to ships offloading grain at the nearby General Mills cereal plant, but the worker-centered narrow bar still has admirable fish fries, wings and liverwurst on rye to satisfy your blue-collar cravings.
211 South Park Ave.
For a bit hipper vibe, slide up to Ballyhoo, a block away. The former Malamute has been turned into a place with custom cocktails and craft beer, while retaining enough character to honor its past.
Custom-made sausages and macaroni and cheese are the things to eat here. Especially the Short Round, a beef link reminiscent of Korean bulgogi, with kimchi and sambal, and the TJ Dawg, a chorizo-bacon number with fresh-cut pico de gallo, crème, cotija cheese and avocado.
291 Seneca St.
Seekers of the red sauce, a perennial Buffalo favorite, can certainly head to Chef’s if they have spaghetti parm on their minds.
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338 Ellicott St.
Otherwise, I especially recommend a visit to Tappo.
Sure, you can tuck into spaghetti and meatballs there, too. Instead, consider what is perhaps the crispiest eggplant parmesan in town, and uber-tender braciola made from short rib of beef wrapped around salami and hardboiled eggs.
Pizza Plant Italian Pub Canalside
125 Main St.
If your party includes vegetarians, vegans or people avoiding gluten, I’d suggest heading to Pizza Plant.
People forget this branch of the Transit Road restaurant, a scion of the craft beer forerunner, is tucked into the side of the Marriott facing the trolley tracks.
Its specialties, besides nearly 30 taps of craft beer, include pizza for people who don’t want the regular stuff. The flat-out vegetarian and vegan menu is broad, alongside standard chicken, beef and cheese-laden options.
Gluten-free crusts, soy cheese and vegan sausage are among the accommodations that restaurant staff members are used to making on a routine basis. Scratch items are usually produced on Wednesdays, so if it’s another day, it’s smart to call ahead to guarantee the item is available.
For me, the garlic pod with chicken souvlaki (plus mozzarella) gets it done.
437 Ellicott St.
For folks looking for a medium-level nice place that will get you fed well and get you moving, I suggest Toutant.
Southern fare like fried chicken and barbecue-of-the-week are always solid, along with remarkably good hush puppies. My new love there is the shrimp po’boy, because Toutant is the only place in town making that remarkably crackly-yet-poofy roll that I remember from Decatur Street.
Despite meaty attributes, Toutant is also skilled at serving people abstaining from gluten, meat, fish or dairy products, but double-check when you make a reservation.
56 W. Chippewa St.
Tiptop dining, out to impress or pitch woo before the Sabres put your love to the test? Splash out at Bacchus.
After a visit earlier this year I gave Bacchus my top score, for its combination of skilled cooking, cool surroundings and polished service.
If you go, keep an eye peeled for the truffled gnocchi “mac and cheese,” the calamari and rock shrimp with chili glaze and confetti salad, and the duck breast with mango salad, orange yuzu vinaigrette and pink peppercorn demiglace.