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Q&A: Becoming a Buffalo foodie

NYC-based writer Arthur Bovino spent months eating (and drinking) his way around Buffalo as research for his upcoming books. The first — Buffalo Everything: A Guide to Eating in Nickel City — is out this June.

What surprised you the most about the food scene here?

How much I became obsessed with it! I was expecting great wings, weck and pizza, sure, but I didn’t expect to be drawn into a months-long quest to discover the origins of Buffalo chicken pizza, become fascinated by the origins of the chicken finger sub, obsess over Toutant’s homemade bologna, want to hit all the standard-bearers of new-school Buffalo cuisine or integrate Buffalo’s Tom & Jerry tradition into my family’s own holiday celebrations.

I was surprised — and heartened — by the lack of national chains I came across in Buffalo proper and the amount of new development and redevelopment going on.

Buffalo’s most underrated food?

Beef on weck could be America’s most underrated roast beef sandwich. You hear about Chicago and L.A. a lot; Buffalo should get more love on this front.

Buffalo-style pizza may be the most unappreciated and unreported regional style pizza in the country, which is nuts considering it’s in such a pizza-proud state.

You’re convincing someone to visit Buffalo. What do you say?

It depends on who I’m talking with. If they’re coming from New York City? It’s just an hour flight and the food and the people are awesome. To food obsessives? If you think you’re a pizza fiend or a wing lover and you haven’t visited, there’s a hole in your game. To someone in general who has never considered visiting? Check your preconceived notions with lost luggage and get on a plane: Buffalo’s a friendly, delicious city with lots of fun stuff to do and see. I’ve eaten at more than 100 of its restaurants and I still have a to-do list I can’t wait to return to take another crack at.

What Buffalo dish do you still dream about?

Just one? The sticky pudding at Black Sheep...the bologna sandwich at Toutant...the sesame crust pizza at La Nova...the steak sandwich at The Pink...steak in the grass at Dandelions...cup-and-char so good you have to eat it in the parking lots at Bocce, Deniro’s and Leonardi’s (among others)...Schwabl’s Tom & Jerry...Charlie the Butcher’s beef on weck...the Red Sox wings at Wiechec’s...I could go on. I did. I wrote a book! Two, in fact.

What inspired you to write this book? And what was your favorite part in putting it together?

I love wings. The idea of talking to some of Buffalo’s most beloved wingmakers, of seeing if I could write anything new about them, of collecting the nuances of the city’s wing culture (I’d argue that many Buffalonians order their wings with the specificity that some Americans order steak) all inspired me to write the book. That and I’d been dying to eat through the city’s pizza scene for years too.

Eating was certainly one of my favorite parts of putting the book together...obviously. I ate at more than 120 restaurants over about a month. But meeting and talking with the city’s writers, chefs, bartenders and restaurateurs was tremendously fun.

Tell us about your books…

The first book will focus on the restaurants and their stories. The second book (early 2019) will focus on recipes. You’ll find recipes for Buffalo’s signature dishes (wings, weck, pizza, Tom & Jerry’s, spaghetti Parm, stuffed peppers, etc.), but also recipes for “Buffalo-ized” comfort dishes, things that we already obsess over as Americans taken to another level by adding Buffalo “flavor.” Buffalo chicken Parm pizza, Buffalo chicken pot pie, Buffalo-ized Primanti sandwich, Buffalo fried rice...

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