Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Queen City Kitchen, Buffalo Airport

On my recent trip to Buffalo for a friend's wedding (short version: shockingly good eats, including great wedding catering by Exquisite Catering and good pastries and amazing eggs at Hyatt Regency hotel breakfast).  But for my final meal, I had to eat lunch at the airport.  The Buffalo airport isn't exactly large, and the options were quite limited.  Not even a Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, or even a McDonald's.  Just a few small grab n' goes, a meager food court, and 1-2 bars.  And a new establishment, Queen City Kitchen.  I couldn't find many reviews online, since it was new and not exactly in a location that people review often, but, what I could find were quite solid.  Of course, they were all for breakfast, not lunch, but, it certainly seemed like my best option.

And, indeed, it was.  I was really pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food (the cooked food was better than the snacks).  And the stellar coffee.  And the friendliness of the staff.  Really a great place, and I'd certainly return ... if I wind up in Buffalo again.

The Space

Grab N Go Counter.
One side of the establishment is a grab-n-go area, designed for travelers just running through, selling a selection of pre-made salads, sandwiches, and plenty of snacks.  They even had housemade chips, alongside standard packaged chips, and all sorts of creative snack mixes.  I couldn't resist grabbing a few things for the flight.  More on those below.
Bottled Drinks.
The drink selection was also impressive.  Sodas, juices, and all sorts of flavored waters.  I kinda wanted it all, but settled on a single tasty flavored water.
Pastries. 
Up at the counter in front was a great pastry lineup: croissants, cinnamon rolls, assorted danishes (cream cheese, cherry cream cheese, apple, cherry almond), muffins (cinnamon spice, banana nut, lemon poppyseed, blueberry), and cookies (oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip).

If I hadn't just devoured, literally a full size cinnamon roll, a full size croissant, a pecan pie stuffed danish, and part of a lemon cheese danish at the hotel breakfast  (uh, along with scrambled eggs, sausage, and cereal ...), I certainly would have tried one of these.  Alas, I did not on this trip.
Bar Seating.
Another section was a bar with seating and waiter service.  It looked like a nice place to camp out, if you were going to be there a little while.

Otherwise, you could order from a full menu at the register, take a number, and go take a seat, and a server would bring it to you.  We opted for this choice.
Booths.
Most of the seating was comfortable booths along the wall, plus tables and benches along the other side of the room.  The most notable fact of this area is that not only did each table have a dedicated power jack (soooo welcome in an airport), the outlets had ... USB ports.  Welcome to the future.  We could charge our laptops and phones at once.  Amazing.
Condiments.
Condiments were self serve, mostly in individual packets, including mayo, malt vinegar, hot sauces, honey, amongst others.

Drinks 

King Decaf Americano. $3.09.
Besides the flavored sparkling water I grabbed from the case, I wanted coffee.  The coffee options were extensive, with classic espresso drinks made by a barista, along with a number of flavored iced coffees, and self-serve pre-brewed drip coffee in several flavors.

Since I wanted it fresh, I opted for an americano, decaf.  Sizes were "JR", "Queen", or "King".  Cute naming, but when people are half-awake and needing coffee, complicated names aren't actually desirable!

The decaf was shockingly good.  Some of the best decaf I've ever had.  Flavorful.  No funk.  So smooth.  I drank it black, gladly.  So, so good.
Coffee Condiment Station.
The coffee condiment station (and self serve drip coffee area), had all the standard choices for sugar and sweetener, milk, creamer, honey, and cinnamon.  I didn't investigate these add-ins however, as my amazing americano needed nothing added.  Nothing.

Lunch + Dinner

Daily Specials.
The main menu features an assortment of salads, sandwiches, and appetizers.  They even had a chalkboard with daily specials out on the walkway in the terminal.  If I was hungry, I obviously would have opted for that poutine, given my first, and only, poutine experience was a few days prior at The Crazy Canuck.  I wanted more poutine!

But given my ridiculous brunch, I wasn't exactly hungry.  Ojan hadn't been insane like me at brunch though, and was ready for lunch.  And given that we had no connection time between our flights, he knew we also needed dinner for the next flight.

