Why I’m Dining Out for Life (and You Should Too)

There are few mottos I connect with more than Casa Azul‘s “Work hard. Be kind. Eat tacos.” That’s why I’m so excited to be partnering with the team at Casa Azul, led by Zina Lapi, for Dining Out For Life this year. Thanks to the generosity of local restaurants like Casa Azul and local corporate partners, when you dine out with me on October 1, 2019, 25% of the cost of your meal goes straight to Evergreen Health.

Dining Out For Life at Casa Azul

Chef Zina passing tacos out of the kitchen at Casa Azul

So what is Dining Out For Life, exactly? Dining Out For Life raises funds to support people affected by HIV across the country. Here in Buffalo, those funds go Evergreen Health’s initiatives, like HIV prevention and complete care for individuals living with HIV.

If you’re unfamiliar with Evergreen Health, they provide chronic illness support; HIV prevention, treatment and care; substance user healthcare; LGBQ and transgender services; and more from their locations in Buffalo and Jamestown. As you can probably imagine, it takes a lot of money to do that much good.

Dining Out For Life has raised over $1.2 million in Western New York, just one of the reasons it was named Best Food and Drink Fundraiser by Buffalo Spree this year!

Eating tacos at Casa Azul

Not that you need an excuse to eat tacos, but Dining Out For Life does happen to fall on a Tuesday! If you’re not sure what to order, let me suggest the Potato & Poblano and Carne Asada. With a classic margarita, of course! For all the details on the big day, check out the event on Facebook. I’d love to see you at Casa Azul for dinner on October 1st!

Thank you to Caitlin at Reilley Photography for squeezing this session into her incredibly busy fall schedule for me!

Craft Coffee House Should Be Your Go-To Northtowns Coffee Date

Over the last few years, the coffee date options in the Northtowns have gotten a serious upgrade. Of course, Scripts is always going to have a special place in my heart and Steamworks is winning the coffee game, hands down. If you’re a little further east, Shirt Factory is where it’s at. But until recently, there was a little bit of a hole in the coffee shop map between Clarence and Lockport. That’s where Craft Coffee House comes in.

The first time I went to Craft Coffee House, I thought I was lost. Sure, I was following my GPS, but sometimes it’s wrong… right? After driving through Pendleton for what seemed like too long, I arrived at the cutest collection of businesses, which included Craft Coffee House. That first trip included a mason jar of iced coffee that, along with the industrial bar stools, subway tile and rich blue accent wall, was totally Instagram-worthy.

Craft Toast and pour over at Craft Coffee House

Ever since, I’ve been catching glimpses of that decor (and the waffles!) on local Instagrammer Caitie Newman‘s Stories.  Feeling very inspired (and ready for caffeine), I returned a few months later, camera in hand, to meet Mary for a long overdue coffee date. We talked about traveling, work, Marie Kondo, puppies and first time home buyers programs over coffee and breakfast.

I opted for a pour over (they serve Glen Edith‘s roasts) and the simple yet sweet Craft Toast, topped with peanut butter, banana, honey and cinnamon sugar. Mary went with a toffee latte and the Old McDonald Sandwich: egg, bacon, smoked cheddar and maple syrup between two waffles. Everything was delicious; my one complaint was the use of an egg patty rather than a real egg in Mary’s breakfast sandwich.

Toffee latte at Craft Coffee House

Old McDonald Sandwich at Craft Coffee House

The lunch menu looked amazing and I seriously considered ordering a flatbread after finishing my toast. The barista was so nice during my indecisive ordering the first time around I wasn’t even embarrassed to think this. They also serve beer and wine, which would be perfect for a late Saturday brunch (they’re only open until 3 every day).

The decor is all you could want for a Sunday coffee date. I loved the crisp white subway tile and sleek accents in the summer. Somehow, the same decor manages to be so cozy during the winter too. Mary pointed out the outlets in every booth – and not under the table where you need to stretch out the hammies before attempting to plug in your laptop. This is so nice for students, freelancers and remote workers, especially in a town with so few options.

Pour over options at Craft Coffee House

During the few hours we spent chatting in a comfy booth, a steady stream of people walked in and out. Most just grabbed coffee and headed on their way, while others hung out for just as long as Mary and I did. I hope that means that Craft Coffee House is here to stay, because it’s too cute (and delicious) to miss out on!

3 Stops You Need to Make after Brewery Ommegang

Whether you’re a fan of Game of Thrones or you just like good beer, you’ve probably thought about making the four drive from Buffalo to Brewery Ommegang’s campus in Cooperstown. With a friend in nearby Oneonta with bedrooms to spare, we headed east to spend an afternoon on the Cooperstown Beverage Trail. Ommegang is certainly the most well-known stop on the trail, but it’s not the only one worth stopping at!

