The 'Shroom:Issue 173/Critic Corner
Happy August everyone! 'Tis the season of the ever-creeping pumpkin spice sales, already fully proliferated in our supermarkets and coffee shops, ready and eager to usher in a new season. But hey, I don't mind, this means halloween décor will be for sale again! As of posting this it has now been about a week since our Awards Ceremonies happened, and whew was it a blast! Lots of excellent artwork and everyone getting together having a good time, community feelings, all that good stuff. You can go ahead and check it all out still in our Awards Board in each of the Ceremony threads as well as the Chat party logs.
And as is standard post-Awards, everyone is kinda pooped and taking a break, so this month's 'Shroom may feel a little light, but that doesn't mean what's here still doesn't pack a punch 💪
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And now for my regular announcements: We've decided to implement in Critic Corner something similar to News Flush over in Fake News, where no formal sign-up application process is required for one-time or limited sections. From now on if you just want to send in a single review for something you just read, watched played, tried, whatever, you just have to send me your review privately either to me directly in chat, or in a message to me on the forum at least one week before each 'Shroom is to be released! There's no commitment or obligation to provide a full monthly section (although you absolutely can shift it into one if you so choose), just send us your thoughts on a thing and we'll feature it here! If you have any questions or curiosities about this, please feel free to ask!
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Section of the Month
|Critic Corner SECTION OF THE MONTH|
|1st||Anton's Half-Baked Reviews||13||52.00%||Hypnotoad (talk)|
|2nd||Super Ninelevendo Entertainment Reviews||8||32.%||Ninelevendo (talk)|
|2nd||Pokédex Power||4||16.00%||Yoshi876 (talk)|
While Nintendo is hyping up Metroid Dread as the first “brand new” Metroid in 15 years, I feel that this statement discredits much of what Metroid: Samus Returns did. While technically a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, Samus Returns takes more of a liberal approach to recreating the experience by keeping the general concept and progression of the original intact but vastly changing other things, particularly the combat and level design. In fact, some of these changes are so different that it makes Samus Returns feel vastly different to any other 2D Metroid title. Being the first 2.5D entry in the series, a lot of changes were made to accomodate the extra dimension most, if not all, of those changes were for the better. So while Dread may very well be a grand revival for the series thanks to the massive power of the Switch, it’s really this often overlooked 3DS game that got things going.
One of the things about the development of Samus Returns that I find interesting is the developer of the game, MecurySteam. It seems that Nintendo likes hiring Western Studios to make Metroid games, huh? Having previously worked on some Castlevania games, (reminder that Castlevania is the “vania” part of the “Metroidvania” genre) the team pitched an idea for a Metroid Fusion remake to Nintendo. While the pitch was rejected, Metroid series creator Yoshio Sakamoto was impressed and decided to hire the team to develop Samus Returns. With the information that we know now, it seems that he was also looking for a team to revive the long-dormant Metroid Dread, which was originally developed for the DS before they decided to shelve it. Obviously MecurySteam’s work must of impressed, considering that Metroid Dread is releasing on the Switch this October. But you don’t have to take my word for it, the evidence is clear with the quality of Samus Returns.
An immediately noticeable difference from previous 2D Metroids, outside of it being 2.5D, comes from the introduction of free aim, a mode that locks you in place lets you aim in a full 360 degree motion as compared to the 45 degree angles from previous games. It feels quite natural and there’s a great amount of enjoyment to be had from making Samus spin her arm around in circles like a lunatic. (Or maybe that’s just me?) While it does prevent you from moving on the ground, that’s not really a bad thing as precision aiming is generally easier do while standing still anyway. It also frees your movement to be used for dodging as opposed to jumping straight into projectiles while attempting to hit the right spot like I’ve admittedly done a bit too many times in the past, so that’s nice.
Another big new addition to the combat system is the Melee Counter, a move that allows Samus to parry an enemy’s attack and then immediately shoot them with a powerful blast. The action of timing your button press just before an enemy hits you is quite satisfying, however eventually the novelty wears off once you realise just how powerful it is. Using the Melee Counter is the fastest and least risky option to kill enemies 90% of the time, which unfortunately leads to a lot of standing still and waiting for enemies to attack, rather than the more active engagement involved with dodging and shooting. There are even some sections where there’s nothing else to do but run up to an enemy, stand and wait, parry, then continue. As you can probably imagine, it’s not particularly enjoyable. That’s not to say that previous games were masterpieces when it came to combat, especially up close. If an enemy came right up to my face in Super Metroid, I wouldn’t have a whole lot of options other than “spam the shoot button”. So while it’s a bit of mis-step, I do greatly appreciate this change in the right direction. It just could have been implemented a little bit better so that it doesn’t bring the combat to a halt.
Aeion Abilities are another new addition that require a shared “Aeion Guage” for use. The abilities are quite varied, ranging from a shield to prevent damage or a machine-gun-like upgrade to the blaster (a personal favourite). Aeion is collected from defeating enemies in much the same way to collecting health, so it’s not so precious that you never actually use it. You can even combine multiple abilities at once so that can become a unstoppable monster for as long as the gauge lasts, although with only 3 notable power boosting abilities, there’s not a whole lot of room for customisation. It feels a like bit like a missed opportunity, but it’s not a big deal either way. Maybe something that they can expand on more in the next game? Regardless, these abilities open up more things to do, which is always welcome in a Metroid game.
