Soda? In Rochester, we call it “pop.”

When I was growing up back in the 1960s, there weren’t as many concerns about nutrition, and soda was a staple of the American diet. Here in Rochester, we referred to soda as “pop” and generally still do. When out-of-towners asked for a “soda” back in the day, we thought that was very strange.

Every weekend, our Dad and a few of us kids would hop in the station wagon and take a short drive to the cinder block building at 625 Shelford Road (photo below) and buy a case of large bottles of “pop” from a local manufacturer, “Fiz Pop,” which was a lot cheaper than the national brands. They had many flavors and it was fun to pick out my favorites as we filled the case. Fiz eventually moved out of that location and my Dad began buying six-packs of Coca-Cola at the big grocery. One of my sweetest high-school-era memories is sucking down ice-old Cokes in the summertime while watching my little black-and-white TV late at night in my hot, un-air-conditioned bedroom.

These days, health experts strongly discourage drinking soda. There’s 39 grams of “sugar” (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup) in a 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola, which translates to 9.75 teaspoons of sugar per can. That’s A LOT of sugar.

I don’t drink a lot of pop/soda, but I do like to crack open a cold one on Saturdays after doing the yard chores. I definitely have my favorites. I have a small stockpile of my favorite varieties with samples in the above photo:

From left to right:

  • Dr. Pepper & Cream Soda – Great combo! Was on the grocery shelf for a limited time during the Summer, but didn’t see it for awhile. It’s now back in six-packs of 16.9 oz. plastic bottles.
  • Coca-Cola, Orange Vanilla – Haven’t seen this Coke variety on the store shelves lately.
  • Vernors – A very gingery-tasting ginger-ale that originally hailed from Michigan. Wikipedia states that “soft,” full-flavored ginger-ales like Vernors were popular before Prohibition, but afterwards, less-flavorful “dry” varieties like Canada Dry caught on.
  • Coca-Cola, Vanilla – Haven’t seen this Coke variety on the store shelves lately.
  • A&W Cream Soda – Hard to find. Stocked sporadically.
  • Coca-Cola, Cherry Vanilla – Haven’t seen this Coke variety on the store shelves lately.

The only Coke on the local grocery shelves lately is Classic Coke and Diet Coke. Has Coke given up on its specialty varieties or have the purchasing agents at our two local grocery chains just gotten lazy? Articles on the internet state that Coke has NOT discontinued its specialty flavors, but that it’s had a hard time keeping up with the high demand during the C-19 pandemic.

What’s your favorite flavor of pop…er, I mean soda?

Above: The Fiz Pop brand was was eventually bought by the Petix family, owners of College Club Beverages. That’s brothers Louie and Joe Petix in the photo above.
I also occasionally like to pick up some bottles of Jarritos-brand Lime and Tamarind flavored soda from Mexico in in the imported foods aisle.
Above: The former Fiz Pop building at 625 Shelford Road, now subdivided into multiple apartments.

Argh! What have they done to my favorite grape pie from Naples, N.Y.?

Did you ever have grape pie? It’s an annual tradition at our house. Just about every year (we missed last year), at the peak of the Fall foliage colors, my wife and I make the one-hour trek from Rochester to the village of Naples (pop. 2500) at the southern tip of Canandaigua Lake to buy a few grape pies. Wine-making is a big industry in the Finger Lakes region because of the clement “lake effect” upon the weather and there are many, many vineyards situated on the hills between the long lakes. Folks in Naples gained some notoriety for their picturesque community by taking some of those Concord grapes and making pies with them. Many Rochesterians make the trip to Naples in the Fall for the scenery and the grape pies.

On Saturday, October 17th, my wife and I began our journey southward to Naples. It was a sunny day and the farther south we drove, the more pronounced were the flaming red, yellow, and orange colors on the trees. The high hills of the region were awash with the bright colors. Stunningly beautiful!

Above: Fall foliage and one of the Finger Lakes

As we pulled into Naples, I contemplated which one of the many vendors we would purchase our grape pies from. We had always bought our grape pies at Cindy’s Grape Pies on Academy Street, but a couple of years ago, we saw on the Rochester news that owner, Cindy Trzeciak, was retiring and closing the business. I drove down Academy street for nostalgia sake, but was surprised to see a line of people in front of Cindy’s. Huh? We parked the car and eagerly stood in line for our two grape pies, so happy that the bakery hadn’t closed after all.