1. Bear Pond Winery

We started at Bear Pond Winery, located northeast of Oneonta. It was a nice halfway point between our home base in Oneonta and Ommegang, which is technically in Cooperstown. The winery is a cute building and pretty patio that must be beautiful in the summer.

Tasting at Bear Pond Winery in Oneonta, NY

Once inside, we opted for tastings at the bar (6 for $3), which were led by a lovely employee who wasn’t offended by our lack of wine knowledge. (If she was, she did a good job of hiding it.) While the two wine drinkers in our group opted for the drier whites and reds, the rest of headed straight for the sweet whites, rosés and dessert wines. Most wines were made by Bear Pond, but there were a few other local options included on the tasting menu, which was already pretty big – before you considered the list of spirits that are also an option.

Would an actual wine drinker enjoy this stop? I don’t know. Did I? You bet.

2. Red Shed Brewery Taproom

Red Shed Brewery is located in Cherry Valley, about 15 miles northeast of Cooperstown. Their taproom opened in late 2017 right across the street from Ommegang. It would honestly be silly not to stop here on a trip to Ommegang.

The beer garden was absolutely adorable but it was too chilly to enjoy our beers outside, despite the roaring fire. The rough boards lining the walls, fun atmosphere and friendly staff made up for it though. I tried the XO Sour and was completely satisfied. This was certainly my favorite stop of our little adventure!

XO Sour at Red Shed Brewery Taproom in Cooperstown, NY

Beer garden at Red Shed Brewery Taproom in Cooperstown, NY

Next up was Brewery Ommegang itself, which was just as impressive as I expected it to be. We hadn’t planned far enough ahead to catch a tour, but we spent an hour enjoying each other’s company (and beer) in the cafe.

3. Roots Brewing Company

After pizza back at home base, we headed to our last stop: Roots Brewing Company. This small brewery has more of a beer bar feel, thanks to its location on Oneonta’s Main Street, exposed brick covered in art and expanded beer menu. It reminded me a little bit of Gulu-Gulu Cafe in Salem.

There are a handful of other options on the Cooperstown Beverage Trail we didn’t make it to. Some didn’t quite fit into our quick trip and others are closed for the winter. Someday we’ll make it back in the summer to experience the pretty patios, growing hops and seasonal breweries!

Cozy Date Night at Black Button Distilling

Cody and I are really bad at date night. We go out with friends, and always celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with dinner, but when it comes to trying something new together “just because,” we stink.

But it’s a new year and time to try new things. Plus, it’s January in Buffalo and the winter blues are a very real thing. So we ventured out to spend Saturday night at Black Button Distilling‘s Buffalo Cocktail Bar and Bottle Shop. Black Button has the coziest bar inside the Apartments @ the Hub, with a patio for fruity summertime cocktails. Inside, the big windows let in lots of light, even on a late afternoon in January. The tall tables are made out of well-worn wood from bourbon barrels.

Date night at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

A NYS Farm Distillery

We started with a drink from the bar, choosing from a long list of seasonal cocktails and local craft beers. Because Black Button Distilling is a NYS Farm Distillery, they can only serve New York-made products at their distillery, which is near Rochester’s Public Market.

Their Buffalo bar isn’t bound by the same rules, but supporting local business is part of their DNA (over 90% of their spirits’ ingredients are grown or produced in NYS) so their draft list was filled with Buffalo brews. I had a Bespoke Bourbon Cream-based cocktail (more on that later) and Cody opted for a White Bronco IPA from Lewiston’s Brickyard Brewing Company.

Craft beer on draft at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

We probably could have been content sipping drinks and nibbling on the meat and cheese board other couples were enjoying, but because this was date night, we opted for Black Button’s Hands-On Seasonal Cocktail Class. We started with a tasting of the distillery’s flagship spirits: Citrus Forward Gin, Straight Bourbon, Apple Pie Moonshine and Bourbon Cream.

Spirits tasting at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

Apple Pie Moonshine from Black Button Distilling

Every one was incredibly smooth. As a bit of a lightweight, I only finished the two I really enjoyed: Apple Pie Moonshine, made from cider fresh-pressed from Lynoaken apples (grown in Medina!), whiskey, cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar, and Bourbon Cream, a mix of Black Button’s bourbon and farm-fresh cream.

Seasonal Cocktail: Cereal Party

This cocktail tastes like a coffee milkshake and to be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Maybe a little more complicated than pouring a beer from the kegerator, but definitely easy enough to make at home. Crafting this cocktail was the most fun part of our date night, partly because our Black Button Ambassador loved helping us figure out what, exactly, we were supposed to be doing.

