It's one of the most Portland things we've seen outside of Portland, and it's just one example of how New York State's second city is evolving
On September 16th, for the ninth year running, a group of cyclists will meet on the west side of Buffalo, New York, strap on their helmets, and start riding—thirty-five miles in all, winding past an array of urban agriculture projects, abandoned buildings, open fields, scores of handsome old homes, and, eventually, open countryside. The Tour de Farms, as it's known, is not only a chance to observe firsthand the massively-downsized Western New York city's slow, steady resurgence, it also benefits, via the collection of a modest registration fee, local organizations working to make Buffalo more sustainable.
If that doesn't sound like the Buffalo you might have heard of—years of steady decline and a certain NFL team have more been its modern claims to fame—go ahead and get used to it. The event is far from a one-off, but rather an expression of the type of city Buffalo is quickly becoming—a magnet for young (and young at heart), forward-looking people in search of a different pace of life than a certain city on the other side of the state is known for.
Far closer to Canada’s New York (Toronto’s barely two hours away) than actual New York City, Buffalo has always gone its own way, and has always, even in its lowest moments, had plenty to celebrate—the architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, for example), a passion for gardening (the summertime organized garden walks are considered some of the best in the country), a simple but easy-to-love food tradition (roast beef sandwiches, frozen custard, those world-famous wings, crunchy sponge candy), a vibrant cultural life dating back to its heyday, not to mention lots of good-natured locals who like a beer or three.
Lately, however, visitors are seeing a different, newer side of Buffalo—its almost as if this old, Rust Belt city has been busily channeling the Pacific Northwest, more than any of its Eastern neighbors. A bike cooperative, those aforementioned farms, a project returning vacant land on the city’s East Side to its natural state, bakeries, cafes and restaurants that are working hard to support regional agriculture, too many microbreweries to count and a budding café culture. (You have to sit somewhere on all of those cold mornings, after all.)
Sound like a ton of fun? If you’re headed up that way, you’re sure to end up hungry, at some point—here are just a few great stops for food and drink in one of the country’s most overlooked cities.
It starts with toast and jam. Five Points Bakery (44 Brayton St., 716-884-8888), over on the city’s West Side, has been around for a few years now, its crusty, 100% whole grain loaves are a staple in plenty of local households. But more than just a grab-and-run spot, the bakery also serves up a simple menu of toasts (go classic, with the whole wheat and strawberry jam), complimented by a range of pastries, rich with Jersey butter and other ingredients—all local, of course.
Moving right along to coffee. There has been a recent mini-explosion on the café front, here in Buffalo—the civilized Tipico (128 Fargo Ave., 716-331-3954), tucked into a relaxed residential area not far from the Peace Bridge into Canada, has one of the loveliest spaces of all of them, with a giant wall of windows that open up when the weather’s good and a massive, tiled bench along the interior wall that’s heated, for when it’s not. Locally roasted Plume Coffee makes an appearance here.
Do lunch, al fresco. Grab a glimpse of one of the city’s best new infrastructure upgrades by heading down to where Main Street hits the Buffalo River—the sprawling Canalside park project (Main St. at the Buffalo River, 716-436-7100) pulls Buffalo’s downtown back toward the river where it belongs, years after a freeway construction project drove the two apart. Here, The Dish, a modest little shack made from recycled wood retrieved from a local barn, serves up Buffalo favorites like Wardynski hot dogs, locally-made pierogies stuffed with Buffalo-style chicken and that Western New York classic, the pizza log. (It’s like a pizza puff, but shaped sort of like an egg roll.) You can probably eat more adventurously elsewhere, but the setting—on a good day—is hard to top.
Try the beer. Buffalo was always one for a cold beer, but these days, the stakes have been raised considerably, with too many interesting new breweries to try in one visit now operating either in the city or nearby. So go with the one that everyone likes to hang out with, Resurgence (1250 Niagara St., 716-381-9868). It’s got a big tasting room, a giant patio where you can play cornhole, occasional live music and great atmosphere.
Farm dinners, daily. Two of the best chefs in town—Steve and Ellen Gedra—just happen to be married, and their restaurant, The Black Sheep (367 Connecticut St., 716-884-1100), is currently a local favorite for its tightly-curated menu of local farm-centric, New American eats. Whether you go for the giant smoked pork chop or an expertly done, reasonably-priced burger, save room for the desserts—one half of this power couple (Ellen) also happens to be one of the city’s top pastry chefs.