After securing our pies, we had a nice, leisurely lunch at the Redwood Restaurant down the road. Nothing fancy at the Redwood, just good, simple food. I chose a jalapeno burger and fries while my wife had sliced roast beef on kimmelweck, a Western New York favorite.

Full and content, we drove back towards Rochester with the beautiful Fall foliage once again gracing our way. We stopped at the Wegman’s grocery in Canandaigua for our favorite toppings to go along with our grape pies; whipped cream for my wife and vanilla ice cream for me.

We finally made it home and immediately served ourselves a generous helping of grape pie. Huh? Uh oh! With the first bite we both noticed that something was terribly wrong. One of the best features of Cindy’s grape pie was the thick and very flaky crust. But, the crust on this pie was very thin and soggy. Smelling a rat, I googled “Cindy’s Pies” and discovered that Cindy T. had sold the business to new owners back in September 2019 (see here). Hmph. The new owners had promised “not to change a thing,” of course, but that obviously was not the case. My wife and I were very disappointed. The second pie was exactly the same way. Next year, my wife and I will have to try the other prime, grape pie-seller in Naples, Monica’s Pies.

We thank and praise God for His beautiful creation and for good food and for good cooks who know how to prepare it.

Postscript #1: In case you’re curious, grape pie tastes somewhat similar to blueberry pie.

Postscript #2: When there’s not a pandemic going on, Naples hosts its annual Grape Festival the last week of September. See here.

Rochester meat hot sauce: Part 2 and comprehensive ranking

A few weeks back, I introduced another one of Rochester’s delectable contributions to haute cuisine; Rochester meat hot sauce. See here. Just about every local burger joint and hot dog stand in town serves up its own version of the meat hot sauce and you can even buy jars of it at the local grocery stores. Last time, we sampled Momma K’s, Coach Tony’s, and Don’s Original brands. Today, we’re going to try three more varieties: Uncle Timmy’s, Zweigle’s, and Steve T’s.

Uncle Timmy’s: This sauce is very similar in taste and consistency to Coach Tony’s; a very hamburger-y taste, but with a stronger cinnamon accent.

Zweigle’s: Rochester’s maker of the USA’s best hot dogs (see here) offers its own version of meat hot sauce, not in a jar, but a combination of spices in a plastic package. The process involves browning up a pound of fresh ground beef, adding water and the package ingredients, and simmering for half an hour. Voilà! A very tasty meat hot sauce.

Steve T’s: Steve T. is the nephew of Nick Tahou (d.1997), the former proprietor of Nick Tahou’s Hots, home of the original Garbage Plate (see here). Steve has his own hots and burgers joint, but isn’t allowed to use the Tahou name, which is trademarked. This sauce is disappointingly bland and has noticeably more grease than any of the other jarred offerings (note the grease sludge at the top of the jar in the above photo). Steve allegedly follows his Uncle’s Nick’s original meat hot sauce recipe, which makes the case for refinement; the first is not always the best.

It was quite an undertaking to eat my way through these six offerings of Rochester meat hot sauce in order to put together this two-part special post, but my readers’ “need to know” comes before my health.

Let’s sum it all up by ranking the six Rochester meat hot sauces that we’ve reviewed, from best to worst:

Zweigle’s: Excellent flavor with a good degree of heat. Has an unfair advantage due to the add-your-own fresh ground hamburger.

Don’s Original: Delicious. Easily the best of the five jarred varieties. Leans towards a chili flavor with its inclusion of tomato puree and a heavy dose of chili powder.

Coach Tony’s: A bit “rough around the edges,” but a decent alternative if you can’t get Zweigle’s or Don’s Original.

Uncle Timmy’s: The strong cinnamon accent drops it just a notch below the very-similar Coach Tony’s.

Momma K’s: Unadventurous. Tastes just like Sloppy Joe sauce. Strictly for small children and adults with delicate palates

Steve T’s: Ach. Very bland and and very greasy. Tastes like liquid lard with a slight hamburger flavor.

Because he claims to use his Uncle Nick Tahou’s recipe, Steve T. boasts that his hot sauce is “Rochester’s Original Meat Sauce.”

