Wednesday, April 25, 2012

State Of The Air - Erie County & WNY

Today, the American Lung Association released their State of the Air report. As someone who suffers from asthma, and on a daily basis worries about what triggers in the air will cause an asthma attack, I’ve been eagerly waiting to see how Western New York is doing. When this report was released last year, Erie County received an F, and for myself, and the thousands of others in the area who suffer from asthma, it just wasn’t acceptable.

The American Lung Association of the Northeast has worked throughout the year to help improve the air quality, and in essence, help ME fight for air. I am happy to report that this year, Erie County received a grade of C. It’s an improvement that makes me breathe a little easier, literally. However, a C is just average. I can tell you when I can’t catch my breath, knowing the air quality is just average isn’t good enough. We need to do more. As an adult, asthma attacks are terrifying. As someone who is very active, there have been way too many days where walking up one flight of stairs has caused me to be out of breath. The sad truth is that there are more and more children suffering from asthma, and I can only imagine how terrifying it is for them.

I’m not someone who gives over control easily. Breathing in air, that could potentially trigger an asthma attack, is something beyond my control, and it’s scary to go through days, especially when ozone levels are high, with my rescue inhaler close by. It may be something you take for granted, but because of my asthma, when I walk outside in the morning, I can tell the difference in air quality on high ozone, high particle pollution and high pollen days. 

In Western New York the only county that failed was Chautauqua County, while many others brought their grades up.  It is evident that progress has been made, through advocacy, research, and fundraising events (including the Fight for Air Climb that has been held in Buffalo for the past two years).

If you don’t suffer from asthma, or lung disease, odds are you know someone who does. Lung cancer is the number one cause of death in both men and women. By making some very easy changes to your daily routine, you can really help The American Lung Association bring that C grade up to an A. Cut down your drive time, don’t burn wood, and turn off electricity when you don’t need it, and you could save a life.

We need our local politicians to speak up for us, and make sure The Clean Air Act doesn’t get forgotten about. If you check out, you can find out more ways to get involved and improve the air quality across Western New York

I'm grateful everyday that I have outlets to advocate for the American Lung Association, and hope you seriously consider taking some steps to helping reduce the effects of ozone and particle pollution in our air! I personally thank you!

Santora's Pizza and Pub in Williamsville

I love how so many businesses in Buffalo are family owned and operated, and have been passed down from generation to generation. One of these businesses, Santora’s Pizza, Pub & Grill, has a rich history in the Buffalo area for over 80 years!

The Santora family has been selling pizza since 1927, when the founder sold slices in his homemade ice cream shop. In 1947, the first Santora'a Napoli Pizzeria was opened and the family has continued to grow and expand the business, and keep the tradition alive, while updating the concept as the times changed.

Currently there are two locations, one on Transit Road in Williamsville (across from the Eastern Hills Mall) and the other on Millersport Highway (across from The Marriott Hotel). 

I started my own tradition a few years ago, picking a locally owned restaurant for my birthday festivities with my family. This year, I chose to go to the location on Main Street, and in total, there were 14 of us celebrating my birthday on Sunday April 1st.

Before I even get to the food, I have to talk about the service. Service and atmosphere at any restaurant are almost as important as the food quality, and the service here was absolutely outstanding. Getting a table of 14 cannot be easy to serve for any waiter/waitress, but our waiter, Chris was great! He kept my, how shall I say it, “unique” family happy!

A few of the people at our tables ordered appetizers, including myself, and I had the coconut shrimp (one of my favorite appetizers in general). They were great! Perfectly cooked and crispy, and the sauce that went with it was tasty. The nachos and chicken wing dip were also ordered and they were good too!  

I won’t bore you with all the dinner orders at our table, but they included wrapinis, burgers, the all you can eat pizza buffet, chicken fingers, and subs. As I looked around the table when our food finally came (I will admit that it did take a really long time for our orders to come out, but I guess with 14 people I can understand that), everything looked good and presented well. I asked everyone how their food was, and everyone enjoyed their meals. I hardly noticed how long it took for food to come out because there were so many people to talk with, but a few people did comment on how long it was taking. 

I ordered the veggie Panini sandwich, and it was really good, although the one side of my bread was slightly burned. I tried a little bit of the pizza and while I wouldn’t say it was the best I ever had, it was really good. I liked the dough and the sauce was tasty.

