Monday, December 10, 2012

Small Business Spotlight: Bella Kids - WNY

If you are a parent with little ones, you probably have a closet or drawer full of clothes that no longer fit, or toys that no longer get played with. Bella Kids offers a great option to sell gently used items and help you make a sizable profit! 

"In today's economy, nearly all families could use a little more money in their pockets." Owner, Kristi Mora told me. "Our twice-yearly sale allows WNY's growing families the opportunity to sell their outgrown, unwanted items for extra money earning up to 75% sales profits on their brand name toys, clothing, strollers, baby gear, etc.  This adds up to a nice sales profit check back at the end of our four day sale."

If you have ever tried to sell something on Craigslist, or had a garage sale on your front lawn, Bella Kids offers an extremely easy way to literally hand over your items, with your price tag on them, and get a check sent to you after the event is over. 

Kristi was introduced to the idea while living in Orange County, CA. After 13 years of living in California, Kristi moved back to Buffalo to raise her family and brought the concept back with her. After a little tweaking to the idea, she created "Bella Kids WNY", named after her daughter Isabella. 

If you are looking to sell items, the sign up process is as easy as 1-2-3! First, register to be a consignor on their website ($9 fee), then enter your items into their inventory system (you choose the price), and finally print and attach the price tags to your items. You drop off the items to them right before their event and then receive a check about 7-10 days after the event. 

Start cleaning out your closets now because the next big event will be held March 21 - 24, 2013 in the Premier Plaza in Williamsville at 7980 Transit Road. Registration for consignors will be open soon. The best way to stay in the loop on all the happenings is to join their mailing list, which is located right on the front page of their website. You can also stay connected through Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter

Bella Kids is also great for new parents, and parents on a budget! "Our consignors understand our guidelines and abide by our standard, "Gently used, excellent quality". It's all done in a retail store setting so our shoppers don't feel like they are at a rummage sale. It's clean, organized and everything is in fantastic condition!" Kristi said. 

In addition to the consigned items for sale, Bella Kids offers a few other options for shoppers! At each event they have a Bella Kids boutique, which allows local artisans the chance to sell their hand made clothes and accessories. For soon to be moms, they have a great maternity section with prices 50 - 80% off. They also have a "closeout" section with NEW brand name merchandise that is discounted 40 - 80% off. Items in the past have included Melissa and Doug toys, strollers, high chairs, car seats and more!

Each event also brings an opportunity to help out local charities. "We want to give back to the community and help those who need it most. We choose local not-for-profit organizations that have a connection to growing families."

Kristi is a huge Buffalo supporter and is so happy to be back in the area to raise her family. After 13 years in California, she really grew to appreciate everything about WNY." Our true sense of community, the beauty and history in our architecture and city streets, our diverse cultures & foods, and commitment to family values were all things calling me back home.  And once I had my children, I knew where we needed to be. I believe in WNY and our economy.  I believe in small business and knew the community would support and embrace something new! It is truly unbelievable!" 

With new reports out every few months about how much it costs to raise a child, Bella Kids is the place to go to! For more information, contact Kristi at, or give her a call today at 716-565-KIDS! 

Happy selling (and shopping)!


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

CALL FOR MEMBERS: Lovin' On Buffalo Book Club

I love learning about Buffalo and its history. 
I love supporting people who are from Buffalo. 
I love to read. 

Combine all three of those sentences and you get the newly formed "Lovin' On Buffalo Book Club".

The book club is open to ALL, and I hope you will join in. We are currently looking for charter members to participate in year one of the book club. If you are interested, you can e-mail Krystal at and we will add you to our mailing list. 

The intent is to have a website or blog up and running by mid-December so we are ready to go for January 2013. Taking into account busy schedules, we are going to start off with six books a year, one every other month, and plan meetings at different local coffee shops/eateries to discuss the books. Depending on the number of books we are purchasing, I will contact the author or local bookstores to see if we are able to get a discount. I also have calls/e-mails out to local libraries to see if they have copies. 

I will also be contacting the authors of the books we choose to read, and hopefully they will be able to virtually be with us at the book club meetings, answer some questions in advance or actually attend the meetings. 

If you have a published book about Buffalo or are from Buffalo, please feel free to 
e-mail me your book information and we will get it added to the reading list. 

The book club will be a great place to meet new people and discuss a common love: Buffalo, NY! We are looking for readers from 18 - 99, so come one come all. Get a group of your friends involved, make it a family thing, or curl up before bed with your spouse/significant other and read away! 

Happy reading! 

2013 Tentative Reading List:
(Once the group is formed, we can decide if six books for the year is enough or if we want to try to sneak in a few more. The books below are a good representation of different genres of reading. If you don't see your favorite Buffalo book on the list below, don't worry, we can decide as a group if we want to add others in or change some out.)

Brighter Buffalo: Renewing A City by Maria Scrivani

Buffalo Gal by Laura Pedersen

Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames

Buffalo Memories by George Kunz

City of Light by Lauren Belfer

The Long Walk by Brian Castner

*Click on the links to check out the descriptions of the books. I spent a lot of time researching and asking locals which Buffalo books were there favorites. That is how I came up with this initial list of six. There are plenty of others out there to keep us going for many years. 


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Polish Villa 2 in Cheektowaga - Reinvented!

As a Buffalo Polish girl, I'm extremely proud of my heritage thanks to Grandparents who immersed me in Polish traditions and shared recipes of traditional Polish food with me. My Grandma Sondel frequently took my cousin Samantha and I to Polish events where we learned how to polka and practiced Polish sayings. Each year, my Grandma Markott and other family members get together for a pierogi making party that produces well over 100 Farmer's cheese pierogi! We celebrate holidays with traditional Polish food items and always start meals with the Polish "cheers", Na zdrowie!

All that being said, I'm a pretty tough critic when it comes to trying out Polish food because, honestly, who can make it better than your Grandma? Not to mention, I make pretty delish pierogi and golabki myself!  So when I received the invitation to attend the meet and greet event for the newly "reinvented" Polish Villa 2, I was pretty sure I'd be among the toughest critics in attendance. 