All of the Rochester meat hot sauces mentioned above can be conveniently ordered from NY Style Deli via the link below:

Delish! Rochester meat hot sauce: Part 1

Today, we’re going to take a break from serious, theological discussions with some Rochester-style frivolity.

In some previous posts, I wrote about Rochester, New York’s unique contributions to haute cuisine; the delectable Garbage Plate (see here) and the indescribably delicious Zweigle’s brand, pop-open hot dogs (see here). In Rochester, one of the mandatory accoutrements to a “plate,” a burger, or a Zweigle’s hot dog is Rochester meat hot sauce. Nope, we’re not talkin’ chili, folks. We’re talkin’ meat hot sauce.

It’s reported that Rochester meat hot sauce originated with local greasy spoon diner, Nick Tahou Hots, home of the original “Garbage Plate.”

My first experience with Rochester meat hot sauce was back in the late-1960s when our family would pick up burgers to-go at Don & Bob’s (see photo far below) on Monroe Avenue. I witnessed other customers asking for hot sauce on their burger and was curious enough to try it myself. Are you kidding me?!?!?! So delicious! Absolutely NO ketchup or mustard for me on my burger or Zweigle’s white hot. Just meat hot sauce and chopped onions.

Every Rochester burger joint has its own version of the meat hot sauce, some are better than others. The common ingredients are finely-ground, ground beef with cayenne pepper, a little cinnamon, and lots of other spices and seasonings. Some use tomato paste or sauce, others don’t. The hotness meter varies widely from joint to joint, but I like hot, spicy food so that’s never a problem. Savvy Rochesterians avoid local McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s franchises because they don’t have meat hot sauce for their pre-fab burgers.

Some of the Rochester burger joints sell jars of their meat hot sauce over the counter. You can even buy jars of Rochester meat hot sauce at the local supermarkets. Put a few spoonfuls in a cup, heat it up in the microwave for 15 seconds, and voilà, it’s just like being at a local burger joint. Pictured are jars of Momma K’s, Coach Tony’s, and Don’s Original meat hot sauce. A few thoughts on each one:

Momma K’s: No zing to this one. Tastes like “Sloppy Joe” sauce. Strictly for the ladies…er, I mean for more delicate palates.

Coach Tony’s: Has a real meaty, “hamburger-y” taste with LOTS of zing. May be too overpowering for meat hot sauce novices.

Don’s Original: Delicious flavor. My favorite of the three. Takes me back to my introduction to meat hot sauce at Don & Bob’s. More of a tomato-y base than Coach Tony’s and a slightly less-powerful kick.

Also available around town are Steve T’s, Zweigle’s, and Uncle Timmy’s versions. We’ll sample those three in our upcoming part two installment.

Click on the link below to view the various Rochester meat hot sauces available online from NY Style Deli:
https://www.nystyledeli.com/cgi-bin/deli/search.html?fi=products&st=db&se=toppings&op=rm&tf=dl_location&nu=0&ml=50

If you google “Rochester Meat Hot Sauce” you’ll also find many make-at-home recipes.

Postscript: Other local greasy spoon diners owned by Greek families in the area serve their version of meat hot sauce as a breakfast and lunch accoutrement. My perfect breakfast: two eggs, sunny-side-up, rye toast, home fries, and a small bowl of meat hot sauce on the side. I understand that the idea of meat hot sauce over eggs at 8:00 a.m. in the morning can be a little daunting for the uninitiated, but trust me on this one.

Disclaimer: This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only. I take no responsibility for any subsequent, health-related issues. 🥵

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Above: An original “Garbage Plate” served at Nick Tahou Hots is comprised of two hot dogs or burgers over home fries and macaroni salad, all smothered with a generous helping of Nick’s meat hot sauce and chopped onions. For calorie counters, that’s 1700 calories and a whopping 88 grams of fat.

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Above: Don & Bob’s at 2545 Monroe Avenue, circa 2001. Rochester’s one-time premier burger joint opened in 1954 and finally closed in 2001.

The Sal’s Birdland 30 lb. Challenge – One Year Later

Just a little over one year ago, I published a three-part series about my 16-week, 30 lb. weight-loss challenge. See the links to the series at the very bottom. Yup, I successfully lost the 30 lbs. (from 214 lbs. down to 184 lbs.), however, as most dieters know, keeping the weight off is another story.

