By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — As the calendar changed from April to May, Alan Hastings knew it was time. The Silo restaurant on North Water Street was officially opening for business.
For more than 20 years, the short-order restaurant by the Niagara River, with its scenic views and pleasuring aromas, has been feeding people during the summer months. It’s a time of year Hastings has come to love as he quests to be the absolute best restaurant in the world.
“Something we’re really committed to is being the best,” he said. “I want to be the best short order restaurant in the world. I guess that means we can’t be real fast because we’re cooking everything to order, but you can’t cook food like McDonald’s and expect to be the best.”
Hastings is bringing only a small change to the menu which has netted him an appearance on The Food Network’s Man Vs. Food. And, for a restaurant on the river, the biggest difference has to do with seafood.
Hastings said he’s been unhappy with the way the restaurant, which occupies a cramped 750 square feet to house one of the busiest kitchens in the entire village, has handled fish in the past. So he’s trying to change his fish fries.
He’s also serving, at least temporarily, a grilled Mahi Mahi which he said is to die for. Cooked over a charcoal broiler, the sandwich uses a creole marinade, coupled with a pineapple flavoring, to add to the taste.
And for the unadventurous, there’s always the standard Haystack, the sandwich which got him the television gig. He said it’s a focus on using the absolute best ingredients, from non-steroid beef to high-quality mozzarella cheese, which gives it is sustainability as a popular choice.
Then there’s the hashbrowns The Silo sprinkles on top.
“And the roll,” he added.
Does Hastings love the restaurant life? Absolutely. He said serving food in Western New York is a way of showcasing the area’s culture. But everything at The Silo, from the food to the benches and tables the customers eat at, to the countertops which give the building its architectural appeal, is something he takes great pride in as a person, but also an environmentalist.
“I love it,” he said, “I love food, I love this place. To me it’s an expression of Western New York culture and how I can be a part of it. The tables are Amish wood. They’re not the easiest to clean or maintain, but they’re real wood. The food we’ve got is top notch. We’re doing it right.”
But to Hastings, also important is the history of his location. The restaurant got its name because it once served as a coal silo for powering passenger ships up and down the Niagara River. He said coal was stored in the building and ships bringing people from Toronto to Niagara Falls would stop and restock at Lewiston’s edge.
It also served as a train hub, as trains from around the region converged to receive new coal and drop off passengers and farm produce from the outskirts.
It’s a story he’s trying to get out there more and more.
“This was a major train hub,” he said. “People would get here, go on a train and go see the Falls. They’d come by the boatload, by the hundreds.”
Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.