If your stomach is dictating your travels, a short stretch of Sheridan Drive can take you around the world.
Culinary connections to Israel and the Far East at Or by Falafel Bar, to the authentic Chinese stylings of House of Gourmet and the all-American diner goodness of Greek to Me between, Sheridan Drive is the road to satisfaction.
Picking up Falafel Bar (3545 Sheridan Drive, Amherst; 436-7000) dinner for a crowd usually leaves the vegans and vegetarians in my life giving thanks.
Besides the falafel ($8), deep-fried chickpea nuggets with lemony tahini sauce or the garlic-dill yogurt tang of tzatziki, the hummus, eggplant and pickled vegetable dishes are outstanding across the board.
When I ordered shakshuka ($12), eggs poached in spiced tomato sauce, chef-owner Oded Rauvenpoor, knowing my appreciation for dishes that make sweat trickle down my scalp, asked if I wanted the dish spicy, the way some people preferred it in Israel.
Boy, that was this close to a mistake. Two bites in, teetering on the edge of regret, a spoonful of yogurt doused the heat. Diluted with canned tomato, leftover shakshuka powered two more days of saucy breakfasts that woke up my palate. (It also comes in non-spicy and lamb versions, $14.)
Lamb burgers and kofte, grilled meatballs as part of a dinner plate, are first-rate. Meat eaters should also consider the chicken schnitzel, in a crispy bronzed breadcrumb coat speckled with sesame seeds, as a wrap ($12).
The dish I hammered through in the parking lot was the lamb hummus ($13). Ground lamb sautéed in the pan first adds its unctuousness to the pine nuts, tomatoes and onions cooked down with turmeric, garlic and more, then poured over fresh hummus, to be squeezed with lemon and scooped up with warm pita. So happy to have had the forethought of bringing a can of wet wipes.
Down the road at Greek to Me (2309 Eggert Road; 876-4687) the Sheridan Plaza parking lot was empty but for a car idling curbside. Owner Vince Karam has installed the latest in germ-avoidant hardware: doors that open if you wave at them.
Greek to Me, in Sheridan Plaza (plenty of parking!) has retrofitted its doors with this germaphobe-approved opening system. If you can’t install automatic openers a la supermarkets, it’s an option for owners to consider. Cheaper than a handle santizer, even at minimum wage? pic.twitter.com/yYVjXaMhzb
— Buffalo News Food (@BuffaloFood) May 15, 2020
The menu, though, is strictly old-school Buffalo diner, which is another way to say "Greek lite," another addition that has only improved the American melting pot. Pancakes, eggs and souvlaki are available in permutations from two eggs, toast and home fries or grits ($7.79) and a Wardynski’s-sausage-powered Polish scramble ($12.99) to a steak souvlaki open-faced salad ($14.99).
Greek to Me’s foremost addition to the Buffalo menu is the best version I’ve met of Rochester’s claim to culinary glory, the Nick Tahou’s garbage plate. Its Hangover Plates ($10.99 to $12.99, add $1.49 for cheese) top fries, tater tots or home fries with onion, mustard and Texas sauce, then a protein from hamburgers to chicken fingers to grilled cheese sandwiches. A salad (coleslaw, mac, potato) is offered on the side for mixing at your discretion.
My dogs-fries-coleslaw version ($10.99) brought every pleasure of the original but the décor. The tubesteak was in generously browned coins, over coated fries whose crunch survived a two-hour delay sweating in a container. The thick ground beef-based chili-like sauce, flavored with members of the cinnamon-allspice family, perked up nicely with the astringent mustard and onion crunch.
A tuna melt ($8.49) with tomato, on broad sourdough bread, was nothing fancy. Just perfect comfort food, and I got tots, and looked for soup. Taco soup, ground beef and chili powder infused with a cumin top note, filled the role ably.
Pandemic-related supply chain issues and the departure of University at Buffalo students have combined to knock out most of the Chinese-focused Chinese places we enjoy. One exception has been House of Gourmet (2865 Sheridan Drive, Tonawanda; 359-0777). Owner Xiuying Xu had to close for a few days but otherwise hung in there to deliver clutch consistency.
Tea-smoked duck ($17), crispy skin over lush, subtly smoky meat is my favorite dish there, but there’s lots of competition. Housemade bacon sliced paper-thin and stir-fried with leeks ($14), and a soothing, tangy soup of fish and preserved Szechuan vegetables ($12) are finalists.
Consider also an orange haystack of shredded, slightly poached potato in chile oil ($4.50), a nominee for The Most Fun Under $5 2020. It's a cool, crunchy, unexpected adventure. Pro tip: leftovers incorporated into homemade fried rice is outstanding.
Dumplings, a variety of flavored proteins in housemade pasta, have been a lifeline here. There are 18 choices for steamed and fried dumplings listed, including fish and leek steamed dumplings ($9.50 for 12), and beef and carrot ($9.99). But these days you can expect them to be short of some varieties.
Not the steamed pork and cabbage ($9), though. These pasta packets freeze well, reheat well, and rough exteriors pick up sauces if you would like to use them as a base for something more elaborate.
A few minutes down the road, Ted’s Hot Dogs is doing boffo business with online ordering and a special – good until the end of May – of five dogs for $10.
Watching restaurant operators evolve and innovate through the current crisis remains a source of hope. If Ted’s can do online ordering, perhaps old dogs can learn new tricks, if they’re hungry enough.