to Buffalo: Food, Architecture, and Blue Birds

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North America » United States » New York » Buffalo
July 18th 2021
Published: July 25th 2021
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Depending on what you want to do in Buffalo, it can take anywhere from a day to a week to see everything. I found some great architectural sights, amazing food, and opportunities to relax and watch the world go by during my 3 days in town. My main purpose this time was to see my beloved Toronto Blue Jays play an entire weekend series at their home away from home, Sahlen Field. But as a lover of travel and cool sites, I didn’t let that take up all my time. Here’s my run-down of the best (and not so best) things I enjoyed in the area.

Sights, Vertical and Horizontal

As dedicated readers of my blog will know, I’m a sucker for Art Deco architecture. If you love it as much as I do, then you need to visit Buffalo. Their City Hall is absolutely stunning. I was not prepared in the slightest, the first time I laid eyes on it back in 2016. I was driving back from Toronto, and when I got to Buffalo, I turned the corner and there, in the middle of all this urban sprawl, was a monument to behold. It dwarfs everything. Despite its age (built in 1930), the Buffalo City Hall is still the tallest building in the area. I’m surprised I didn’t cause a wreck with all my gawking back then. I couldn’t find a place to park, so I vowed that the next time I was in town, I’d make a point of visiting this cathedral to my favorite architectural style.

And so here we are, in July 2021, and I paid my respects in person. This time, I walked from the baseball field over to the downtown area, which was less than 15 minutes. I saw a couple of fellows taking pictures of a church along the way, so I stopped and enjoyed their view. One of them, seeing my Blue Jays shirt, asked if I was going to the game later. I said yes, and he said that they were going, as well. Connections. Then I kept walking. Past another governmental building from the Victorian period, and then around another block.

The height of Buffalo City Hall makes it hard to miss, even from several blocks away. You can see the top of it over all the other buildings, so it makes for a good orientation point, if you ever get lost. Once I turned the corner, my attention was rapt. This being a Sunday morning, I was able to walk into the middle of the street, from two blocks away, and take pictures of the entire building. No traffic was around, and I can only remember seeing three pedestrians until I got to the back side of the building and stumbled across a church congregation exiting from their services.

From a photography perspective, this building is difficult to capture in all its glory. Too close, and you miss the sheer scope of the building. Too far, and you can’t see anything except the outlines. After trying to capture the whole thing (thanks to my phone camera’s wide-angle lens), I giddily crossed the streets to get a (literal) feel for the details.

I don’t know why, but I always feel compelled to touch these old buildings. It’s like they can tell a story that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to know. What secrets do you hold, old building? What have you seen in your life? They never answer back, but it’s still a calming experience for me.

The main entryway to Buffalo City Hall is spectacular. The columns, the friezes above the doorways, even the ceiling of the portico, they all feel like I’ve stepped back in time. At each corner of the building, you can find statues of famous statesmen from the area, such as Grover Cleveland and Millard Fillmore (presidents of the USA). Each window has busts of non-existent entities, in Art Deco style, with homages to various agricultural products of the area. The whole building just looks like something you’d see in Metropolis of the Superman comics from the early days. It’s a fun nostalgic trip.

I went to the other side of the building, where I saw the church letting out. My intention was to stay on my side of the street, so as not to get in the way of the congregants. But then I saw a glorious fire station that screamed “Art Deco”. I’d have to cross the street to get to it, but thankfully, it was on the opposite side of this perpendicular street from the church (which was from the nineteenth century). So I didn’t have to bother any church people, and I got to see this gem up close. As with the City Hall, I felt the need to touch this fire station, and then it’s beautiful windows, which were at face level. I leaned up against the building before I left; my Art Deco fix had been satiated.

