By Danielle Haynes danielle.haynes@ tonawanda-news.com
Niagara Gazette — It’s the weekend your tastebuds have been looking forward to all year. Your waistline, maybe not so much.
The Taste of Buffalo is set to kick off its 30th year Saturday and July 14 on Delaware Avenue and Niagara Square in Buffalo.
Fifty restaurants, seven wineries and three food trucks will be gathered all in one spot to offer Western New Yorkers a sample of three or four items from their regular menus — with no one food item costing more than $4, said Taste of Buffalo 2013 Chairman Joe Lane.
It’s a special year for the country’s largest two-day food festival as it celebrates three decades of existence. And that means extra treats for the thousands of attendants.
“We’re asking everyone to come on down and party with us and stop at our birthday cake (at Niagara Square) where you can take your picture popping out of the cake,” Lane said, adding that starting at 1 p.m. each day of the taste, Taste-goers can try complementary cake and cupcakes from Tops bakery.
At 3 p.m. Sunday, guests are asked to join in a grand finale birthday celebration at Niagara Square where there will be cupcakes, birthday cake-flavored Oreos, Scharffen Berger chocolates and Charlap’s custom Taste of Buffalo-flavored ice cream available for sampling.
”I’m going to be looking for milk,” Lane said with a laugh.
The celebration will be highlighted by a birthday sing-along led by the band Roar 84.
There are 11 new restaurants at this year’s Taste of Buffalo, including Grand Island’s Riverstone Grill.
The restaurant was reopened under its previous name by its former chef and waitress, Chaz and Kristina Bulera in November.
The couple said they jumped at the chance to participate in their first Taste as the owners of the eatery.
“We just basically want to get out past Grand Island, keep marketing our restaurant and gain new customers,” Kristina said. “We’re just excited to part of the whole experience.”
The Buleras will offer samples of their ahi tuna nachos, bleu heron burger and house-smoked bacon served with Jim Beam maple butter.
Kristina said Chaz, who helped develop the restaurant’s menu back when he was chef, prides himself on using unique ingredients and innovative flavor combinations.
The bleu heron burger, for instance, is accented by housemade bacon jam, and the ahi tuna nachos include fried wonton and seaweed salad.
What sets the restaurant apart, Kristina said, is that they smoke all their meat themselves, and Chaz makes everything from scratch.
“Anything Chaz makes isn’t going to be average,” she said.
Also representing Niagara County at the two-day event will be Spring Lake Winery, one of seven wineries at this year’s Taste.
Rico Varallo, co-owner and tasting manager of the winery, which is located in Lockport, said they’re excited to offer a food item for the first time: wine ice cream.
In addition to three estate rieslings — a dry, a semi-dry and a semi-sweet — and a blush wine, they will have three varieties of wine ice cream.
The flavors include red raspberry chardonnay, peach zinfindel and chocolate cabernet. The ice creams are sold by the pint at the winery, but samples will be on hand next week for those who want to cool down a little with their alcohol.
This will be the winery’s fifth visit to the Taste of Buffalo and Varallo said they’re always eager to return. They go through some 500 bottles of wine over the course of the weekend.
“It’s a great time, great food, great wine and great people,” he said.
At least one vendor will be celebrating just about the same three decades of involvement with the Taste of Buffalo, aside from a couple years when they bowed out: Louie’s Hot Dogs.
Louie’s owner Angelo Turco said it’s been a trying year for the restaurant chain, which suffered the loss of its founder, his father, Louie, and the loss of their Elmwood Avenue location in Buffalo due to fire.
But there’s no way he’d miss his favorite food festival, Turco said.
“Anybody’s who’s anybody is in the Taste of Buffalo,” he said.
“It’s a great event because it really showcases Buffalo as a city that loves its food and all different types of food,” he added. “With a city with such a small population, it’s amazing the people that go to the festivals, especially the Taste of Buffalo.”
Louie’s is offering the same menu it’s stuck with most of its years in the Taste: regular hot dogs, jumbo hot dogs and sweet potato fries.
“We go pretty standard because people know who we are,” Turco said.
And being involved in the Taste of Buffalo isn’t all fun and games, Turco said, it can be hard work.
He goes through a truck-full of hot dogs and sweet potatoes on the first day alone, and always has to place a second order for supplies on Day Two.
“We’ve been doing it so long we keep all (our supplies) stored in the same place,” Turco said. “We get better every year.”
For those worried about just how their waistline will fare with the abundance of food options at the Taste, Lane wants to remind attendants that each restaurant is required to offer a healthy option. The Taste of Buffalo is the only food festival in the country that has such a requirement in place.
“We’re committed to keeping this as an ongoing tradition and helping people to realize that eating good can taste good,” he said.
The menu for each restaurant will indicate which of their food options is healthy.
For a full list of all the restaurants, wineries and food truck participating in the 2013 Taste of Buffalo and their menu offerings, visit www.tasteofbuffalo.com.
Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.
IF YOU GO • WHAT: Taste of Buffalo • WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 14 • WHERE: Delaware Avenue and Niagara Square in Buffalo • COST: Free to attend, tickets are 50 cents. No food item costs more than eight tickets. • MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.tasteofbuffalo.com.