While the combat has seen some big changes, the enemy variety is a bit lacking. Being a remake of Metroid II, the fact that we’d be fighting a ton of Metroids was unavoidable. There were a few steps taken to make fighting 20 Alpha Metroids less of a slog, such as adding variants with slightly different attack patterns, however even then it’s not quite enough to stop it from feeling a bit repetitive. Some Metroids will even run away to a different room once you’ve damaged them enough, which is quite frankly a real pain and not fun in the slightest. There are a few non-Metroid bosses, however they are far and few between. Normal enemies aren’t a whole lot better. It feels like there are only 5 different enemy types, with later areas merely introducing new variations with slightly more health or slightly different attacks. Some more variety would have gone a long way.
Metroid games are, at their core, about seeing areas that you can’t reach, finding a power-up, then backtracking and opening up those earlier areas. It’s a simple concept that many other games have used before, but never to the extent that Metroid or Super Metroid have. Metroid II: Return of Samus is a bit of weird case in Metroid history, not because it doesn’t do that but more because it’s structure. Instead of a huge, interconnected open world like in Super, Metroid II was designed with the portable nature or the Game Boy in mind and follows a more linear path through several smaller areas. Samus Returns keeps this basic structure, although making each area much bigger. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it has pros and cons, such as limiting confusion as to where you’re supposed to go, however it does lose some of the satisfaction to remembering an where to use a power up on an earlier area, since the spot that you’re thinking of was either 2 rooms away or so long ago that it holds no importance on progression. While there are several spots that can’t be accessed until much later, every single one of them merely holds a missle upgrade or something similar, and most of the time feels a like forced attempt to recreate the feeling from past Metroids. The only real purpose for backtracking to later areas is to 100% the game, and because of that, there’s essentially no reason to go back until you’ve got every ability so that you can get everything at once. It’s fine to create a more linear Metroid game, just make sure that any backtracking is a bit more meaningful please.
Lots of other minor quality-of-life additions bring Samus Returns much closer to a modern Metroid game than ever before. Dying will now merely take you back to the start of the area as opposed the last save point. Teleportation stations allow fast travel, which is much appreciated considering that this is easily the biggest area seen in any Metroid game as of yet. Not being able to instantly teleport back to these stations is something that I would have liked, as having to head back to one can be a bit of a pain, but they’re still much better than having to walk everywhere.
The map has also seen a bit of an upgrade. You can now place markers on the map so that you can easily come back to an inaccessible spot later when you have the required power-up. The first Aeion ability that you obtain allows you to uncover hidden areas in the map around you, including highlighting breakable blocks, so getting lost and having to look a walkthrough like I’ve done with literally every other 2D Metroid is (almost) completely a pastime. It’s things like these that make this game more accessible than ever before, so it’s most definitely a good starting point.
Everything else that isn’t gameplay
Probably my biggest issue with the game is actually nothing to do with the game as much as the system it’s on. While the game runs fine on the 3DS, there’s simply not enough room or buttons for all the things that you can do. Holding the shoulder buttons for long periods of time, such as using the Spider Ball, can feel cramped and uncomfortable after a while. Double pressing down the enter into the morph ball isn’t as fluid as it was on a dpad, so pressing the touchscreen will allow an instant morph. While this is nice and something that I use often, it also never feels all that intuitive. Switching between weapons on the fly is borderline impossible considering that the options are relegated to the touchscreen, shoulder buttons or d-pad, meaning that if you pretty much have to stop what you’re doing in order to move your hands to the correct position. The control scheme would have greatly benefited from the extra features seen in most modern home console controllers. An additional joystick, the ability to press down on the joystick and extra shoulder buttons would have gone a long way in making combat feel more fluid. Unfortunately, the extra shoulder buttons and C-Stick on the new 3DS remain entirely unused, although considering how small and out of the way they are, I doubt that they would have helped much anyway.
Music wise, the tracks can be a bit hit or miss. Metroid has always been in this weird area where it wants the music to be atmospheric as opposed to upbeat and catchy, which often leads to a struggle to keep the tracks between the thin lines between “too overbearing” or “completely forgettable,” and unfortunately Samus Returns wasn’t able to escape this issue either. Some music tracks absolutely nail what they’re going for, from the empowering Surface of SR388 theme that plays after first obtaining an aeion ability or the electronic sounding theme of the Chozo Laboratory. Others, like that-track-that-plays-everytime-you-enter-a-poison-room-with-a-Chozo-seal can be a bit grating and would have benefitted from toning it down more, and I would have liked if the ambient noises that you hear in every Chozo Statue room had a bit more going on.
Graphically, there’s not a whole lot to say. It’s a 3DS game. It’s got a low, sub-HD resolution that gets the job done and not much more. While 2D sprite work like the previous games probably would have looked prettier, it was a necessary change in order to make advancements in the gameplay. That’s not to say that the game looks bad in any way, the backgrounds show the underground of Planet SR388 in fantastic detail. It just would have looked a lot better on a different console.
