By Sarina Deacon and Christy Basile
The polished building of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute is a hidden gem in downtown Niagara Falls. Once housing the Winter Garden, this fine cuisine getaway is a haven for foodies, tourists and even locals looking for a variety of choices to fill their bellies.
Walking into the building, a nearly ceiling-high fountain surrounded by faux greenery can be seen. Coins litter the bottom of the basin where countless wishes are stored. The building is oddly quiet for an afternoon. There are several sets of tables and chairs that look like they belong on a porch, but fit perfectly in the sleek setting. Students are bustling around despite having the day off and my colleagues and I take in our dining options.
On the left is the Old Falls Street Deli and Savor. Walking into the Old Falls Street Deli, natural sunlight fills the room and illuminates the clean and tidy establishment. There is a shelf that holds bottles of the famous D'Avolio oils as well as other goodies. The menu presents a variety of sandwiches, wraps and a salad bar.
Deciding to split the ham and cheese sandwich ($7.50), we are told to wait in the seating area for our lunch to be brought out. The chef behind the counter was an unhappy one and we noticed that she looked rather angry at having customers. We left the disgruntled chef, chose a spot and waited patiently.
In 15 minutes, our meal was delivered. The chef plopped it on our table with a mumbled "Enjoy" before walking away. Despite her attitude, we were quite ready to chow down. The sandwich was cut in two and served with chips and a pickle. During the first bite, the crunchy, oozy, tangy flavors all mixed together quite nicely. The meat used was not your everyday, thinly sliced ham. It was thick in width, heavy with a smoky flavor and very succulent. It complimented the creamy yet sharp Provolone cheese used in plentiful slices. The arugula was out of this world with its bitterness meshing well with the splashes of honey mustard. All of these ingredients were pressed between two crunchy slices of toasted sourdough bread. The homemade sea-salt sprinkled chips and juicy pickle made an excellent side platter. A ginger ale is highly recommended to help wash down this delightful sandwich.
Despite the meal being very delicious, the chef's overall attitude was quite nasty and she seemed downright angry. In fact, most of the students my colleagues and I saw did not have a friendly smile to show. If these students want to be taken seriously and have plans on opening their own restaurants one day, then they need to work on their social skills. A warm gesture can go a long way in the food industry. Therefore, the rating chosen for the Old Falls Street Deli is 4 1/2 stars.
On the right side of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute is a pastry shop called La Patisserie. There, customers can find a variety of treats from breakfast foods to specialty drinks to desserts. We decided on hot tea ($2.50) for our drink and each picked our own desserts. My colleague chose the lemon mini cheesecake ($3) and I went with the red velvet cheesecake frosting cup ($3). The lemon mini cheesecake had a very prominent lemon flavor and a smooth texture. It was decorated with a dollop of buttercream frosting and a royal white chocolate bark piece. Paired with a cup of mint verbena tea, this small cheesecake was full of a sweet but delicious lemon flavor and was complemented perfectly by the strong flavor of the mint tea. The red velvet cake was moist and crumbly; I could actually smell the cream cheese in the frosting and found it to be extremely thick. The frosting-cake ratio was way off with frosting being the heavier of the two. It was decorated with a splash of buttercream frosting.
The hot Earl Grey tea complemented the desserts nicely. And to top it all off, the pastry chef was very friendly and helpful as we browsed through the dessert selections. Despite the buttercream frosting being hard and possibly unnecessary, the service and initiative shown outweighed that one minor detail. The rating chosen for La Patisserie is 5 stars.
The prices were very modest and the appearance of our food was to be expected: nothing too flashy or dull. The building was not hard to find and parking was relatively easy.
Overall, the NFCI is on the right path to being a great tourist attraction, just as long as the students improve their attitudes.
Designed by Danielle Farrell