A decade ago, west of Elmwood, Allen was a drinking street with a restaurant problem. ¶ The younger crowds drawn to the crooked end of Allen for live music and shot specials could power down a cheesesteak on the corner, if they weren’t picky. But there was nothing for their parents to eat. ¶ That changed when Allen Street Hardware was opened by preservationist and music community supporter Mark Goldman. On Allen Street then, an asparagus manchego pancetta raised the bar, you might say. ¶ In 2011, Allen Street Hardware had some of the best fried chicken I could find in Buffalo, a research assignment I can assure you I prosecuted vigorously. So I was disappointed to find that Allen Street Hardware didn’t thrill me the way it once did. Last year I had a better meal at Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar, around the corner.
On a snowy Saturday night, we were shown to a window table. Our guests sat on a bench with their backs to the glass. Cat and I are older, so we got the chairs, for lumbar support, and scanned a long, diverse beer list. The tables around us filled, producing a good-natured din.
The fried chicken was a must ($16). But first we asked for fried calamari ($11), fish tacos ($12), crab cakes ($13), sweet potato fries ($3), creamy clam chowder ($6) and roasted red pepper soup ($5).
The menu is still adventurous, for a bar. Specials included an elk burger with cambozola cheese ($15), roast boar ($22) and rainbow trout stuffed with crab ($22). There’s still a whole section of paninis, and extensive burger options.
Other entrees we asked for were a special of duck breast with smoked maple sauce ($22), a lamb burger with mint pesto ($15) and scallops in white wine truffle butter ($24).
When the appetizers landed, I was disappointed to see the pale coating falling off the fried calamari. The fried perch fillets in the fish tacos were pale as well. I dig greenery, but the pile of bright microgreens overshadowed the fish in flavor.
The soups were welcoming, the red pepper a straightforward puree. Clam chowder had lots of chopped crustacean and bacon, albeit flabby, adding smoky depth.
The fresh-cut sweet potato fries were tasty, but the congealed honey butter was a turnoff. Kevin the crab cake hunter said his well-browned crustacean pucks had good crab-to-crumb ratio and a fishy note that wasn’t bad.
The fried chicken wasn’t as good as I remembered. After tearing through both white meat and dark, I found the crackly coating crispy enough but the meat bland. “It was cooked well, but not seasoned well,” Cat said. It came with two sides, enjoyable honey-bacon Brussels sprouts that were tender yet not mushy, and mac and cheese with firm pasta but not enough cheese.
My duck breast was a decent little plate, with six bites of unfatty duck that still held a hint of pink. The risotto was firm-grained, not mushy, and the smoky maple sauce framed the mildly gamy duck well.
The scallop entree, king of the menu at $26, featured well cooked rice and gently grilled asparagus, plus four big scallops that were pale where I would have liked some caramelization. The underpowered white wine truffle sauce didn’t save them, although the truffle oil was used with appropriate restraint.
The highlight of the night, for everyone at the table who eats lamb, was the lamb burger. This hefty 12-ounce patty was stacked high and cooked crusty outside, and still juicy within. It came crowned with sautéed peppers and onions, a generous amount of piquant feta cheese, and fresh mint pesto. That was worth a return trip alone, and there is still the matter of that elk burger to be explored.
Ten years after it made Allen Street West safe for adult dining, Allen Street Hardware still serves better than average food for a bar. In that time, other places – down the block and across town – have raised the Buffalo bar yet again.
Allen Street Hardware: Six plates (Out of 10)
Nearly 10 years along, bar-cafe remains a neighborhood favorite.
WHERE: 245 Allen St., 882-8843 (www.allenstreethardware.com)
HOURS: 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and salads, $6-$15; burgers and sandwiches, $9-$15; entrees, $16-$22.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.