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The (Un)chicken Wing Trail

The best vegan and vegetarian wings in Buffalo: Eight different and delicious options that taste like chicken wings without actually being chicken

Growing up, I was the kid who was allergic to everything, and chicken was one of those things. In Buffalo, we are famous for the very thing that I couldn’t have. So, I soon discovered alternatives: frozen soy chicken tenders and cauliflower wings bathed in Frank’s Red Hot sauce. These options were all I thought I had until now. I spent a month exploring the under-the-radar, unchicken chicken wings at restaurants and a kitchen-made offering at a grocery store, the Lexington Co-op. 

My discoveries: Buffalo offers a fantastic range of vegetarian and vegan “chicken” “wings.” They’re hot, spicy, and unexpected. There were more choices and flavors than I could have imagined! Two of the wings I found even came with “bones” – made from wood sticks and sugar cane. 

Seven unique Buffalo wing styles with soy, cauliflower, tofu, polenta, eggplant and seitan. At least, that’s what I’ve found so far. I expect there’s still more waiting to be discovered. 

Finally, even me, the guy allergic to poultry, got to taste what is an excellent riff on the iconic food my hometown is so well known for. I feel like I’ve reached a place that used to feel out of reach. I now feel like a full-fledged member of something I’ll call Buffalo’s “Chicken Wing Tasting Club.” 

Wings made from things other than chicken are delicious and have a unique flavor and texture. I didn’t know what to expect while starting this journey, but I am more than pleased with where I ended. If you don’t eat meat or are just curious to try unchicken chicken wings, this is the list for you.

The following options are organized geographically and alphabetically:

Downtown Buffalo route

Betty’s

370 Virginia St., Buffalo, NY
Tuesday – Friday 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Consider wings for brunch! In Allentown, a neighborhood near Elmwood Village, this restaurant serves plates of six ball-shaped seitan wings for $13 in four flavors: hot sauce, BBQ, sweet chili, and Korean BBQ. For those who have never tried it, seitan is a protein-rich meat substitute made from wheat gluten. The texture of the wings caught me off guard. They were firm and chewy. The sauce stayed on well. I got a lot of the sweet chili taste, a perfect mix of sweet and sour. The menu has lots of vegan options. Not to be missed: The seitan “Beefless Weck” actually tastes like beef. It’s delicious with horseradish.

Café 59

62 Allen St., Buffalo, NY
Open everyday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Café 59 is on Allen Street, in the artsy Allentown neighborhood and near galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars. Here, a $12.65 pile of rectangular polenta wings comes with a blue cheese sauce. Polenta, which I was trying for the first time, is a kind of cornmeal. The “wings” are fried in canola oil, making for a good contrast between the crispy outside and soft inside. The hot sauce tasted like it was part of the crust. The eight flavor options range from the traditional mild, medium, and hot to bourbon and honey mustard. The eclectic menu includes a tempting-sounding portobello sandwich with greens and balsamic vinaigrette. The bar by a bank of windows is great for people watching and having a drink with your wings.

Lexington Co-op

807 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, NY & 1678 Hertel Ave., Buffalo 14216
Open everyday, 7 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Yes, this is a grocery store, but they also have a kitchen that prepares food to go. Their Buffalo square tofu bites are priced by the pound at $7.99 and sold in big plastic cups. The one I bought held $3.76 worth. It came with a side of vegan blue cheese in a small cup. The small Fried tofu cubes have an almost meat-like texture that is satisfying when coated in a medium-hot Buffalo sauce. It’s hot enough but not too hot, so it’s easy to eat. Try some while sitting at a patio table. The Hertel Avenue store in North Buffalo has a similar setup but is more spacious, with seating indoors and outdoors. Or, do what I did and take them home. Heat in the air fryer at 200 degrees for 10 minutes. A regular oven works, too. They’re delicious warm!

Strong Hearts

295 Niagara St., Buffalo, NY
Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

This entirely vegan restaurant has five soy wing flavors: Buffalo, sweet and spicy, hot “hunny,” BBQ, and garlic “Parm.” They all come with vegan blue cheese except for the sweet and spicy one that has a chipotle aioli. This place was one of my favorites! The wings come with a stick inside that acts like a “bone” you can hold while eating. Each $15 order comes with four. These “wings” are mighty big. They will fill you up fast. I couldn’t resist sampling more from the menu. The $16 BBQ fried chicken sandwich was excellent, messy, and tangy with cold, sweet pickles inside.  

Sunshine Vegan Eats

893 Jefferson Ave., Buffalo, NY
Tuesday and Monday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Wednesday – Friday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

This vegan menu was one of the most wide-ranging. Consider steak, ribs, fish, and fried chicken. Their $13 Buffalo wings come in orders of eight, are soy-based, and have a sugar cane “bone” to hold. These wings were the best at imitating the shape and size of real wings with a skin-like exterior and a soft inside. A basket of medium wings had just the right amount of heat. Good dipped in the herby ranch dressing it came with. The side dishes were also tasty—from the creamy, lightly spiced mac and cheese to a sweet, moist cornbread. Their shady patio makes it an especially inviting stop on a hot day.