Polish Villa 2 is located at 1085 Harlem Road in Cheektowaga. It opened in 2005 with husband and wife team Edward and Rosanna Kutas. The inside of the restaurant features a lot of gorgeous wood work and large mural paintings adorn the walls. They recently updated tables, chairs, lighting fixtures and more details to help "reinvent" the location. 

The crowd on an average night is typically on the older side, and while the atmosphere and general ambiance does favor an older generation, I really think it could be a fun hang out for the younger generations too!

We were offered many of the new menu items, so I figured the easiest way to review them was to break each one down. Here we go! 

Shvinky Fingers - Part of the appetizer (Przystawki) menu, the shvinky fingers are breaded pork tenderloin strips fried lightly and served with honey mustard and homemade plum sauce. Think chicken fingers with pork. They were crispy, flavorful and as the waitress walked around the room with samples, my boyfriend and I kept hoping she'd make her way back to us. The plum sauce was a delicious blast of sweetness and the honey mustard, while not as sweet as other honey mustards I've had, tasted well paired together. ($8.00)

Crimson Salad - After the shvinky fingers, we started off with a few different salads. One that really hit the spot was the Crimson Salad (Safatki). The salad combines roasted beets, goat cheese, caramelized leeks and mixed greens tossed in a balsamic dressing. I've had many salads pre-tossed that come out soggy, but this one was very crisp and had the right amount of dressing on it. The beets were roasted perfectly and the leeks were a nice addition to the salad. The goat cheese blended well with the beets and I could have had the salad as a meal in itself! ($8.00)

Barszcz - This traditional red beet soup was the item I knew I'd be most critical of. It has been a staple at holiday meals in my family, and each side of my family (both who have deep roots in Poland) prepare the soup differently. The dark red color of the soup was beautiful and it smelled delicious. The temperature was perfect and the flavor of the beets was absolutely outstanding. The beets in the soup were crisp, and the seasonings complimented the soup well. My boyfriend who hasn't been a fan of my family's version, truly enjoyed this and raved about it on the car ride home! ($3.00 a cup, $4,00 a bowl)

Potato Pancake With Hungarian Goulash - When I saw this item, I was a little skeptical of how it would taste. I wasn't sure if the flavors would meld together, but I was pleasantly surprised. The potato pancake was folded in half and stuffed with a hungarian goulash that combined pork tenderloin a red sauce and spices. It was topped with a tomato and a dollup of sour cream. The pancake was crispy and flavorful and the goulash was really tasty. The pork was cooked and seasoned well and the sauce really complimented the pancake. This item will be featured on their daily specials menu and the "lighter fare" menu! 

Wild Mushroom & Goat Cheese Pierogi - This updated version of the most well known Polish food item was absolutely outstanding. The thin dough was cooked and fried perfectly and the mushroom/goat cheese combination was already one of my favorites. While I thought a few of the ones I sampled could have used a little bit more goat cheese, a few I had were packed with goat cheese. The caramelized onions on top and a dollop of sour cream complete this item perfectly. If you don't have a pierogi as part of your meal when you visit Polish Villa 2, you are really missing out! ($7.00)

Bigos - I was already pretty full by the time I sampled the Bigos dish, but was hoping we'd sample some sauerkraut, so I couldn't pass it up! The dish is Polish hunter's stew that combines smoked and fresh kielbasa, chuck roast, sauerkraut, mushrooms, onions, carrots and spices. It is served in a rye bread bowl. This is the only item at our table that received mixed reviews. The Polish girl in me loves sauerkraut, but my boyfriend (the Italian boy) thought there was too much sauerkraut and not enough meat. The flavor was there, the meat was seasoned well, and it reminded us of a Polish version of "beef on weck."

Cheesecake - To finish off the meal we were treated to the Polish Villa cheesecake, which tasted homemade and was rich and creamy. The crumbly crust was great and as someone who loves a good piece of cheesecake, this one ranked high up in my favorites. It's worth the splurge at the end of your meal! 

We were able to look at the full menu that will go "live" on Wednesday, December 5th. The sizable menu includes a handful of other pork and beef dishes and also has chicken and seafood options. The prices are in the $12 - $15 range for most entrees, while the most expensive items are the prime rib and lobster tail. The lighter fare menu does feature some non-traditional menu items as well. Everything seemed priced very well and the large portions are worth the trip alone! 

Throughout the night, we had the chance to chat with Head Chef and co-owner Eddie Kutas. He sat down at our table and proudly talked through the menu items and how they were prepared. You could just see the pride radiating off of him as he talked about his family, his heritage and his food. The original Polish Villa on Union Road in Cheektowaga was owned by his parents (although it is under new ownership now). The traditional recipes have been a part of his life since he was a little boy, and this new, updated version of these items really shows his growth as a chef, and his ability to change with the times while never forgetting his roots! 

If you are a fan of kielbasa, you will be happy to know that Chef Eddie smokes all his sausage in the restaurant. While it wasn't on the sampling menu, he gave us some from the kitchen to take home and try, and wow! Easily, the best kielbasa I've had. His family has a stand at the Clinton Bailey Farmer's Market, and come Easter time, I think I'll be making a stop there instead of the Broadway Market to pick it up. 

It was hard to find a real flaw on the menu or with the location. The only issue I had with the restaurant was there choice of beers on tap. I wish they had a local beer or two mixed in with some of the options on tap. 

Once our menu wrapped up, Eddie Dobosiewicz, President of Dyngus Day Buffalo said a few words. "It's time to reclaim our heritage. The Poles may have been conquered throughout history, but here in Buffalo we are going to conquer through our food, one bite at a time!"

Sounds delicious to me! 

The restaurant is open Wednesday - Sunday for lunch and dinner, and also offers a great brunch on Sunday mornings starting at 10:00am. If you haven't tried a dish from a "Kuchina Polska" (Polish kitchen), get down to Polish Villa 2 soon and I promise you will have a deeper appreciation for this great cuisine!