Well, I was actually pretty good about maintaining my new weight via healthy eating habits and regular exercise UNTIL the COVID-19 pandemic struck in mid-March along with the lockdown that followed. That’s when I slowly started reintroducing my favorite junk foods back into my diet, like crackers (Cheez-It, Chicken in a Biskit), cheeses, and ice cream (rum raisin, pistachio). I became so lax that my go-to lunch became a mini-Garbage Plate; i.e., a Zweigles white hot dog and macaroni salad (including plenty of mayonnaise), all smothered in Rochester meat hot sauce and chopped onions. We’re talkin’ 50 grams of fat just for lunch, folks. Each day. Every day. I rationalized to myself that I was “entitled” to some “comfort foods” during that challenging period with everything that was going on. I’m sure many other people thought the same thing. The good thing is that I never stopped my daily weigh-ins, so I could observe my weight gradually increasing over time. I was 182 lbs. on March 19th at the start of the pandemic, but by June 4th I had crept up to 194 lbs. Argh! I had regained 10 of the 30 lbs. I had lost last year! When I hit 194 lbs. I knew it was time to seriously put on the brakes!

I subsequently eliminated most of the junk food from my diet and cut back on my meal portions and 31-days later, on July 5th, I was officially back down to 184 lbs. I’ll be rewarding myself with a delicious Sal’s Birdland chicken dinner one of these days.

What about you? Did you pack on some pounds during the pandemic lockdown, also? You can lose that weight and more. Check out my fail-safe, Sal’s Birdland Diet via the three links below:

  1. My weight-loss experience – Part 1: After wiping the egg off my face, trying again
  2. My weight-loss experience – Part 2: Walking for exercise: You CAN do it!
  3. My weight-loss experience – Part 3: Making dieting a fun adventure

Endnote: In the grand scheme of things, taking care of one’s physical health is important, BUT spiritual health is of eternal importance! Have you repented of your sin and accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone? No one lives forever in this world. Health will eventually fail and we will all die. But Jesus Christ gives eternal life to those who trust in Him.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

Odds and Ends

I’m a nerdy blogger and part of being a nerdy blogger is scheduling out my posts a couple of weeks ahead of time. I usually have 8-12 drafts in the queue that I’ll occasionally fiddle with and fine-tune before they’re finally published. I use a two-week, revolving “blog plan” sheet to keep it all straight and at the bottom of the sheet, I jot down ideas for new posts. I’ve accumulated a number of frivolous-type ideas that just keep getting pushed aside week after week, so I thought I’d finally publish them as a collection of “odds and ends” in a rare Sunday post:

Hot Sauce

Capture101Buffalo Chicken Wings are THE THING here in Western New York. Many, many years ago, I used to cook up my own wings in a mini-fryer and serve them with the standard Buffalo sauce – Frank’s Red Hot and melted butter – with Blue Cheese dressing on the side as a dip. I eventually created my own sauce concept, mixing Frank’s with Ranch dressing (heartier Ranch dressing actually tastes better than Blue Cheese in this combo) and eliminating the need for dip. I recently discovered something very similar to my old sauce at Tops supermarket; Creamy Ranch Buffalo Wing Sauce made by Moore’s Marinades and Sauces down in Birmingham, Alabama. Good stuff! But chicken wings are definitely not part of a healthy diet plan (just one fried chicken wing has about 100 calories and 7 grams of fat).

Trite sayings

Trite sayings come and go. At one time, EVERYONE was repeating the dismissive, “Whatever,” and the incredulous, “Really?” A decade ago, I sat near a woman at work who regularly used the annoyingly fatalistic phrase, “It is what it is.” She must have said that five or six times a day, every day!!!

New Yorkers – Hurry Up and Wait

We New Yorkers are notorious for being punctual to a fault. Twenty-years ago, our little family went on a 3-day cruise in the Caribbean. On the last day of the cruise, all passengers were told to report to the ship’s auditorium at 9 a.m. sharp for disembarkation instructions. We got there at about 8:45 along with a few other families. The ship’s officer in charge of the disembarkation was standing on stage and knowingly asked if we were all from New York. Here in New York, if a customer gets a little too friendly and chatty with the clerk at the grocery checkout, the rest of the people in line start going crazy. Or what about the older women at the checkout who always insist on meticulously picking out the exact change from their circa-1960, little change purse. It’s 2020! Get a debit card, ladies! Ach. We New Yorkers can be very impatient fools.