Vice

500 Pearl St., Buffalo, NY
Monday – Thursday 4 – 11 p.m., Friday 3 p.m. – 1:30 a.m., Saturday 1 p.m. – 1:30 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Vice has the same menu and same owner as suburban Williamsville’s Neat. Their plate of $14 wood-fired cauliflower comes sprinkled with real blue cheese crumbles and sauce that is either classic hot Buffalo or sweet and spicy. For those who like to dip, blue cheese dressing comes on the side. The cauliflower has a good crunch while still being soft enough to eat with a fork. But be warned, it can get messy. For a main course, try their juicy Beyond burger. Served with the works—cheese, lettuce, and tomato–it was the best plant-based burger I have ever had!

The Further Out Route

Amy’s Place

3234 Main St., Buffalo, NY
Wednesday – Saturday 5 – 10 p.m.

Seitan wings made in-house and in multiple flavors, are a top seller here and come in hot, medium, barbecue and plain. They also have unique breaded and deep-fried eggplant wings. They look and taste like eggplant slices and are very soft on the inside. Both versions are $10.99. The vegetarian menu is diverse with options like chicken tenders and a Greek-style gyro wrap and burgers made of faux “Impossible” meat and black beans. The inside of Amy’s feels like a retro diner blast from the past with booths and an open kitchen for a good view of the staff at work. For nice days, there are sidewalk tables.

Neat

5175 Transit Road, Williamsville, NY
Open everyday, 11 a.m. – 12 a.m.

Neat, like the Vice, which is owned by the same owner, has the same hours every day. Like Vice, they serve vegetarian wood-fired cauliflower for $14, covered in Buffalo or sweet and spicy sauce. The cauliflower has real blue cheese crumbs and blue cheese dipping sauce. The cauliflower is crumbly, so eating with a fork is the way to go. 

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Book Signing and Author Talk – Nosh: Plant-Forward Recipes Celebrating Modern Jewish Cuisine

Anyone that is interested in learning more about the history of Jewish culinary traditions, as they relate to the modern Jewish kitchen, is invited to attend a special book signing event that will appeal to both non-meat enthusiasts and literary lovers.

“The book signing event – in partnership with Just Buffalo Literary Center – features renowned author Michah Siva. Michah will present her latest cookbook, Nosh: Plant-Forward Recipes Celebrating Modern Jewish Cuisine, and provide personal book signings. Attendees will also enjoy a delectable spread of plant-based dishes provided by Bloom & Rose. This event offers a fantastic opportunity for anyone that is interested in learning more about modern Jewish cuisine as seen through a plant-based lens. On Thursday, August 1 (6:30pm), we will bring community members together for an evening of food, culture, and literature. We will also host a food drive and accept pantry items and canned goods to donate to local food banks.” – Kimberly Behzadi, owner of Read It & Eat Bookshop

“For those who want to connect with Jewish culinary history while following a plant-based diet, Nosh offers more than 80 recipes that can be served at Shabbat, holidays, and even better, every day,” says Michah Siva.

Book Signing – Nosh: Plant-Forward Recipes Celebrating Modern Jewish Cuisine

Thursday, August 1, 20024

6:30 pm

Just Buffalo Literary Center, 468 Washington St #2, Buffalo, NY 1420

$55 for admission with a signed book, $15 for admission without the book

$55 ticket includes:

Read: A signed copy of Nosh: Plant-Forward Recipes Celebrating Modern Jewish Cuisine (SRP $35)

Eat: The Bloom & Rose will provide a delicious spread of plant-based dishes, featuring its famous vegetarian pastrami sandwich.

Fight Hunger: Organizers welcome any guests to bring canned goods or pantry items that can be donated to local food pantries.

Click here for tickets

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2024 East Side Garden Walk

For seven years, the East Side Garden Walk (ESGW) has been gaining momentum, thanks to homeowners, gardeners, community stakeholders, and the people that attend the free, self-guided tour that features nearly 100 beautiful gardens.

On July 20 and 21, from 10 am to 4 pm, greenthumbs of all stripes will engage with gardeners and their gardens on the city’s East Side.

“The ESGW is creating positive stories of our homes and our neighborhood because this community matters. We use our love of gardening and community to create connections between gardeners, neighbors, and visitors. This event is transforming our neighborhood by providing the spotlight for gardeners to “show out”, by encouraging change, and inviting new ideas and growth. The ESGW also provides a way for those living outside the East Side to show up and help out in a fun community-building event. Don’t miss this chance to be a good neighbor.” – ESGW

Video by Aitina Fareed Cooke

What’s New This Year:

Extended hours: Now the walk runs on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm!

AKG Artists: Visit Renata’s Garden at 365 Newburgh Avenue,  Grassroots Gardens at 389 Broadway Street, or Samantha’s Garden at 821 Humboldt Parkway both days to see artists in action.

Plein Air Painters: Catch them at Burke Avenue Garden at 1 pm on Saturday.

