by Susan Mikula Campbell
Wheatfield resident Thomas Chapman had just finished an Italian sausage with peppers and onions, hot off the barbecue, and was kicking back with friends under an umbrella table listening to a live band play.
He wasn't at a restaurant, a bar or a park, but at a grocery store.
Wegmans on Military Road in the Town of Niagara held a summer kickoff celebration Saturday. The patio area next to the store's entrance was crammed with customers, tables, a grill, drink vendors and a band, and more tables were set on the grassy verge next to the parking lot.
"You come and do a little shopping, have something to eat right here and listen to some music. It's one-stop shopping," said Chapman, who rated both the food and the portions in his $6 meal as "very good."
While Saturday was a one-time celebration, shoppers will be greeted by a similar festive atmosphere from 5 to 7 p.m. on the patio on Friday evenings throughout the summer. If the weather doesn't cooperate, the party will move inside.
The new barbecue meals, to be served hot off the grill on Fridays, also will be available from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily in the chef cold service case inside the store. They only take three minutes to reheat in a microwave, said Jim Mapes, store manager.
Barbecue meals for $6 being served Saturday included beef brisket sandwich, pulled pork sandwich, barbecue chicken and the Italian sausage. Also available were a barbecue chicken and ribs combo for $8 and a barbecue rib dinner for $10. Each came with a choice of two sides (macaroni and cheese, potato salad, corn, baked beans, cornbread).
The store tried a few barbecue items, such as pulled pork and ribs last summer, but "we're really going after the barbecue this summer," said Ryan Siford, store executive chef.
Siford and Mapes, both Wheatfield residents, explained that some of the items are brought in from Wegmans' central kitchen in Rochester and some are distinctive to the Town of Niagara store.
The barbecue items might not stack up against some of the food served at popular local barbecue events, such as the Smokin' Eagles competition where specialty sauces and techniques are the rule. Siford said the Wegmans barbecue tastes are designed to "appeal to the masses" and are likely to be a little more neutral.
Still, Mapes said, "I would put our ribs up against any local restaurant."
"The ribs are amazing; they just fall right off the bone," agreed Siford.
Makes had just tried the brisket sandwich for lunch. "It just melts in your mouth," he said.
Editor's note: My 91-year-old father and I both tried and enjoyed the new barbecue meals on Saturday. Dad had the brisket sandwich meal and commented the generous portions could easily stretch to two meals for him. I had the chicken and rib combo, both nicely flavored and set off perfectly with creamy macaroni and cheese and a tasty hunk of cornbread. A fast food burger and fries can cost as much or more, and don't compare in quantity or quality. These Wegmans' meals are much better choice when you're in a hurry or don't feel like cooking.