For more reviews on Polish Villa 2, check out:  Polish Villa on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 30, 2012

Buffalo Holiday Fun For The Family!

The holiday season in Buffalo offers families with so many great opportunities to get out and explore WNY without breaking the bank. I put together a list of my top ten family activities that are sure to get you in the holiday spirit! 

If you know of others, please feel free to share them on the comment section below :)

Krystal's Top 10 Family Outings This Holiday Season:

Hospice Buffalo's Outdoor Tree Lighting Ceremony: I attended this event for the first time last year and it brought me to tears. My family utilized the amazing services Hopsice Buffalo offers when my Grandma was battling cancer back in 2001. The tree lighting ceremony is a short, but important ceremony to remember and honor all those who have passed away. This year's event will take place on Saturday, December 1st at 5:00pm. The ceremony features singers, guest speakers, family testimonials and more. The trees are lit up outside CTG on Delaware Avenue, and the trees are filled with ornament tags  to honor loved ones. If you are headed to the event, look for me, and look for my Grandma Carol Sondel's name on the tree!

Admission cost: FREE to the public, free parking

Downtown Christmas Tree Lighting at Rotary Rink: For the 29th year in a row, Buffalo Place will light up downtown Buffalo during a wonderful tree lighting ceremony. The event will take place on Saturday, December 1st beginning at 5:00pm. There will be FREE ice skating for the family (there is a nominal fee for ice skate rental if you don't bring your own). The tree will be lit around 6:00pm. After the tree is lit there will be many children's activities, a visit from Santa and holiday gifts! 

Admission cost: FREE to the public (fee for skating rental if you don't have your own)

Ice skating at Rotary Rink: If you can't make it to the tree lighting, stop down during the winter and ice skate for free (nominal fee for skate rental if you do not bring your own). Ice skating hours vary by day (weather permitting) and the rink is closed on Mondays. Check out the full schedule by clicking the link above. It's the perfect family bonding activity, and can make for some great family photos! 

Admission cost: FREE to skate (nominal fee for skating rental if you don't have your own)

The Fairgrounds Festival of Lights: Last weekend, the Erie County Fairgrounds kicked off their annual Festival of Lights. The nearly two mile drive with over one million lights is the perfect way to get in the holiday spirit. Once you finish the trek through the light display, check out other activities on the fairgrounds. 

Admission cost: $20 per carload (bring canned goods too to support their food drive!)

Roswell Park's Tree Of Hope 2012: Join Roswell Park on Friday, December 7th for their annual Tree of Hope event from 4:30pm - 6:30pm. I had the chance to attend for the first time last year and was incredibly moved, and had such a blast! The event includes live music, horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting and other activities for the kids, a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, ice sculpting, free treats and hot beverages, a gingerbread house display and the tree lighting and candle lighting ceremony. NEW this year is a 13 minute lighting event set to music. 

Admission cost: FREE, parking is also free in the RPCI ramp

Day Out With Santa: The Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo is hosting "Day Out With Santa" on Saturday December 8th from 9:00am - 3:00pm. Kids can get their pictures taken with Santa and enjoy many other activities throughout the day including a petting zoo, pony rides, bounce house and meet and greet with local sports mascots. Each child will also receive a gift.

Admission cost: Canned goods/non-perishable food items that will be donated to The Food Bank of WNY

Santa On The Carrousel: The Herschell Carrousel Museum in North Tonawanda is hosting Santa On The Carrousel for three Saturdays in December (December 1st, 8th and 15th). The event starts at 11:00am with lunch followed by an afternoon of activities from 12:00pm - 3:00pm. Activities include holiday games, crafts, carrousel rides and more. As an added bonus, at 1:00pm each Saturday there will be a live performance. 

Admission cost: $10 per person with lunch, $5 per person for just the activities

Hibernating Holidays: For nature lovers out there, check out Tifft Nature Preserve's "Hibernating Holidays" event on Saturday, December 15th from 2:00pm - 3:30pm. The event will share with you how wildlife at Tifft spend their holidays. It will be a hands-on activity that includes a craft and trail hike. Pre-registration is required. Check out the link above. 

Admission cost: $5 to non-members

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Lancaster Opera House is offering interactive performances of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer from Friday, December 21st - Sunday, December 23rd.

Admission cost: Adults - $16, Kids under 12/seniors - $13

Family Winterland Walk:  Tifft Nature Preserve is also offering this great Family Winterland Walk on Thursday December 27th from 6:30pm - 8:00pm. Explore the sights and sounds of the Preserve! Make sure you bundle up! Showshoe rental will also be available, weather permitting. 

Admission cost: $5 to non-members, $2 for snowshoe rental, weather permitting

Have a wonderful Buffalo holiday season!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holiday Gifts for the Buffalover

I'm in the holiday spirit this week, so today's post is also holiday related! Do you have a hard to buy for Buffalover in your life? Looking for a gift that reminds ex-pat's about their hometown? Here is my shopping list of ten must buy items for the Buffalover in your life. 

