Steaking Our Reputation
by Jim Koenig
An drinking and eating society tries to moves Buffalo out of its chicken appendage shadow
Buffalo’s bar food landscape (and often our city as a whole) has long been dominated by the national attention that the “Buffalo wing” receives. The lack of recognition for the literally hundreds of great establishments that pair libations with other forms of quality grub easily becomes frustrating for the proprietors and patrons alike. The last thing Buffalonians need is another way to be pigeon-holed into a bad stereotype.
This was the logic behind the founding of the Steak Sandwich Appreciation Society. Established in November 2009, the club was formed by a group of friends as an excuse to get together a few times a month to explore the wealth of great steak sandwiches to be found throughout the Buffalo area, and to drink while doing so. Members range from cooks and electricians, to research psychologists and accountants, and membership extends to New York City and Austin, Texas. Still in its infant stages, the Society has garnered a constantly growing membership, a decent amount of local awareness, and a strong dose of contempt from the barkeeps and grill cooks of the places visited.
Recently, 12 of my fellow connoisseurs and I held a meeting at Allen Street Hardware Café, which showed the growing membership of the club and the positive direction it is heading.
Generally known as a warm, snug outpost on Allen Street in which to grab a classy pint or glass of wine, Hardware has evolved into a variation on the recent “gastropub” trend of providing high-end drinks and a twist on typical bar fare. With a concise, well-thought-out menu based on quality ingredients, skilled preparation, and plenty of good beers and whiskeys, obviously, their steak sandwich was at the top of our prospective list.
While the café offers table seating during dinner hours, most of the group flooded the bar space. Both the waitresses and bartenders were especially knowledgeable about the exhaustive beer list, which has become the spirit of choice at these meetings. Both Pat and Scotty, our bartenders, offered recommendations on their favorite bottles and drafts, and even offered a few ideas on what would pair best with their steak sandwich. The drafts of Pile Driver IPA, made exclusively for Hardware by Custom Brewcrafters in Honeoye Falls, New York, and Rare Vos Amber Ale from Cooperstown’s Brewery Ommegang were great, excitingly local beers.
But now the most important part of the evening: the steak sandwich. Chef Dunbar Berdine was understandably overwhelmed at first, but the result was absolutely glorious. A 10-ounce New York Strip, loaded with peppers, onions, and provolone served on a hoagie roll with fries on the side, was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the choice temperature of the Society. Daunting in size at first, the steak was surprisingly tender and devoid of any tough fat and sinew, the sworn enemy of any steak sandwich aficionado. All 12 members came away impressed and stuffed. Shots of warm American whiskey capped the evening and served as an appropriate digestif to a superior gastronomic experience that I think we’d all recommend. I would venture to say that we might have converted a few skeptics and wing lovers that night.
Something to Nibble On
What to eat where you’re drinking
There are, of course, bars whose solid offerings are limited to packages of chips and beef jerky. And there are restaurants that don’t offer a bar at which to serve those customers more interested in a drink and light snack than in a sit-down meal. But most bars offer something more substantial to eat than a bag of pretzels, and most restaurants are happy to serve cocktails and appetizers to standing patrons. Therefore, a quick guide to some of the best noshes at local bars and restuarants:
674 Ellicott Street, Buffalo
Buffalo’s oldest extant tavern serves a mostly German menu that is not exactly teeming with light fare. But if you want soemthing to nibble on, order a basket of homemade potato chips. And if you’re a little bit hungrier, and there’s chili on the chalkboard, order it. You won;t be disappointed.
The Bar-Bill Tavern
185 Main Street, East Aurora
If you’ve managed to finagle a seat at the bar in this perpetually crowded joint, you might as well go ahead and order wings and a roast beef sandwich, as the Bar-Bill serves some of the best in the region. But if you’re sufficiently hungry or a vegetarian, try a spinolli: three cheeses, spinach, broccoli, and onion wrapped in pizza dough.
311 Bryant Street, Buffalo; 5229 Main Street, Williamsville
Both the suburban and cityside versions of this high-end Italian restaurant are comfortable places for a drink and a substantial snack. Our favorite: a pizza with prosciutto and artichoke hearst, finished with a cracked egg. Delicious and inexpensive.
The Rue Franklin
341 Franklin Street, Buffalo
The marble bar here seats about six, so it’s never going to blossom into a “scene,” but if you’re feeling well dressed and cosmopolitan, slip into the Rue Franklin for a quick drink and an appetizer or, even better, a bit of dessert at the end of the night.
The Sportsmen's Tavern
326 Amherst Street, Buffalo
One of Buffalo’s finest live music venues also serves some of the city’s best French fries: steak-cut, never underdone, plentiful and cheap. You pay (and tip) the guy in the kitchen, not the bartender.
1652 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo
Maybe the hominess of the food served at Vino draws people to the checkered-clothed tables, but fo our money the best seats in the house are at the bar. If you’re not hingry enough for dinner, order a simple appetizer of asparagus. It’s perfect.
La Tee Da
206 Allen Street, Buffalo
Another restaurant bar with limited seating and other appealing characteristics: a good choice of wine and beer, friendly service, and, if you ask (and sometimes even if you don’t), the bartender will provide you with a delicious plate of bread and olives while you peruse the menu for appetizers.
140 North Street
The bar and restaurant in the basement of the Lenox Hotel has (in addition to a Wednesday night bartender who hails from the greatly lamented Rendezvous and Reginald’s) a surprisingly good menu. Solid bar food include macaroni and cheese and deep-fried artichoke hearts.
Stories Behind Famous Local Watering Holes
Shaken Not Stirred • Steaking our Reputation
Food For Thought • Boozy Playlist
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v9n10 (The Drinking Issue: Thursday, March 11) > Steaking Our Reputation
This Week's Issue • Artvoice Daily • Artvoice TV • Events Calendar • Classifieds