The prices are reasonable and on par with other pub and grills in the area. They really do have a wide range of menu options and something for everyone!

The restaurant itself has a very fun atmosphere with ample seating, game area, and many tv’s to watch sporting events! They offer great drink specials for Happy Hour from 4pm – 7pm everyday, and they offer take out, delivery and also catering for your next party.

If you are looking for a new place to try, check out one of these locations. I can't speak to the service and atmosphere at the Millersport location, but based on what I saw on Main Street, I'm sure it's just as great!

For more reviews on Santora's, click below:
Santora's Pizza Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 20, 2012

Summertime Hot Spots in Buffalo and WNY - Krystal's Picks!

With summer just around the corner, and some unseasonably warm Buffalo weather this year, I decided to get in the summer spirit and put together my top 10 summertime hot spots in Buffalo and Western New York. Take into consideration, there are plenty more not listed here, but these ten I have visited before, and absolutely love spending my summer days and nights at. As much as I love winter in Buffalo, summer in Buffalo is the absolute best. I've said it before, but this city knows how to put the warm weather to the best use!

So in no particular order...

1.) Shakespeare in the Park. Even if you don't understand Shakespeare, and even if you aren't a fan of the theatre, enjoying a night on the hill at Delaware Park is absolutely outstanding. Bring a bottle of wine, some cheese and crackers/other snacks and a blanket, and I can promise, you will enjoy yourself. It's great for families, it's great for friends and it's an awesome date night. With Hoyt Lake to the left of the stage, and the Delaware Park Rose Garden behind you, get there early and do some walking around too!

2.) Take a Miss Buffalo II cruise. If you are from this area and you have never gone on one of these cruises, you have really been missing out! You don't have an excuse this summer. They run frequently, and there are plenty of great days ahead to get one in. The cruises are reasonably priced and a fun way to enjoy a hot summer day. They offer “happy hour” cruises, DJ’ed cruises, and sightseeing cruises.

3.) Go see a concert sponsored by Buffalo Place at the Harbor. The "Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor" concert series for 2012 hasn't been announced yet, but does it really matter? I went to see a band I'd never seen live before, Great Big Sea, last summer and I still often talk about all the fun it was. They fixed up the Harbor, and it's a wonderful place to walk around and enjoy the waterfront and good music. The ticket prices are cheap, they have food and drink vendors on hand, and you can bring a chair, blanket, or stand up near the stage.

4.) Find a Farmer's Market in your neighborhood and GO! In the city, the Downtown Country Market is celebrating its 30th year! It runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:00am – 2:30pm on Main Street between Court and Church Streets. If you can’t get there during the workday, I frequent the North Tonawanda Farmer's Market in the summer on Saturday mornings. I load up on produce grown by local farmers, always run into people I know, and it's usually where I buy flowers for my garden! There are a handful of Farmer's Market's in the area, so do a search and find the one closest to you and hit it up!

5.) Meet some friends at Pearl Street Bar & Brewery, or Bambino Kitchen & Bar downtown and have some food and drinks on their awesome patios. My picks for top patios outside the City: The Eagle House and Frog Hair Grill in Williamsville. There are plenty of other options, but you can’t go wrong with these!

6.) Take one of the Buffalo Tours offered by Preservation Buffalo Niagara. They offer awesome walking tours of various parts of the City and suburbs for around $10 a person. Learn a little bit about the history of your favorite area in Western New York, get some exercise in and enjoy the fresh air. Sounds like a perfect afternoon to me! My suggestions: The Queen City Downtown Tour, The Whole Grain Tour and the Parkside Neighborhood Tour!

7.) Get to Coca Cola Field for a Buffalo Bisons game. It’s high on my list of things to do with families in Buffalo during the summer. Get a hot dog, some fries, and maybe even some cotton candy and enjoy Buffalo’s AAA Baseball team. Tickets are priced right for families. Even if you aren’t a fan of baseball, it’s a fun atmosphere to be around, and gives you the chance to catch up with family and friends between innings.

