Local eateries serve special treats along Center Street
By Joshua Maloni
Each summer, River Region festival organizers bring the top floral experts, jazz musicians and peach purveyors to Center Street. This weekend, the Lewiston Council on the Arts will welcome elite painters, sketchers, molders and makers from Western New York and around the country to exhibit at the Art Festival.
Restaurateurs, meanwhile, will pop-up tents, build-out booths and work to serve the masses lined up in front of their establishments – all while offering a full menu inside their brick-and-mortars. Though they seemingly spin plates with ease, feeding tens of thousands of people over a two-day span is no easy feat.
Lewiston Council on the Arts Executive Director Irene Rykaszewski said Lewiston is “famous for its great restaurants.” LCA staffers “love it” when local businesses have a presence on the street. “They typically offer some of their ‘signature’ items, which gives visitors a taste of our hometown delights!”
Popular places to check out this weekend include:
How busy is Casa Antica’s festival serving station? Co-owner Angela Soldano-Bellanca said there’s often so many people in line that patrons fail to notice the family restaurant behind the tent.
Her husband, Giuseppe, is the main man behind the tables, while her brother Calogero Soldano, and their father, Jack, prepare award-winning rice balls and other Italian favorites.
“The festivals just bring a lot of energy. We enjoy the energy. It brings a lot of excitement to us. It just takes us out of the everyday normal that we do,” Soldano-Bellanca said. “I was taught, and so was my husband – we have the same values – that anything we do, we just have to do it right. We have to do it better. And we have to do it bigger – every time – because it's just not enough the first time. It’s like ‘OK, we did this. OK, next time, it's got to be better than this.’ Always. Just the way we were raised.”
So impressive is the spread that some people have assumed Casa Antica is mainly an outdoor or mobile food vendor.
“I hear a ton of people, when we are in a group, or if I'm somewhere where nobody knows Casa Antica, or knows Lewiston, they'll say, ‘Oh, you know, they have a restaurant in Lewiston. They have great whatever.’ And they always say, ‘The rice balls, the rice balls – oh, man, we love the rice balls! When’s the next festival?’ And I always have to say, ‘You know, you could get them every day, right? (Laughs) You can call us up, and we could put an order in,’ ” Soldano-Bellanca said. “People assume that we don't make those things on a daily basis. They only know us as a vendor.”
For the Art Festival, “I think we go with our staples, and we go with our favorites, and we go with what we know that's going to work. We try not to change things often, because what we're doing – and what we've been doing for the last 22 years – has worked. We try not to change,” Soldano-Bellanca said. “So, the rice balls, the peppers. We do the pepper and sausage sandwiches, the rigatoni vodka, the eggplant. I mean, my brother always throws something new into the mix, no matter what. But usually, the people want what they want, they want what they know, they want what they know is going to taste the same, and they come back for those things that they remember.”
The draw of DiCamillo Bakery’s signature summer sweet treat is simple: “What's not to like about two chocolate chip cookies and ice cream? It’s just about as complete a dessert as you can get,” proprietor Skip DiCamillo said.
He noted, “It’s big (laughs). There’s two big, homestyle chocolate chip cookies, and it's our own ice cream that we make here.”
Served with vanilla or chocolate ice cream, DiCamillo’s cookie sandwich is a crowd-pleaser that has grown in popularity over the past 40 years.
“I came back in 1983 – and we were doing it before that – so, every year, it got bigger and bigger,” DiCamillo said. “More people were interested. We would try to make them up in advance. I remember one year that we didn't have enough, and I was there at night with two of the clerks trying to make ice cream sandwiches at night for the next morning, so we’d at least have some.”
For the Art Festival, “We are going to have cannolis; chocolate-dipped cannolis. Chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches, as well,” DiCamillo said. “We usually have peanut doughnuts.”
A year-round favorite, DiCamillo said, “I don't think anybody makes a peanut doughnut quite the way we do. We handroll our peanut doughnuts and twist them by hand. So, the dough is different in texture than any other doughnut that would just come out of a machine. I can drop a ring doughnut from a machine. It just extrudes this ring. It drops right into the fryer and is cooked up. This dough is different. It’s hand-rolled. Those are individually handmade peanut stick doughnuts.
“I think the fact that they're handmade – just like our bread is handmade – it really imparts a difference in texture, is the only way I could describe it. When you roll a piece of dough, you're squeezing out all that air that's in there; and it becomes a denser, more layered texture than you would get just by a machine popping out a one-pound piece of dough for the doughnut.”
The Brickyard Pub & BBQ/Brickyard Brewing Company
A spring 2020 fire damaged the Brickyard Pub & BBQ and ravaged the Brickyard Brewing Company, costing the former one summer and the latter two – all the while depriving patrons of both the top festival viewing areas and some of Western New York’s best barbecue and beers.
Thanks to months of hand-crafted repairs and renovations from owners Ken Bryan and Eric Matthews, GM Steve Matthews, and the eatery crews, both restaurants are open for the 2022 festival season.
At the Art Festival, the brewery will be hopping.
Bryan said the BBC is releasing two new beers – 17 and 14 – plus a sour.
“We are going to launch a banana peach sour, ‘Samurai Blender,’ ” he said. “17 is a West Coast IPA – our Bills beer. 14 is a New England. The other sour is just a big, fruited sour.”
These beverages will accompany tried and true festival foods.
“People have been coming for barbecue for a long time,” Bryan said.
“We've had people that have been coming since day one. We've been here for 18 years,” he explained. “Some vendors, some customers, they come only at Art Festival. And I know who they are, because I go out and meet them. They’ll ask for me. That's the only time of year they come. It's sort of funny. But just for barbecue.”
When recreating the BBC, Bryan and the Matthews wanted to open up the front of the restaurants and embellish the patio. They tweaked some interior designs and made what was widely regarded as a beautiful building even better.
With that, came the public’s desire to return.
The BBC restaurant reopened in the spring.
Bryan said, “Right now, it's just Thursday, Friday, Saturday (also Sunday for the Art Festival). It's pizza and appetizers; a larger menu coming. We're going to try to introduce something larger this weekend.”
As the Brickyard team works to fold in more items, “It’s more of come, have a drink. We’ve tried to turn it more into a tasting room,” Bryan said.