Lewiston's The Silo Restaurant has won three-quarters of Niagara Frontier Publications' first "Summer Eats" contest. Readers voted the waterfront eatery tops in the hot dog, hamburger and ice cream categories.
"It makes me really proud," proprietor Alan Hastings said. "Our commitment to food quality has been part of our mission since we opened. A higher food quality means a little higher price. It's always been difficult to justify that. But we've stood by cooking to order - even as volumes have gotten really high. We've stood by the highest quality available to us - and always look for better products and better methods for doing everything."
Tyler Seelbinder and Alan Hastings pose with a hot dog and hamburger.
The Silo offers a half-dozen hot dog selections, including traditional Sahlen's and Black Angus beef, regular and footlong, "Dixie" (topped with onion, bacon, barbecue sauce, coleslaw and french fries) and "Jumbo" (a half-pounder).
What's more, "I know that our roll is a local baked roll. It just happens to be the best tasting hot dog roll that I've ever had," Hastings said. "It costs a little bit more, (but) it really makes a big difference."
Four different hamburgers also can be found on The Silo menu, including one-third- and one-half-pounders, an "Austin" option (topped with pepper jack cheese, avocado and chipotle) and a healthier bison burger.
"Our beef is grass-fed, steroid/hormone-free, 100-percent ground chuck, which means it's all muscle meat," Hastings said. "There's no byproducts in it. And it's very lean. It's a little bit harder to cook, but the end result is a much better tasting burger that's healthier. It's better for you.
"And for me, that's really important. I eat this food. My kids eat this food. My friends and family eat this food. And it's really the kind of thing that I want to put on my table. So that's really what I'm sharing with everybody."
Five years ago, the Hastings family acquired an 1890 wooden boxcar to serve as headquarters for its sweet shop. The caboose was previously on display in Niagara Falls before it was shipped to Lewiston. Silo staffers serve ice cream through train car windows.
"We've chosen Perry's," Hastings said. "They've got a great selection. They represent Western New York culture, history and business. We're really proud to have them as a partner.
"We've done a lot of work to improve our selection and our custard flavors, and the quality of the flavors. Our sundaes - the creativity in the caboose - it's all part of the mix that makes it just a little bit better."
Manager Tyler Seelbinder noted, "We have a lot of flavors that, maybe, you don't see other places from Perry's. Most of the time that comes from customers. They say, 'Oh, I really wish that I could find this. I really wish I could find this.' Well, if customers are going to ask for it, we're going to bring it in.
"We stock 40 flavors of ice cream. So, if we can fit that flavor somewhere in that group of 40, we're going to fit it somewhere in that group of 40."
More than 215 votes were cast in the NFP contest.
Among the comments on The Silo, readers said:
•"The Silo can't be beat! They are 100 percent great. My family goes there often."
•"Love this place."
•"Where else can you get such a big, delicious meal while watching the mighty Niagara River?"
"I think the biggest thing is just the focus on our customers," Seelbinder said. "For the past five years that I've been here, especially once I stepped into the management, I've really tried to focus on making sure that our customers leave happy. We focus a lot on the food and the product, but the biggest thing is making sure that, no matter what happens, that customer's happy - whether we fix something for them or we just chat with them - and let them have a memorable experience. We want them to come here and remember it - not to just come here and eat a hot dog. We get people to see it as more than just a hot dog joint. They come here for the experience."
"For me, this work is a passion," Hastings said. "I love coming to work. I love representing Western New York culture. That's what I want to do. It's really in everything here that you see: the Amish picnic tables and the caboose and even the building materials used; the bear carvings. It's all representative of local culture."
Silo business consultant Stacey Sheehan said, "I think what the Hastings family created was a real gift to all of us. It's so much more than a restaurant! It's a child's first lick of an ice cream cone, teenage first dates and 50 jobs waiting for college students every year. It's summer memories that last and carry us all through the long winter."
The Brickyard Pub & B.B.Q. won the best barbecue category. The restaurant is located at 432 Center St., Lewiston.
The Silo is located at 115 N. Water St., Lewiston.
Ice cream manager Lexi Alfiere holds a banana split.