Walking in Winter

One of my fitness goals is to walk 10,000 steps every day, although I’m actually averaging only about 8K/day currently. It’s very difficult and dangerous walking in Rochester during the Winter with all of the snow and ice on the roads and the freezing temperatures. I’ve slipped and slid many times, but haven’t fallen. Yet. I need to seriously think about an alternative on bad days, like driving to the mall and doing my walking inside. My sister’s elderly mother-in-law was hit by a USPS truck and seriously injured while exercise-walking in the street during the Winter.

Sports teams

The last time I wrote about one of my sports teams was October 1st, when I was whining about the end of another terrible season by the San Diego Padres. What’s going on with my other favorite teams? After a very encouraging 12-4 record in 2018, the Los Angeles Chargers (football) sank like a rock in 2019, going 5-11. The Bolts have finally turned the page on 38-year-old QB, Philip Rivers. The New York Knicks (basketball) weren’t able to sign any marquee free agents in the offseason. After an abysmal start, Knicks management fired head coach, David Fizdale, and the team is currently limping along with a 17-38 record at the All-Star break, on its way to another atrocious finish. In contrast, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers (hockey) have put together a very decent 17-11-4 season to this point and seem to be on their way to the conference playoffs in early-March as a top-seed. Meanwhile, the Padres are currently going through the motions in the Cactus League in preparation for what figures to be another sub-.500 season. The first spring training game is slated for this coming Saturday, February 22nd, against Seattle.

New Yorkers Redux

A U.S. Census report published in December showed that New York State is once again leading all other states in net population loss. The exodus is especially manifest here in Western New York. The region was once an economic powerhouse, and taxes spiraled through the roof to keep pace with the growth and development. Fifty-years later, the manufacturing jobs are pretty much gone, but the outrageously high taxes remain. Bureaucracy, once created, will fight tooth and claw to ensure its survival. Besides the economic miasma, we get more snow here than any other region in the country. No company would consider moving here. When students graduate from the local colleges, they must leave the region to find work.

The Battle of the Ages: Cheese Nips vs. Cheez-It

I have several post ideas backing up in the queue, so here’s a frivolous post for Sunday, a day that I normally use to take a blogging break.

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Back when I was a kid in the 1960s, there was an iconic battle going on in the snack aisle of the local grocery store with “Cheese Nips” and “Cheez-It” cheese crackers vying head-to-head for the consumer’s dollar. Cheese Nips (introduced in 1955) was produced by cookie and cracker powerhouse, Nabisco, while Cheez-It (introduced in 1921) was made by also-ran, Sunshine Biscuits. I can remember my parents buying both brands, probably determined by which one had provided a coupon in the Sunday paper that week.

Fifty-years later, you can’t even find Cheese Nips at Wegman’s, where we do our grocery shopping here in Rochester, but the shelves are FULL of various flavors of Cheez-It. Cheez-It definitely won the battle in the grocery aisle, hands down.

Recently, I was walking through Tops, the other grocery chain in town, and noticed they still stocked Cheese Nips, although they only had a few boxes compared to their large offering of the various flavors of Cheez-It. For old times sake, I bought a box of Cheese Nips along with a box of regular Cheez-It and brought them home for a comparison taste test.

Cheese Nips boasts on its box that it “has real cheddar cheese” and that “original Cheez-It doesn’t” while Cheez-It lamely boasts that its “made with 100% real cheese.”

Okay, time for the taste test comparison.

[Drumroll]

Hmm. Both of these crackers are pretty good, but I have to say that Cheez-It seemed to have a more robust flavor than Cheese Nips. It definitely seemed to have a cheesier taste. It also seemed to have a crunchier texture, as if it had been baked a tad longer than Cheese Nips. The winner in this contest is Cheez-It, although not by a huge margin. I imagine some would have difficulty distinguishing the difference.