So while I’ve been trying to sell you on the 3DS game, at the same time I can’t help sharing why exactly I’m excited for Dread. After all, it’s clearly improving the formula that Samus Returns established, and Dread seems to be addressing pretty much every issue that I had with it. Maps are now more detailed and have a search function so that you can find that specific door you’ve been looking for. The melee counter is now able to be done while moving, called a Dash Counter, meaning that you no longer have to stand still and wait to do some serious damage. There seem to be several new enemy types. The awkwardness of using the morph ball is practically history with the new slide mechanic that quickly goes under small crevices. Controls are now on a console with much more buttons to use. HD graphics will undoubtedly look much prettier than the 3DS.
How much will these changes improve the modern Metroid experience? It’s hard to say, but it certainly seems promising. Samus Returns kickstarted a new era of Metroid that only seems to show potential for improvement. What new games could we see next? Will MecurySteam finally be able to remake Fusion? Maybe even Super? It’s an exciting prospect. So right now, the only thing that I dread more than getting chased by an E.M.M.I. is waiting for Dread to release. But in the meantime, don’t ignore the beginning of an era that started on the 3DS.
Sorry! I've been very busy this month so I forgot I had to listen to a bunch of music and then write about it in a Mario newspaper. This month's section is going to be shorter and much less coherent than usual.
SPELLLING - THE TURNING WHEEL
This is a very cool pop album. There's a huge range of instruments used here, from synths, pianos and guitars to strings, brass instruments and organs, and the way they're used together give the album a really deep and vivid sound. But the standout here is definitely Chrystia Cabral's vocal performance, her voice is so rich and evocative. For me the album drops off a little bit after 'Boys At School', though to be fair that's a very hard song to top, every element of the album just comes together perfectly. The rest of the tracks towards the end are solid at worst but don't do much more than that. It is still a great album, though.
TYLER, THE CREATOR - CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
Had a lot of mixed feelings towards this on my first listen. It was definitely good, one of the better albums I'd heard so far this year; but at the same time, not a lot I'd cared about enough to go back to once it was over. Luckily, I've listened to it again since and enjoyed it a lot more the second time round. So here Tyler's taking on the persona of "Tyler Baudelaire" (as seen on the cover art) who's essentially a more sophisticated, well-travelled version of himself. In terms of sound, it's much closer to his more abrasive earlier stuff than IGOR and probably Flower Boy, but there's still a lot of smooth, synth-led moments here, so it feels like a nice middle ground between the two. He even addresses the shift in his sound on the song 'MASSA', definitely one of the highlights of the album for me, alongside 'MANIFESTO' and 'SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE'. The only song here I don't like is 'WILSHIRE', the lyrics are great but the beat is just the same short loop for 8 and a half minutes and it gets very tiring. And it's right at the end, so that probably contributed to my first impression being a bit off.
DARKSIDE - SPIRAL
Another project from Nicolas Jaar - the first one this year, after he showed up in this section 3 or 4 times in 2020 - alongside Dave Harrington from... uhh... I don't really know who he is. Sorry Dave. Anyway, since I can only really compare it to Jaar's previous work, it's quite different from what he usually releases (much more guitar-centred and psychedelic) though there are still hallmarks of his solo work (most noticeable in the percussion). There are a lot of really cool sounds here, such as 'Lawmaker' which almost feels a bit Western and 'Inside is Out There' which has this adventurous, spacey feel to it. That said, there are a few songs that feel a bit pointless - and while it is nice to see elements from Jaar's other work here a lot of the time they do tend to feel out of place with everything else that's happening. It's fine but doesn't do too much for me, sadly.
LUMP - ANIMAL
Another collab, this time between Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay. It's more electronic and poppy than Marling's usual output so does give her a lot of room to try out different stuff vocally, not that she ever really does, there are a few places where her vocals just don't feel suited to this. The first four songs here are great, though - but then, unfortunately, the fifth one, 'Red Snakes', is dull as hell, and everything after it is a bit of a slog too.
VINCE STAPLES - VINCE STAPLES
Aw man. What happened Vince? I'll tell you what happened. Kenny Beats. Fuck you Kenny Beats.
Hello everyone, it's me, Yoshi876 again with a new edition of Pokédex Power, the section written by the person who always says Fire starters suck, but has had at least four of them in the games, Cyndaquil, Tepig, Fennekin and Scorbunny. He also claims that Water starters are his favourite, despite only having chosen Mudkip and Piplup.
And once again, we have themed the opening paragraph to the Pokémon featured, as for this edition we'll be looking at Pignite, the second stage of the Fire starter evolution line for the Unova region. I will be honest, I think Generation V probably had the weakest line-up of starters, I wouldn't day that I've particularly fallen in love with any of them, although Tepig is adorable. Pignite and Emboar are less adorable and did follow in the Fire/Fighting line that is universally mocked. And let's be real, we all know Incineroar should be Fighting instead of Dark, even if they justify it with the wrestling thing.
