Last Friday I had a chance to grab lunch at the SoHo Burger Bar. I hadn't been inside the building since the midway through the renovations, and I must say that interior designer Paul LaMorticella
did a bang-up job per usual. What I love about Paul's decorating is the thought that goes into both the look and functionality when it comes to the lighting and the furniture. Take, for example, the bistro tables that have been adhered to old-fashioned crank winches. During the day the table can be lower to accommodate two-tops for lunch, and in the evening the staff can crank them higher for bar stool cocktail service. It's these types of ingenious decorative features that make The SoHo Burger Bar so different.
The clever decor can be seen everywhere, even though at first glance it is fairly inconspicuous. The arrangement of liquor bottles-turned chandeliers over the bar is clever, as are the metal PVC clamps that second as napkin holders (the napkins are industrial dishtowels that can be reused limitlessly). It's hard to tell whether this place is a sports bar, a bistro or a nightclub. I found myself completely enamored with the overly sturdy-yet fragile, translucent Tortoise shell patio chairs. Leading up to the second floor, the staircase walls are covered with brilliantly lit retro album covers - talk about a flashback. Partner/owner Jay Manno told me that they basically let Paul loose to create something that would help to create a new image as a funky eatery with the ability to seamlessly transform into a hot spot at night - "He exceeded all expectations," Jay told me.
Since the transition to eatery, SoHo Burger Bar has become a destination for many out-of-towners who happen to be staying at nearby downtown hotels. "Our clientele is so diverse," said jay. "People see others eating out on the patio and they come inside to see what the place looks like and to see the menu. The decor speaks for itself - so does the menu. Our fish tacos have been a big hit, and one of my personal favorites is the watermelon salad. The truffle tater tots is a fun spin on the French fry - they come in a basket seasoned with truffle oil, parmesan cheese and parsley. If you look around Chippewa, you will see that the places that are serving food are doing really good business. It's nice to see the street so busy on a Friday, with people coming to eat... it's a sign of a changing district."
When we sat down for lunch, we were joined by a second BRO writer, Chris Catanzaro, who it just so happened, had written a piece
about Chippewa days earlier. While I ordered the Ahi tuna burger, Chris ordered the Gold Standard burger, and true to his word, Jay ordered the watermelon salad. While we waited for our food, a customer walked up to the table and told Jay that his burger roll was the best he had ever had. "The buns are from Romeo's Bakery," Jay replied and smiled. "They make them fresh for us - they're the best around." As we chatted the tables continued to turn over, which was nice to see at a restaurant that was known more for being a nightclub. I peered inside and noticed that it was filled with mainly a business crowd, though there were a couple of families seated towards the back. The bar was busy - I couldn't help but wonder if the patrons were ordering the spiked shakes...
When our food arrived and I took my first bite, I was happy to experience a new twist on the Ahi tuna burger... something other than the standard wasabi and ginger. It was topped with grilled pineapple salsa, pea shoots and wasabi aioli. It was exactly how I wanted it - served rare and a not overly sweet. If anything, I would have wanted a small side of the pineapple salsa to go with it. Chris was kid enough to send me his thoughts on the Gold Standard burger:
"It was anything but standard. A perfectly cooked burger was laid in between a nice bun and was greatly complemented with aged cheddar, arugula, garlic chive aioli and tomato confit. Each bite was better than the one before and it was extremely difficult to finish this gourmet lunch treat. The truffle tots were no slouch either, with their signature oil melding nicely with just the right amount of parmesan cheese, these aren't your grandma's tots. They were a great companion to one of the "tastiest" burgers I can recall eating."
Thanks Chris. When we finished our meal, Chris told us something that I know will resonate with a lot of Buffalonians. "Until today, I've never thought about heading to Chippewa for lunch," she said. "It just never struck me, even though I've come to the street for dinner. Now I'm going to make this place a regular stopping point." I agreed that the new restaurant definitely opened my eyes a bit more to the possibilities of Chippewa. I'm going to head back for the veggie burger as soon as I can... yeah, I know, with all of the great sounding burgers on the menu my own burger selection is limited, but there are plenty of other options for those of us who don't eat red meat. Besides, I'm happy to spend my money supporting Chippewa in other ways than just drinking. I hope that this really is the new trend for the district.
Soho Burger Bar 64 W. Chippewa Street Buffalo, New York (716) 856.7646