If you eat Swan Street Diner food with your eyes closed, you might think you are in the dining room of a fine hotel. Food quality and culinary finesse are beyond reproach. If you open your eyes and look around, you could easily imagine that you’ve been in a time machine, transported to 1937, when this exquisite Sterling Dining Car (# 397) was brand new. In fact, you are in the heart of some admirable urban renewal — Buffalo’s revitalizing warehouse district known as Larkinville. This restaurant is preserving the best of the past while waving the flag of modern dining values.
Local, for instance — a word that every restaurant now wants to use to describe its provender — here means that pancakes are served with maple syrup from western New York; French toast is thick slices of cake-like Placek bread from nearby Mazurek’s Bakery (reflecting the city’s Polish heritage); jam is from local berries.
Fresh is another descriptor menu-writers bandy about with impunity. At the Swan Street Diner, it means that the mini-donuts you order will still be too hot to hold, virtually melting in your mouth; corned beef for great, chunky hash is made on premises; yes, those are garden-fresh herbs in your omelet; and that milk shake tastes especially good because its chocolate syrup isn’t from a can. It’s concocted in the kitchen right here.
All this superb food is served in the museum-like perfection of a 1937 diner restored to its newly-minted glory in every detail: booths built to exactly match Sterling Diner specs; fabulous double-decker glass counter refurbished to the way it was; original enamel paneling, bar stools, and wood trim all polished like new.
I’m skeptical about diners that boast of being modern. All too often, they go trendy and pretentious, eclipsing honest diner-food values with chef’s whimsy and trend-of-the-moment cooking. Not here. The Swan Street Diner is all about celebrating the best of the past using the best of modern culinary values.