Kudos to Sunshine (bought by Keebler in 1996 and by Kellogg in 2000) for winning the cheese cracker contest by turning Cheez-It into a snack dynamo. However, turnabout is fair play. Over the decades, Nabisco thoroughly trounced Sunshine’s original chocolate wafer and cream cookie, Hydrox (introduced in 1908), with its own version, the vaunted Oreo (introduced in 1912). Sunshine/Kellogg eventually gave up on Hydrox altogether. As a kid, I thought the name, “Hydrox,” was very off-putting/unappealing, sounding more like a science experiment than a snack cookie. A very strange brand-name choice by today’s standards, but I know that the marketers of that era were trying to link science to everything!

Where’s the beef? In Buffalo it’s at Schwabl’s!

About seven weeks ago, I published a post about our road trip to Buffalo to eat at a restaurant featured on Guy Fieri’s cable TV show, “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”  That experience didn’t turn out anywhere near as well as expected (see here). As we disappointedly began our drive home to Rochester, we passed Schwabl’s on Center Road. Ah, Schwabl’s! THAT’S where we should have gone. We have eaten at Schwabl’s maybe ten times over the past fifteen years and its my wife’s FAVORITE restaurant, bar none.

After our disappointing experience, my wife was absolutely jonesing for some Schwabl’s, so a couple of Sundays ago she twisted my arm to make the 60-minute trek after church. It was a cold, rainy, and windy day in Western New York and a treacherous drive to Buffalo along the New York State Thruway, but we made it to Schwabl’s in one piece.

Schwabl’s doesn’t have an extensive menu. It’s known for its roast beef and when people visit Schwabl’s they generally go there for the “beef on weck;” sliced roast beef on a salted kümmelweck roll (photo below), a Buffalo favorite.

As we settled into our chairs and defrosted, my wife and I purveyed our menus. I usually order the beef on weck, but the salt and carbs didn’t appeal to me that day, so I ordered the roast beef plate; sliced roast beef (medium rare for me), and my sides were cole slaw and french fries topped with gravy. Not to be outdone, my wife (never a cheap date) ordered the fried shrimp and scallops plate AND ALSO a full plate of sliced roast beef!

The roast beef at Schwabl’s is indescribably good. It almost melts in your mouth. With my wife’s itch finally scratched, we contentedly drove back to Rochester. If you ever get to Buffalo, Schwabl’s is a MUST.

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Above: Most of Schwabl’s customers order the beef on weck

Thank you, Lord, for enjoyable food and for all of your many blessings! Temporal blessings pale in comparison to salvation in Jesus Christ and spiritual blessings.

Underwhelmed in Buffalo at restaurant featured on Triple-D

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was doing my usual evening channel surfing and came across “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” on the Food Network cable channel. Triple-D is one of the few shows that I’ll actually stop and watch. Gregarious host, Guy Fieri, does a great job.

So, in this particular episode, Guy took a trip to nearby Buffalo, New York and the Blackthorn Restaurant & Pub at 2134 Seneca Street. He focused on the restaurant’s specialties: beef-on-weck (sliced roast beef dunked in au jus on a salted kimmelweck roll, a Buffalo favorite), crab cakes, and beer and cheddar soup. If you watch the show, you know that Guy showers profuse superlatives on every single gastronomical creation he reviews, as if each and every one were the absolute greatest thing he’s ever tasted. The hyperbole was flowing during his visit to Blackthorn’s as well.

Well, there was only one thing for me to do. I announced to my wife that we would be driving to Buffalo the following day. If you know my wife, you know she never passes up a trip to a restaurant. That Sunday, after church, we made the 60-minute drive to Blackthorn’s in Buffalo. I was worried the traffic on the Thruway would be heavy because of football, but the Bills were playing the Giants at New Jersey that particular day.

So, we arrived at the restaurant in the South Buffalo, Irish “working-class” neighborhood around 1 p.m. and were seated at our table. Bills fans were whooping it up upstairs and on the outside patio as they watched the Bills and Giants battle on big screen TVs, but it was relatively quiet where we sat. I scanned the large menu and settled on the “Triple D Platter” (see photo above), which, according to the menu featured “the items selected for the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives…a mini beef-on-weck, mini crab cake, small cup of Irish beer-cheddar soup and tater tots” for $16. The multiple “mini”s scared me, so I bumped up the soup order from a small cup to a bowl. My wife ordered a prime rib sandwich, one of the day’s specials, that came with french fries and gravy and she also ordered a bowl of the soup.

