Monday, July 22, 2013

Niagara Falls Road Trip

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
-Wings & Wecks in Buffalo with Food at the Falls

Roadtrip season is in full swing and Niagara Falls has always been a popular spot to take one. They say the Falls are something you have to see before you go. Seeing as though I'd already saw them back in my youth I used this trip to explore the food scene knowing it's pretty much a deadzone as far as good food goes...or is it? Lunch on this trip from Chicago would be in Port Clinton, OH where you can indulge in some mighty fine fish sandwiches.

We spent all of a late evening in Buffalo, NY before heading into Canada the next morning. This was my first visit to the Queen City, the home to the 2013 Stanley Cup MVP your starting Right Wing for the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane! Though it was less than 24 hours I liked what I saw and would stop over again if heading thru. There would be no "this or that's" as far as dinner goes. I was getting both wings and a beef on weck. Anchor Bar and Schwabl's might be the more well known places serving these Buffalo specialties but we stayed near the University and that ended up being just fine. Both Charlie the Butcher's main location and Duff's Original are nearby. These two spots seem to be the locals choice for both.

As I was saying about the locals loving line at Charlie's

It's a small space where you place your order, pay for it and then you go for pick up inside the dining room which is much larger. I knew I was getting not one but two beef on wecks but was very tempted by some other options on the menu. The smell of grilled meats was in the air as they have a charcoal grill and offer a 1/2 pound hand packed freshly butchered burger. At $5.95 they looked like a big time bargain and many locals were ordering them. They were also grilling up some fresh in season asparagus and Sahlen's brand hot dogs. I saw an Italian Beef (with cheese) on special.

Grill lady at work

With the carving station sitting right in front of you they sure know how to make your mouth water. The expert carver doesn't diminish the end product by going as fast as he can so it takes as little time which is well worth it. I ate a sub from D'Amato's the day before and had the roof of my mouth scratched pretty badly while eating it. Despite the pain from the salt on the excellent rolls touching the scratch, I thoroughly enjoyed the sandwich. Both the one there and the other I ate later. The precisely spiced horseradish, flawlessly cooked roast and perfectly placed Kummelweck roll had me singing ♫Charlie, how your Angels get down like that♫

Beef Slicer at Work

Beef on Weck in Buffalo

After a little rest it was off to Duff's for dinner. It's been around since 1946. These days they have several locations including a few north of the border in Canada. This one in Amherst is the original. Buffalo Wings are what they do, if you're under 12 years old I suppose you're allowed to order them boneless.

The "Original" Duff's

They say that their medium is hot but it's not. So go higher if you like heat. There was a 20 minute wait but the tables move and the wings come out quick since they're constantly frying them up. Beer is available to sip on while you wait. We like the drumettes and sometime ask if it's possible to get more of those than the flats. Most places say no, they said sure and sent out a 20 piece of all drums. Nice gesture, great sauce and perfectly fried wings. I've never been to Anchor Bar which claims the creation of Buffalo Wings but these ones from Duffs lived up to the hype. We were mad we had to leave a few since they're no good reheated. Fun experience.

Buffalo Wings in Buffalo

Next morning we were off to see Niagara Falls. Second trip here for me which if you've never been is best taken on the Canadian side. Yes it's true the downtown area near the Falls is no different than the Wisconsin Dells or the Jersey Shore but the American side is no different than whatever sleepy suburb you want to name. There are more things to do on Canada's side. This goes for both kids and adults. The views are better too.

  Niagara Falls, Canada

I had two fond memories of my trip here as a kid. The first being the fact the police there rode horses and carried a stick, the mounties. I didn't see any this trip but there were plenty of squad cars to keep the peace which was there despite the big crowds.

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The busy season was getting into full swing as the place was packed despite it being a Mon and Tues night we were there. My other memory was the ride on the Maid of the Mist which is in it's last year. They're building a winter storage garage on the New York side which is where it will operate out of next year. They've been giving up close tours of the Falls since 1846. Double damn when the entire downtown area lost power on a beautiful sunny day and they couldn't sell Mist tickets, thus we never made it on. Gotta look at the positives though, I can at least consider myself lucky I wasn't riding the Ferris Wheel when it went out. 