There are probably other buildings of interest in Buffalo, but I simply ran out of time. The weather had a good deal to say about that—I learned that the city has generally unpredictable precipitation, due to its location at the intersection of a couple of Great Lakes, as well as Niagara Falls nearby. All that water makes the temperatures milder in winter, barely, but it means short storms are not uncommon. While I was in town, not only rain but also tornadoes were seen, and that basically short-circuited my plans for spending all day Saturday walking around and seeing what Buffalo had to offer.

I did, however, manage to get to the Canalside area, which I’ve seen touted by the locals. I think many people associate Buffalo with industrial decay, since its history was tied to industries that no longer carry a large weight in the world. But they’ve been revitalizing the waterfront areas, and I’d honestly be hard-pressed to say anything about industrial decay in that area. I wasn’t sure if I could devote any time to it, but when I parked for the baseball game, I saw a sign that pointed the way to the Canalside and thought, why not? It was less than three blocks away, and it was charming. Perhaps if it had been later in the day, more people would’ve been there, and more of the shops would’ve been open. But it looked clean. And the views of the canal were serene. Walking northward, I felt like I had stumbled into a military museum, though. Several big ships, including at least two from WWII, were parked there along the bank, with times and rates posted for those wanting to inspect the interiors of each one. If that’s not your thing, they also have loads of walking paths in green spaces along the length of the Canalside area.

Food, Local and International

Doubtless you’ve heard of BUFFALO wings? If not, you’re living under a rock. It’s in all their publicities—come try the original, where they were invented! And then there’s the competing franchises, either claiming to having created the Buffalo wing, or they perfected it, or they have a specific recipe that locals prefer, etc. If you come to Buffalo, you have your choice of shops and styles. As for me, well… (Spoiler Alert: I didn’t try any Buffalo wings while I was in Buffalo.)

If that’s a dealbreaker for you, or if you can no longer trust my traveler bona fides or my culinary opinions, that’s fair. I don’t care. I just can’t stand to eat meat on the bone, and you’re not going to change my mind. I’ve never understood this national preoccupation with wings—it’s not a lot of meat, frankly, and people act like paying 50¢ per wing is a great deal. Maybe if you’re eating the bone, too, that’s a steal. Otherwise, they’re stealing your money. Sorry, I have strong feelings about this after years of ostracism.

So what DID I eat during my time in Buffalo, you may be left asking, if you care at all. It’s pretty easy. I found out that Buffalo is apparently a mecca of sorts for chicken fingers, and I do have a fondness for those. I even found out that a local chain, Jim’s Steakout, is a Buffalo icon, and it makes a renowned sandwich that includes angus steak and chicken fingers. It’s called the Stinger, and it’s won awards. Look it up. Since I had no intention of having wings in any form, I knew this would have to be my Buffalo thing. So I went to the closest Jim’s Steakout I could find, on that awful rainy Saturday that sank my tourist plans, and I ordered one. My advice: make sure you get the bleu cheese added to the sandwich. The steak-and-chicken finger combo was decent, but when that bleu cheese hit my taste buds, I think I audibly moaned at my table. Luckily I was the only one in the restaurant, otherwise I could’ve expected another patron to tell the server, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

Another tastebud extravaganza was in Clarence, near my hotel about 9 miles from downtown Buffalo. It’s called Morluski’s, and it’s a combined Polish and Italian place. It was my first culinary experience in the area, and it filled me up so much. They do recommend reservations (and even as a solo traveler, it turned out I almost didn’t get sat due to the heavy turnout of customers). I only got a short glimpse of the interior of the restaurant, which is housed inside an old church (with vaulted ceiling and wooden floors and everything), but it looks like a fantastic ambience. I sat on the patio outside, since it wasn’t so hot. The food was amazing, including the potato pancakes for appetizers and the spaghetti with meatballs for the entrée. Even their bread was perfect. The service, on the other hand, was lackluster. The server apologized profusely every time she came back, saying she didn’t mean to forget about me, but if she hadn’t forgotten about me, maybe she wouldn’t have needed to apologize? Anyway, I had intended to order dessert and leave a big tip, but since the single guy out on the patio didn’t warrant as much attention, I passed on both of those things.