8.) Visit a local farm and pick fruit with your family. Last summer I really enjoyed strawberry and cherry picking. It gives you a greater appreciation for the farming industry, a very tough industry to work in, and makes for a fun afternoon in the sun! There are many farms that offer “U-Pick” areas for strawberries, blueberries, cherries, corn and more. Here is a link to a site that lists many:

9.)  Go on a nature hike around Tifft Nature Preserve! Take a bottle of water, a pair of sneakers and your camera! Maps of the nature trails can be downloaded on their website, and you can spend hours walking around. There are some benches are areas to take a break, and they have a visitor center where you can learn more about the area and animals. 

10.) Go to the Allentown Art Festival! This year the festival is on Saturday June 9th and Sunday June 10th and features hundreds of local artists. All the summer festivals in Buffalo are incredible (Taste of Buffalo, Italian Festival, Elmwood Arts Festival, to name a few), but the Allentown Art Festival is my favorite because it officially kicks off summer for me. 

Maybe I should have made this list my top 20! I can still rattle off more, but there are some other options listed in previous blogs and more to come in future blogs. If you have other suggestions, feel free to comment below!

So here’s your task Buffalonians, and visitors this summer! Take a picture of you at all ten of these activities, and you will receive a prize from Lovin’ On Buffalo! One winner, with the most creative pictures, will receive a great gift basket of Buffalo products! All pictures can be e-mailed to Krystal at All photos must be submitted by September 1st. Some of my favorites will be posted on the site and on Facebook/Twitter. 

Have fun exploring Buffalo this summer!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Brighton Place in Tonawanda

Growing up, I lived around the block from the Brighton Library. It was a place we visited on a weekly basis. My brothers and I attended many of the storytimes, and it’s where I got certified to be a babysitter. I even, though I hate to admit it, was tutored in English there when I was younger. So, in 2005, when funding cuts forced the closing of The Brighton Library, I was sad to see the place where I had learned so much, unavailable for the next generation of kids in my neighborhood.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who was sad to see it close. A group of Town residents and supporters of the library fought to reopen it, and in early 2006 it was opened under the name Brighton Place. Fundraising events were held, and it was clear the Town of Tonawanda didn’t want to see the space go unused. Initial monies raised supported the purchase of shelves, furniture and books to get it going.

When I spoke with Brighton Place’s Director, Cassie Rydzewski she said that, “When the Brighton Library was closed people supported the idea of reopening because the other libraries in the area are a distance away. The thought was to re-open as not just a library, but a real community resource center focused on quality of life for those in the Town.”

Brighton Place is not a part of the public library system and they receive no funding from the Town. They solely rely on the generosity of the community through fundraising events, donations and small grants. They have an event coming up on May 10th called, "Cooks and Books" that offers guests the chance to talk with locally renowned chefs and sample their dishes along with appetizers, wine tastings and more. If you are interested in purchasing tickets to the event, please call them at 332-4375.

They do charge an incredibly low membership fee; if you are a Town resident you pay a one time fee of just $5.00. For people living outside of the Town the annual membership fees range from $15 (students/seniors) to $35 (family). Individuals are $20.00 and they have an option for businesses at $100 (can get up to 6 cards). The membership includes the borrowing of books and DVD's, the use of their computers and discounts on charged programs. Brighton Place also offers a variety of free programs, workshops and seminars throughout the year that are available to anyone.

Currently, there are only two paid part-time staff members; the librarian and Director Cassie. Brighton Place is mostly run by volunteers who give so much of their time to keep this asset to our community running.

If I could describe the atmosphere at Brighton Place in a few words, they would be "family focused and community feel". Everyone involved with Brighton Place is passionate and driven to provide their members with the very best and newest materials and programs.

In addition to being a library, they are extremely innovative and bring in wonderful seminars, workshops and activities for everyone in the family. They have groups that meet regularly (knitting club, book clubs, craft club), and they have brought in presenters from The Buffalo Museum of Science, The Clean Air Coalition, local artists, historians and magicians, to name a few! They have also partnered with neighbor Kenmore East, and host a class two days a week, teaching life skills, resume building and job experience.

I have added Brighton Place to my "12 Missions in '12" campaign and will be supporting them by purchasing items and getting donations for items from their wishlist. I'm excited to purchase books and know they will be read by so many who share a passion for learning as much as I do!