Headquarters: Visit our headquarters during the tour hours for free maps and to get your questions answered by our volunteers. Locations include:

Martin Luther King, Jr. Park: Near the Masten district sign, close to Fillmore and North Parade. 

People’s Park: At Main Street and Jewett Parkway (ESGW t-shirts will be for sale)

Find ESGW Maps Ahead of Time:

Online: Visit EastSideGardenWalk.com to download a print-friendly PDF or access the Google Map available the week of the walk.

In-Person: Pick up maps at any downtown Buffalo Public Library or select ESGW sponsor locations.

Special Event:

Free Backpacks for Kids: 300 PanchoPacks from the Teacher’s Desk will be distributed each day of the walk between 12 pm and 2 pm at the Box Avenue Good Neighbors Garden. Child(ren) must be present to receive a backpack.

For more information, visit EastSideGardenWalk.com.

East Side Garden Walk is an event produced by Gardens Buffalo Niagara (GBN) whose mission is to create more vibrant and beautiful communities by sharing gardens. Other GBN events include Garden Walk Buffalo, America’s largest garden tour; the Garden Art Sale in partnership with the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens June, Tours of Open Gardens in July; Conservation Day at the Elmwood Village Farmers MarketUrban Farm Day; and promoting the 15 other regional garden tours in the region.

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The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame announces Class of 2024

The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame (BMHOF) has announced the Class of 2024. 10 inductees that have been singing and playing their hearts out in Buffalo for decades have been recognized for their stellar efforts.

An official induction ceremony will take place at Samuel’s Grande Manor on October 9, 2024, with BMHOF Executive Board Member Carolyn Moser serving as Chairperson.

The induction ceremony will be followed by a live concert performance on October 10, 2024, at The Cove Seafood & Banquets. BMHOF President Anthony Casuccio and Vice President Tom Lorentz will be in attendance, as will members of the Board of Trustees.

For more information on this event, feel free to visit www.bmhof.org.

Phil Aguglia – A Grammy nominated, award winning and passionate music educator who has made a significant impact on the lives of his students in the WNY school system with his unique teaching methodology. He is a sought-after conductor, clinician, and speaker and has proudly served on the board of trustees for the Music isArt organization since 2008. He has received numerous awards and nominations including: The Grammy Foundation (2015 semifinalist/2023 Finalist), People Magazine, Walt Disney Corporation, Erie County Music Educator Association, The Conn/Selmer Corporation, SUNY Buffalo State, and the Buffalo Bills. He is owner of PaGu Batons, featured in the 2020 Oscars and Leonard Bernstein’s batons in the movie “Maestro.

Anthony Casuccio-Grammy nominated musician, author, composer and educator. He has produced, mixed, and remastered projects for Tony Bennett, Roy Orbison, Linda Ronstadt, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Les Paul, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Jim Croce, The Stylistics, and Betty Buckley. His original music has been featured in publications such as Billboard, Gramophone, New York Times. Business First, Buffalo News, Rock Era Magazine, The Industry Times and MIX Magazine. He has had nine top 20 songs on various U.K. Indie music charts. With a #1 position on the UK Independent charts in the Fall of 2023. Anthony is the Chair of the Villa Maria Music Department.

Hank D’Amico – The “first call” Jazz Clarinetist was a notable figure in the Buffalo Jazz scene. His extensive discography and concert performances found him playing alongside many legends 
in the jazz music world including – Bob Crosby, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday,Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Tommy Dorsey, Steve Allen, Peggy Lee,Benny Goodman and so many more. His recording, Holiday With Hank, released on Bethlehem Records, was highly acclaimed.

The Krew Brothers Band – They are tight-knit family band whose big break came with a 1961 national appearance on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour show. After the release of their debut album, “A Lively Polka Session” along with 3 additional albums “Krew Brothers Mix It Up,” “Polka Recipe,” and “Yes, We Are All Brothers” they gained national recognition within the national polka community, across the US and Canada. They continue to this day to keep the spirit of polka music alive.

Rishon Odel – Award winning, Grammy Nominated and multi-talented Bassist who has established his proficiency as a composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. He is the Musical Director for Julius Wilson, and has collaborated with notable artists such as Cissy Houston, Marvin Winans, Phil Perry, Donnie McClurkin, and “Love & Hip-Hop” star “Stevie J” Jordan. He authored “Bass Volume 1,” conducted his first orchestra in 2009, and was nominated for “Best Classical Musician” by Artvoice. He scored the film Less Than Perfect, produced by Reuben Santiago. In 2010, he released a DVD documentary on Jazz History featuring band members of Charles Mingus’ tour band.

Donna Rose – A powerhouse vocalist whose wide-ranging singing career has taken her from the 60s ‘til today” – playing locally and regionally in the Northeast. She has fronted bands through the 70s -Voyage, Brothers Plus, Rose Fever, and Pinnacle. She has shared the stage with numerous Buffalo Music Hall of Fame Inducted Members including Jim Wozniak, Wally Jederman, Bobby Jones, Nick Veltri, Sam Guarino. Currently fronting her own band “The Donna Rose band,” she has made guest appearances with 12 Pack Jack, James Anthony, Dolly Dee, Jack Civiletto and others, and has been a featured artist at the Tacoma Performing Arts Center, after six decades of service to the Buffalo music community.