My last culinary experience to speak of was a Canadian favorite: Tim Horton’s. I really wouldn’t have made such a point of visiting it, but on that awful rainy day, I felt the need to get something warm to drink and eat, and since the baseball game was rained out, it felt like the most Canadian thing to do instead. I had gone to the big mall in Buffalo (which, seriously, I didn’t think malls were still a big thing, but there I was) to wait out the rain before heading to the stadium. When it came time to head to the game, I got about halfway there before the notifications came through that the game had been postponed. Good thing, since I was getting all these notifications about flash flooding and tornadoes in Buffalo. I decided to call it a day and stay safe back at the hotel. And to soothe the sadness about my travel plans falling through, I stopped by Tim Horton’s and got a hot cocoa with a grilled cheese to appease my mood. It did the job.

Baseball, which also includes Sights and Food

And finally, we come to the main reason for my trip: seeing the Toronto Blue Jays at their “home” ballpark during their Covid exile from Canada. As an aside, we did find out Friday during the game that the Canadian government had approved their move back to Toronto, which will take place on the 30th of July, 670 days since their last game there.

One of my sub-goals for this season is to visit all of the Blue Jays’ “home” stadiums. Dad and I went to Dunedin (the official “home” stadium for the Jays during April and May of this year) in May, and when I heard that the team was close to a deal that could allow them back into Canada by the end of this month, I knew I needed to make it to Sahlen Field in Buffalo before they left. They played all their home games here in the limited season of 2020, as well. It turned out to be their final weekend in Buffalo, and (spoiler alert) they won all three games, so I’d say I picked the best possible time to come. On top of all that, we got a refund for the Saturday game that was rained out, and they played the game as part two of a classic doubleheader (which means you only pay for one ticket but get to watch two games back-to-back) on Sunday. It was a phenomenal experience overall.

Sahlen Field is the largest ballpark in the minor leagues (capacity around 16,000), but it’s still only about half as large as the smallest major league ballpark. Even so, it felt more like a baseball experience than my previous stadium in Tampa. They probably had the same number of fans as we saw in Tampa, but the fewer seats made it feel fuller here. There’s also no outfield seating, due to the limitations of the city block where the stadium is located.

Despite its smaller size, though, Sahlen Field has most of the things you’ll want in a larger ballpark: lots of food options, opportunities to purchase team merch, and plenty of local character. On the food side of things, it should be noted that Sahlen Field is named after Sahlen’s hot dogs, so my first purchase on Sunday was indeed a hot dog. Frankly (lol), it was fine; nothing spectacular, but not bad. They also have pizza rolls, a local Buffalo creation and favorite. It’s basically an egg roll with just pepperoni and mozzarella rolled up inside. You get three rolls per order, and it comes with a side of marinara. If you’re not looking for all the greasiness of pizza, and in handheld bites, I’d recommend the pizza roll. But my hands-down favorite of the ballpark was the actual pizza from La Nova. It’s also a local chain, but Buffalo-style pizza is somewhere between New York-style (thin) and Chicago-style (lots of sauce). It was my gameday meal for Friday night, and when it came time to get refreshed for the second game of the double header on Sunday, I opted for two more slices of this culinary masterpiece. I had one during the game, and one on my car ride afterwards. I don’t regret this decision.

For those wondering, the local beer is called Labatt, and it’s $10 per can. I don’t really like beer, and I certainly don’t like it enough to pay that much for it. But the locals couldn’t get enough. I even met the Buffalo Conehead on Sunday; he was selling all kinds of suds, featuring Labatt. He was kind enough to get a selfie with me, too.

The merch game at Sahlen Field left something to be desired. It’s clear that it’s not the main home stadium for a major league team, with the small selection and cramped quarters. I did get a little pin and a new cap on Friday night, and on Sunday, I broke down and bought a powder blue shirt. That’s the newest color adopted by the team.

