Choice Cuts is a feature that ponders the connection between food and music. Everybody loves food and music. Both can be a feast for the senses. But how else do they intersect? Chefs have been called the new rock stars for years now. Food is served on plates and records are pressed on plates. Musicians have tuning forks and chefs have, well, forks. You get the idea. But the connection goes deeper. People come together over music and a meal. Australian novelist Gregory David Roberts once said, “Food is music to the body, music food to the heart.” We couldn’t agree more. There have even studies linking sound frequencies to taste sensations. So grab your ear buds and ready your taste buds.
Pop songs and sandwiches. There’s a formula for both. Both should immediately please the senses, be easily digestible in a few minutes and make you want to come back for more. So, in that sense, Michael Sirianni, the manager of BUZZ (38 W. King St.) is a pop star. But Sirianni isn’t content to totally stick to the three-minute pop song formula for the sandwiches he’s serving out of his window on King Street. He might remix a roast beef sandwich with some horseradish slaw or flip your standard breakfast sandwich into a waffle sandwich.
“What I like to come up with for our menu is indicative of the kind of music I like to listen to,” says Sirianni. “Like, I love any musician that does stuff that people say you can’t do.”
Sirianni comes from a family of chefs and grew up running around his father’s restaurant, so when it came time to go to college he did what any rebellious young man would do. He went into music.
Sirianni studied voice at Seton Hill University in Greensburg. He immersed himself in the local music scene and fronted a rock band, but his real goal was to make it on Broadway as an opera star.
“This was in the late ’80s and early ’90s and Broadway shows like ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Miss Saigon’ were just killing it, and I was like, ‘I am going to be Jean Valjean.’”
After school, Sirianni auditioned for several parts but was frustrated by the roadblocks in his path to Broadway.
“In opera there are guys that have been doing it for 20 years and you’re out there trying to be the new fresh voice,” Sirianni says. “I’m 5’4” and those guys are like 6’3”. You gotta fit the part, right? So, I was always going to play the hunchback butler. I was never going to play the leading guy.”
These days, you’re more likely to see Sirianni belting out Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at karaoke night than Jean Valjean’s “Who Am I?” from “Les Miz.”
After a brief stint in retail, Sirianni returned to restaurants. He put in his time in various kitchens across the country before settling in Lancaster two years ago. Rather than working for someone and playing by their rules, he opened BUZZ, which he refers to as his “rock ‘n’ roll circus sideshow.”
“In music, I learned that you live the life that you make for yourself,” says Sirianni. “I love seeing people have fun in their jobs. You can be creative and not so serious and still have a successful business.”
BUZZ sounds different than other restaurants, too. If you walk up to the window and hear the roar of a crowd, it’s probably coming from the speakers. Although Sirianni and his crew deserve a standing O for their excellent style and service, the music at BUZZ is as carefully curated as the menu and it’s all culled from live concerts.
“It was mostly so I could listen to Pearl Jam all the time,” he laughs, but the idea to make music an integral part of BUZZ was an idea inspired by one of Sirianni’s former bosses.
“I used to work for a guy, who’s still my mentor, in Minneapolis,” he says. “He opened a place and we were sitting at the bar one day and he was like, ‘You know what would be cool? If we didn’t play one song in the entire history of this restaurant that wasn’t by an artist from Minnesota.’ I never thought about the soundtrack to a restaurant being a specific part of the experience.”
Sirianni incorporated that idea into the vibe he set out to bring to the streets of Lancaster.
“I love live music,” he says. “The whole experience – your ears ringing, having a couple of drinks, bumping into people, but also the way that the artist gets to express themselves. I eventually want to get speakers for outside of BUZZ, so when you’re walking down the sidewalk, you’re like ‘Where’s the concert?’”
A live concert gives bands the opportunity to connect to their fans with candid banter and shared experience. And fans get to see the musicians at work. This is all happening at BUZZ, too. The unique little kitchen is open and customers can converse with Sirianni as he prepares their food. Sirianni makes a point to connect with each of his customers and get to know them. And the food, like the music at a live show, is fresh. It’s not pre-packaged stuff like you might find at the grocery store.
Even though BUZZ is fairly new, Sirianni is receiving lots of positive feedback for the cool vibe that BUZZ and a host of other new restaurants and bars bring to the city, and he is as psyched about the future of his little shop as he is for the future of his new hometown.
“The number of people that come to the window and say ‘This is so cool, I’ve lived in Lancaster for 15 years and downtown has never been like this,’” Sirianni says. “Just imagine what it will be like in 15 years.”
Here is Michael Sirianni on a few of his favorite tracks:
“Corduray” – Pearl Jam
“This is one of my top five PJ live songs, and this version is great. On many of their bootlegs, this song is at the front of the set and you get the feeling that the show hasn’t really started until the guitar intro comes in. It gets everyone revved up.”
“Savion Glover” – P.O.S.
“GET SO HYPE. I love this track. One of the first P.O.S. tracks I really thought banged this hard. Though its old and he’s put out a lot of good music since 2009, this is a lasting hit for me.”
“Somebody to Love” – Queen
“I defy anyone to find a more impassioned performer in 2016 than Freddy Mercury was in 1986. I think that’s around the time of this video where he ABSOLUTELY SLAYS.”
“Thinking, That’s All” – Jimmy Eat World
“Before they popped out with ‘The Middle,’ this was my favorite heavy emo band. Here is a fun video (literally a VHS recording) from their tour for 1996’s “Static Prevails.” I saw them on this tour, possibly at this show, with The Get Up Kids for $4. There were about 30 kids there. I was the oldest.”
“Crazy Mary” – Pearl Jam
“THIS. This is my favorite PJ track ever. And here it is live. I believe this was originally recorded for a benefit toward Lucinda Williams’ health, though I can’t remember the name. I’ve always loved when he sings “No L-O-I-T-E-R-I-N-G-A-looooowwwed.”
Hungry for more chefs serving up their favorite songs?
Kurt Wewer dishes out the jams
Hilary Mace serves up her top five songs
Scott Topel quenches your thirst for music
Ex-Innocence Mission drummer and Lily’s on Main owner Steve Brown’s greatest hits