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Some sights around town....Call me maybe?!?!?!

There's alot to do for kids here but not too much for adults. The dining scene is the same way. The downtown area is full of stuff you can waste money on and has all the dining options of every mall in the state rolled into one. If its a chain they're there. From Tim Horton's to TGI-Friday's and every awful spot in between. Although I did read that one of Toronto's top chefs opened a place at the Sheraton at the Falls. We didn't go there but I did manage to find a few other spots around town. Assuming you'll have a car (most people there do) these two Chippy's arent far and are way better than Wendy's Fried Cod sandwich. So I'd say they're worth seeking out.
Mini-Chain with three locations incl. one in Niagara Falls

I found Lakeport Fish & Chips while googling the info for a place no longer around. I'm glad I found it because they do an excellent frying job here and serve creamy haddock with crispy chips. I'd been fiendin' for some all thru our trip to Toronto where "Chippy's" like this are popular. I held off knowing it was one of a few good eating options around the Falls. Fish and Chip spots seem to be everywhere in Ontario. Most of them having been around a while. Lakeport's original location in nearby St. Catharines opened up in 1970. Just $7.95 for a one piece haddock which was a generous sized piece (pollack and halibut also offered). Sun. and Mon. it's buy one dinner and get second half off so you could feed a family here for cheaper than Applebee's.

Haddock and Chips

Day two we needed some lunch before hitting the wineries so we rolled into St. Catharines which was a 10 minute drive from the downtown Falls. The Fryin' guys is another place I found while searching for a fish and chips spot that's no more. Since they've been around since 1949 and so many people were praising the place we went there for lunch.

St Catharines, Ontario

I hadn't heard one "Eh" in Toronto but must of heard 20 from the lady owns this place. She was really welcoming and wasn't lying when she said that we're going to eat some of the best damn fish and chips we ever had. I got a two piece haddock with chips along with a single piece of halibut for us and was loving life then and there. Both Chippy's visited had some of the best damn fries I ever had and served perfectly fried fish atop them. Seek 'em out. There's also Batter Up which I wanted to try but they were closed on Monday and didn't open until 2p on Tuesday.
Fish & Chips at the Fryin' Guys

Other non-chain dinner options include quite a few Canadian-Chinese places as well as some Indian eats and an Indian-Chinese restaurant. Me having a little guilty pleasure fascination with other countries takes on Chinese cuisine I had to have some Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls while on this trip. I got an order for $6 with fried rice and an egg roll that wasn't that bad. Actual chunks of white meat chicken inside a dough fried batter formed into balls. Served with sweet and sour sauce on the side. It's basically Canadia's version of ours. More on this cross cuisine with a rich history in another post. This was from China Express which I drove by and decided to try.

Sweet & Sour Chicken Balls...yes I'm immature and laugh every time I say that

So is there anything to eat that isn't fried? Yes there is and aside from the casino (and dirty strip clubs) there's another place near where adults can have some fun. I found myself comparing Toronto to Chicago alot on this trip and the town of Niagara on the Lake is to Toronto what Michigan's Harbor Country is to Chicago. Plus theres the added bonus of the Falls nearby. It's about a 15 minute drive.

Niagara on the Lake, Ontario

This is where I would have stayed had I known. Its the heart of Ontario's Wine Country which is a very booming business these days. There's close to 40 wineries in the area. With them come Tastings, Charming B&B's, Shopping, Spa's, Horse Rides, the renowned Shaw Festival Theater Company and good restaurants cooking with locally grown ingredients. All right there on beautiful Lake Ontario.

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If you're going to stay in Niagara Falls make sure to check out a site like Travelzoo for deals as there's tons of hotels there so they have to give things to get people in. Stuff like free wine tasting cards and a $50 credit at the slot machines were included in a package I got. We didn't get into town until the early evening on the 1st night opting to further explore Toronto during the day so we planned to use the wine voucher cards the next day. Nice call.