So he ordered one hot meal for lunch to eat then, and a salad to go for later.  Both came packaged to go, but we were invited to eat there at the regular tables anyway, and the food was brought to us at our table when ready.
Special: Chicken Parmesan Sandwich with Housemade Chips.  $11.25.
"Fried Chicken Fingers, topped with marinara sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese."

For lunch, Ojan opted for a special from the chalkboard out front: a chicken parm sandwich.  He said he was just in the mood for it.  Since I wanted only a few bites, I didn't protest, although this isn't something I'd normally ever order.

I ended up eating far more than I ever thought I would, given how ridiculously stuffed I was.  Ojan was shocked, not only because he'd seen how much I ate at brunch and couldn't believe I wanted more food, but also because, well, I don't like sandwiches.  And I don't like chicken.  This was a chicken sandwich.

But it was really, really nicely done.  Clearly made to order with some love.  Shocking for an airport!

The bread was super fluffy.  Really fresh.  And perfectly toasted, just a bit crunchy on the outside.  Warm.  I'm pretty sure I'll never like a sandwich bun more than this.

Each half of the sandwich had a chicken finger inside.  They were lightly breaded, all white meat.  Not dried out.  Not too fried.  Not oily.  I thought they were great ... for chicken fingers.

Smothered in a delicious marinara sauce.  Flavorful and tangy.  Not generic stuff from a jar.

And, perhaps the best part: the mozzarella.  Absolutely perfectly melted.  Tons of it.  And, not just some shredded or sliced mozzarella.  It was fresh mozzarella.

Wow.  Every element of this was just really, really nicely done.  I was full, but I ended up eating quite a bit of it.  Ojan wasn't starving, so after he ate all the chicken finger out of his half, he left behind some bread with sauce and cheese.  I gladly devoured the rejects.  Soft, fluffy, toasted bread, with crazy flavorful marinara and amazing melted mozzarella?  Um, yes?  It was like pizza.

All sandwiches at Queen City Kitchen come served with house made chips.  You can upgrade to fries or sweet potato fries for $2 more.  We stuck with the chips, which seemed to be a great decision.

They were really awesome, for chips.  Clearly made from fresh potatoes, skin on.  Assorted shapes and sizes.  Some were really crispy, others a bit softer.  I preferred the soft ones, but I really liked the contrast.  They were salty.  They were, well, just, great chips.  Ojan and I both devoured a ton of these, and took the rest with us to enjoy later (and enjoy later we did!)

Really, a complete success, and very reasonably priced at $11.25, particularly for airport food.
Greek Salad. $11.25 + grilled chicken breast $5.25.
"Romaine lettuce, feta cheese, sliced cucumbers, black olives, grape tomatoes, and red onions with a choice of dressing."

To take on the flight, Ojan opted for a Greek salad.  This was a theme on the trip, as you recall the Greek salad he loved on our outbound trip at Napa Farms Market too?

Other salads on offer were a caprese, an iceberg wedge, a cobb, and a ceasar.  All salads can have grilled chicken added.  Personally, I was eying the wedge (crispy fried onions! bacon! ranch!) or perhaps the caprese, given how delicious that mozzarella from the parmesan was.

But Ojan went for the Greek, and added the grilled chicken so it would have some protein.

It was ... fine.  Just not my style of salad.  Nicely composed, lots of fresh cut grape tomatoes, red onion, black olives, cucumbers, and decent feta.  The dressing was fairly classic greek.  It was all fresh enough, and Ojan liked it, but just not my thing obviously, and he didn't think it was nearly as good as the Napa Farms Market one that he adored.

It was a large salad, but with the chicken upgrade, $16.25 for a salad seems pretty high, even in an airport.
Poutine. $7.50.
"French fries, topped with gravy and cheddar cheese curds."

Our flight story is actually more complicated than I described.  Short version?  Canceled flight after numerous delays, got stuck in Buffalo overnight at the Aloft, which was actually wonderful, and had decent cheesecake and fresh made breakfast sandos.

Blah, blah, blah, but this all meant that we wound back up at the Buffalo airport the next day, so, we were able to visit Queen City Kitchen again, get the poutine this time around, as a little pre-flight snack.

