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The Essex Street Pub (530 Rhode Island St., 883-2150), once a gritty music venue where Ani DiFranco sang her first set, has long been regarded as one of Buffalo’s outstanding dive bars.

The live music is done, but James “Macky” Moberly, who started working there at 14 and ended up owning the place, has been working to add “feeding people well” to its reputation.

Lunch starts at 11 a.m., and the food runs until about 1 a.m., with many dishes spun off Moberly’s backyard smoker. There’s smoked burgers ($7.50 and up), and a surprisingly moist and savory pork chop sandwich with spicy mushroom sauce ($8). The most popular sandwich so far is the PLT – pastrami, lettuce and tomato – using Essex Street’s house-smoked pastrami.

The meat is crusted with black pepper, coriander and other spices, then smoked to tenderness. It’s sliced thin and crisped on the griddle, and served with lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayonnaise on sourdough bread. It’s quite a handful for $7.50, even if it’s too crunchy for some people. You can ask for it medium crispy, Moberly said.

He got the idea from a TV show and re-created it, said Moberly. There’s plenty of grub for vegetarians too, with a veg and hummus plate ($5.50), three-cheese tomato grilled cheese ($6.50) and vegan soup. “We’re trying to be as accommodating as possible,” Moberly said.

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FOODIE FIND:

St. Gregory the Great Fish Fry

Dine-in or drive-up dinners, fish or shrimp with fries, roll and butter, drinks and homemade desserts from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at the church, 200 St. Gregory Court, Amherst. Cost is $9 or $8 in advance; call 688-5678.