I do have good memories of using Pignite, despite its low Speed stat, and given that Gigalith was another of my Gen V favourites, we really weren't going for speed on that team, at least until we come to Galvantula. But just because I chose Pignite, does this mean it has good Pokédex entries? Let's find out…
|Pokémon Black||When its internal fire flares up, its movements grow sharper and faster. When in trouble, it emits smoke.|
|Pokémon White||Whatever it eats becomes fuel for the flame in its stomach. When it is angered, the intensity of the flame increases.|
|Pokémon Black 2||The more it eats, the more fuel it has to make the fire in its stomach stronger. This fills it with even more power.|
|Pokémon White 2||The more it eats, the more fuel it has to make the fire in its stomach stronger. This fills it with even more power.|
Sadly, Pignite does suffer from some of the standard Fire-type entry in which it eats some food and lo and behold it turns into fuel which powers up its move. It's textbook and expected by this point, and does nothing to deviate Pignite from the many Fire-types that already exist. I do like how Black perhaps references a move, as Pignite does learn Flame Wheel, which can increase the speed stat when used, and you'd need to get your internal flame going to use that move! Other than that though, it's the standard fare with anger and or food giving it more power-ups. I guess steam rising isn't your usual thing when it comes to an entry, but with the rest being so standard, it picks up that feel.
|Pokémon X||The more it eats, the more fuel it has to make the fire in its stomach stronger. This fills it with even more power.|
|Pokémon Y||When its internal fire flares up, its movements grow sharper and faster. When in trouble, it emits smoke.|
|Pokémon Omega Ruby|
|Pokémon Alpha Sapphire||When its internal fire flares up, its movements grow sharper and faster. When in trouble, it emits smoke.|
New entries burn up or something?
Conclusion Despite being my starter, Pignite's entries are nothing but a bunch of reheated ash that almost every Fire-type going mentions at some point. I would perhaps ask for what kind of food, but given how those entries normally go, I'm going to go ahead and assume Berries of some sort. Given that Pignite has just gone from a quadruped to a biped, it would have been interesting for the Pokédex to explore this angle, with how this new dual Fighting-type Pokémon handles now standing on two legs, especially since it would've been four when it was a baby. But maybe I should just be glad that its extra Fighting-type didn't just bring over entries of 'punches boulders in the forest / mountains' to train, which so many fall victim to.
Buffalo - Part 3
And so comes my final segment in the Buffalo food review series, at least for now. There will certainly be more down the road.
Sweet Jenny's Chocolates and Ice Creams
Located in Williamsville, a fancy-pants village just outside the city limits of Buffalo, is a cute sweet shop called Sweet Jenny’s. Situated by a river and gorgeous view of Glen Falls and the surrounding park, Sweet Jenny’s specializes in homemade chocolates and truffles, homemade custards and shakes, and a nostalgic selection of vintage sugary treats.
They have a walk-up traditional ice cream parlor where they have a whole bunch of flavors of soft serve custard, milkshakes, floats, toppings, all the kinds of things you’d expect from a seasonal little ice cream place but with more of a refined edge. Plenty of common and loved flavors like chocolate, black raspberry, rum raisin, but also some non-standard ones to try like chai, pumpkin gingersnap, and apples & honey, alongside vegan and sugar-free options. The prices per-scoop for the cones at the walk-up window ($4 single, $5 double, $6 triple) definitely are more than you’re paying for a half gallon of Perry’s at the Tops down the road, but certainly not bizarre or unreasonable relative to other scoop shops. Unfortunately for me, it was closed for the season in November, as is standard for ice cream shops up in New York, but the inside was certainly still open for business.
Their chocolate shop had a sizable variety of chocolates, truffles, sponge candy, barks, shaped things, dipped things, drizzled things. It’s always a blast checking these places out, but I can never justify paying like $7 for a couple of stale pretzel rods dipped in chocolate with a handful of M&Ms thrown on them because that’s something I can mass produce at home for the same price. What I’m not able to produce so easily or as cost-efficiently is ice cream, and while their scoops are closed for the season, their dozen or so most popular flavors are made year-round to be available in pints and quarts. They seem incredibly expensive, sitting at $5.99 a pint and $10.95 a quart, but ehhh that’s really not too far off with luxury brand pints these days. Still expensive! But not unrealistically so. My brother got Peanut Butter, as its existence was the entire reason we were even here as he’s allergic to chocolate and every other peanut butter treat has chocolate in it too; meanwhile I got Orange Chocolate because it was the only other flavor that seemed interesting enough to be paying $11 for. Is anyone really out there paying that much for Vanilla or Strawberry? The Peanut Butter is incredibly peanut buttery, much more than any other store brand I’ve had, but was distinct enough from just straight up eating peanut butter that it was still a unique desirable treat. The Orange Chocolate is rich, neither chocolate nor orange overwhelming the other, sweet with some tart punchiness. Both very smooth, just excellent ice cream all around.
