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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

There's always a lot of talk in Buffalo about cultural tourism, and most of the conversation is about buildings and art. That's fine-- I like both. Buffalo has plenty of attractive, significant buildings; the unique Olmsted system of parks and parkways is well worthwhile, and our arts scene is deep and varied. All that said, it is possible that we've been overlooking a significant cultural asset in promoting the region, and it seems like that may be about to be remedied.

The last time I was in New Orleans we were told that nearly 40% of the city's economy is based on tourism. Americans list the food as the first thing they think of when they think of New Orleans, and Europeans say they they think of the music first. Now I see that Jane and Michael Stern are bringing their Roadfood Eating Tour to Buffalo and Rochester on September 19th and 20th, and it's like a dime has dropped-- why haven't we been promoting this all along? Wings, and particularly the Chicken Wing Festival have been out there for a while, but the plain fact is that as an eating destination I think you'd have to say that Buffalo belongs on the map the way few other cities do. It's not just about regional specialties, although certainly a trip to Ted's, and a visit to Anderson's would have to be a part of anyone's culinary itinerary. Speaking just for Buffalo I can think of a dozen joints within a 20 minute walk from my house that would be worth the trip. I've always thought that NOLA and Buffalo have a great deal in common-- they are about the same size, the Catholic Church has had a deep influence on both, the weather shapes life in both in funny ways, the people talk funny, they are both big drinking cultures....

We should be playing up this aspect of what we are all about. Come for the Albright, and don't miss Coles'. Visit Hallwalls, and check out the Anchor. (Actually, the Anchor has been a disappointment the last few times I've gone. They need to pick up their game.) Without getting upscale I'm willing to bet that just about everybody in Buffalo has got a mental list of favorite joints that would be the envy of people from all over the country. We don't think of Santasiero's as much of a marvel, but think of what it would be like to someone who thinks the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant. And we can go upscale just as easily-- we have a plethora of serious dining destinations, more good steakhouses than most cities three times as big-- you name it. How did we miss this?

I have a tendency to dwell on what we haven't got-- Jeff Simon is right, we need a deli, for example. But nobody has delis, really. There are only about a half dozen in New York at this point. If I were in New Orleans I wouldn't be scouring around looking for a pastrami sandwich.

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