Krystal's Buffalove Shopping List (in no particular order, they are all great choices):

1.) Buffalo Niagara Shop's "Buffalo's Cooking" print: Visit Buffalo Niagara launched an online Buffalo shop in addition to their location inside The Market Arcade. I'd be happy with almost any of the items on the website, but one in particular is Michael Morgulis' "Buffalo's Cooking" print. This great print is perfect for the foodie in your life. An even greater perk to purchasing from the Buffalo Niagara Shop: All the money you spend on items goes right back into promoting Buffalo! ($27.00)

Bonus item: I fell in love with the Buffalo ornaments (pictured below) inside the shop when I visited a few weeks ago. They are a great stocking stuffer or a fun splurge for your tree this holiday season. ($9.50) 

2.) Faces Of Buffalo's Buffalo Photo Alphabet: This great framed print spells out Buffalo by using historical architecture in the area. There are a handful of options on the website, featuring local colleges, other cities in the WNY area and can also be customized to spell whatever you want! It is a must buy for ex-pats who want to show their hometown pride. Also great for an office, mantle, or book shelf! ($18.00 - $32.00 plus shipping depending on style)

3.) Fridge Phrases: Buffalo Edition: This new product offered by the City Dining Cards in Fall 2012, has taken the local Twittersphere by storm! These great fridge magnets include over 200 words with a local flavor to them. Create sentences using "sponge candy", "Cheektavegas", "The Ralph", and more! If I had to pick one item on this list that you MUST buy, fridge phrases are it! ($20.00)

Bonus item: The City Dining cards are also a great stocking stuffer for Buffalonians. They include a $10 gift card to 50 local restaurants. If you know someone who has been wanting to check out the local dining scene, this is the item for them! The Dining cards were how I found out about a lot of my blog entries in 2012! 


4.) BuffaloHistory.Com Vintage Buffalo Calendar: The 2013 calendar offers a historical look back at Buffalo and is sure to give you a better understanding and appreciation for The Queen City ($14.95)

5.) Darwin Martin House Floor Plan Platter: Do you have someone in your life who loves architecture and also loves to throw parties? The Darwin Martin House platter is a gorgeous piece that was created by Niagara Ceramics exclusively for the Martin House and is microwavable and dish washer safe ($40.00) 
Bonus item: Pair the platter (or offer alone) gift tickets to visit the Darwin Martin House! ($15.00 for the basic tour, $30.00 for the extended tour)

6.) Subscription to Buffalo Spree Magazine: This magazine rocks. If you want to know what is going on in the area, where to eat, what is coming for the city, then you need to grab a subscription today! Order this soon to send to ex-pats looking for information on the city. The website currently offers a 2 for 1 special right now, so order today! ($26 for 12 issues plus special edition issues as well)

7.) Buffalo Neighborhoods Typography Map: All the Buffalo neighborhoods are represented on this awesome print designed and printed by local artists. There are limited number of these available, so get one today!! They come in three different color palates. ($20.00)

8.) Origami Buffalo: This great piece is a map of the City of Buffalo folded into Buffalo origami and mounted on a black stand. This is the perfect piece for someone who has everything. Great for display on an office desk, or on a mantle or book shelf at home. This item can be purchased at Thin Ice on Elmwood (or online!) ($18.00)

9.) Buffalo Memories Book: This book features 160 short stories about Buffalo through the years written by George Kunz! It can be purchased on's "shop local page" or in bookstores throughout the area. &17.95, but prices may vary depending on store)

Bonus items: There are so many great Buffalo books I've stumbled upon this past year. Some other great options for book lovers out there: City on the Edge by Mark Goldman, The Complete History of Parkside by Steve Cichon, Buffalo Unbound by Laura Pedersen, Buffalo, NY: Cool Stuff Every Kid Should Know by Kate Jerome. There are too many more to list here!  

10.) Pride of Buffalo Gift Basket: One of my favorite stores to walk around in is Premier Gourmet on Maple Road in Amherst. They put together gorgeous gift baskets year round, but they are especially great for the holidays. The Pride of Buffalo basket includes great locally made products including Weber's mustard, Anchor Bar wing sauce, Waton's sponge candy and more ($49.99). 

Bonus items: Premier Gourmet offers other great baskets ranging from $39.99 - $159.99. They have a lot of other great Buffalo products in stock too!

Whatever you are looking for this holiday season, consider shopping local. Elmwood Avenue is my favorite place to shop during the holidays - many of the stores even do complimentary gift wrapping. 

Happy shopping, Buffalo!!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Small Business Spotlight: The Home Stylist

As the holiday season gets into full swing around Buffalo, I decided to sit down with Julia Dana from The Home Stylist to talk holiday decorating!

The Home Stylist is a Buffalo based interior decorating/home staging company. Julie offers home owners with a do-it yourself approach that empowers families to make the changes they are looking for without breaking the bank. 

When it comes to holiday decorating, Julie says to keep the color palate simple. "Work on picking out two or three colors and then all your accessorizing around the house will come together easier." So how do you pick which colors to choose, "Start with colors already in your house and work off of those - try to not to pick colors that clash like introducing red accessories into a burgandy palate."

Julie also noted that people feel pressure to have all the nooks and crannies in their homes decorated, but she said to pick three main focus areas in your rooms and decorate those. "Choose the mantle above the fireplace, sofa/coffee tables and the archway of doors. Your staircase is also a great place to choose. If those areas are decorated, it will feel like your whole house is without cramming different items in all over the place."

Julie has owned The Home Stylist for ten years after family and friends encouraged her to get into the business. "I was always decorating for my family and friends, so why not get paid for what I love to do!" Julie told me. "I love empowering home owners and helping them spend their money properly so they maximize their outcomes." 

Julie is also the author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Staging and Selling Your Home" In addition to interior decorating, Julie focuses on helping homeowners stage their homes. It is a buyer's market out there, and Julie says that what will set homes apart that are around the same price is how it is staged! Many homeowners will opt for lowering the price of the home before properly staging it, and while that can cost you thousands of dollars in the end, a properly staged home would cost so much less (Julie's staging plan costs $150). Julie shared one of many great success stories with me, "I worked with a client that had their home on the market for two years. They took the home off, I worked with them to stage it and once we put it back up, it sold 16 days later!"

"It can be overwhelming to homeowners on how to decorate and especially on how to sell their house. Making mistakes can cost money, and my goal is to make sure my clients spend the money they can allocate properly and give them a plan that is easy to follow!"

Julie's rate is $85.00 per generous hour, and most design plans can be worked up in an hour to an hour and a half. Julie also offers a 3 for $30 option on her website where you send her a photo of the room you are working on and she will create three great solutions to improving the room. 