Speaking of team colors, the Blue Jays are typically seen in white and royal blue. Before this weekend, I had seen them in the all whites, as well as with royal blue tops, and all grays. I was hoping that they would grace my presence with their all powder blues, but I had to wait until Sunday for that. Friday night was the royal blue tops, which is fine; my own jersey is royal blue, and it’s a good color (also good on me). Before the first game on Sunday, I bought that powder blue shirt, so I was very happy to see them start warming up in that color for the first game. The second game of the day was in all whites, which still looks pretty good.

Gates to Sahlen Field open two whole hours before the start of the game, and normally I would think that’s excessive, especially for a minor league park. But I was surprised at how quickly the time passed. Because it’s so much smaller than other parks, it has a much more intimate feeling. You can even see the interstate highway and all the road signs basically just outside the walls of left field. And then behind the stands on the first base side, two buildings tower above the stadium. It’s a nice reminder that you’re in the middle of a large urban area, even if the views from the stands make you feel otherwise. Lastly, the employees of the stadium were super helpful and attentive. I talked to my usher the first night when I got there, and he was kind enough to take my picture with my now famous “first game” sign. He even told me that I pronounced “Toronto” “like a native Torontonian.” Flatter me more, good sir. A mom with her two young sons also saw my sign on the way up to their seats about three rows behind me. She told me it was also the kids’ first games there, too, since their own tee ball schedules had prevented them from coming to any games yet. That made me simultaneously happy and sad for them.

I won’t bore my readers with game details. I’ve already told you that the Jays won all three of the games against the Texas Rangers this weekend. Friday night was up in the air, concerning weather delays; but they started on time and never took a break, in spite of the tiny rain droplets that began falling in the third inning. It lasted the whole game, and I was grateful for having a seat underneath an awning. I was dry the whole time. The Jays won that game 10-2 in their first game back from the All-Star break (where first baseman Vladdy Guerrero, Jr., had won the MVP of the game). Vladdy hit two homers during this game, and of course I joined in the chants of “MVP, MVP!” after the second of those.

Since the Saturday game was rained out, they made it part of a double header on Sunday. There was no sign of rain at all, though the overcast skies belied the chance of getting sunburnt (the tops of my knees look like someone else’s skin now). But I digress. In those powder blues, the Jays shut out the Rangers 5-0 in 7 innings (which is the typical length when you’re playing a double header). One of the ushers kept telling us that the game was sold out (it wasn’t, but it was close to it) and that if we didn’t have tickets in the seat where we were sitting, we’d have to move when the ticket-holders arrived. I got lucky. The people in front of me did get bumped, but even though I certainly didn’t pay $90 for the seat I was sitting in ($79 plus damn fees), no one ever asked me to move. My actual seat was in the far wings of left field, which I bought for $29. And I got two games out of that. Another choice I don’t regret.

We had 45 minutes in between games, and many people just left. I guess they figured they only paid for one game, so no commitment to staying for a second. True enough. But I was gonna get to watch my team, 850 miles away from my home, for free. And I didn't even have to get up from my seat. Not gonna pass that up. Plus, I timed it, and as long as I left around 5:30, I would be able to get to my hotel just south of Pittsburgh for the night. They must’ve known, because the final out of the second shutout of the day was recorded at 5:31 PM. This time, it was an even bigger domination, with the Jays winning 10-0. All of that scoring was in the first two innings, thanked immensely by a grand slam from Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. Vladdy hit yet another homer (his 31st for the year). My favorite headline of the day was, “Blue Jays invite Rangers to batting practice,” and since they beat the Rangers 15-0 over two games this afternoon, that fits.

Bonus: Pittsburgh drive-by

It’s not Buffalo, but on my way to my hotel for the night after the double header, I stopped by Pittsburgh to see the Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. It’s another one of those massive Art Deco monuments/functional buildings that dwarfs everything around it. I’d been wanting to see this thing for so long, and even though it was already dark, I was still able to fanboy around the building and capture some fun photos. Enjoy!

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