Lagerhaus 95: Reinvented
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • November 28, 2012 @ 4:39pm
The prevailing story-line for the Cobblestone District is that the NHL lockout is hurting the area’s business. No blue-and-gold clad Sabres crowds gather around Lagerhaus 95, Swannie House or Cobblestone for a pre- or post-game beverage as the players and owners try to settle their drawn-out dispute. All is quiet along the waterfront as fall inches toward winter.
For Lagerhaus 95, 95 Perry St., Buffalo, the slow period has been a blessing. The former managing staff of the German stube has been replaced, as manager Mark Slagle and head chef Jamie Zynda have both pursued other ventures. Co-owner and renowned developer Sam Savarino called upon Jeff Lang on Sept. 25 to “take his restaurant to the next level.” The transition hasn’t been extremely smooth, but the lack of Sabres crowds has been forgiving for the new staff.
“The first couple weeks have been the toughest I’ve ever managed in a restaurant,” admitted Lang, who’s spent the vast majority of his professional life in the restaurant industry, including stops at Harry’s Harbour Place (now Acqua), Daffodils and Marinaccio’s (now Milo’s). “[Without the Sabres], I’ve been able to make good use of new specials and retrain my staff,” Lang explained, noting that three servers quit following the management change and one was released.
When asked to elaborate on the struggles of the previous management, Lang was pretty blunt. “Saturday nights may have been their slowest night of the week, and you can’t run a successful business that way,” Lang said in a phone conversation. “[The old management] fought tooth-and-nail to keep the sandwich menu as the focus.”
In fact, the whole mission of Lagerhaus 95 has changed. “We don’t want this to be a ‘grab a sandwich and leave’ type of restaurant,” Lang described. “We want to attack the area instead of being passive—it’s not all gloom and doom. I want people to come here for dinner not only for Sabres games.”
Now, with new head chef Nicholas Cee—a graduate of esteemed Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and former head chef of Sole, Le Metro and Muse—in the kitchen, Lang has high hopes for a broader menu—one that expands beyond the reach of German sandwiches and beer. Lang explained his vision as more broadly Alpine, as French and Italian dishes will be featured as well. (Link to full menu here).
The result is a more upscale experience, as indicated by the presentation and quality of the “ahi tuna schnitzel fingers” ($12), a new menu item that Kat tried (photo below). Even so, more “Buffalo” options like chicken wings and a fish fry are also in the works.
Other menu additions include this potato and gruyere pancake ($6), a thick, rich oval with generous chunks of bacon, drizzled sour cream and pesto-flavored oil on the side as well. Lagerhaus 95 doesn’t skimp on the thinly-shredded potato, and there’s enough Gruyere to notice its subtle flavor every couple bites.
The Alsatian/Appenzeller Reuben ($10) was a little sweeter than I anticipated, as the “sweet pickle aioli” nestled with the sauerkraut above tender but not-super-flavorful pastrami. The rye bread was exceptional, however, and there was plenty of pastrami backed between the two slices.
The Bartlett Pear and Chicken Salad ($10) is a lighter, refreshing option—ideal for summer or a quick lunch. The crunch and mild flavor of Bartlett pears is accompanied by walnuts, cranberries and Gorgonzola—as well as several slices of chicken breast.
Staple food options that earned Lagerhaus 95 sound publicity under its original management—the Hindenburger and African Peanut Soup—will remain on the menu, as Lang has confidence in well-trained Cee to execute those customer favorites.
The restaurant’s ambiance has shifted, too, as Lang has eschewed the former “seat yourself” policy for a more typical protocol where diners are seated by a hostess or server. Lang, in particular, was bustling about during our visit, welcoming customers and chatting jovially. We heard Regina Spektor, Coldplay and Ellie Goulding all wafted down from the speakers above us—a Pandora station selected by Cee, Lang noted.
Reflecting on the last two months, Lang said the Lagerhaus 95 takeover has been rewarding.
“It’s the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had [in the restaurant industry],” he said. “With the Sabres playing, it would have been hard to get done, so it’s a blessing in disguise.”