The section of Buffalo waterfront around the naval park rechristened Canalside has been transformed in recent years, drawing sightseers, day-trippers and city folk looking for water views. In 2012, Liberty Hound, a sit-down restaurant with a full bar, opened inside the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park museum. Outside tables have a peerless view of the U.S.S. Little Rock and boats passing on the Buffalo River. A Father’s Day lunch there with my family was a feast for the eyes, but the food could not keep up. ¶ We arrived at noon, put our name in for a table, and went for a stroll to check out the boardwalk and booths along the water. The cellphone buzzed after 30 minutes, and we hustled back for our seats.
The place is built into a corner of the museum. There’s a patio on the water end, and museum staircases on the other. The interior was cool and decked out in exposed brick and rustic wood. It was busy, with a moderate din from the lunch crowd, and groups trooping up the stairs to the museum.
The brief menu focuses on seafood, but will take care of your burger, steak and chicken needs, too. There’s a dozen craft brews on tap, including local choices, and a cocktails list that runs from caipirinha to Moscow mule.
We asked for a crab tostada ($11), calamari ($11) and littleneck clams with chorizo ($12) to share as appetizers. Then a bistro steak sandwich ($14), Liberty burger ($12), fish and chips ($13), lobster roll ($13), panko chicken sandwich ($13), mahi mahi fish tacos ($13) and seared salmon ($17).
The clams with chorizo had a dozen or more littlenecks that had been steamed with spicy sausage, tomatoes and onions. The sausage and clam juice contributed to a hearty broth, and the clams were tender. We used the accompanying grilled bread to sop up juice and chase chunks of sausage, discarding the charred ends.
Crab tostadas were two towers built on corn tortillas layered with guacamole, lettuce and pickled red onions. The vegetable fixings were fresh, but the crabmeat payload had been mixed with pico de gallo, creating a watery mixture with crab flavor hard to discern.
Calamari was terrific, lightly battered squid rings and tentacles that kept their crispy coating, even when dunked in spiced mayonnaise. Maque choux, a corn and bell pepper mixture, added texture and sweetness to the dish. I found only two bites of the promised fried okra, and would have liked more.
Servers arrived with armloads of entrees before clearing our appetizer plates. Our server hustled, though, refilling water swiftly, and taking an entree off the bill when it got to the table 10 minutes after the others.
Fish tacos were two tortillas stuffed with pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, tomatillo sauce and batons of grilled mahi mahi, all covered in a shower of dry, salty cotija cheese. The fish was moist enough but its mild flavor got lost in the toppings, and the taco was bland overall, less than the sum of its parts.
The seared salmon was my favorite dish. It arrived painted with a dark, sticky glaze and sprinkled with fennel seeds. Its sweet-sour flavor was exotic and piquant, with hints of star anise and cinnamon, yet subtle enough to let the salmon flavor through. A helping of couscous with dried fruit was a smart starch choice, along with a pile of fresh-tasting marinated asparagus, red onions and yellow bell peppers that retained some firmess.
Lobster roll filling should taste like lobster. This one was in a decent buttered, split roll, but the filling tasted mainly of celery. The fish fry was a generous portion, two half-filets. The beer batter coating was crispy, but the fish was underseasoned.
The bistro steak sandwich was a tender piece of beef on a stout, toasted roll, covered with caramelized onions and cheese. It was a decent sandwich, with average french fries. The hefty half-pound Liberty burger, topped with bacon, was cooked accurately, and hit the spot. There was no sign of the tomato marmalade promised in the menu description, though.
Cat’s panko chicken sandwich was a delight, a moist, huge chicken breast in a crunchy crumb coat. It was topped with sautéed spinach, provolone cheese and garlic aioli. The combination of crusty fried chicken and vegetables made for a fine sandwich.
For dessert, we ordered rum cake ($8), lemon cheesecake ($8) and chocolate espresso cake ($7). The rum cake, with caramel topping, was moist and rich, though not noticeably boozy. The chocolate number was my favorite, with a distinct coffee zip amid the dark sweetness. The lemon cheesecake was dense, almost chewy, but delivered puckery citrus flavor from a lemon curd layer.
My meal could have been better, but it didn’t ruin my day. If the food becomes as reliable as the view, Liberty Hound will have something to howl about.
Liberty Hound: 6 plates (Out of 10)
Seafood-centric room with a view of waterfront serves up hits and misses.
WHERE: 1 Naval Park Cove (845-9173, www.libertyhoundbuffalo.com)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $5-$13; sandwiches and salads $9-$15; entrees, $13-$22.
PARKING: Street. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.