Sadly, it wasn't nearly as successful as the other food.

We had the choice of fries or tator tots, and went traditional with fries.  The fries were hot and fresh, but really unremarkable.  Their housemade chips were far superior.

I also didn't really like the gravy, I think turkey gravy?  It was just kinda goopy, and the flavor wasn't very developed.  What I loved about The Crazy Canuck's poutine, besides the fries as the base, was the gravy.  That gravy was awesome.

And finally, the curds.  Just like at Crazy Canuck, they weren't really melted.  But since the food was made to order and served piping fresh, the fries were super hot, as was the gravy, so we were able to stuff the curds down into the fries and melt most of them.

Overall, this was just meh to me.  Ojan ate it, but agreed not nearly as good as Crazy Canuck, and that it was more like what you'd expect at an airport.  Oh well.


Snacks

The snack selection near the register was just too much to ignore, particularly given how much I love snacks, and because I knew I'd be sitting on a plane, and I'd love something to munch on to pass the time.  Oh, and because they make some of their own snacks!
Toronto Poutine Chips. $3.75.
Near the register were bags of housemade chips, in either buffalo chicken or Toronto poutine flavors.  Given how tasty the plain chips served with the chicken parm were, I wanted them both.  They looked, and sounded, amazing.  Ojan made me select just one, and voted for the poutine, since it was more unique.  Thus, poutine it was.

These chips weren't nearly as good as the plain ones served with the sandwich.  Perhaps because they weren't quite as fresh?  But also ... the whole "poutine" thing was kinda lost.  Poutine = potatoes + gravy + cheese curds.  Yes, there were potatoes here obviously, and they were the same whole sliced potatoes, of assorted shapes and sizes, that we found in the fresh chips served alongside the sandwich.  But the seasoning was the issue.  There was no cheese component at all.  The "gravy" was supposed to be mimicked by a beef base and powdered milk, along with spices (thyme, oregano, parsley, pepper) that were sprinkled on.  Yes, they had a flavor, but nothing about it reminded me of gravy, or of curds, or of poutine.  Almost more like a mild sour cream and onion if anything?

The flavor just wasn't great, the chips weren't as fresh, and $3.75 for what was actually a fairly small bag seemed high compared to the other reasonable prices at Queen City Kitchen.
Buffalo Wing Nuts. $4.95.
I love peanuts and snacks.  I love the taste of buffalo wings, but I don't like chicken.  So, put them together into buffalo wing nuts?  Sounded awesome!

But ... I didn't like them.  They did have some heat to them, but I wouldn't have identified it as "buffalo wing" flavor.  Really, they just tasted like strange flavored peanuts.  The coating was also slightly candied, not really what I expect from wings.  About 1/3 the mix was heavily coated in the crunchy candy coating, 1/3 was just mildly coated and spiced, and the other 1/3 had barely any coating.

I wish I could tell you what was in the coating, how they made it spicy, but, uh, the ingredients just read "chocolate, raisins".  Methinks someone copy-pasted here!

I clearly wouldn't get these again.

Update: Except, well, I can't leave well enough alone.  They were sitting on my counter.  Ojan rejected them.  What was I to do, but keep trying?

The ones with barely any coating and the mild amount of coating never grew on me.  But the ones with tons of coating, when consumed by very large handfuls, kinda did.  In that quantity, they almost, just almost tasted like buffalo wings.  Still too much peanut for me, but close ...
Pepper Cheese Pub Mix.  $4.95.
Next I tried the tempting looking pepper cheese pub mix.  Like I said, I love munchy snacks!

In the mix was pretzels, sesame sticks, cracker sticks, peanuts, and two types of corn nuts.  The pretzels were just standard mini pretzels, unseasoned.  I didn't want these.  The peanuts were just regular peanuts, boring.  The cracker sticks were a bit better, slightly seasoned.  One type of corn nut was not seasoned and pretty generic, the others were red, which you'd expect to be bursting with some kind of flavor, but, alas, they were not.  The only thing I really liked in the mix was the sesame sticks, just because I like sesame sticks.  Everything else was just fairly boring, and although some pieces were well coated, there just wasn't much flavor.

I obviously wouldn't get this again either.
Queen City Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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