"If someone hasn't checked us out yet and lives in the area, they NEED TO! Just our ambiance is special, we have a great sense of community and it is evident in all we do. We are here because of our love for this community and our strong desire to serve those around us through enhanced educational and life-enriching materials and programs." Cassie told me.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Brick Oven Pizzeria & Sports Bar in Tonawanda

One morning last summer, I woke up to find out that my favorite pizzeria, St. Angelo's (on Somerville Avenue in Tonawanda), was lost in a fire early that morning. Pizzerias in Tonawanda are all over the place; there are four within a short walking distance to my house alone. Despite all the choices, most town residents have their favorite, and St. Angelo's wasn't just a pizzeria to me, but, as corny as it sounds, the food behind so many memories throughout my adult life.

I had heard a few months back that the owners of St. Angelo's were going to reopen under a different name, so when I saw the signs for The Brick Oven Pizzeria in the same plaza where St. Angelo's was, I hoped that this was the place! To my delight, it was! Two of the three owners from St. Angelo's are back with the same pizza recipe!

I ordered a personal pan pizza on a Friday night, and beat the rush, before the crowd came. It was a gorgeous day out, so I justified getting the pizza by walking up there to get it.

There are two entrances to the new Brick Oven (formerly The Somerville Grill), one for take out and the other the sit down restaurant and bar. I peeked my head in the restaurant area and there are ample tables and a decent sized bar for guests to enjoy. The take out entrance is tiny, with the register counter and a small area to pick up. It wasn't busy yet, but I could see it getting a little crowded in there when a bunch of people pick up orders on their way home from work.

I didn't even get ten steps out the door without opening my pizza to see how it looked. It smelled awesome, but was a little bit smaller than the personal pans I used to get at St. Angelo's. I practically ran home so I could enjoy it, and the pizza delivered. It tasted exactly like I remembered, even the bleu cheese was the same kind, and it totally brought back all the memories.

The Brick Oven has many specialty pizzas to choose from in addition to the regular kinds. They offer wings and fingers, subs, entrees, and a bunch of appetizers. The typical wait for pick up is not bad (25 minutes or less depending on your order, before the dinner rush), and the prices are very reasonable.

I've talked to a few people who have ordered other items from the Brick Oven (specialty pizzas, fish frys, subs) and everyone has been satisfied with them.

I'm so happy that I am able to get my favorite pizzeria back, I truly missed them during the 2011 football season, but above that, I am so happy the owners are able to rebuild and be successful in Tonawanda after the devastating fire.

The Brick Oven is located on Somerville Avenue (across the street from the Brighton Drug Store, a block away from Kenmore East High School). If you are in the area and want a quick bite, please stop in and support this local business. To place an order for pick up you can call 862-4242. For those of you wondering, yes, the owners of the Brick Oven also own another Brick Oven Pizzeria on Grand Island.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Buffalo and Tradition

This Easter holy week, I've done a lot of thinking about tradition. I've retold the stories of what this week was like growing up in my Polish Catholic family numerous times. How Holy Thursday meant I was spending the night with my Grandma Sondel and cousin Samantha, and we did the tour of the seven Churches with some of her friends and their grandchildren. It always ended with a late night dinner of pizza and wings at Bob & John's on Hertel.

Good Friday we woke up early to dye Easter eggs and make Easter chocolate. When 12pm came around (the observed time of the Passion of Jesus) we couldn't watch TV or listen to the radio and we prayed the rosary until 3pm.

Holy Saturday was always celebrated on my Mom's side of the family as the Polish Easter Swieconka. We took our baskets of food (and candy) and had them blessed at St. Amelia's Parish in Tonawanda. We then celebrated Easter that afternoon with a typical Polish feast.

So much tradition. Which is something Buffalo is so good at: keeping traditions alive, and remembering the past. This Holy Week I spent some time at The Broadway Market on Good Friday. The hustle and bustle inside was pure insanity, but, controlled insanity. The small girls running around in their Polish Easter crowns, red Polish t-shirts being worn and purchased by so many, the numerous people buying their butter lambs, Polish sausage, cross breads, and pussy willows, all made me smile. It was such a wonderful thing to see.

When I went to Church the next morning on Easter Swieconka to bless my baskets, there seemed to be more people there then I remembered. So many families, a lot with small children, who hopefully will continue the traditions.

It's not just Easter in Buffalo, but all holidays. People here care about tradition. We take the time to honor the past, and we have such great pride and appreciation for each other's traditions. That was so evident to me this Holy Week in Buffalo.