We started with the Bespoke Bourbon Cream, adding cold brew coffee (also from Rochester) and house-made nutmeg simple syrup before topping with nutmeg and its namesake ingredient, Lucky Charm marshmallows (!).

Cocktail class at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

Making Cereal Party at Black Button Distilling in Buffalo

This concoction went down soooo smoothly and it’s definitely easy enough that I’ll be making it again at home. We sipped our cocktails and tasted some of Black Button Distilling’s other delicious (non-alcoholic) products, including Bourbon Bacon Ketchup and Apple Pie Moonshine BBQ Sauce. Both were incredible and would make really good gifts, no matter if your significant other or friends are more beer drinker or liquor lover.

Apple Pie Moonshine BBQ Sauce from Black Button Distilling

Black Button Distilling’s Swan Street location is conveniently near a lot of other cool places to spend a few hours with your favorite person, which makes a cocktail class a great way to start a downtown date night!

I received a cocktail class at Black Button’s Buffalo Cocktail Bar and Bottle Shop in exchange for a review on Succulents and Sunnies. The thoughts I share here are always my own!

The Dreamiest Brunch in Buffalo

Buffalo is a small enough city that when a new restaurant opens, especially a photo-worthy one, you hear about it. More than a year after Rowhouse‘s opening in 2017, people are still talking about (and taking pictures of) it.

I had yet to stop in until this weekend, when a friend from high school home for the holidays mentioned she wanted to try one of the “best spots” Buffalo had to offer. We opted for brunch rather than pastries from the case, because we had a lot of catching up to do. Plus, who could not want to spend as much time as possible in this beautiful space, still decorated for Christmas?

Eating upstairs at Rowhouse in Allentown, Buffalo, NY

A Historic Home

One of my favorite things about Buffalo is how old it is. The power and wealth concentrated in this city at the turn of the century fascinates me. Buffalo’s residents and visitors are still benefiting from the architecture, art and advancements these families left behind.

Rowhouse takes its name from its home in a trio of row houses along Delaware Ave. called Midway Plaisance. This block of homes is unique in Buffalo, a city of sprawling mansions and even larger lawns. Just blocks away, the heart of Allentown is filled with stately homes and Millionaire’s Row, also on Delaware Ave., is a short drive away. However, as Buffalo’s downtown grew north, wealthy families opted for a style of building seen in other crowded cities in the late 1800s: the row house.

Row houses along Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, NY

The beautiful restaurant, cafe and bar calls three of the 11 remaining row houses home. The heart of Rowhouse was built for Dr. Bernard Bartow, a co-founder of Children’s Hospital, and converted into commercial space almost a century ago. Arches that mirror the massive front door open into the buildings on either side, which now house a cafe, lunch counter and cocktail bar.

I can’t imagine this building as the home it was built to be, because it is so good at being a cozy restaurant and event space.

A Seasonal Menu

We settled into a small table on the second floor and ordered lattes to enjoy while deciding on food. On a cold day filled with flurries, the brunch menu of stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods made with local ingredients sounded delicious.

Latte at Rowhouse in Buffalo, NY

We both settled with the quiche of the day, which came out of the kitchen spotted with sweet potatoes, onions and Brussels sprouts. It was just the right amount of food to go with our conversation on everything from engagement rings to health insurance, and all the things 20-something millennials worry about in between.

Of course, a latte with brunch didn’t quite feel like enough caffeine for a trip to Target on the Saturday after Christmas, so I ordered a drip coffee from the cafe to go. The dark roast blend was delicious and provided the perfect prop for a few more pictures.

Coffee at the counter at Rowhouse in Buffalo, NY

Pastries stacked at Rowhouse's cafe

Cocktail lounge at Rowhouse in Allentown, Buffalo, NY

LIC’s Breweries are Worth the Lyft from Manhattan

Every other year my dad’s family spends Thanksgiving in New York City, the huge metropolis both of my dad’s siblings call home. Hanging out with my cousins, catching up with aunts and uncles and reading the paper with my grandparents is a wonderful way to spend a long weekend. Every visit, we see a little bit more of what New York has to offer, from My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center (wayyy funnier than I expected) to the New York Transit Museum (trains are cool no matter how old you are). We almost never venture from Manhattan or Brooklyn, because the neighborhoods where my family lives have so much to offer.

This visit, we wanted to check out a couple of breweries, something Cody and I almost always do when traveling. As it turns out, nothing in Manhattan looked quite like the small taproom we usually gravitate towards. Of course, Brooklyn has a ton of options, but public transportation in the pouring rain after dark didn’t seem like that much fun. Long Island City was just a $7 Lyft ride over the Queensboro Bridge, so that’s where we ended up.