Tom Russo – One of the most in-demand drummers in the Buffalo music scene during the 1970s and ‘80s. Tom Russo was known for playing with popular Buffalo bands such as Issac, Penny Farthing, the Farrell Brothers, Big Wheelie and the Hubcaps, Junction West, and The Buffalo Blues Brothers Band featuring musicians such as Billy McEwen, Jon Rose, Nick Salamone, Nick Veltri, Fred Rapillo, 
and Clay Shahlka.

Christopher Swist – An internationally known master percussionist, composer, educator and pro-audio writer. His music has been performed by The Louisville Orchestra, Hartford Symphony Orchestra,
American Modern Ensemble, Grupo PIAP, YoungArts, and the United States Military Academy. His credits include – Director of Recording Arts at Trinity College in Hartford and Resident Artist at Keene State College in New Hampshire. He has also taught at The Hartt School, Bennington College, Holyoke Community College, and Franklin Pierce University. He released two solo albums: Whitewater in 2001, and Duality in 2013. Swist operates his own recording studio, EvenFall, in New Hampshire, and is a pro- audio writer and reviewer for SonicScoop

Jim Yeomans – He is an award-winning Nashville singer, songwriter, guitarist and recording artist. He was the first-place winner of Music City’s “You can be a Star” National TV contest in Nashville, TN. He released the songs “Dance with Me in Three-Quarter Time” and “There Goes My Heart” on Amherst Records where he gained recognition regionally and in Nashville. His appeal is evident by his two successful albums, songs from which continue to receive airplay within the United States and across Europe. He continues today to keep his passion for music alive.

Joe Zappo – He is a soulful guitarist, singer, songwriter, bandleader, and recording artist known affectionately as “Dr. Z” Zappo. This dedicated Buffalo Blues Legend is a cornerstone of the Buffalo blues scene. He is active in the Western New York Blues Society, mentored newcomers in the Am-Jam Program and played benefits for Mercy Flight and Children’s Hospital, breast cancer awareness, and many others.
As a working musician since 1969, Zappo and his band Dr. Z and the Blues Remedy have been playing steadily since the 1980s.

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The Joe Fischer Creative Hub

Thanks to a $100,000+ donation from Joe Fischer of Longview, Washington, Starlight Studio & Art Gallery has been able to transform one of its outdated spaces into a vibrant library space that will accommodate an amassed collection of books, while accommodating artists and creatives. The space will also serve as as a dedicated home to Starlight’s Writing Group, which hosts workshops and is currently in the midst of coordinating with the cartoonist Max Weiss to create zines for Zine Fest 2024 at WNY Book Arts Center.

The significant donation has enabled Starlight – an organization that supports adults with disabilities in their artistic development – to install new lighting and shelving. The floors were refurbished as well. Artistically painted walls helped transform the library into a bright and cheery gathering area, where creatives will be inspired to work on their projects.

“Starlight Studio & Art Gallery has transformed its library into a beautiful and inspired space with the funds from Joe,” noted Marc Hennig, Deputy Director of Beyond Support Network*. “This supports the activities of Starlight Studio program.”

Fischer, an accomplished artist himself, has been involved in an artistic capacity throughout much of his career. After serving in the United States Air Force as an Air Traffic Controller and Graphic Artist in the 1950’s, he received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Oregon in 1963. From 1965 to 1994, he served as the Director of the Creative Craft Center at the State University of N.Y. at Buffalo. Considered the largest Non-academic / Academic craft center in the country, the Creative Craft Center provided opportunities for University at Buffalo students and community members to study weaving, pottery, metals, stained glass and photography; Fischer’s focus of instruction was drawing and painting. He taught at Empire State College from 1975 to 1994 and at the University of Buffalo from 1970 to 1994.

Fischer’s own works have been exhibited in galleries in New York State and in the Pacific Northwest. His works reside in collections in countries that include Canada, Ecuador, Norway, and Sweden.

Currently, Fischer has been creating a cartoon a day, which he sends along to Starlight, to be added to their own collection. Fifteen cartoons are now adorning the walls of The Joe Fischer Creative Hub, which is quickly becoming a space of great joy for artists and visitors.

“It is apt to name this room The Joe Fischer Creative Hub as so many creative pursuits happen in here,” said Carrie Marcotte, Director of Starlight Studio and Art Gallery. “From Tai Chi in the morning, movies on Fridays, writing group on Tuesdays and artmaking throughout, much creative exploration occurs in here. Not only is Joe Fischer a loyal patron of Starlight Studio, he has also become our friend—he really gets what we do here and understands the value for the artists and the larger community. We have no trouble living his credo, ‘The arts give meaning to life, participate!’”

