February 22nd, 2020
Written By: Mike Murphy
Simply Crepes, Il Posto Bistro &Wine Bar and Thai by Night earn Comfort Food Challenge honors
CANANDAIGUA — You get your maple sausage from Bostrom Farms in Stanley. The maple syrup comes from Stoney Ridge Farms in Macedon.
You have your New York state cheddar cheese, and you have your bacon cream sauce and crepe, from Simply Crepes, of course.
Ordinarily, all of the above in the Canandaigua restaurant’s popular maple sausage stacker is topped with scrambled eggs.
But the downtown Canandaigua Fire & Ice Winter Festival’s Comfort Food Challenge is a special occasion. And this special occasion last Saturday called for a special kind of egg.
Quail eggs are smaller in size but taste just about the same as your ordinary egg, according to Pierre Heroux, co-founder of the restaurant and chief operating officer.
Anyway, put that all together for a high “quail-ity” production for sure, and a comforting dish to savor, with a twist, for fans of comfort food.
“I love doing this,” Heroux said, gently placing a quail egg atop a soon-to-be-devoured stacker. “It’s fun to watch people enjoy food and unique experiences. Their reaction to quail eggs is absolutely amazing. It’s fun. We get a lot of satisfaction by watching smiles and oohs and aahs.”
Simply Crepes not only won first place of the 11 eateries taking part in the judged competition, but the restaurant also won the People’s Choice honor.
Here’s how the competition worked: Those who purchased tickets were able to vote on each of the restaurant’s dishes, judging qualities such as appearance, consistency and — what else? — taste.
And what tastes better on a winter day than comfort food?
“It’s what I eat at home,” said Rory Halliday, banquet chef at New York Kitchen. “It’s easy to make and makes you feel good. And it keeps you warm, especially when it’s this cold.”
Il Posto Bistro & Wine Bar, which served up meatballs with marinara sauce over polenta with whipped ricotta, basil oil and parmesan cheese, was voted Most Unique.
Thai By Night took home the Best Presentation trophy for its massaman curry. Made with yellow curry paste, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chicken, crispy fried shallots, tamarind and palm sugar, co-owner John Guattery suggested to tasters they add various spices for heat and peanuts.
“Most people think that because Thailand is a tropical country that it doesn’t have comfort food,” Guattery said. “But it has the best comfort food you’ll ever have.”
Rio Tomatlán Executive Chef Pedro Hoio also opened eyes to other styles of comfort food with his carne adobada, a slow-braised beef punctuated by a mix of several Mexican peppers. He prepared it mild and not all that spicy, he said, but it’s tasty and warming.
“Great for this weather,” Hoio said. “This dish in Mexico you can have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s one of those dishes you can have anytime.”
Other participants went with more traditional, old-school favorites, such as the Green Front Restaurant, which entered chicken and biscuits in gravy; Nolan’s on Canandaigua Lake, with a red wine-braised short rib and creamy parmesan polenta; Casa de Pasta, with a meatloaf croquette; New York Kitchen, with buffalo macaroni-and-cheese (five cheeses) and a brown butter crumb sprinkled over the top for added crunch; and Finger Lakes Barbecue Company, with a beef brisket cottage pie in rosemary red wine gravy and topped with smoked gouda and bacon cheese sauce.
A full portion of all of these could induce a full-bellied, wintry day’s nap on the couch, with dreams of seconds on awaking.
And that goes for Nick’s Chophouse’s entry, which was old, old, old school.
General Manager Nick Fabbio originally was going to do a pulled pork slider, but was told to be ready for over 500 people. At the urging of customers, Plan B was implemented.
Instead, Fabbio went with homemade cavatelli and cheese ravioli, with homemade red sauce — a family secret — with pork, sausage and meatballs. His one and only hint: Cook the meat in the sauce because without it, you won’t get the flavor.
“This is a sauce recipe passed down in my family for generations. The same with the way I make pasta — that’s all family recipe that I grew up eating,” Fabbio said. “And it’s a perfect comfort food.”
The opportunity to share something different with people is an opportunity that Erin Ennis, of Ferona, the new tapas restaurant in Canandaigua, couldn’t pass up.
“Being part of the community and the city is doing community events,” said Ennis, and what better way to become part of the community than a tempting taste of carne asada with beef, all sorts of vegetables and a homemade baguette for dipping.
Getting to meet customers is something that many chefs don’t have the opportunity to do, which appeals to John “J.P.” Palmeri of Nolan’s.
“It’s nice to get out of the kitchen,” Palmeri said. “It’s nice to interact with the people coming by.”
The competition, while good-naturedly heated at times, is a great example of how local restaurants help each other, according to the Green Front Restaurant Chef Duane “Gilligan” Dickinson. For instance, Baldwin, of Finger Lakes Barbecue, praised Guattery for passing along a tip to make his gravy stand out.
“I tried three times to get it right,” said Baldwin, before adding vinegar to the mix.
“We try to support each other,” Dickinson said. “The more we come together, the better off it is for all of us. It’s a beautiful thing.”