For 14 years, Joel Capolongo and Nick Ryan have figured out how to sell vegan fast food to the citizens of Syracuse.
“When we started 14 years ago, we had to do a lot of explaining, what things were, but that has long since passed,” Capolongo said. “Veganism and the vegan lifestyle and vegan diet have gone totally mainstream.” Despite the pandemic, Strong Hearts had its best year in 2021, he said, with the help of an easy-to-use online ordering system.
Now they’re bringing their well-honed recipes and touch for vegetable comfort food to Buffalo, where they see a growing market for animal-free dining. They hope to open in July, at 295 Niagara St., formerly Ru’s Pierogi.
Strong Hearts’ menu, at stronghearts716.com, includes vegan versions of chicken finger subs, mac and cheese, and a chicken wing burger that includes a Beyond Burger, Buffalo-sauced faux chicken tenders, dill pickles, red onion, and housemade ranch or blue cheese sauce, $16 with fries.
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There’s nachos, chicken wings, Reubens, chicken parm, a chicken-bacon-ranch sandwich made with tempeh “bacon,” and loaded fries aplenty. Sweet Sassy Molassy, grilled chipotle-maple tofu, come as a sandwich or wrap. Like many Strong Hearts dishes, there’s a gluten-free version available.
“It’s, as you know, the second-largest city in the state, and we felt it was very underserved in the vegan market, Capolongo said. “There’s just a real pride in Buffalonians, and coupling that with the room for growth here, we really like it so far.”
Dig In, Buffalo: Southern Junction chef/owner Ryan Fernandez is smoking up one-of-a-kind barbecue that’s “a little bit of Texas, a little bit of India.” Watch now >>
Sponsored by Orville’s Home Appliances
Blue house: Zina Lapi started her restaurant career driving the Blue Balls Bus food truck, a trip that took her all the way to the heart of Allentown. At Casa Azul, her talented team has dialed in the details that make it the best Mexican-inspired restaurant in Buffalo. Read more
Next week: Jasmine Thai: The veteran of Western New York’s Thai restaurant population has weathered the pandemic, turning out dishes like the irreplaceable mee krob, crispy stir-fried noodles that are the adult Cracker Jacks of Thai cuisine. Read 2016 review
OPENINGS & CLOSINGS
Kenmore Throwback: Owner Jason Wood is headed back to the 1970s with Nowhere Lounge, 3115 Delaware Ave., turning the former Bimber’s Delwood space into a paneled basement rec room with lava lamp era decor, and drinks to match. Wood expects to open this month, according to Buffalo Rising. Read more
Yemeni coffee: Socotra Cafe, 671 Ridge Road, Lackawanna, has started serving Yemeni “beehive bread,” made with orange blossom water and cheese, more pastries, potent Yemeni coffee, and smoothies.
Hours: 7 am to 11 pm Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Phone: 716-939-2778. Read more
MORE RESTAURANT INTEL
Restaurant worker aid: A Cook’s Tour, the restaurant worker aid fundraiser inspired by television food personality Anthony Bourdain, is back on June 20, at Kleinhans Music Hall.
All proceeds go to Family Meal Hospitality Trust, a non-profit assisting local food service industry workers.
Everyone gets two drink tickets and grazing rights at bites offered by restaurants including Chez Ami, Rick’s on Main, Osteria 166, Swan Street Diner, Hooked, Mister Sizzles, Forno Napoli, Britesmith Brewing, Lago 210, Flint, Fresh Catch, Pendleton Creek Club , Breezy Burrito, and The Sweet Whisk.
Admittance at Kleinhans, 3 Symphony Circle, is $65, with entry at 6 pm, or $100 for VIP, including 5:30 pm early admission and a T-shirt. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets. Read more
ASK THE CRITIC
Q: Why you don’t rate restaurants anymore? I really appreciated seeing what you thought they deserved. Maybe because of the pandemic you didn’t want to be harsh? Now that we are past that, can you once again include that when you do your review?
-Patricia Lorence, Grand Island
A: During the pandemic, I stopped applying scores, because it was impossible to compare anything fairly to what came before.
I am confident to present 45 to 50 places a year to readers. Why spend that on a place I wouldn’t recommend? What a waste of writing hours and a talented photographer’s day.
The review is a chance to tell readers about a place that’s doing something I love. It’s my duty to convey that appreciation to the reader.
I do understand people in a hurry want a score, the complexities of a restaurant reduced to a digit. New York Times critics can return to a place until they feel like they’ve nailed down its truth. I usually get one or two visits. That’s precious little data to carve out a definitive unified-field ranking of Western New York’s myriad restaurants, across genres, price points, and décor levels.
Typically my reviews take three minutes to read. I will continue to endeavor to make those words worth your while.
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