Also housed on the 2nd floor of the same building is 1811 Comics, a comic book and toy shop, I guess a separate thing, but pretty much intertwined with the experience of visiting. Old arcade games, comic books, life-size statues of various comic and fantasy characters, and of course an inordinate amount of Funko Pops as one finds now in every store that has any implicit connection to media.
By no means is it one of the iconic places to visit in Buffalo, but it’s a pleasant stop for some indulgent treats, enjoying a brief bit of nature, and some charm and whimsy. A welcome lack of pretentiousness in a venue and area that most certainly can go overboard with that. A step up from any other ice cream and chocolate shop thanks to the upstairs comic shop, the classic and vintage feel of the building, and the scenery thanks to the nearby falls and park, all of which help elevate this into more of an experience than just a stop on the road.
My only major critique is that I felt awkward walking around, nonetheless taking pictures, inside the place because we were the only people in there shopping, and the worker felt it necessary to follow us into every room to make sure we weren’t doing anything bad or touching anything we weren’t supposed to, a thing she explicitly told us. I’m sure this was a necessary precaution on her part due to prior interactions with customers, but all it did was make me feel awkward, rushed, unwelcome, and unable to focus on any of the cool stuff they had, especially considering we were a group of four respectable adults with no children in tow. I would’ve probably stuck around and actually played some of the arcade games, and looked around with more intent, had I not felt like I was in Skyrim trespassing in someone’s house. As such, please enjoy this link to Google Maps and its images to see what the inside of this place is all about. Maybe in the busier seasons it’s a bit less intimidating, because it all seems like a good spot to just chill.
And that all brings me now to this. At this point I think I’ve reviewed sponge candy-adjacent items like two or three times now, but have yet to actually address sponge candy itself. Simply put, sponge candy, which goes by many names around the world, is a light, but rigid and crunchy, toffee that achieves a porous and sponge-like appearance through the addition of carbon dioxide, often via baking soda. The intended texture upon bite is crunchy, yet light, with a toasted molasses kinda flavor. The origins are unknown, but Buffalo is where many of the earliest known shops have been making sponge candy, particularly Fowler’s, and is pretty much always found coated in chocolate.
Sweet Jenny’s Sponge Candy
I got 4oz (¼ pound) of milk chocolate sponge candy for $7.95, about 9 pieces total. I’m not exactly inexperienced with specialty chocolate shops that have very high prices, and I’m not exactly surprised by their prices either. The mainstream chocolate industry is able to charge effectively pennies for their stuff thanks to a slurry of, among other things, subsidies, selling in large bulk amounts, big corporate tax laws, and literally slave labor. Smaller craft shops just simply need to charge more for their labor and goods relative to how much business they get. This is not to say that this always directly translates smaller shops to higher quality, but it often does, and in Sweet Jenny’s case it is true. Sponge candy is an easy dessert treat to make, but can be very finicky and easy to mess up in a variety of ways, but the entire batch I got from Sweet Jenny’s (admittedly, not a very large one) all had the same and uniform high quality. The chocolate was sweet, creamy, and tasty, while the sponge candy inside didn’t cause my teeth to explode or make horrifying gritting sounds, like rubbing two pieces of floral foam together, as can happen with this particular candy. If you so choose, you can let these just sit in your mouth and melt down a bit, which releases more of its toasted flavor, before you crunch into it and finish. If you’re looking for good quality sponge candy on your visit to Buffalo and don’t want to be disappointed, Sweet Jenny’s should be able to get that for you.
Tops Friendly Marketsabout 4.5 times cheaper than Fowler’s, a regional specialty brand.
These were sent through the mail as a Christmas gift from my dad, and went through likely all the possible temperature, pressure, and humidity changes you could probably expect taking a plane right from snowy Buffalo to flaming Florida. It was basically like playing a hard round of Minesweeper with picking which ones would be fine and hard, and which would be deflated and soft, but I honestly didn’t mind the deflated ones that much. Sure, they’re not as high quality as climatically perfect sponge candy, but they still had flavor, just chewy. The chocolate these had was nothing special, kinda uninspired run-of-the-mill mass produced chocolate, but most importantly it wasn’t bad!
Fowler’s Chocolate - Truffalo
If you’re a kid going to school at all in Western New York, you will at some point be doing a fundraiser selling either Niagara Chocolates or Fowler’s, the latter in particular being a household name for everyone in the area, but eliciting a ‘Who?’ the moment you cross outside. Probably the best place to get sponge candy is Fowler’s Chocolates, as they claim, despite unknown origins, to be the original and authentic sponge candy maker. But, did I do that? Absolutely not! The reason for that is because I didn’t want to spend $13 on a set, and instead got something more affordable since I was already spending way too much on other things at Premier Gourmet.
Instead, what I selected was the Truffalo Bar, milk chocolate with chocolate ganache truffle filling. I chose this, primarily, because my experience with Fowler’s is very limited and aged, probably having not had it since I was like 12, and I don’t trust any food opinions I have any longer than a few years, and I felt that Fowler’s needed to be represented here in a Buffalo review. The Truffalo bar’s overall texture is incredibly soft, but not squishy and melty, rather almost airy and pillowy, comforting; perfect chocolate truffle texture rivaling the Lindt specialty brand that’s ubiquitous around holidays. Milk chocolate flavor and texture is perfect, smooth and milky, with sweetness that defeats any residual bitterness. Not much else to say, just a strong showing of chocolate, and I greatly appreciate any brand that gives care to utilize milk chocolate, rather than or at least in addition to dark chocolate, in its fancy bars.
