Chippewa is a street that evokes many different sentiments from people. Over the past year and half Jay Manno, owner of SoHo Burger Bar has been paying attention to the changes that continue to mold Chippewa into what he believes will soon be a stronger, more diverse, and more mature restaurant and nightlife district. Not to say that young people will not still flock to Chippewa, it's just that there are telltale signs that signal that the street is finally growing up.
Jay is not only the owner of SoHo Burger Bar, he's also the president of the Buffalo Entertainment District (Chippewa's business association). That means that Jay has been able to sit in on some telling meetings with The City as of late - another sign that the times are changing. Members of the association have been asking that The City invest in the district for years. There is a bucket list of requests that include new trees, garbage cans, bike racks, benches, sidewalk enhancements, etc. A couple of weeks ago Chippewa was repaved - an improvement that Jay hopes is just the beginning of a series of fixes that will improve the overall aesthetics of the street.
When it comes to transformational developments, the infrastructure improvements are just one of the key elements. There are also some other interesting developments unfolding at this time. "At this juncture there are 21 storefronts on the street," Jay told me. "13 are now food driven. Also, Bayou will soon be called The Lodge, which will be a sports bar and restaurant. City Tavern will be enclosing its patio and activating its kitchen again. With further developments such as Dinosaur coming to the district and possibly another hotel
, I believe that Chippewa is finally turning the corner."
These days, on top of a repaved street, there are twenty new planters in front of businesses, which were paid for by the Buffalo Entertainment District. "We see that there are changes happening around us and we want to be a part of it," Jay reflected. "We need to tie everything in with what's happening on Main Street, the Theater District, the Genesee Gateway, etc. When The City called and asked what we would like to see on the street, and then representatives actually came over and walked around, it was the first time that I felt that we were being taken seriously."
Hopefully Jay's sentiments ring true in coming months. There's no reason that the district should not be a welcoming place for everyone.
Before I sat down and talked to Jay, I learned that one of my chef friends was heading over to SoHo Burger Bar to grab a bite to eat, so I asked him if he wouldn't mind doing a short review on the establishment (since burgers are not on my diet). He happily obliged, since the restaurant was not on his radar. The next time that you're heading downtown, don't forget that Chippewa has a number of great places to grab a bite to eat.
The following was written by Martin Danilowicz:
It's Wednesday night and I am mildly hung over. I am craving a burger and fries and have no desire to go to the store and shop. I decide to head down to Soho Burger Bar, which is a little bit out of the ordinary since I have not been to the Chippewa strip since the days of Concrete and Atomic, two of my former weekly haunts.
That was the scenario that I found myself in when exploring Chippewa as a food destination for the first time.
Upon walking into SoHo, my girlfriend and I were immediately greeted by the owner and ushered to a table on the patio. The chairs were comfy and I felt very relaxed - a feeling that I don't normally associate with establishments on the street. As I looked around I saw all sorts of people eating and drinking - it was an eclectic mix. Our server arrived promptly and we both ordered cocktails. I ordered the strawberry balsamic and she ordered the wild berry mojito. I don't know if the berries were truly wild or not, but the drinks were made very well, not overly sweet like you might find at some bars. I was getting to like the place.
At the top of the menu it clearly states that the burgers are made of a special grind of beef designed specifically for SoHo by Johnny's Meats. The buns are also made to SoHo's specifications by Romeo's Bakery. I was hoping that the burger would live up to the hype... and since I was seated at a burger bar, how could I order anything else? So I requested the Southwest burger special and my girlfriend ordered the steak house burger. Along with the burgers we ordered a seared scallop entree with potato pancakes and soy ginger glaze (one of the specials that our server talked us into after I told him that I was famished). At SoHo, there are a dizzying list of sides to go with your burger, as well as condiments, fries, sweat potato fries, truffled tater tots, onion rings... the list goes on, with an assortment of cheeses, fresh toppings and even fried eggs. SoHo is an adult burger bar if ever there was one.
With our cocktails gone, we were feeling very relaxed. I head heard that SoHo had a pretty good wine list, so I ordered two glasses of cabernet sauvignon. My server then did something I have yet to see in Buffalo. Instead of just bringing us two glasses that were filled at the bar, he actually brought out the bottle for me to see first, before proceeding to pour our wine. This may seem trivial, but I like the extra effort displayed in the restaurant's by-the-glass program. Ultimately I found the wine list to be a bit small, but to the point with something for everyone. Being a bit of an oenophile I would like to see some more choices in the future.
When the scallops arrived I was happily surprised by their size and how well cooked they were, crispy on the outside and just done in the middle. I wasn't sure about the potato pancake and the soy ginger glaze, but it did work very well together. Someone in the kitchen is coloring outside of the lines at SoHo. At that point, the anticipation of my burger was killing me. When it arrived I thought to myself, "Now this is what a burger is supposed to be." It was rich and fatty with the perfect meat to fat ratio and very juicy. The burger was also enormously big (it was comparable to holding the Christmas Spiegel catalog from 1985). The hand cut fries and corn fritters rounded out our meals nicely. From someone who cooks at home often I would say these were the best burgers I've had in a long time... maybe ever. Not to say that bigger is always better, though in this case it was.
As we sat on the patio, for a moment I forgot where I was (eating dinner in a part of the city that I used to come to to party). We were having such a good time... for a moment I felt like I was in a different city because there was a lot of activity around and it was an unfamiliar setting. I am in my mid 40s and must say that my experience at SoHo was delightfully unexpected, so much so that I've been back a couple of times since my initial visit. I have found a truly great burger in the most unexpected place. It just goes to show that there's a lot more to explore other than the regular haunts when it comes to food in Buffalo. Now when I think of Chippewa I will think of a great burger and a relaxing atmosphere. Man, how times change.
64 West Chippewa Street
Buffalo, NY 14202