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Where You Can Talk to The Animals

Deerhead Inn

2683 Clinton Street, West Seneca / 832-9500

Lunch: Mon-Fri, 11:30am - 2pm; Dinner: Mon-Sat from 3:30pm; Sunday from 1pm

Western New York in the autumn. Clear days, crisp evenings. What better time to break bread in the company of black bears and white-tailed deer?

The dining companions of the Deerhead Inn’s clientele are a unique diorama of 1930s-era taxidermied animals. The bear and deer look out on restaurant patrons from behind a glass wall taking up the entire rear of the restaurant. Created more than 70 years ago, they are the work of world-famous taxidermist Herman Grieb. The owner’s wife adds whimsical seasonal touches to the display so the animals and guests can better join in the anthropomorphical mood.

In a fascinating capsule of the restaurant’s history, the owner, Chuck Miller, recounted how the business was first located, in the late 1800s, in a meeting house established by a religious group, the Amanas, on Union and Indian Church Roads. In the 1930s, it became a restaurant. Evolving through several owners, it took on its current ambience, despite a stint as a Chinese restaurant in the hands of Eddie Chin from Seattle, in the 1950s. The Miller family purchased it in 1962, moving it to its present location in 1974. In the 35 or so years since, they have maintained much of the original menu, while adding some special events that draw in new patrons.

The front of the restaurant holds a full bar. You can spend hours looking at the walls—Life Magazine covers span the 1940s and 1950s; there are ration coupons from World War II and all sorts of fascinating memorabilia. Order a Manhattan or Martini—it will come served in a stemmed glass with a line around its circumference indicating exactly where it is to be topped off.

A word about the servers. As Chuck Miller points out, most have been with the restaurant for years, a testimonial to their loyalty and commitment to the business and its customers. They are patient when they need to be, well informed about the menu, and ready to have fun.

The dinner menu features honest preparation of carefully chosen ingredients. Sausage is from Spars, and the fish from Schneiders. The chefs, Paul Krofchak and Lee Beenau, prepare food in the tradition of a restaurant steeped in nostalgia and history. Soft, seeded rye bread sits in a basket on the table. Roast beef, roast turkey with dressing, and roast pork are served with kitchen-prepared sides that harken to what might have been a simpler time in America. Mashed potatoes, gravy, and garden (not frozen) vegetables adorn the plate. Fresh fish is a daily menu item—shrimp, scallops, and yellow pike are standard. Enormous pieces of tender haddock or yellow pike are wrapped in crusty batter for Friday’s fish fry. The green salads are basic, livened with house-made dressing. Other sides—coleslaw, potato salad, and potato gratin are made in the restaurant’s kitchen as well. Saturday night specials include prime rib and duck. Straightforward, unembellished duck, once a mainstay in the German restaurants of the area but which now seems to be an endangered species, is divinely crisp and tasty.

Look for other specials—if you love liver and onions, but no one else in your house will touch it, come on Wednesday or Thursday to indulge. Entrees tend to run in the $10 to $12 range. There is also a full lunch menu of varied sandwiches, including club sandwiches, burgers, and strip steak.

Deerhead Inn patrons are loyal and eclectic. From May to September, some come on the second Tuesday of the month for Cruise Night—there will often be 40-50 vintage cars in the lot and food and drink specials to be enjoyed.

For the last 20 years, the fourth Thursday of the month has been owned by the Tin Roof Dixieland Band. From 6:30 to 9:30, playing a variety of instruments (including spoons!), the band and customers join together in joyous sound. Monday night is Bluegrass Night—four or five bands alternate weeks in playing the uniquely American tradition. With a twinkle in his eye, Chuck Miller describes the treat he offers on the house the last Monday of the month—limburger cheese and onion sandwiches on rye, for those whose “wives won’t let them eat it at home.” If you don’t know what limburger cheese is, then get your olfactory sense down to the Deerhead to understand this tradition stemming from the immigrants who settled our city and who worked the steel mills.

Coming up in October, is, of course, Oktoberfest, featuring, among other things, German sausages, jagerschnitzel, apple strudel, and Warsteiner beer. Or join Chuck and friends for a Sunday afternoon spread while hoping for magic at the Ralph. The Deerhead brings a homey, warm, Buffalo feeling to our shorter, cooler days. And all in the company of animals.

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