Beef on Weck
Every region has their own kind of sandwich they’re proud of and have adapted as an icon of their local culture and personality: Philadelphia’s got philly cheesesteaks, Miami and Tampa have cubans, New Orleans has muffalettas and po’ boys, and Buffalo is known for beef on weck. Thinly sliced, and ideally rare, roast beef on a kummelweck, with au jus and horseradish.
Beef on weck differs from a French dip or just a regular roast beef sandwich first and most importantly with the roll. The ‘weck’ in beef on weck comes from the type of roll used, a kaiser roll, is important as it’s what helps to create the crispy shell and soft interior. The roll is seasoned with coarse salt (aka kosher salt, pretzel salt) and caraway seeds to really drive in the German heritage. The top bun of the sandwich is dipped in au jus, basically a very thin beef gravy or broth, and then prepared horseradish spread onto the beef.
Beef on weck has a deeper history in Buffalo than the much more modern Buffalo wings and even sponge candy. While other Buffalo staples have moved outside its borders, much like Buffalo wings and a sizable portion of its population, beef on weck seems to stay a local specialty. While this really doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary, as regional tastes and cultures do differ, with loyalty and nostalgia attached to and fueling passion and desire behind it, beef on weck seems to be hard to replicate, at least to pure perfection. Buffalo just has the right rolls, the right preparation, the right horseradish, the right everything that literally anyone else anywhere can create, but with the telltale Buffalo down-home humility and a resistance to being glammed up and made palatable for more worldly audiences. It’s just roast beef on a kaiser bun with kosher salt and caraway, with some prepared horseradish for a kick and a quick dip in au jus, no more, no less.
If you’re in Buffalo and your goal is to try the most respected and renowned beef on weck, you’d likely want to go visit Charlie the Butcher, or any of these other places to try that are verified to be the real deal, as you can see on the shockingly well put-together Visit Buffalo Niagara website. I could’ve gone there, was actually staying just down the road from them, but I just totally didn’t because it didn’t mesh with other plans that were set as a group, and I am unfortunately not the sole architect of reality. Instead, I went to a few other places with no intention of getting it, and then just chose it from the respective menus because they sure were on it, as is expected in pretty much every restaurant in Western New York that has a sandwich section.
The Anchor Bar is one of those go-to places that has wrapped its entire identity around being an essential part of Buffalo life and culture, similar to Paula’s Donuts, but with much more force and national attention. Primarily, they are allegedly where Buffalo wings were ‘invented’, a story put forth by the original owners. Chicken wings have been used in cooking for some time, and people confuse The Anchor Bar for inventing the general usage of them when all they effectively did was popularize cooking them in hot sauce, aided by the rising popularity of sitting around and watching football with the boys and beer. Truly a golden American dream of perfect timing, market capitalism stars aligning to find a way to turn a worthless byproduct into a coveted and loved meal. While I can totally rattle on about how the spectacle and glamour of being The First, or Original, or Creator, or Famous does not mean that it’s the best, or even good, I’m here for their selling of Buffalo culture to people at their airport location.
As we arrived early to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport to fly back to Florida, we had enough time to wander around and figured we could sit down and eat. One of the only places around in this bleak and empty airport happened to be an Anchor Bar location, and I saw an opportunity to cram in one final in-person review. Very quickly we came to realize that, yeah, this certainly is an airport location with airport food prices, beefed up further to cash in on projected fame. $14.50 for only five wings and some fries??? While everyone struggled between finding something affordable to eat and the fact that it would be embarrassing to just get up and leave, I immediately focused on a line that said ‘BUFFALO’S BEST COMBO...A BUFFALO FAVORITE!’. At a whopping $17, the amount you’d pay for a nice fish entree at a much fancier restaurant, like a Bahama Breeze or an Olive Garden, I got five wings prepared in medium Anchor Bar sauce, a beef on weck sandwich, some Anchor Bar Bleu Cheese, celery sticks, and horseradish.
The wings were good, though, but I’ll admit based on my own personal standard of them not being too sloppy covered in sauce, which I know would disappoint basically anyone else. They were nothing out of the ordinary for the region except it feels like they were fried longer, and were kinda dry; maybe sat under a heating lamp for a while? Best thing on the entire plate was the celery, and even those were dry. Maybe I’d get better quality out of a more standard location, but a place that could quite honestly be a visitor’s first taste of Buffalo coming off the plane should keep a higher standard if they don’t want their local reputation to continue as the place you gotta try to check off a bucket list but go to Duff’s after to actually get some food.The glamor and spectacle of the Anchor Bar’s wings can be summarized quite succinctly in a New Yorker write-up from 1980:
The celebrated visitors who troop through the Anchor Bar are, after all, almost always favorably impressed by Buffalo chicken wings. Craig Claiborne proclaimed them “excellent” in one of his columns—although he may have undercut the compliment a bit by saying in the same paragraph that he had remained in Buffalo for only three hours.