We are a city about community. We are a city who comes together so many times throughout the year to remember, honor, and make new traditions. As Holy Week wraps up, and the hustle and bustle begins to die down, our city is busy preparing for the next tradition to come alive here.

I get that traditions are a part of all families all over the world, but this week I had another reminder about how lucky I am to have grown up in Buffalo, NY. How lucky we all are here to be able to share traditions, relive old stories, and begin to make new ones together.

To all my Polish friends out there, I wish you all the most wonderful Dyngus Day (a celebration that is off the charts here in Buffalo, and I'd say a second behind Poland). Keep your eye out for pussy willows and squirt guns! If you aren't Polish, but taking the time to celebrate with the Buffalo Polish in the area, take a minute to ask one of them what the holiday is all about! I can almost guarantee any of them would know, and be happy to tell you.

Please feel free to comment on this entry with some of your Easter traditions. I'd love to learn about other heritages and some of the traditions you celebrate this week.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sports and Buffalo

I live sports, and in particular, Buffalo sports. I have season tickets to the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres that I plan on having until the day I die, and no matter what financial constraints I may find myself in, the ticket payments come first. Which has meant, on numerous occasions, that Ramen Noodles were my choice of meal for weeks at a time.

I can thank my Grandpas (both who have passed away) and my Dad for instilling in me such a passion and devotion for Buffalo sports. They had season tickets as I grew up, and it was always a battle between my brothers on who got to go with my Dad to games. I can remember the first time I walked into the Memorial Auditorium, when I was in Kindergarten, and I'll never forget the year my Dad bought me a Dale Hawerchuk jersey from the Sabres store on my birthday when I was young. So many of my favorite memories growing up involve Buffalo sports teams!

I'm one of those people who gets really angry when someone says "it's just a game", and I am one of those diehards who will sit up in bed the night before and after games strategizing on what the team should do (because clearly they are going to come to me for advice) and reliving plays over and over again.

So when I walked into The First Niagara Center on April 3rd with my boyfriend, I expected to make another great memory, but when I walked out of the building after the Sabres beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime 6-5, I not only had a set of memories to someday share with the next generation of Sondels, but a new appreciation for the city of Buffalo and the people of Buffalo.

I had a hard time falling asleep last night, since I was so wound up about the game, so I started really picking apart each period. The more I thought about it, the more the game became a metaphor for the city of Buffalo, and the people of Buffalo.

See, to me, most people count out Buffalo (at least people who don't live here) as a city that can have an impact nationally or as an option on where to live. So when the Sabres went down 3-0 in the first period, I'm sure nearly everyone counted us out.

One line, the young line of Stafford, Ennis and Foligno, reminds me so much of the younger generation in Buffalo. These three guys came out every single shift and played their hearts out. They gave of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, and you could tell they really wanted to win. As I'm immersing myself even more in the Buffalo culture, and organizations in the area, it is clear that the younger generation of Buffalonians, love the city and Western New York, and wants to make sure we create an even better Buffalo in the years to come.

With just a few minutes to go in the third period a crazy scrum occurred in front of the Leafs goaltender, and because of a little patience, and a lot of heart and grit, the Sabres buried the puck and tied up the game. The people of this city roll up their sleeves and aren't afraid to get a little dirty to make things happen. The people of this city are hard workers, who have hope. The people of this city will high five strangers, pat you on the back and buy you a beer to celebrate.

In overtime, the veterans stepped onto the ice and won the game for us on the power play. It was one of those moments that happened in slow motion for me. I couldn't talk. I couldn't even scream. I hugged my boyfriend, high fived the people sitting around me, and took in the crowd noise. The players, their emotions on the ice as they celebrated, and the buzz in the air as we walked out were incredible. Incredible. It's a feeling I've felt numerous times throughout my years as a sports fan, and the feeling that gets me through the bad games, or some years, bad seasons.

I was proud to be a Sabres fan last night, but more importantly, so proud to be from the city of Buffalo.

I guess, the moral of the story is, don't count Buffalo out. Not in the playoff race just yet, and certainly not when it comes to revitalizing the city. We have a ways to go (and I'll be the first to admit so do the Sabres and Bills), but if we can tap into the energy inside First Niagara Center last night, we are certainly on our way to great things.

So, Let's Go Buffalo!