Big aLICe Brewing

The businesses of Long Island City really like incorporating LIC into their names. This brewery did it well though, changing the spelling of Allis, the distinct generator their name is inspired by, to use the initials.

Just like good breweries everywhere, Big aLICe is in a nondescript industrial building. The bright green door opens into a small, cozy taproom with a little bit of a view of their brewing equipment. The atmosphere would remind Buffalonians of the original CBW space or Buffalo Brewing Company. We were greeted by lots of bartenders who knew what they were talking about, friends hanging out and a really cool (if not 100% accurate) map of breweries around the country.

IPA at Big aLICe Brewing in Long Island City

Entrance to Big aLICe Brewing in Long Island City

I chose a flight of 4 so I could try the Lemongrass Kolsch, NYS Pils, Hibiscus Gose, and Ways and Beans (a porter that I tried solely because of the name). Everything was great. I think the gose was my favorite, which is true of the last few breweries I visited. Cody opted for two IPAs, both of which even I liked.

Fifth Hammer Brewing Company

Because it was still pouring rain, we took a 2 minute Lyft ride rather than walking to Fifth Hammer Brewing Company. I bet this place is really cool in the summer, with a big garage door that opens on to the street. The huge taproom here was a nice breath of fresh air after spending a few days in traffic, Fifth Avenue crowds and busy restaurants.

On the November night we visited, the one thing I couldn’t get over was how dark it was inside. I had to position my glass strategically over the Christmas lights in the corner to take a picture of it…

Beer at Fifth Hammer Brewing in Long Island City

Entrance to Fifth Hammer Brewing in Long Island City

My Cranorangutang (an American sour with cranberry and blood orange) was just sour enough to make it nice for sipping. Cody tried 2 of the IPAs, liking 1 enough to order it again rather than try the last IPA on tap.

We might not have been in Manhattan, but we were definitely still paying New York City prices at both breweries. Considering we drove down with my parents, ate at my aunt’s house most meals and spent the day walking, we weren’t too upset about spending $40 per brewery.

We finished the night with giant, cheap slices of cheese pizza at sLICe (I wasn’t kidding about the name thing), which tasted great. We headed back to Manhattan happy, full and ready to sleep a few hours before a loooong drive back to Buffalo.

Celebrating the First Day of Fall in NOTL

When I have a free autumn Saturday and a desire to gaze at acres of vineyards, I usually head to the Finger Lakes. Sucking the juice out of concord grapes while picking bunches for jelly with my grandpa will forever be one of my favorite things about fall. Because Penn Yan holds such a special place in my heart, and I don’t really like wine that much anyway, I always forget about how close Niagara-on-the-Lake’s beautiful wineries are.

Tourism Niagara Canada invited the Buffalo Bloggers to take in a few of Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries on what turned out to be a beautiful first day of fall. I hadn’t been to NOTL since a very fun long weekend there when I was in elementary school. (My parents were very early adopters of the staycation trend.) The picture-perfect vineyards, fun tastings and adorable Queen Street are a blogger’s paradise.

Blue skies over Konzelmann Estate Winery

Wine tasting at Konzelmann Estate Winery

Our first stop was the beautiful Konzelmann Estate Winery, which greeted us with panoramic views of the Toronto skyline over their vineyards. I learned a lot about wine on our tour of the facility, from growing and harvesting to fermenting and aging. Our guide grew up on a vineyard and you could tell he loves sharing everything he knows about wine and winemaking.

I don’t particularly like wine, but I really enjoyed all the wines Konzelmann offered to us, even bringing a bottle of the Peachwine home.

Next was Small Talk Vineyards. Our first impression was how Instagramable this cute winery is. Arches covered in flowers and grapevines, brightly colored doors, and funny speech bubbles in adorable typography guided us toward the door.

Here, we tried two wines, neither of which I loved. However, this winery is also home to Shiny Apple Cider. Their cider varieties all start with the same base and are mixed with different flavors, for some really tasty results. The Bootleg Cider, a combination of hard apple cider and whiskey, was delicious. As they describe it, “It’s like apple pie and vanilla ice cream had a delicious alcoholic baby that they raised to be a respectable member of cider society…”

Grapevine covered arches at Small Talk Vineyards

Shiny Bootleg Cider at Shiny Apple Cider

Our group chatted under the beautiful blue sky on the pretty patio before heading to dinner at Bistro Six-One for pasta and pizza. We headed back over the border full of wine, spaghetti and sunshine, with a whole lot of pictures for our Instagram grids.