(Local) food is (local) culture

WNY's restaurant week offers unique access to area's cuisine

Drop the dining hall dishes and Student Union tedium. Western New York's Local Restaurant Week offers the perfect opportunity to venture off campus and away from mundane mediocrity.

WNY's Local Restaurant Week is a biannual event that runs in the early spring, when restaurant attendance tends to sag. It is currently running from March 31 to April 6. The event offers discounted and promotional deals at nearly 200 local participating restaurants. Many establishments offer two for $20.14 deals, particularly for lunch, and meal and beverage deals for the same price.

Beyond being an excuse to escape from repetitive campus dining, the event is a perfect door to a variety of new places and experiences across the city and region that students should take advantage of.

The week provides the opportunity for locals to explore new and adventurous restaurants or save money at mainstays. For college students, however, this is an invitation to integrate with this city's abounding culture and cuisine, to explore unique dives or experiment with foreign fare.

This region is rich with local classics - beef on weck sandwiches, pierogies and its iconic wings - in addition to a breadth of cultural gastronomy, from Indian and Irish to Thai and Polish.

"You can't go wrong trying a new restaurant at such a low price," said Crista Hobart, the event coordinator for Local Restaurant Week. "For college students looking to save money, this is a perfect way to break the chain."

Offering quality food at a good price for students, this promotion is invaluable to local restaurants and family-owned establishments that often face a decline in business during colder months and stiff competition from fast-food huts and major chains.

Both Local Restaurant Weeks contribute approximately $8 million to the local economy a year, according to organizers, helping to stimulate further investment into this region's second-largest employer, food service. And because local restaurants often source from local venders, these weeks also provide valuable spillovers for related industries.

The idea for WNY's Local Restaurant Week came about during 2009. Led by local restaurateur and owner of four restaurants across WNY Mike Andrzejewski, the event aimed to counter the period's economic downturn, which was particularly difficult for local food service.

The event has been a huge success since its inception, more than doubling participation by local partners from the original 60 supporting local businesses, jobs and continued economic recovery.

As college students, many of us are new to the area and plan on leaving Buffalo in the coming months or years. The week provides us with an opportunity to explore the community around us in a particularly intimate way.

"Our local independent restaurants are as much a part of the fabric of [WNY] culture as any landmark or museum," Andrejewski remarked in a press release.

Food is culture, in much the same way as art, monuments and music. It offers a window into the ethnic and cultural makeup of a region or city, an entry to understanding a place and its people, in an uncommonly direct and internal way. It provides the most personal and sharable method of experiencing the fabric of the area you're in.

Local restaurants reflect the character and culture of a place; chains reflect only profiteering and distant head office business strategies.

As visitors or long-time residents of Buffalo, we owe it to ourselves, and this community, to "dine local, dine well, dine often" all year round. This week is the perfect kick-starter.

email: editorial@upspectrum.com