Once we wrapped up talking about the business side of things, our conversation moved to Buffalo! While Julie is not a native Buffalonian (she moved here from Michigan over 20 years ago for love), she has found a home in Buffalo and can't imagine living anywhere else. "There is so much to do here! Western New York has it all; culture, arts, museums, kayaking/canoeing and great parks to explore. It is a great place to raise a family too!" Julie is also a docent for the Roycroft Campus and resides in East Aurora. 

Home decorating can be a lot to take on so make things simple and give Julie a call today! She will give you the practical and economical advice that will pay off for years to come!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Falafel Bar in Amherst

This year I discovered Falafel Bar, and after my first meal there, I couldn't believe I used to turn down dinner offers to this great Amherst restaurant. In fact, in a recent article I was interviewed for by Buffalo Spree, I chose Falafel Bar as one of my top 5 "cheap eats". It is that good AND budget friendly! 

In my younger, much stupider (or less adventurous) days, falafel didn't sound appealing to me, so I avoided the restaurant. The restaurant is a combination of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food and up until a few years ago, I stuck to the same few restaurants and styles of food. My boyfriend had suggested going to Falafel Bar a handful of times (he already loved it), but it wasn't until about 6 months ago that I finally agreed to try it out.

The restaurant is located next to the Northtown Plaza on Sheridan Drive. The trendy and modern feel was right up my alley, and I really enjoyed all the artwork, decorative pillows on some of the wall seating and table settings. 

My first time there we ordered the mushroom hummus, and honestly, I can't get enough of the stuff. With sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions over the hummus, the flavors are absolutely outstanding. The pita bread it is served with is delicious and always warm and fresh. The hummus in itself could be a meal alone for those who don't like a big meal. 

In the times since we have gone back, I've had the falafel (which is a great starter), cigars, salads, the shnitzel, shawarma, salmon and beef kabobs, and more. I haven't had a meal or even a part of a meal that wasn't above average. They offer a wide variety of menu items including sandwiches, plates, entrees and salads. They also have great daily specials. 

Our service has always been above average and it's a restaurant where the atmosphere is always fun and guests are always enjoying themselves. 

It is no surprise to me, that Falafel Bar has a wall full of awards; being given the coveted Artvoice "Best of Buffalo" award for years, as well as recognition from Buffalo Spree and others.

My only gripe about Falafel Bar, and to be honest it's really a gripe about most restaurants, is their kids menu. They don't offer any of the traditional Mediterranean items on their kids menu. Like in most restaurants the items include chicken fingers, hamburgers, grilled cheese, etc...I'd love to see some of the traditional items on the kids menu to help young ones branch out and expand their palate. If I was given those options when I was younger, it might not have taken me almost 30 years to check out one of my new favorites spots for dinner. 

If you aren't the adventurous type, Falafel Bar offers much more than the traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern options and can please the whole family. If you haven't checked them out yet, you are really missing out. I am so happy I finally decided to give them a try! Get there soon, Buffalo!

For more reviews on Falafel Bar, check out:

Falafel Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 22, 2012

Rolly Pollies of WNY

In a time when the national obesity epidemic is talked about on a daily basis, it is important to get kids active at an early age. Rolly Pollies of WNY aims to start kids as young as six months to instill a healthy and active lifestyle. 

The infant program is just one of many programs offered at Rolly Pollies, but was one that I could tell owner Jim Fleckenstein loved to talk about. The program aims to help infants build their gross motor skills and strengthen their core for balance as they begin to explore walking. The group classes that include Mommy and/or Daddy often open parents eyes to what their young ones can do.  

All classes (offered at various age levels) are non-competitive and usually run in 9 week sessions with a specific curriculum. Class size is kept fairly small, working with a 6:1 ratio of students to instructors. Most classes max out around 20 participants to allow staff the chance to work with each student. 

In addition to all the gym classes offered for ages 6 months - 12 years, Rolly Pollies offers music and creative arts programs. During school breaks they offer short sessions to keep the kids moving, and offer other specialty classes & workshops throughout the year. They also have open gym hours where parents can bring their kids to play with any of the equipment in the gym ($10 - $15 per hour depending on age, $5 for each additional hour). 

One other great option for parents are their birthday parties.  Instead of trying to find a few hours worth of activities to keep a group of young ones occupied, Rolly Pollies offers the open gym and staff to help them with the equipment. 

They truly offer programs for all levels and work hard to not only give kids the time to exercise, but teach them about muscle groups, nutrition, and learning how to make healthy choices. Each class ends with a homework assignment where students are asked to keep track of healthy choices they made and then share them with their friends next week. 

I visited the East Amherst facility on Transit Road (they also have another location in Orchard Park) and was impressed by the colorful gym filled with so many wonderful pieces of equipment. Kids have the chance to work on the balance beam, trampoline, zip line and more. Rolly Pollies isn't your traditional gymnastics program, they offer so much more for students and parents. 

"Rolly Pollies has really become a tight knit community." Jim told me. "Families quickly become friends outside of the gym. Getting to watch kids come in when they were infants and still be with our program now makes them a part of our extended family." 

For owners Jim & Danielle Fleckenstein, owning a business in Buffalo was an easy choice, it was home. After living around the country, they both wanted to move back to Buffalo to be around family and to start a family of their own. There were no other gyms offering the services they could provide in Western New York, so they moved back and have continued to grow for the past seven years!

You can find out about all the programs they offer on their website and stay in touch with them on their Facebook and Twitter pages. 

If you have children and want to get them on the right path to an active and healthy lifestyle, a call or visit to Rolly Pollies should be on the top of your list! Now, especially as the winter months tend to leave us indoors more, Rolly Pollies can open a whole new world for the young ones in your lives. 