The Joe Fischer Creative Hub @ Starlight Studio & Art Gallery – 340 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, N.Y

*Beyond Support Network is a non-profit organization that supports persons with developmental disabilities. The organization strives to create and provide an environment in which all individuals they serve experience independence, respect, dignity, and full participation in the community so that they can reach their potential. For more information on Beyond Support Network or Starlight Studio & Art Gallery, visit starlightstudio.org or visit us on Instagram/starlightstudiobuffalo and Facebook.com/SSAGBuffalo.

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Further progress on enacting the City of Buffalo Historic Preservation Receivership Act

As a way to address blight, while improving living conditions in Buffalo’s neighborhoods, an effort is being made to pass the “City of Buffalo Historic Preservation Receivership Act.” This Act, which outlines procedures for appointing receivers to manage neglected or abandoned properties, is being advocated by Fillmore District Council Member Mitchell P. Nowakowski, Senator Sean Ryan, Assemblymember Jonathan Rivera, and representatives from various community groups. Senate bill S7765 and Assembly bill A1054n2 are currently in the New York State Legislature.

Assembly Bill A10542 from the 2023-2024 Legislative Session enacts the “City of Buffalo Historic Preservation Receivership Act” and is currently in the NYS Assembly Committee

Senate Bill S7765 from the 2023-2024 Legislative Session enacts the “City of Buffalo Historic Preservation Receivership Act” and is currently waiting for passage in the NYS Assembly

The bill aims to: enact the “City of Buffalo Historic Preservation Receivership Act,” which outlines procedures for appointing receivers to manage neglected or abandoned properties, thereby addressing blight and improving living conditions in Buffalo neighborhoods.

Not only do neglected properties bring neighborhoods down in various ways – increased crime, lower property values, health concerns, poor quality of life, blight, etc. – they also lead to demolition by neglect scenarios. For decades, we have been held at the mercy by owners of neglected properties, many of whom reside out of town. The City of Buffalo Historic Preservation Receivership Act will empower Buffalo’s officials to take action, instead of sitting idly by as at-risk neighborhoods crumble.

“Neglected properties are a significant issue in our city, contributing to hazardous living conditions and diminishing the quality of our neighborhoods,” said Fillmore District Council Member Mitch Nowakowski, who introduced a resolution in support of these bills to the Buffalo Common Council, emphasizing the need to tackle property neglect and enhance housing standards for residents and help get the bills passed. “By enacting the Historic Preservation Receivership Act, we can take a proactive approach to rehabilitate these properties, ensuring safer and healthier homes for our residents.”

The resolution calls for the Buffalo City Court to consider receivership as a remedy for severely neglected and substandard housing with existing code violations.

“Buffalo’s historic architecture has played a major part in our city’s economic resurgence,” said New York State Senator Sean Ryan. “We have many more historic buildings that can become assets for the city’s future, but only if we take action to ensure they are preserved and restored. It is long past time to stop letting neglectful owners chip away at our historic neighborhoods piece by piece through their inaction. Buffalo’s Preservation Receivership Program already provides the framework we need to put an end to decades of demolition by neglect. Passing this legislation will make the program more effective and ensure it works as intended going forward.”

The resolution acknowledges the vital work of non-profit agencies like Preservation Buffalo Niagara in improving housing conditions and maintaining historic properties.

Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera said, “Due to the age of our housing stock in Buffalo, many of our city’s historic and cherished properties are at risk of decay due to indifferent owners, which in some scenarios may even lead to demolition by neglect. That’s how we recently lost the Great Northern Grain Elevator and the irreplaceable history it contained in its design and structure. The Historic Preservation Receivership Act can be a powerful tool to fight against this kind of unacceptable property abandonment, no matter who the owner is. As we work to pass this legislation, I urge the city to be proactive in eliminating conditions that lead to blight and create lasting fissures in our neighborhoods.”

Council Member Nowakowski’s resolution in support of the “City of Buffalo Historic Preservation Receivership Act” (Senate bill S7765 and Assembly bill A1054n2) will be addressed at the Common Council’s Legislation Committee meeting at 1:00 PM on the same day.

Lead image: Historic building at Vermont and 16th, lost to fire – this scenario was easily preventable. The City of Buffalo Historic Preservation Receivership Act could have given the City “teeth” to prevent its demise | Photos by Dave Weitzel

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BIRTHDAY CANDLES Serves Up a Slice of Life at Chautauqua Theater Company (through Sunday)

THE BASICS:  BIRTHDAY CANDLES, a play by Noah Haidle, presented by the Chautauqua Theater Company (CTC), in the Bratton Theater. Performance Dates Tue – Sun through July 21 all days at 2:30 except for Wednesday 7/17 at 4:00.  For details, visit tickets.chq.org/landing.html
NOTE: BIRTHDAY CANDLES may not be suitable for youth under 8.

