Beef on weck: tears of joy


I'm on my way home from three days in the vicinity of Buffalo, New York. This is my third trip there in as many months.

When I travel, I make a point to learn about local favorites. I could easily eat all my meals at national chains, but I don't make interesting discoveries that way. On my first trip to Savannah, back in 1997, I was looking for a place to eat Sunday lunch. The legendary Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House doesn't serve on Sundays, but there was an ad in the local weekly for a new little place called The Lady and Sons, advertising a Southern buffet. I went, had a wonderful meal, and bought my wife a copy of the restaurant's self-published, spiral-bound cookbook. I met the owner, Paula Deen, who autographed the cookbook for my wife: "Shake those pots and pans!" Today, Paula Deen has her own weekly show on the Food Network and the restaurant has moved to a new location four times the size of the old one. And I got to eat there before it became famous.

On my first trip to the Buffalo area, we had lunch brought in. Hot, thin-sliced, roast beef au jus; big rolls, sort of like kaiser rolls, but with caraway seeds and coarse salt baked into the top; and as a condiment, a dish of horseradish. Not "horsey sauce", but the real deal. As world-famous as Buffalo wings are, I am told that beef on weck is the unofficial sandwich of western New York. (Weck is short for kimmelweck or kummelweck roll.) Every tavern serves it -- I had a particularly good one at the Bar Bill Tavern in East Aurora -- and most local restaurants too.

There's something about the combination of the caraway seeds, salt, and horseradish. And there's nothing like a big bite of horseradish to clear the sinuses. I have to admit that part of the appeal of the sandwich in cold and flu season is its medicinal qualities.

This afternoon I had a late lunch at Danny's Buffalo Cuisine near the airport and ordered a beef on 'weck. I got way too much horseradish in the first bite. I felt the heat spread through my sinuses. My eyes began to water, my ears began to burn, my face flushed, and my nose started to run. The waitress was over in an instant to ask, "Is everything OK?" I thought I detected in her voice a note of genuine concern for my well-being. You could easily mistake my symptoms for the signs of an imminent emotional collapse. I choked out the words, "Everything's fine, thanks." And it was.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 8, 2004 1:02 AM.

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