One of the things I enjoy about our (somewhat rare) driving trips to the Detroit area is that, whether we are opting for the US or Canada routes, both take us right through the Buffalo area. Buffalo’s a bit of a run-down metro area, but it’s got quite a good set of culinary traditions, so every time we visit I try to hit up one of the classic spots. For this trip, that was Schwabl’s, so we could get some beef-on-weck.
A lot of the places I go on Offbeat Eats are found by research, but some of them are found by pure happenstance, just by walking or driving past a place that, well, looks rather “Offbeat”. In the case of Beefside, I found this place several years ago, when my brother was returning a rental truck to the rental place in Concord, which was on Route 3 east of Concord, NH. It’s an odd area, mostly full of car dealerships and the likers, but there are a few restaurants oddly sprinkled in between the car dealers, vacuum repair shops, and the like. One of these, Beefside, features on oddly large and comic sign featuring a cow that looks something like the Black Angus twin of Elsie the Cow. It’s the exact sort of sign that says to me “If they’ve been able to survive with kitschy signage like that for so long, they’ve got to have a lot of loyal followers.” So I decided to check them out, and rather liked the place (I first visiting in 2009, it’s just taken me a while to return with a camera).
While my primary goal at Offbeat Eats is to document the obscure and unusual places out there, sometimes I still get to be a tourist. And when it came to finding a place to take several of my fellow walkers on our “Death March”, most of whom hadn’t spent a lot of time in Boston, for me the choice of venue was fairly obvious: Durgin-Park, one of Boston’s venerable restaurants, serving up Boston schrod, seafood, and steaks since 1826. Named after Messrs Durgin and Park who were the original owners of the place, it’s located in Quincy Market at 340 Faneuil Hall (North Market), a location its been inhabiting since it opened, albeit with some (minor) renovations (the plumbing in the men’s room appears to be date from the late Victorian era). One of the very notable things about Durgin-Park is that it’s one of those time capsule restaurants. Aside from a few (very few) tweaks to the menu, and obviously higher prices, the experience at Durgin-Park is almost exactly the same that I remember from my first visit in the late ’70s (and my visits in ’95, ’99, and ’01, for that matter), although the service doesn’t seem as surly as I recall from some of my previous visits (some of that is probably my getting used to the general surliness of Boston in general, to be honest). I’m sure that if you go back far enough in time you’d find a different experience, but the current Durgin-Park ambiance and menu harken back to at least the 1950s and the era of white-shirted servers and red-checked tablecloths. And that’s one of the reasons I like to go there, since it’s one of the oldest restaurants in the country, and one of the old respected seniors of Boston dining (along with nearby Jacob Wirth and the Union Oyster House, the latter of which goes back to the colonial era).
Sometimes, you just gotta have some barbecue. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done. Unfortunately, living in Northern New England means that we’re so far outside the good barbecue belt that most of the attempts to do “barbecue” up here are woefully misguided, with some sort of ketchupy sauce slathered onto some grilled meat and called “good enough”. Sure, there are a few exceptions (go consult the fine guide over at PigTrip, but, in general, the state of affairs is dismal enough I’m surprised that the phrase “New England Barbecue” hasn’t already caused some sort of Civil-War-like incident…
For the last several years, I’ve bee an active member of The Upper Valley Beer Society, which is primarily a homebrew club, although we also have visiting brewers, go on the occasional brewery/cidery tours, and host the occssional special event, such as last March’s St Patricks Corned Beef dinner in conjuction with Umpleby’s Bakery in Hanover. Back in April, Charles, the owner of Umpleby’s, distributed an essay about the history of the Beefsteak, a New York area traditional that is a lengthy food event featuring profound quantities of beef (and a few other meats), beer, and little else (tradition also mandates that one wear their “second best suit”). We found the tradition compelling, and given our easy access to amazing local beef and beer up here, decided to throw one of our own.
While returning from our Christmas vacation, we again passed through the Buffalo area around lunchtime, making it pretty much obligatory that we stop and try one of the classis Buffalo foodstuffs. After debating the relative merits of Buffalo wings, Ted’s Hot Dogs, and Beef-on-weck, we decided to do the last of these, and picked Charlie the Butcher’s since it’s quite close to the Thruway. Charlie’s is one of the places that has a reputation as being a good place for Beef-on-weck. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a fairly Buffalo-specific food: roast beef and horseradish piled on a crusty roll resembling a kaiser roll, but topped with kosher salt and caraway seeds.