RUNTIME: 90 minutes without intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  On her 17th birthday, emo girl with a flair for the dramatic (she’s going to be “Queen Lear” in her high school production), Ernestine Ashworth declares in quick succession that her life is over (or at least cosmically insignificant) and also that she is “going to surprise God.”  Over the decades, where on each birthday, she bakes the same butter cake that her mother used to make; we come to really like Ernestine, who gets married and has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  

We drop in on her 18th birthday, 41st, 70th, and, poignant, but never sappy, her 101st.  All the action takes place in her kitchen (with a real working oven) and there are relatable moments for everyone in the audience.  Perhaps I’m biased, but I would say that the more life you have lived, the more you will enjoy this play as you get to exercise your empathy muscles.  It’s like “chair yoga” for the soul.  

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  Every once in a while, I get to see a play during which I start thinking of all the people I wish were there with me because it’s so good.  And right now, that play is BIRTHDAY CANDLES in the beautiful, air-conditioned Bratton Theater on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution.  It has been shepherded by two women instrumental in the CTC over the past several years, former Managing Director Sara Clare Corporandy and former Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch.  Originally developed as a New Play Workshop during the CTC’s 2017 season (remember that’s three years before COVID-19) and then performed at regional theaters around the country, including Roundabout Theater, BIRTHDAY CANDLES is a well-crafted piece that delivers everything you want in a theater experience.  

It makes you laugh and cry; you care about the characters on stage so much.  You identify with them; you get mad at them, and you root for them to succeed.  And except for the central character, Ernestine (played by visiting artist Ceci Fernández), and Kenneth, the boy who’s had a crush on her since age 7 (played by visiting artist Alex Weisman), all the other ten characters are played by just four actors, conservatory students (you won’t be able to tell that) Almara Leonard, Martin K. Lewis, Kamal Sehrawy, and Kay Benson.  Those other actors play her husband and then her children, their spouses, and later grandchildren, and even the people who eventually buy her house.  


Photo credit: Dave Munch

The dramatic arc of the play is simple. We follow Ernestine’s life from age 17 to 101 as multiple throughlines tie everything together.  

One throughline is the baking of the birthday cakes (and I understand that at every performance, a real butter cake is made in front of our eyes).  While the entire play takes place in a real working kitchen with ordinary people, and there are some scenes of gritty realism, this is not a “kitchen sink drama.”  The overall tone is loving and funny, tinged with the mystery of the cosmos.  

But we were talking about throughlines, and that brings us to the role of Kenneth, the boy who wanted to take Ernestine to the prom (she emphatically said “no”) and who is charmingly persistent in his affection.  Contrasted with Kenneth’s tenacity is Kenneth’s gift to Ernestine, a goldfish, a species which is said to have only a 3-second memory, so that, for the fish, everything is constantly new.  And isn’t that life?  Endurance contrasted with transience or, as the saying goes “The only constant in life is change.”

And that leads to, well, we might call it a “through line” or a “running gag” in that the goldfish is given the name Atman, which, in Hinduism, is the eternal, unchanging essence of an individual; the true self beyond the ego and material existence.  But while one, very much alive, goldfish is on stage for the whole play, in the story, over the years, there are many Atmans because the lifespan of a fish, its “material existence,” is rather short.  Some last a few months…. Others not much longer.

I think that BIRTHDAY CANDLES will stay with you for more than a few months.  It is, in so many ways, the perfect play to open CTC’s mainstage season and to celebrate Chautauqua Institution’s 150th birthday! 

Lead image: BIRTHDAY CANDLES by Noah Haidles at Chautauqua Theater Company with guest artist Ceci Fernandez and a talented cast | Photo credit Dave Munch

HERD OF BUFFALO RATING SYSTEM

FIVE BUFFALO: Universal Appeal! This production is pure theatrical magic – a crowd-pleaser. No prior theatre experience is necessary. Whether it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy or a heartwarming drama, this show offers an unforgettable shared experience. You’ll laugh, be touched, or amazed (depending on the genre). Grab your tickets before they disappear!

FOUR BUFFALO: Highly Recommended! This production delivers high-quality entertainment. It may have a strong script and stellar performances. While it might not be for everyone, theatre fans and those interested in the style, themes, or genre are sure to be delighted. Gather your friends or grab a date – you won’t be disappointed you went!

THREE BUFFALO: A Solid Night Out! This solid production and enjoyable evening at the theater. It’s a strong choice for a night out. Roam over and check it out if you can!

TWO BUFFALO: Intriguing! This production may not appeal to all tastes. However, if you’re feeling adventurous and want to blaze your own theatrical trail, this production offers a unique experience. While it may have some minor imperfections, if the genre, themes, and style align with your interests you should defintely attend!

ONE BUFFALO: If you love Theatre…Although it won’t resonate with everyone, it offers a challenging and stimulating experience. Traditional theatergoers might find it difficult to follow. While it will undoubtedly spark conversation, consider the genre, themes, and style before attending.

The post BIRTHDAY CANDLES Serves Up a Slice of Life at Chautauqua Theater Company (through Sunday) appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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Construction Watch: Perry Homes

Work on the replacement units on the Commodore Perry site is underway while demolition work is wrapping up on the north end of the site.  Penrose NY was selected by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority as the development partner on the project.