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I'm glad we did as I'm now a little more experienced in something I dont have all that much interest in drinking if beer is an option. I never tried Icewine until this trip. It was pretty damn sweet (and not cheap) so I didn't buy any but could see myself sipping it after dinner now and then if it was around. There was a local brewery there as well. Oast House is putting out some nice stuff. I was sipping it  later that night for dinner. We tried to stop by their red barn brewery but they weren't open this trip.

Peller Estates

So with all the wineries and a cute little town filled with visitors year round you have some nice food options to choose from. I stopped into an outlet of Kurtz Orchards Gourmet Foods while in town and noticed a sandwich menu. I asked what was up and the nice lady working there informed me that they serve soup and sandwiches at their Marketplace a few blocks down. So we rode over.

Kurtz Orchards Farm and Gourmet Marketplace

Inside they have all sorts of products made on site as well as a place to grab a quick gourmet lunch and some coffee and or ice cream in back. I love Turkish Delights and never saw so many flavors offered anywhere else. I never had better. Also grabbed a few jams and jellies to add to the collection. My main reason for visiting was to try the Montreal Style Smoked Meat sandwich I saw on the menu at their other place.

Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich

They told me their grilled sandwiches were the best sellers and this one was #1. Good for them. This was a nice tasty snack before heading back to Niagara Falls and attempting to ride the Maid of the Mist. We had also decided we would be back later in the evening for dinner from somewhere around there. We chose Zees Grill over the restaurant at Peller Estates which came with high praise but we liked what we saw on Zees menu so that's where we went. The restaurant is on the property of the Shaw Club Hotel and Spa located in downtown Niagara on the Lake. It looked like a beautiful place to stay. The menu is described as "Contemporary nostalgic comfort food updated with a unique twist".


Mothers Dumplings

Dumplings to start. I love me some dumplings and these housemade ones with "Pork, Chicken and Shrimp" with "Sweet and Sour Soy Sauce, Cucumber, Daikon and Green Onion Salad" seemed like a good way to start the meal. The waiter informed us one sous chef is from China and this is his grandmas recipe while the other sous chef was from India and used his mothers recipe for the samosas which are also an option under appetizers. I wasn't expecting them to come fried but still pretty damn tasty I thought. Next up for me was a popular Canadian treat I hadn't had all week.

Nova Scotia Lobster Poutine

Despite many options for smoked meat and poutine in Toronto I didn't have either of them there so I crossed them off the list on my visit to Niagara on the Lake. Obviously this wasn't your average poutine. Its the only menu item that's remained on it since they first opened, so it's very popular. "House Cut Fries, Butter Poached Lobster, Thornloe Natural Cheese Curds, Red Wine Veal Jus Reduction & Lemon Herb Hollandaise Sauce" Very rich, in taste and style.

Sea Scallops

She had the "Pan Seared East Coast Sea Scallops". Served atop "Sweet Pea & Best Baa Ricotta Ravioli, Warm Chorizo & Tomato Vinaigrette, Pea Puree & Sprouts For Life Organic Pea Shoots" I got to try half of one and this was an expertly prepared dish. Afterwards we had a few drinks at the bar and then took a walk around on the unusually warm night before heading back to the bright lights, beeping noises and carnival games at the Falls.

Late Night Stroll down Queen Street in Niagara on the Lake...

...See y'all in Toronto!

Charlie the Butcher's Kitchen
1065 Wehrle Dr
Williamsville, NY 14221
(716) 633-8330

Duff's Wings
3651 Sheridan Dr
Amherst, NY 14226
(716) 834-6234

Lakeport Fish & Chips
8214 Lundy's Ln
Niagara Falls, ON
+1 905-357-3232

The Fryin' Guys
155 Lake St
St Catharines, ON
+1 905-682-8787

China Express
6175 Dunn
Niagara Falls, ON
+1 905-357-3333

Peller Estates Winery
290 John St E
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
+1 905-468-4678

Kurtz Orchards Farm and Marketplace
16006 Niagara Pkwy
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
(888) 909-2937

Zees Grill
92 Picton St
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
+1 905-468-5715


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