Postcard from Buffalo

28 Feb

beefonweck

The Boy and I are apparently going on a Rust Belt tour. Pittsburgh last October, now Buffalo. Cleveland and Detroit: Start preparing now. We’ll probably be able to get to both of you this year.

We went to Buffalo because one of our friends is in the conservation program at Buffalo State and wanted to show us all of the labs. It’s amazingly cool. Conservators do some really amazing things to figure out how to restore art, books, photographs and objects all while trying to retain the historic nature of it–which usually means making sure it still looks old. There’s a lot of science behind it to try to figure out what the material is actually made of and then a  lot of effort to make the restoration look authentic. I’d wax on, but this is a postcard.

At any rate, we toured the labs and talked to the students who were spending their Saturdays working on projects. Interesting items included a map of London cut in half — one half kept original and one half restored to show how the work changed; a Buck Rogers helmet (the link is not the exact one, but it’s also from The Strong); and a scrapbook kept by a soldier in WWII. We flipped through it, and it was oh, I’ve been drafted…..I’m in basic training….I’m getting sent to university in Alabama…..I’m getting shipped to Europe…..I’m in the Battle of the Bulge….I’ve been taken prisoner…I’ve been liberated….I’m back home. The telegrams sent to this guy’s parents saying that he’s missing in action, we don’t know where he is, we’re sending his stuff home, and then all of the news that he was found were fascinating. I can’t imagine what it would be like to get one of those telegrams.

After our tour of the labs, our friend asked if there was another museum we were interested in visiting. I replied that I wanted to visit Buffalo’s museum of natural food: Wegman’s.

Wegman’s is the best. When I was a researcher in Chicago, I’d read about how people loved Wegman’s, and I couldn’t wait to visit one. It’s seriously an amazing grocery store. I don’t know how to describe it–huge, lots of fresh food, things you don’t find elsewhere. I wandered up and down every aisle and bought a lot of snacks I haven’t seen at home.

Aside from Wegman’s, the other important reason to visit Buffalo is to get a beef on weck sandwich. It’s really the roll that does it — a kimmelweck roll coated in caraway seeds and salt. The more salt, the better. Then you add good roast beef and some horseradish. Au jus is also a nice, but messy, touch.

Twice I’ve gotten my beef on weck from Schwabl’s, a legendary institution (side note: Eating at Schwabel’s is like eating at someone’s home; we went to a different restaurant on this trip that was also in a house. Apparently if you’re an old-timey restaurant in Buffalo, this is your restaurant environment). Delicious. I dream about this sandwich. I haven’t had it in a couple of years, and I can still taste it.

This trip though, we decided to swing through Charlie the Butcher’s, another legendary institution. We got sandwiches to go (so no au jus). The picture of mine is above. Looks okay, but I was kind of disappointed. Not enough salt on the bun, the meat just wasn’t as tender. Oh, I liked the atmosphere of the place–it was mighty fun to sit in the restaurant while we waited, but it just didn’t live up to what I thought it would be…..and since I found it in that fancy guide book that you find in nicer hotel rooms, it made me like guide book recommendations a little bit less….or at least learn to be a little more picky about my guide books.

What do you think, beef on weck fans? Charlie’s? Schwabl’s? Someplace else?

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