Pictures from around the gyms

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Restaurant Week Recap #3: Mothers in Buffalo

My younger brother Richard just got engaged. Well, he got engaged about a month ago, but Thursday night was the first chance my boyfriend and I had to take them out to celebrate their engagement. I let them choose where they wanted to try (since they are as adventurous as we are), and they chose Mothers on Virginia Place in the city. 
I'd only ever been to Mothers once before, and that night we walked in and quickly walked out. We were looking for something cheaper and quick, and Mothers wasn't it. While many of the menu items looked amazing, we weren't in the mood to spend a lot of money and a Sabres game would be starting in about 30 minutes and we didn't have good sight lines for their television. 

I was excited to get back though, because I loved the atmosphere and have heard great things about the restaurant. We had a reservation for 6, and when we arrived  I was so glad I made reservations. The bar and tables were packed and it didn't let up the entire time we were there. 

Mothers has a very cozy feel to it. The dim lighting, gorgeous covered tables lit with candlelight and stone/brick interior make it a very romantic spot as well. The night we chose appeared to be girls night out, as we were only one of three tables that had couples at it. The bar was hopping with well dressed men and women enjoying happy hour. 

Their restaurant week special included a glass of wine (we all selected the Riesling and it was crisp and delicious), either the house salad or soup, and an entree. 

My brother, his fiance Jenny and my boyfriend all ordered the exact same meal, even down to the dressing on their salads. They had the generous 12 oz. sirloin steak which came served with mashed potatoes and snow peas.  I felt I had to be different so I went with the tenderloin tournedos, and learned a new word! If you aren't down with your beef lingo, a tournedo is the center most portion of tenderloin and is sometimes referred to as filet mignon in the US.  My dish was served with asparagus and roasted red potatoes and the meat was sitting in a delicious sauce with mushrooms. 

To put it quite simply, the meal was perfect. There wasn't a single aspect of the dinner that I can gripe about. The salad and soup (I chose the Mushroom Asparagus) were the perfect start to the meal. The meat was cooked perfect; tender, medium just the way I like it and seasoned well. The sauce it was in was outstanding and really complemented the meat. The potatoes and asparagus were great additions to the beef as well. I had a taste of the sirloin steak and it too was "melt in your mouth" good and I could have eaten all my boyfriend's mashed potatoes (and I'm not a big fan of mashed potatoes).

We had a great meal and all left the restaurant very satisfied and full. I don't get to spend a lot of time with my brother (like me, Richard is always on the go), so it made the night that much more special to share it with him.  

Mothers is the perfect "special occasion" spot, and a great option for happy hour in the city. It is tucked away on Virginia Place and parking can be limited, as there is only street parking available. If you are planning on checking it out, I would consider reservations. Even though it was Restaurant Week, they are often busy. 

My only gripe about Mothers is that they don't have a website, or really much of a social media presence. They do have a Facebook page with over 1,000 followers, but it doesn't look like they utilize it that often. That being said, Mothers wasn't hurting for business. They are also a popular hangout for local politicians, especially during campaign season. 

If you are looking for a great atmosphere and a delicious meal, Mothers is worth the price and a must try!

Sirloin steak (left) and the tenderloin tournedo

For more reviews on Mothers, check out:  Mother's on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 19, 2012

Restaurant Week Recap #2: Adam's Rib

Sometimes being Lovin' On Buffalo can put me in a tough spot. I consider it my job to boost Buffalo and local business as much as I can, but what happens when I go somewhere and honestly don't love it? That's what happened Wednesday night when my boyfriend and I went to Adam's Rib for a late dinner. Adam's Rib is within walking distance from my boyfriend's house. The restaurant has been a staple on Main Street for over 40 years. We always drive past it and wonder what it's like on the inside, so we took Restaurant Week as the perfect opportunity to finally go for dinner.

We didn't arrive for dinner until close to 8:30pm, but there were about 8 tables of patrons enjoying their meals still. My first impression of Adam's Rib was that it feels "old". With a lot of wood paneling and wallpaper coming off the walls, the atmosphere is quite different than the other restaurants within a three block radius (Siena, Brodo and Tabree).

We were promptly seated and looked over the menu. With the special you received a glass of wine. I ordered the white they had on the list, but they were all out of the whites (major bummer), so I had to settle for a glass of red. We each ordered a salad to get going and for our dinner entrees I ordered the prime rib (a menu item they are famous for), and my boyfriend went with the Tenderloin Tips Alfredo (tenderloin tips sauteed with baby spinach and mushrooms, tossed with penne pasta and their famous Alfredo sauce). 
With our salads came bread AND corn bread, and I quickly devoured the corn bread. It was absolutely delicious! Our meals came out pretty fast and we dug right in. Since my boyfriend cooks pasta dishes for a part-time living at a restaurant on the weekends, he was disappointed with his meal. The pasta was overcooked and the Alfredo sauce was not a true Alfredo sauce (I'm not a huge Alfredo fan so I'm taking his word here!). I ordered my prime rib medium, and it came out that way, but was a little bit tough. The side sweet potato was good and their walnut butter sauce was a very tasty topping. 

When a friend mentioned we should finally check out Adam's Rib, they did note we would bring the mean age down, and they were right. Aside from a twenty something who was there with his grandparents, we were the only couple under the age of 45 in the restaurant.

While I can't say I'll be going back for another meal, I did speak with the waitress who said that Adam's Rib is for sale and all the staff is crossing their fingers that whoever purchases it will keep them on and keep the restaurant. No word yet on if they will change the style of the restaurant or the menu. 

Restaurant Week is the chance to get out and explore those place you've seen for years but never patronized. I came to the realization that you can't hit it out of the ballpark every time, and this year we have already found so many outstanding restaurants.  I will say this, even though we didn't love the meal, Local Restaurant Week made it possible and solved a long running mystery.When we paid our bill, I was still happy to turn over the money and know I was supporting a local business. So, get out and explore Buffalo!!

Tenderloin tips Alfredo & Prime Rib with a sweet potato

For more reviews on Adam's Rib check out: Adam's Rib on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Restaurant Week Recap #1: Soho Burger Bar

It's finally back! WNY Restaurant Week is one of my favorite weeks of the year in Buffalo. The week brings together close to 200 local restaurants offering lunch/dinner specials for $20.12. It is marketing at its best, and how I found out about some of my favorite hangouts and restaurants in the area. 