Lake Effect Diner‘white people so close to being rich’ part of the city is the Lake Effect Diner. one of the last authentic Fifties era dining car-style restaurants in America, and as such was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Wonderfully tasteful bit of nostalgia for a time not many people have even experienced anymore, in a city that runs on it.
We came here with no other intention than it was a restaurant nearby, and my dad likes diners, they just happened to have beef on weck on the menu and it made my selection easy. Sitting at $12 for a sandwich and some fries seems like a bit much, but the portions are large enough to make up for it. A lot of salt on the bun in particular, which tasted good, but falls right off; a phenomenon I won’t take points off much for because it’s a universal thing with any seeded or seasoned bun. Au jus and horseradish provided, as is standard. The beef was definitely much more thinly cut than Anchor Bar’s, much to its benefit and my own, but still seemed...not tough, but a little overcooked? Not rare enough, and a bit chewy, but not bad! I certainly liked it! Just some room for improvement.
Their menu, post-“Challenging Times”, peri-Covid, seems to be lacking the beef on weck meal, despite it certainly being on there when I went. I’m chalking this up to shortages and restructuring, and am not worried about it never reappearing again; it would truly be a mistake for a Buffalo-centric restaurant to not include it if it had the choice. My take on Lake Effect Diner is that it’s a gimmick restaurant done right. Evokes the desired feel without feeling like a clumsy theme park attraction.
Well. Turns out that Lake Effect Diner is closing, news that came out just a couple days before this review is to be published. This is unfortunate in the terms that this particular portion of my review is obsolete before even being released, as well as just losing a restaurant that I had good feelings about. It may not actually be too unfortunate, as the owner has a history of being pretty unsavory, but my condolences to the 35+ people now out of a job.
Made my own beef on weck
While rummaging through our spice cabinet I saw that my brother had a bottle of something called World Famous Buffalo Beef on Weck Seasoning made for The Pasta Peddler, a Buffalo-local artisan pasta and sauce maker. The seasoning mix is quite simply coarse salt and caraway seeds, absolutely nothing else. I made the kimmelweck bread (alt spelling, not a typo) as per the instructions on the bottle by lightly misting a kaiser roll with some water and then sprinkling the seasoning mix on top, then thinly sliced the roast beef, made the au jus, and Famous Broadway Market Prepared Horseradish.
Overall I do see the allure of a sandwich as simple as this. With so few moving parts you can really taste and experience each one without getting distracted by something else. Unfortunately for some places, this also leaves little room for error, but with it all comes together just right, it’s very nice.
Anchor Bar Medium Wing Sauce
The one true thing that the Anchor Bar can actually lay claim to is their particular recipe for wing sauce, and boy did they market it well. I’ve been able to find it on the shelves of stores all across Buffalo, New York, into Pennsylvania, North Carolina, throughout Florida, and likely elsewhere that I haven’t personally verified yet. The one thing I’m noting, though, is it’s often stocked along with other, more gourmet brands and sauces, the small batches, the organics, the expensives. This is strange to me, as in Buffalo, if one knob on the tap runs loganberry, the other knob runs wing sauce.
Out of the couple options presented to me I selected the Medium Wing Sauce, as that’s the standard, original, and most true flavor. Putting it quite simply, Buffalo sauce is a mix of hot sauce (cayenne, specifically) and butter; more butter yields mild, adding more hot sauce yields medium, and pretty much just hot sauce alone is hot. Medium is the ideal. To go further on a tangent, this runs into sticky scenarios, even at the pizza shop I worked at in Buffalo, being that Buffalo sauce has no one singular true definition, and everyone’s vision of it is different. All the time I’d field phone calls for people ordering wings wanting ‘hot sauce’, so we gave them hot, but they’d call back and complain that it was too hot and what they actually wanted would’ve been our mild. People calling and asking for ‘Buffalo sauce’ but getting obstinate when I’d ask ‘hot, medium, or mild’ and just repeat themselves again with ‘Buffalo sauce’ but with an angrier tone, leading us nowhere. Other people asking for BBQ sauce, getting BBQ sauce, and calling back angry insisting that BBQ sauce is actually what our medium is, and vice versa. This is pretty much why I avoid using ‘Buffalo sauce’ as a term, as it’s not very specific, like asking for ‘soda’ as a drink and being upset that you got sparkling water instead of Coke.
Anyways, “Medium- This is IT! The sauces that made Buffalo Chicken Wings Famous! A spectacular blend of Cayenne pepper, vinegar, salt, garlic, margarine and other secret ingredients. All blended together for a rich, smooth fully prepared sauce. No mixing, no mess, no guess work. You’re gonna love it.” Really buttery flavor, almost savory, but still quite a kick to it. I wouldn’t really refer to it as ‘rich’ like they do, it feels almost light, and more like a sting, than lingering heat. There’s much more viscous hot wing sauces out there that I’d be more ready to give the ‘rich’ label to. On a relative scale it’s not as hot as hot sauces that brand themselves as being hot, but it’ll make you sweat if you’re not taking your time and chowing down celery with it. There’s certainly some tanginess to it, noticeable vinegar. The physical consistency of it is less viscous, kinda runny, but thick enough to still coat and stay on the wings. It’s a good sauce.