The waitress brought out the soup first. I make a decent beer-cheddar soup myself, so I was looking forward to sampling what Guy had raved over. Ach! I would give it only a “C.” It was way too thick and the large amount of potato cubes were an obstacle. My wife was disgusted and only ate a few spoonfuls.

Next came the mini beef-on-weck and mini crab cake. “Mini” was a very accurate adjective. I was underwhelmed by the small amount of food on the “platter.” Adding insult to injury, the roast beef was overcooked. The crab cake was tasty, but was gone in a few bites. The same with the two jalapeno-cheddar tater tots. I gave the items on the “platter” a “B,” but the portion size a “D.” My wife ate only half of her smallish prime rib sandwich, saying it was also overcooked. After I was done with my micro-platter, I finished off my wife’s bowl of soup because I was still hungry.

After paying the bill, we hopped into our car and started the long trek back to Rochester. As we ambled down Seneca Street, which eventually turns into Center Road, we spotted Schwabl’s Restaurant up ahead. Ah, the regret! Folks, don’t listen to Guy Fieri when it comes to roast beef in Buffalo. If you want an excellent and ample medium-rare beef-on-weck sandwich in Buffalo, you have to go to Schwabl’s.

Postscript 1: While doing my research for this post, I was surprised to learn that the particular episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” that featured the Blackthorn Restaurant & Pub in South Buffalo had originally aired way back on 02/01/2010.

Postscript 2: No, this post does not mean I’m considering a new occupation as a restaurant critic. 🙂 But this experience reminds me that the things of this world, even when they receive a great deal of hype, ultimately disappoint. Yes, we praise God for delicious food, but many people make food their religion.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17

Postscript 3: If you’re trying to lose weight, I definitely recommend that you avoid watching “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”

A revolting meal – un pasto rivoltante

People are funny when it comes to food. Some people are extremely fussy about what they will eat, while others will try anything. Growing up, my five older sisters and I were expected to eat EVERYTHING on our plates. Refusing to eat something was NOT an option. When my Mom served something particularly odious, like steamed cabbage, I had to wash it down with several glasses of milk. Kids today are catered to. I know of several children who dictate to their parents what they will and will not eat (and in one case, even WHAT TIME they will eat).

Thanks to my parents’ insistent training, I will eat most anything now, although I can do without brussel sprouts or eggplant. However, I once had a VERY challenging food experience that I’ll always remember.

It was back in 2004 when my wife and I visited our youngest son who was stationed at Aviano, Italy at the time. We hadn’t seen our son since he enlisted in the Air Force in 2001 and it was our first trip to Europe, so we were excited. While in Italy, we all took a couple of side trips via train to Venice and to Rome. Both cities were amazing to see.

While we were in Rome, we stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch. The menu was entirely in Italian so the three of us felt a little helpless. However, I did spot an entrée on the menu to the effect of “something-linguine-something-calamaro-something.” Hmm, I certainly liked fried calamari. OK, I’ll have me some of that linguine and squid, I confidently told the secretly-amused waiter. As I remember it, my wife and son spotted pizza on the menu and settled for that. Cowards! Twenty-minutes later, the server brought out our plates. What?!?!? Sitting in front of me was a plate full of linguine covered in some kind of DISGUSTING-looking black sauce. It turned out the dish was linguine and squid served in a sauce made with the squid’s own jet-black ink (see photo for example). Yuch! Well, I ordered it, so I ate it. It actually didn’t taste all that bad, but the sight of it and the idea of eating squid ink just revolted me. It was a meal that I will always remember.

What was the most alarming thing you ever ate?

Well, all things work together for good and eating the linguine in black squid ink sauce helped me better appreciate “normal” food. Thank you, Lord, for taking care of us and providing for us!

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:31-33

Postscript I: Writing this post reminded me of another challenging dish, which I learned about and tried when I was researching my Polish heritage. We’ll visit that one another time.

Postscript II: You can blame this post and the queasy feeling in your stomach on brother Slim Jim at The Domain for Truth who somehow motivated me into revisiting this black memory.