The existing 18.8-acre complex consisting of 35 buildings and 284 units is being demolished and replaced with 405 residential units and 8,000 sq.ft. of commercial space. Three new five-story mid-rise buildings will consist of 112 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. Three commercial spaces ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 sq.ft. will be available in the buildings along South Park Avenue which are currently under construction.

There will be 24 townhouse and stacked flat apartment buildings. Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC designed the $200 million project.

The post Construction Watch: Perry Homes appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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Hundred Days at MusicalFare Theatre

THE BASICS: MusicalFare Theatre presents Hundred Days at Daemen University, 4380 Main St, Amherst, NY 14226, July 10 – August 4, for tickets — ci.ovationtix.com/35675/production/1151070

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: HUNDRED DAYS is an uncensored, exhilarating and heartrending musical story about embracing uncertainty, taking a leap, and loving as if you only had 100 days to live. Creators Abigail Benson, Shaun Bengson and Sarah Gaucher wrote the story of how the Bengsons fell in love and embraced life. The musical was originally performed at The New York Theatre Workshop.

RUNTIME: 90 minutes, no intermission

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:

The plot of Hundred Days is rather offbeat. In fact, I am surprised that the Bengsons would want to share their strange, intense personal story with the world. A young woman and a young man are both naive introverts who had traumatic teen years. They are both estranged from all family and friends, and they form an instant (and co-dependent) relationship with each other. The young woman is a victim of her own premonitions and magical thinking and this colors their relationship in a big way.

The songs range from light-hearted to disturbing. Plusses go to Musical Director Theresa Quinn for the fact that we could understand all the lyrics. My favorite pieces were the joyous 100 Days and the haunting dream number. 

Nick Stevens and Samantha Sugarman on chair | Photo credit: Doug Weyand

Direction by Susan Drozd is sensitive and includes imaginative mime and movement sequences. This is a difficult show musically and the work by Musical Director Theresa Quinn is outstanding. All the production values – costumes (Kari Drozd), set/sound (Chris Cavanagh), and, especially, lighting (Brian Cavanagh) are fine.

The female lead, Abigail, was played by Samantha Sugarman and she lights up the stage with her beautiful singing and winning personality. Ms. Sugarcane gave the role 100%.  Playing opposite Ms. Sugarcane is Nick Stevens who brings a wry sense of humor and a relaxed, believable manner to his scenes and songs. Both Ms. Sugarcane and Mr. Stevens are triple threats – singing, acting, and playing the guitar.

Anna Krempholtz on flute | Photo credit: Doug Weyand

The musicians – Theresa Quinn, Anna Krempholtz, Jay Wollin, and Kevin Stevens – are amazing. They each play several instruments as well as singing, acting, and even moving the set. Kudos to you all!

Musician Anna Krempholtz’s performance was especially impressive. It seemed like every time I looked over at Ms. Krempholtz, she was playing a different instrument. She also did a great job accompanying herself on the flute as she sang a powerhouse of a solo. I know this sounds impossible! And she wasn’t just playing the flute – she was playing the flute angrily in the spirit of the song. I never heard a flute express this emotion before. Reading the program, I see that Ms. Krempholtz is also the actress who was wonderfully amusing as Blanche Du Bois in Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf. Any theatre company in town is fortunate to engage her services.

This is a tight production of an absorbing and very original show. It’s a WNY premiere with musical performances that are top notch!

HERD OF BUFFALO RATING SYSTEM

FIVE BUFFALO: Universal Appeal! This production is pure theatrical magic – a crowd-pleaser. No prior theatre experience is necessary. Whether it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy or a heartwarming drama, this show offers an unforgettable shared experience. You’ll laugh, be touched, or amazed (depending on the genre). Grab your tickets before they disappear!

FOUR BUFFALO: Highly Recommended! This production delivers high-quality entertainment. It may have a strong script and stellar performances. While it might not be for everyone, theatre fans and those interested in the style, themes, or genre are sure to be delighted. Gather your friends or grab a date – you won’t be disappointed you went!

THREE BUFFALO: A Solid Night Out! This is a solid production and enjoyable evening at the theater. It’s a strong choice for a night out. Roam over and check it out if you can!

TWO BUFFALO: Intriguing! This production may not appeal to all tastes. However, if you’re feeling adventurous and want to blaze your own theatrical trail, this production offers a unique experience. While it may have some minor imperfections, if the genre, themes, and style align with your interests you should defintely attend!

ONE BUFFALO: If you love Theatre…Although it won’t resonate with everyone, it offers a challenging and stimulating experience. Traditional theatergoers might find it difficult to follow. While it will undoubtedly spark conversation, consider the genre, themes, and style before attending.