La Nova Hot Buffalo Ranch Dressing
“La Nova Wings, Inc. The Company that introduced Chicken Wings into the Pizza Industry! La Nova Wings, Inc. is the premier manufacturer of Buffalo Wings in the United States.” I’m gonna need a citation on that. La Nova Pizza is one of those pizza shops around Buffalo that just everyone knows about, everyone goes to it, everyone talks it up. They’re the official pizza (and wings) of the Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Bisons, and Buffalo Bills. I thiiiiiink I had it a couple times, but never remember it being, like, extremely special, just standard Buffalo-style pizza with the cup-and-char pepperoni and all that. They also produce wings and sauces for the restaurant industry. Only a brand that is so well-connected, influently, powerful, and most of all beloved, would be able to get a buffalo ranch dressing product on the shelves in Buffalo.
People in Buffalo think it’s part of their culture to just absolutely despise ranch ever getting near their wings, favoring blue cheese instead as a no-brainer option, so this product feels like it’s tempting regional demons. While it’s played off as silly most of the time, people do actually get pretty passionate about it, especially if you dare enter any comment sections on social media or news articles within this regional sphere, but as with all things like this it doesn’t really matter. They offer Hot Buffalo Blue Cheese Dressing, as well, for those die-hard Buffalonians who gatekeep eating experiences. Yeah yeah, I get it, it’s not ‘Buffalo Wings’ if you use something other than blue cheese to dip, according to ancient Anchor Bar lore, but who gives a crap beyond that, it’s really so weird to see this as a constant puffed-chest situation and mildly irritating to have always had to hear about it working at the pizza shop.
Opening the bottle and the immediate sensation is that it smells like plastic. It really just doesn’t taste like either one, it tastes like a derivative of something, like overly processed. There’s not much flavor to it that really evokes what I’d consider either hot Buffalo or ranch, and I guess in lieu of any of its own flavor it took on the taste of the bottle itself. It was not worth finishing what I had poured into a dipping cup as it was actively making the wings I had made taste worse. These two flavors are just something that should be held separately, to experience the heat and flavor of the hot sauce, and then quelled with a cool and creamy ranch delivered on a chunk of celery, or at the very least only mixed upon intended use like drain cleaners. Maybe it’s intended for salads?? Upon reading the ingredients there’s added ‘Natural Cheddar Cheese Flavor’ for some reason, so maybe that’s where all the weird smell and taste is coming from. The flavor combo isn’t exactly unique, you can find it from other more far-reaching companies like Hidden Valley, and hopefully at least one of them found a way to be an edible product.
Mighty Taco is another one of those local chains that just blew my mind when I learned that no other city had them. The love for Mighty Taco in the region is nearly unmatched, as detailed here in a Food & Wine article that I can one day only hope to match. They have pretty much everything you’d expect from a fast food taco place whose main market is late night snacking: tacos, burritos, nachos, rice, beans, bowls, etc., but don’t shy away from meatless and meat-alternative options. Their presence in Buffalo is near-omnipresent, known for weird and quirky commercials, and most of all it’s ear-worm chant, but just was something I never got around to getting. The closest one to me was like 35 minutes away, and if we were to ever drive that far we’d be going out somewhere else more substantial to eat. Plus, our family just didn’t do tacos, and were more a Golden Corral or starve kinda bunch.
Out of everything on the menu, I only felt adventurous enough to try things I’d already assumed I’d like, as it was after a long day and I was genuinely hungry. Fajita Chicken Quesadilla for $2.69, and then the eponymous Mighty Taco with seasoned ground chicken for $1.75. I just don’t do ground beef if I have the choice, sorry, but absolutely soft shell. They were both kinda...just there? They were alright, flavor was there but I wasn’t exactly expecting much. Certainly edible. They were just small, which, what can I expect for the price! If you treat it like a tapas-style restaurant and spend like $10-12 just piling on some small items, you will assuredly feel stuffed. I definitely liked the quesadilla more, as the shell was a little crispier from being pressed, and I didn’t feel like one bump on the highway would send all of the ingredients flying everywhere like the taco did, but that’s more personal preference and the fact that I was a passenger in a moving vehicle. For what it was, it achieved its goal: cheap, comforting, fun, and not bad.
Well, that’s it for now of my Buffalo reviews, but I can’t deny that there will likely be more. Buffalo isn’t the only region with a strong and passionate local love of its specific brands and foods, which can be found on all kinds of websites. I encourage you all to find this kinda stuff for your area! Take in whatever kind of pride there is, and see what it’s all about, enjoy it, and share it with others.
|The 'Shroom: Issue 173|
|Staff sections||Staff Notes • The 'Shroom Spotlight|
|Features||Fake News • Fun Stuff • Palette Swap • Pipe Plaza • Critic Corner• Strategy Wing|