I remember my first week at college, when the dining hall seemed like some heavenly, endless supply of food I could just pick up and eat at any time. That feeling didn't last. Or, rather, it was replaced by a stomach ache after a few weeks of sundaes, pancakes, and grilled-cheese sandwiches. It's inevitable: at some point you will grow tired of dining-hall food. Thus begins your exploration of Rochester's many awesome restaurants.
But you're probably on a college budget, and have to save restaurants for special occasions. Or maybe coaxing a ride out of an upperclassman with a car is harder than you thought. Either way, if you're going out to eat you want to make it count. So why stick with just eating? Those dorm-hall activities aren't going to get much more exciting, either, so plan a trip somewhere that will give you a full meal and entertainment in one place. Music, dancing, games: you decide. Any option will give you a nice break from campus. Here are some of the places in Rochester where you can combine food with fun.
The Comedy Club (2235 Empire Blvd., 671-9080, thecomedyclub.us) offers good, cheap food and comedy shows all year long. This place has a full food and drink menu, so even if the comedy isn't tickling your funny bone you can still leave with a full stomach. Regular comedy acts take place weekly, usually Thursday through Saturday nights, and they're not just your average guy off the street attempting stand-up. Upcoming shows include Ben Bailey (the host of "Cash Cab") September 13-15 and Marc Unger, who has appeared on Comedy Central, in "Friends" episodes, and lately on HBO's "Veep," October 4-6. The menu includes all your fried favorites, like pizza logs and chicken fingers, as well as burgers, salads, and sandwiches. You can expect to pay about $9 per entrée, and tickets for the comedy acts run $5-$20.
Blues & barbecue
Barbecue and blues, two staples of the South that work just as in Western New York.Rochester has various restaurants that specialize in both. Sticky Lips Juke Joint (830 Jefferson Road, Henrietta; 292-5544, stickylipsbbq.com) offers multiple live-music shows throughout the week, with cover charges running between $3 and $10. The musicians might be anyone from local blues bands to Grammy nominees, and can vary into rock, roots, or reggae. On the menu you can choose from homemade sides to go with ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and other sauce-slathered favorites. Food prices range from $9 to $20.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (99 Court St., 325-7090, dinosaurbarbecue.com) has gotten some national recognition for its great food, but its music is also worth paying attention to. You can head over almost any day of the week and hear live funk, rock, or blues bands. You can order unique appetizers like catfish strips and pulled-pork sliders, or the usual barbecue favorites. And don't forget about the sides. If you go to Dinosaur without trying the macaroni and cheese, I pity you. You can spend anywhere from $10 on a sandwich to $22 on a custom barbecue plate, but it's worth splurging on. And the music is always free.
The Beale New Orleans Grille & Bar (689 South Ave., 271-4650; 1930 Empire Blvd., Webster, 216-1070; thebealegrille.com) also has both a full menu and live music. You can go there just for fun appetizers like fried pickles or beer-battered shrimp, but The Beale also serves steak, seafood, and barbecue and Cajun entrees. Food runs roughly $12-$20. You can also hear free live blues on select nights at either location. For a full music schedule check out the restaurant on Facebook.
Rochester has a diverse music scene. Many great local bands can be heard at different restaurants throughout the week. Why go to dinner and then a concert when you can do both at once? There are dozens of venues that offer live music in Rochester. Here are a few:
Lovin' Cup (300 Park Point Drive, 292-9940, lovincup.com) puts on concerts, open mic nights, and other events almost every night of the week. Most music shows -- an eclectic mix of genres, featuring both local and national artists -- will typically cost you $3-$10, although there's a free open mic night every Tuesday. Most of the food ($8-$10) is cleverly named for different songs or bands, such as the Free Bird sandwich or the I'm Hot For Teacher Panini. Burgers and pizzas fill the menu as well.
Skylark Lounge (40 S. Union St., 270-8106, theskylarklounge.com) is also great for live entertainment and a low-cost meal. This venue specializes in meatballs. Yep, meatballs. Skylark has five different types of meatballs -- even a vegetarian one -- with different sauces and sides. Side options include deep-fried mashed potato balls, pasta, and cole slaw. Three meatballs and a side are only $7.50, and there is usually free live music at least a few nights per week.
Ever had macaroni with pale ale cheese sauce? Yes, you can eat it if you're under 21. It's one of Johnny's Irish Pub's (1382 Culver Road, 224-0990, johnnysirishpub.com) special dishes, along with its famous Reubens and "shamrock" plates. You can also catch live music and other events there most nights. There is no cover charge for the music, which ranges from soul and blues to traditional Irish music. Each entrée runs about $5-$9, more than fair for a good plate of food and live music.
If you want a European take on dinner and music, consider Lemoncello (137 W. Commercial St., EastRochester, 385-8565). It offers live music nearly every night along with a menu of Italian entrees ($12-$25). You can also just stick with coffee and gelato at the café. There's nothing like a classy Italian dinner with some jazz in the background to make you forget about dining-hall food for a while. For more info visit lemoncello137.com.
Dinner and a movie
The Little Theatre (240 East Ave., 258-0400, thelittle.org) gives you dinner and a movie all in one place. Independent and foreign movies play every night, with additional weekend matinees; admission costs $5-$8. Most of Rochester's movie theaters offer the big-name releases but may not screen lesser-known titles or documentaries. That's where The Little comes in. The theater also has includes a café that offers coffee and espresso, soups, quiches, and sandwiches; prices stay under $10. There are also daily food specials and plenty of desserts. As an added bonus, the café also hosts regular live music and art shows as well, with no cover. On any given night you are sure to find good food and artsy entertainment.
Enjoying a show with your food can be fun, but sometimes you need to actually get up and do something. At ClubhouseFunCenter(70 Jay Scutti Blvd., 272-7888) you can grab some cheap food while showing off your arcade skills. The Treehouse Café sells pizza, ice cream, and nachos to eat while you're playing skee ball or a giant Fruit Ninja game. You can get 40 arcade tokens for $10, and the food is your average mall-food price. The Clubhouse also has mini-golf ($7 per game) and a go-karting track ($8 per ride).
Rochester is also home to one of the oldest mini-golf courses in the United States, Whispering Pines, which is conveniently located next to a nice little diner in the Sea Breeze section of Irondequoit. Parkside Diner (4353 Culver Road, 323-2710, parksidediner.net) offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner for cheap diner prices, so you can eat before or after you hit the golf course. Mini-golf is $6 a game, but be sure to go early in September because it closes for the winter in October.
As a freshman you're probably still under 21, but that doesn't mean you have to dance in your cramped dorm room. Tapas 177 Lounge (177 St. Paul St., 262-2090, tapas177.com) pairs the dancing and food of Spain for a unique experience. The restaurant specializes in tapas, small Spanish-influenced dishes such as curried empanadas ($10) or stuffed poblano peppers ($11), but it also offers entrees as well ($20-$30). The lounge also has free salsa dancing lessons on Thursdays and hosts live salsa music on Saturdays.