Local Restaurant Week: Soho Burger Bar
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 28, 2011 @ 10:32am
On the second stop of our Local Restaurant Week tour to Buffalo’s new restaurants, I swung by Soho Burger Bar for a $21.11 meal and a short chat with Jay Manno, the restaurant’s co-owner and president of the Buffalo Entertainment District.
Since June 14, the date when Soho morphed from nightclub to a more balanced “bar and grill” approach, the restaurant’s burgers have received glowing reviews. The philosophy change was accompanied by a demographic shift, much as Manno had hoped.
“We have the crowd we intended,” the co-owner explained. “People like [SoHo] because it’s ‘grown-up.’” Think local young professionals instead of wild college kids (not that there’s anything wrong with the latter—they just have their own place.)
For Local Restaurant Week, Soho offers a wealth of possibilities; choose any burger, any side, myriad drink options and a pre-decided dessert for $21.11. A customer could pair a steakhouse burger with onion rings and a Shocktop or a ‘bison beef on weck burger’ with sweet potato fries and a Stella Artois. Regardless, you’ll close the meal with caramel and vanilla ice cream snuggled between two chocolate chip cookies.
I ordered a ‘gold standard burger,’ which includes an 8 oz. patty, aged cheddar, apple wood smoked bacon, arugula, garlic chive aioli and tomato confit. The result was a thick, tender burger with smoky flavor due to the toppings—and a bit of a zesty kick from the garlic chive aioli. The side, truffle tater tots (twist on classic house made tater tots seasoned with truffle oil, parmesan cheese and parsley), were a solid crunchy compliment, with a subtle yet apparent truffle flavor (has anyone ever succeeded in describing a truffle’s flavor?). Tack on a Great Lakes Burning River and the aforementioned dessert, and the meal was well-worth $21.11. Man, that burger was thick.
The co-owner, a devoted soccer fan and player—Manno suits up for Celtic of the Buffalo District Soccer League—passed along a few suggestions from Restaurant Week goers. “Try [a burger] on the special menu,” Manno added. “There’s a lot of value in trying something that’s not available daily.” Monday’s lamb burger and Tuesday’s Cuban burger (ground pork with fennel seeds, chili flakes and other seasonings) are such options, and the specials fit under the $21.11 criteria.
The most impressive aspect was Manno’s adherence to the local food movement; my conversation with him actually delayed his trip to North Buffalo to pick up the fresh burger blend from Johnny’s Meats (Hertel Ave.) and his slightly-sweet hamburger buns from Romeo’s Bakery.
Very particular about the special—and obviously quite secretive—burger blend, Manno mentioned that Johnny’s “was the only one capable of doing what we were trying to do.” The true perk, Manno continued, is that none of his food orders are automated—he can simply call Johnny’s or Romeo’s to place an order by speaking to an actual human being. In the restaurant business, that type of communication is an advantage. While Local Restaurant Week celebrates a proud collection of local eateries, recognizing these restaurants’ local suppliers is necessary, too.
Much like Bambino, the portion sizes are generous—Manno remarked that the average food bill at Soho is around $18, so the restaurant must actually give the customer a little bit more for their money. Soho Burger Bar, a small part of a large-scale attempt to transform downtown from a gray, teenage party spot into a well-rounded, colorful downtown district, marks a worthy Restaurant Week choice.
(Sorry about the dessert photo—I was too consumed by Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck doin’ work on the TV above me to notice that the ice cream was melting.)