Hitting the Road: Charlie the Butcher’s Kitchen in Buffalo, New York
For those familiar with upstate New York and its illustrious and bountiful culinary traditions, the following probably will seem cliché and repetitive for you. I apologize in advance if this is the case, but for those outside the sphere of Sabres hockey, Lake Effect snow, and the insanely annoying toll booths on “the 90,” the fact that the ubiquitous chicken wing fails to capture the complexity of the Buffalo food scene may never have occurred to you. Myself the son of two expatriate Buffalonians, I’ve long known about the lore of Buffalo’s “other” specialty food item, the delicious yet ever elusive “Beef on Weck” Sandwich.
While I’ve enjoyed many other regional beef sandwiches during my existence – notably Baltimore’s “pit” style beef – Buffalo’s Beef on Weck remains my favorite. So what is it, you ask, and what makes it so special? If you’re unfamiliar with the sandwich and its design, I highly suggest heading over to BuffaloChow.com, where author Steve Rosel muses on its unique and tantalizing qualities.
Beef on Weck starts with slices of freshly cooked beef cut from a lightly marinaded roast that has been cooked to some shade of perfection before sitting on a cutting block. The slices are doubled over each other in layers, sometimes drenched or lightly coated in natural juices, and placed on a special type of bun that doesn’t seem to be available outside of Buffalo. Made with piquant kummelweck seeds and chunks of kosher salt, the Kummelweck bun is otherwise like white bread with a thin, perfectly glazed top crust, and perfectly offsets the mild flavor of the beef inside.
Like Baltimore’s Pit-Beef, Beef on Weck is often accompanied by pure horseradish, or, in some cases, mustard (Buffalo’s Weber mustard is a local favorite). And while many Western New York establishments provide their own rendition of the regional specialty, local denizens swear by none other than Charlie the Butcher’s Kitchen in Williamsville, New York.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that before my recent trip to the Buffalo area I had never sampled the signature sandwich at the famous restaurant, which features a somewhat run-down interior décor that looks straight out of a 1950s movie. In fact, before last week, my exposure to Beef on Weck had been mostly limited to family get-togethers and ‘Buffalo Parties’ (typical gathering held across the country where former Buffalonians watch the Bills lose and talk about how much we miss Tim Russert.) And while I’ve enjoyed many Beef of Weck sandwiches at Anderson’s (a local Buffalo custard and burger chain) this was my first ‘real’ experience with a traditional ‘heavy-hitter’ maker of the famous sandwich.
Like most great food establishments in this country, Charlie and the Butcher’s Kitchen is a somewhat run-down looking place on the corner of an intersection parked not a mile from an airport. All jokes about its exterior and interior décor aside, the food here is really top notch. Not only is the roast beef for the sandwiches cut “butcher style” right in front of you, but the kitchen offers up a tremendous variety of sausages, sandwiches, and plates that encompass the many ethnicities that have shaped Buffalo food and culture over the years.
Yet for as much as my sister enjoyed her Roast Turkey Sandwich and Loganberry ‘Pop’ (aka a regional Buffalo soda that tastes like fruit punch), I didn’t come here to sample just any menu item. No, I came for the Roast Beef on Weck, and that’s exactly what I ordered. It’s almost impossible to rate something as a “10” here on GrubGrade, if only because it signifies a belief that the product in question cannot be topped, as in ever. Yet as I bit into the soft and salty kummelweck role – quickly giving way to the moist and juicy slices of thick-cut roast beef beneath – I immediately began to question this perception. The meat was incredibly juicy yet remarkably lean, cooked to pristine perfection with a generous helping of au jus covering the top and bottom of the roll. For as naturally delicious as the meat was, it was the roll itself which bordered on platonic, with the nutty and salty combination of the sea salt and caraway seeds working in perfect unison with the fresh-baked, pull-apart feel of the seemingly simple Kaiser Roll. I enjoyed my sandwich with horseradish, yet even this accompaniment seemed unnecessary, as the natural flavor of the beef – its interior collagen and fat firmly broken down through the magic of slow roasting perfection – stood out all on its own. Truth be told, this was not only the best tasting roast beef I had ever consumed, it may have been the best tasting meat I have ever consumed (and that’s saying quite a bit considering PETA probably has a bounty on me at this point.)
While I stop just short of giving this sandwich a ‘10’ (hey, we have to keep the doors of wonder open now, haven’t we?) I will say that it clearly belongs in the GrubGrade Hall of Fame. While I don’t know if the many other Charlie and the Butchers’ locations around the WNY area (found throughout Wegmans Grocery stores and other locations) can match the quality and precision of the original kitchen, I will say this is one local landmark that any food lover MUST check out if ever in the area.
- Recommendations: Beef on Weck Sandwich, Roast Turkey Sandwich, Polish Sausage, Chicken Spiedie Sandwich, Loganberry ‘Pop’
- Food (based on Beef on Weck Sandwich): 9.50/10.00 (GrubGrade Hall of Fame)
- Menu Variety: 8.00 /10
- Atmosphere: Casual/Mom and Pop/Blue Collar
- Price: $-Inexpensive= $7 or less
- GrubGrade: 9.50/10 (GrubGrade Hall of Fame)
Charlie the Butcher’s Kitchen
Where in the world is Adam off to next? And what will he be sampling there? Here’s a hint: The state is home to the highest football stadium in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision.