When Chef Adam Goetz moved from Sample on Allen Street to Craving on Hertel Avenue, everything got bigger. ¶ The former La Dolce Vita space seats more customers, offering 45 spots plus the bar, and a broader patio. Goetz is responsible for the food, while his wife and business partner, Jennifer, handles the rest. They offer lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. ¶ The plates got bigger, with Goetz ending his focus on bite-sized cuisine in favor of ambitious sandwiches, pizzas, adult-sized entrees and half-portions. ¶ The menu expanded, too. Appetizers are mainly small plate favorites from Sample, with poutine ($11-$15) and chorizo stuffed dates ($7.50), but there’s burrata ($10), and the sandwich lineup includes croque-madames and monsieurs ($8-$8.50) and a banh mi ($9.50).
People were filling up the place as we arrived without reservations early on a weeknight. We got a two-seater in the window, white paper over tablecloth and ordered.
Appetizers were “fried chicken dinner” ($7.75), braised artichokes ($8.50) and a roasted asparagus salad ($9), plus an herbed chicken pizza ($11).
I asked for half orders of ricotta gnocchi ($10) and beef short rib with watermelon panzanella ($20). Cat got the Kurobuta porterhouse special ($27).
The night started right with a crackly crusted piece of juicy chicken breast, drizzled with truffle honey and perched on a mound of cheddary, soft corn grits and sauteed greens. With winning tastes and textures, it was one of the best things on the menu, yet it’s not offered in a larger portion. Order one per fried chicken fan.
The braised artichokes were fork-tender and served over kale that still had fight to it. I warmed to the earth tones coaxed from the artichokes, and wished for more Parmesan broth, but Cat was put off by a bitter aftertaste.
The asparagus salad was field mix fortified with roasted spears, caramelized shiitake mushrooms, shaved Parmesan and lemon dressing. It looked like too much foliage at first, but a toss redistributed the premium ingredients for a satisfying goodies-to-greens ratio, with just enough lemon vinaigrette.
The pizza was decently crispy flatbread with a touch of scorching underneath. Caramelized onions were wet but tasty, a bass note anchoring plentiful gruyere and rosemary-forward chicken breast.
Outstandingly light ricotta gnocchi arrived in a winter coat of browned butter cream with walnuts and more kale. The nuts added welcome crunch, but their added richness made the dish something best enjoyed before hibernation.
A half order of beef short rib is one Flintstones-sized hunk of cow on the bone. It’s like candied pot roast on a stick. Goetz uses a root beer braise and glaze that leaves the big, tender piece of meat crisped at the surface, and meltingly rich inside. It arrived perched atop a heap of panzanella, bread salad, reconfigured with chunks of juicy watermelon, halved cherry tomatoes, house-made croutons and feta cheese.
The watermelon salad, its bread soaking up juice, is an able partner. I didn’t miss mashed potatoes.
Both gnocchi and short rib “small plates” would make a satisfying entree for most appetites.
Cat’s pork chop came pan-seared and caramelized, but it was slightly drier than we like. It came with more well-roasted asparagus, atop a heap of “ginger ale and sweet potato risotto.” The sweetness came through, if not ginger or potato flavor. The rice was properly cooked, creamy but not at all gummy.
For desserts, we had Singer Farms cherries five ways (pickled, wine braised, chocolate cherry sauce, cherry caramel and cherry mascarpone sorbet, $7), and a S’more dessert ($6), house-made Graham cracker and torch-toasted marshmallow, that had become popular at Sample.
Interesting in theory, the cherry treatments were more transformative than elevating, certainly tasty but lacking a big cherry (flavor) bomb. The accompanying ricotta cheesecake was spongy, useful for soaking up caramel.
The S’more was a disappointment. The quarter-inch cracker was too tough for my fork and required knifing ice pick-style. The marshmallow layer, fluffy in earlier incarnations, still bore the toasty torched flavor but was thick, dense and pulled like taffy. My favorite parts of the dessert were throw-ins: peanut caramel brittle and a thimble of dark hot chocolate.
Goetz can deliver elevated American comfort food as well as anybody in town. In his new, bigger surroundings, he’s well on his way to expanding his success.
Craving: 8 plates
Sample chef’s switch to Hertel Avenue comes with bigger place, bigger menu.
WHERE: 1472 Hertel Ave. (883-1675, www.cravingbuffalo.com)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday; brunch, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Sandwiches and salads, $6-$8.50; appetizers, $7.50-$15; entrees, $15-$34.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.