I started my week of eating out at Soho Burger Bar on Chippewa. If I'm being completely honest, I was never a very big fan of Soho Bar. My late night fun on Chippewa very rarely brought me here, and I never had a great vibe from the place. I went there on Monday, a little hesitant about what dinner would be like, but was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. 

I haven't been inside the bar in a couple years, and I really enjoyed the updated trendy decor. From the unique tables to the fun lighting and hip bar, there were a lot of unique touches that made my night. My favorite touch was the napkin holders: automotive hose clamps! All the unique touches were great conversation starters!

The restaurant week special here is absolutely outstanding. In all the years I've done restaurant week, this one was the biggest "bang for my buck". For $20.12 you received two signature burgers (typically ranging from $11-$15 each), one side (usually $4-$7), 2 drinks (either wine, well drinks or beer), and two desserts (ice cream cone in one of four flavors). 

The burgers all sounded delicious but my boyfriend and I settled on the Steak House Burger (topped with mushrooms, caramelized onions, mixed greens and a horseradish cream sauce) and the Red Hot Chili Burger (topped with aged cheddar, roasted tomato and jalapeno compote). For our side we chose the Truffle Tater Tots (seasoned with truffle oil, parmesan cheese and parsley). We brought along the little guy Jacob, and while they don't have a kids menu online they do offer some options for kids; mini burgers, mini hot dogs, grilled cheese and chicken bites. Jacob ordered the mini burgers, ($5.50) which came topped with American cheese and a side of fries and a pickle!

The house white wine was good, a little on the drier side but a nice start to the meal. The music playing in the background was heavy on Dave Matthews (one of my favorite singers) and I was smiling from ear to ear. 

Since we arrived early, right around 5pm, there were not many customers in the restaurant yet, so our meals came out quickly. 

The presentation and plating of the meal was very fun, with a small basket for the chips and a huge deli style pickle on the side (see photo below). One bite into our burgers and we knew we found a new spot to grab dinner before (hopefully soon) Sabres games! My burger was extremely juicy, cooked perfectly and the toppings were perfectly seasoned and cooked. The homemade chips were tasty and crisp and better than anything Lays could put out.

The tater tots were a unique and updated take on the classic tater tots I've had before. They were seasoned perfectly and didn't feel greasy or "fake" like many tater tots do. 

During our meal, we explained to Jacob what Restaurant Week was all about, and he asked where we were going next!! While his meal wasn't a part of the Restaurant Week specials, he was pretty excited we got such a great deal! Kudos to the entire Restaurant Week group for giving Buffalo another wonderful week to explore the local flavors of WNY! 

If you haven't set a reservation up yet, Soho Burger Bar is a great spot for date night and a fun night out with friends. If you can't get there during this week, they offer great Monday Night Football specials, and Wednesdays are half price wine night (by the GLASS and the bottle!). 

Steak House burger with homemade chips and a gigantic pickle!

Truffle tater tots

For more reviews on Soho Burger Bar check out: Soho Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 15, 2012

Buffalo, Shake It With Zumba!

A little over four years ago, I saw an infomercial for Zumba Fitness. As someone who had been teaching aerobics for a few years, I was looking for new class formats to try out. From the moment the infomercial started, I knew that Zumba would be my next adventure. I hopped on the Zumba website and decided to become licensed to teach it. 

A few weeks later I drove up to Rochester, NY and became a licensed Zumba Instructor. Within the first hour of the training, I was hooked. I spent the next few weeks immersing myself in Latin music before starting up the classes at Best Fitness in Tonawanda. I couldn't believe the feedback! At the time, Zumba was fairly unknown in the area, but after a few classes, the room was packed, and the numbers kept increasing. 

That fall I also began teaching Zumba for Bodyshaping By Sandy. Students fell in love with the classes, and above that were losing weight and gaining self esteem. Zumba changed my life too. It helped me lose weight, and teaching the classes helped me through some tough times in my life. It became a second family to me. It became that ME time, and an hour a night to just let anything bothering me fade away. 

I continued to regularly teach Zumba classes until this fall semester. I decided I needed to take a little time off to give my body a break and focus on a few other things. I am terribly missing it, so I decided I'd check out some other local instructor classes and learn some new moves of my own! 

Buffalo is full of so many wonderful Zumba instructors, and each has their own unique style, giving Buffalonians so many great options to choose from. I decided to highlight five local instructors, either offering classes on their own, or working out of local gyms/fitness companies, who each share the same passion for Zumba that I do. 

Julie and I have been friends for a while. We met while teaching for Bodyshaping By Sandy. Julie got involved in Zumba on a whim. The owner of Bodyshaping asked instructors to check it out, and Julie decided to, never thinking she would actually teach. Julie didn't feel confident in her dancing and was never comfortable dancing in front of others. Zumba changed that for her. 

"The best part is helping others. I really enjoy helping people reach their fitness goals and love getting them to realize that exercise can be fun." Julie told me. "One student has already lost 30 lbs. and keeps coming back for more. Another student has gained so much self confidence."

Julie brings so much fun to her Zumba classes. She has a great sense of humor that gets her students laughing and forgetting they are working out. She offers great "pep talks" during class that stick with her students long after their class is over. 

Julie incorporates so many easy, fun and catchy routines in, and always choreographs special songs during holidays and special occasions. She keeps that heart rate pumping high throughout her class and has more energy than anyone I know. 

In addition to a fitness routine, Julie tells her students to eat as naturally as possible. "Try not to put anything artificial in your body."

Julie teaches classes in West Seneca for Bodyshaping By Sandy & Curves. She also offers her own classes at St. John's Church in West Seneca and teaches at Villa Maria College for students and staff. Her classes typically run about $5 each, or classes can be purchased in semesters. 

