Elmwood Ave. at Lafayette, Buffalo, NY
Web: Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts
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We hadn't expected to wind up at the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts this weekend - it just happened to be taking place when we stopped off at Elmwood for cupcakes and some fish and chips (see our separate coverage of Zillycakes and Captain Jack's here). But now that we've seen the ten-year-old Festival first hand, we're planning to return again next year: it's a miniature Allentown Art Festival, hosting some of the same vendors of paintings, sculptures, and other arts and crafts, including a couple of our favorites, plus people we hadn't seen before - the talented Michael Gelen, as just one example. It also has a nice selection of foods and drinks from local restaurants and traveling festival-only sellers. Here's just a brief look at what was there for foodies.
The Festival of the Arts occupies a 1/3-mile stretch of Elmwood, filling both sides of the avenue without spilling much onto side streets. Tented booths are thick from edge to edge of the pedestrian-only event, starting with a music and dance performance stage at Lafayette, and fading off at West Ferry. Familiar restaurants and snack shops in the middle of the Festival zone remain open, including Dolci, Delish, and Can Can Candy & Gifts, while a dedicated food court-like area is set up centrally in a parking lot between the Globe Market and Wilson Farms. Here, temporary booths have been erected in a U shape by big and small local vendors, plus a tent with proper seating in the center.
Most of Elmwood's restaurants stay out of this zone, save for Globe Market, which had a small booth literally touching the courtyard in front of its property, and serving a small subset of the items on offer indoors. Alongside it in the dedicated food section were the Solar Cafe and Juice Joint/Vegetarian Oasis - a smoothie and veggie snack stand with prominent solar panels on the top of its rigging - Helmut's Original Austrian Strudel, Molto Buono Italian Ice & Gelato, Louie's Pizza, Anderson's, Fat Bob's, Red Osier, Ms. Goodies, Ashanti's Steak House, Rings -N- Things, Lombardo's Pita Place, Mineo & Sapio Italian Sausage, and Louie's Original Hot Dogs. There were also a handful of other food stands, including the Bavarian Nut Company, the Lexington Co-Op, and Coco Bongos, mixed in with the art stands along the strip.
We sampled only a handful of items at the Festival, but enjoyed them all: Lombardo's Pita Place supplied an oversized $8 Chicken and Portobello Mushroom Pita, which began with a thick, very fresh pita and a considerable bed of lettuce, then got covered in big chunks of chicken meat and thin, dark grey slices of hot, cooked mushroom before folding over itself into a wrap. Though we'd come to try the steak - out of stock - this was one of those rare occasions where we really didn't mind, as the chicken was moist and well-marinaded with a red, lemony Mediterranean flavor.
Intrigued by the Helmut's Original Austrian Strudel stand, we stopped by and overheard someone else getting the answer to what would have been our first question: it's only operated at festivals, and not an actual year-round business in Western New York. Rather than going with the Strudel, which looked nice enough, we ordered a large, triangular Strawberry and Cream Turnover ($5) made from puffed pastry with a center layer of fresh whipped cream and strawberry filling. Sweet, flaky, and light, the only thing that wasn't perfect in this pastry was the strawberry filling, which tasted like a straight-from-the-can jelly, with little in the way of strawberry chunks or seeds.
Another surprisingly good item came from Coco Bongos, another stand that has built a business traveling from festival to festival, serving tropical-style drinks out of fun containers. Half the experience is choosing the size and shape of the cup. For $5, you get a decent-sized "stadium cup," but the visual temptation is to go with a larger $6 "Pilsner" glass, a massive yard-sized plastic cup, or a carved coconut shell with a cup inside. Orange, lemon, and pina colada drinks are offered; we went with and really loved the rich-tasting and properly blended pina colada, which had just the right mix of coconut, pineapple juice, and ice, deliberately omitting the rum in favor of family-friendliness. In retrospect, we wish we'd ordered a larger cup.
For art, there's no doubt that the Allentown Art Festival has a larger selection of items to browse and purchase, but for food, we strongly preferred the options at the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Between the existing Elmwood businesses that remain open and available during the Festival, the local restaurants that are on hand to offer food there, and the quality traveling vendors who show up merely to populate the event with additional interesting options, there's no shortage of good and great options that transcend the fair-style fair offered at Allentown. Once again, this isn't an event geared towards foodies seeking gourmet options, but it does far better than it could have for an event focused substantially on the arts. It's worth attending again.