The post Hundred Days at MusicalFare Theatre appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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Five Cent Cine – A Quiet Place: Day One

A Quiet Place: Day One ★★★ (out of 4 stars)

Sentimental Journey

A man, a woman and a cat walk into a horror film. “A Quiet Place: Day One” isn’t quite that simple—indeed, the script toys with the existential—but the description is apt. The cast—the players one cares about through most of the film—is limited: Samira/Sam (a superb Lupita Nyong’o, winner of an Oscar for 2013’s “Twelve Years a Slave” and star of Jordan Peele’s 2019 “Us”) is a life-weary woman with terminal cancer who struggles to care about living and to love beyond her pet; Eric (Joseph Quinn) is a young Englishman studying law in New York City who struggles to care for someone besides himself, and for something besides staying alive. And there’s Frodo the cat (played by two cats), an independent but loyal feline—man’s best friend, conveniently without the barking. 

Eric (Joseph Quinn), Sam (Lupita Nyong’o) and Frodo (the cat) attempt to escape the monsters by traversing many parts of New York City, at one point in the abandoned subways.

In this “horror lite” production, the horror film is at best a 4th protagonist—not an enemy to be defeated, but a setting, an ongoing irritant, “out there” but, curiously, not central to the story. Although a prequel purporting to be “Day One” of the invasion of destructive, hungry, and carnivorous creatures, the film assumes that viewers, having seen one or both of the previous offerings in the series, will need no introduction to the invaders, who are, of course, blind, can’t smell, and can’t swim, but are able to locate their prey by homing in on the slightest sound. The actual gobbling up is not shown.

Given the widespread knowledge, both within the film and among viewers, of how the flying things find their prey, it’s incongruous that Eric and Sam run from them in a crouch, as if the creatures might see them, and odd, too, that people would not only travel in groups but would tolerate a noisy roller bag or a squeaky wheel on a wheelchair. To see Eric risking his life (and, indirectly, Sam’s) to save Frodo (who has demonstrated he doesn’t need saving) also makes no sense. It’s inconceivable, as well, that the pharmacy Eric finds would be fully stocked, neat and organized.

As nasty-looking and hungry-for-human-flesh as the creatures are, they’re mostly a backdrop to the sentimental drama that takes center stage. As one might (too readily) expect from a screenplay that leaves us with only two humans of any consequence, each of the protagonists is expected to learn from the other, to become a better person. Eric, though he declares himself “one of those people who wants to live,” learns that existing courageously and boldly in the present—going to Harlem with Sam to get a pizza at her favorite parlor while everyone else is fleeing in the opposite direction—is more important than adhering to a long-term goal (a law degree) that isn’t the right one. A hardened Sam learns to be nice and to understand herself as other than a victim, to once again find meaning as she helps others to survive. Seen against her transformation, the film’s last frame seems unnecessarily dark and conclusive.

Eric (Joseph Quinn) appears out of the water as if coming up from a full-immersion baptism.

Sam (Lupita Nyong’o) looks into the sky for monsters, while Frodo, her cat, seems nonplussed.

The story, written by director Michael Sarnoski (who knows his movie animals as director of “Pig,” 2021) with the original co-writer and director, John Krasinski, continues the limited dialogue that characterized the first two films of the franchise. Because the characters must remain mostly silent, we are shown their reality and their emotions more often than we are told them. Sam’s illness is not explained; a “Little Firs Hospice Center” bus is about all one needs to comprehend her situation. The plot uses no deux exmachina to save the day, though it is not without spiritual references, like Eric rising from the water as if he’s been baptized into a new life. In a throwback to the enthusiasm for “ordinary heroes” of decades past, Sam and Eric and Frodo are ordinary people and cat, not action heroes or superdog come to take on the monsters. Sarnoski demonstrates admirable restraint in limiting the destruction of iconic New York City structures to just one—the Brooklyn Bridge.

Not all is restraint. The over-exposed pizza trope culminates at Loetta’s jazz club—now empty and abandoned—where our trio experiences one of several long moments of calm, and Frodo grabs a piece of the pie. There, Eric celebrates his growing bond with Sam by (inexplicably) doing a pick-a-card-any-card magic trick, while Sam responds by giving him the yellow sweater she wears, the sweater that once belonged to her jazz-piano-playing father. A passing of the life-force torch, yes, but a trifle cloying. One is tempted to imagine a crashing thunderstorm, covering up the sounds of the club’s piano, as Sam, channeling her musical dad, offers Eric a rendition of “Sentimental Journey,” Doris Day’s 1945 hit—quietly, of course. Nothing would better summarize “A Quiet Place: Day One.” Senti-horror. Watch for the next installment.

Date: 2024

Stars: 3 (out of 4)

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Joseph Quinn, Schnitzel and Nico (as Frodo, the cat)

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: United States (filmed mostly in London)

Language: English

Other Awards: one win and one other nomination to date

Availability: Showing widely in theaters; not streaming at this time. Expected to arrive on Paramount+ in August or September. See JustWatch here for future streaming availability.

Lead image: Eric (Joseph Quinn), Sam (Lupita Nyong’o) and Frodo (the cat) attempt to escape the monsters by traversing many parts of New York City, at one point in the abandoned subways.

See all Five Cent Cine reviews by 2 Film Critics

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