Like me, Mary's first time taking a Zumba class was when she took the Zumba training to become licensed to teach. Mary was one of the original instructors who brought Zumba to The Buffalo Athletic Club. I met Mary when I purchased a three month summer membership to the BAC a few years ago. Mary's class was the first Zumba class I ever attended, outside of teaching my own classes. Teaching Zumba has always been my passion, but that day, I never had so much fun taking a class. 

Mary's personality is electric. She radiates happiness and joy, and you can't possibly have a bad time when you are in her class. She found a way to engage all her students from the front to the back of the room. "The best part of Zumba for me is the people. Not just the .
front row divas but that shy person in the back who finally gets that one step & breaks out in  the biggest smile in the world. It's my job to make everyone feel good and get a great workout."

"There are so many success stories!" Mary told me. "I never realized until I started teaching just how much impact one word or a smile can have."  

Mary's tip to those looking to get in shape out there: "Just move!" Whether it's playing with your kids, taking a walk or joining a fitness class, just keep moving! 

Mary teaches at a handful of the different BAC locations throughout the area. You can check out her schedule on their website. Non-members can also check out the classes! Drop Mary and e-mail today and she will get you into a class for free! 

After giving birth to her second child, Dawn Hammer was suffering from post-partum depression. As she sought therapy to help her out, part of the plan was to join fitness classes. In the past she would sign up for classes but never really attend. A fellow fitness instructor inspired her to join in classes, and eventually to teach. When Dawn heard the Latin beats of Zumba, she was instantly hooked. Soon after, she contacted a local fitness company and attended a Zumba training. Instantly, Dawn felt better about herself, was noticing physical differences in her body and turned around a very hopeless mind frame. 

Dawn offers classes Monday - Thursday evenings at The Park School in Snyder. Classes typically run around $5 per class, but you can buy different packages that reduce that cost even more! I had the chance to check out one of Dawn's classes this summer, on a very hot Buffalo summer night. The gym used for these classes is a good size and there were around 20 people in the class the night I went. There was plenty of room to move around. 

Dawn uses a lot of hip hop influence in her songs and the routines are fun and easy to follow. She throws in a few combinations that challenge those that aren't beginners, but after a few times through, everyone in the class had the steps down. Dawn uses different formations throughout class and brings in one of my favorites, "the battle" to break up the class and get everyone shaking! 

"People often tell me they don't have time to workout. While there are a lot of excuses, think of what you are getting in return: More energy during the day, rest better at night, and stay healthy to take care of family." 

Dawn's students have surely reaped the benefits. Students have increased bone density, were able to get off blood pressure medications and helped put their diabetes at bay, in addition to losing weight!

You can't help but feel inspired after an hour in her class. 

For the past 22 years, Olivia has been teaching a variety of different fitness programs to different populations. Her favorite have always been the dance based ones. "Dance is a powerful expression, and the joy of dance has always compelled me to find a way to make dance accessible to the masses."

With the simplicity of Zumba, the powerful Latin music, and the ability to let the music "call us" to dance, Olivia knew she had found her niche. "Dancing is the most fun you can have standing up!" She told me, and I tend to agree!

I had the chance to check out Olivia's class at Canalside this past summer. Canalside offered FREE classes during the week and Tuesday evenings were Zumba. A few of my friends and I checked out the class, and as far as class locations go, there has been no better spot than Canalside. On a beautiful summer night in Buffalo you get to see the sun set over the water! Olivia leads the classes along with two other instructors from Catalyst Fitness

While all three ladies who led the class were great, I really enjoyed the songs that Olivia did. Her facial expressions, movements and the wonderful passion you could see from her, made me wish I was taking a full hour of just her classes. You can catch her in action at Catalyst Fitness during the week. 

Both the newbies and the regulars make the class for Olivia, who said, "Seeing newbies after their first class knowing they are hooked and watching the regulars keep coming back and making a commitment to fitness that they never could before is the best part of Zumba for me."

When I asked Olivia about success stories, she answered a little differently than the others. "Zumba at the Waterfront has been a success story for Buffalo! It has been a part of the revitalization project at Canalside and our numbers were better than we could have hoped for. People had no idea where the waterfront was, where to park and if it was safe, but as they started to come out of the woodwork, they not only experienced Zumba, but the beautiful waterfront Buffalo has to offer! Now, a new crowd of people have experienced the revitalization taking place in this area!"

What more could you ask for, Buffalo?

For Jill, Zumba was the answered prayer she never expected! After leaving her full-time job in Employee Relations at UB, Jill became a stay at home Mom. She was teaching a few Pilates classes at the time but was hoping she would figure out a career path as time went on.  

After a fellow fitness instructor friend had to step back from teaching Zumba, Jill was asked to take over. She quickly learned the routines and took the training class and immediately was hooked. She couldn't believe she could earn a living dancing and sharing it with others. 

"I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that getting paid to do the one thing that I absolutely love is an absolute dream come true!" Jill told me. "But, it's not just that, it's the fact that I'm dancing with amazing people, my "Zumba babes" as I call them." Zumba is all about diversity in music and rhythms and Jill sees that diversity in her students every week. They come from different backgrounds, are different ages, but share one common passion for dancing and getting in shape! 

When I attended a special summer class Jill organized, I wished I lived closer so I could join her classes regularly. She combines great music, fun choreography and a lot of energy into an hour class that flies by. Out of all the classes I attended this summer, that was the one that felt most like a "family." You could tell all these ladies felt welcome, and over time have developed great friendships, in large part because of Jill. 

Jill's classes run through West Seneca Community Education and Lancaster Community Education and are offered in ten week sessions. While she doesn't offer a "walk in" option, you can contact her and get a guest pass at certain locations. 

Jill's fitness tip to everyone is to find a program that you love, because the most effective program is one that you will stick with! 

For thousands of Buffalonians, they have found that fitness program to be Zumba. If you haven't checked it out yet, please consider getting in touch with one of these amazing Buffalo women who all have an incredible passion for Zumba and helping people in Buffalo reach their fitness goals. 

Happy shaking!