There are few things more “Buffalo” than a Friday Night Fish Fry. Every family-style restaurant has one, and every Buffalonian has their favorite. The Hamlin House, located in the circa 1865 Italianate style building at 432 Franklin Street is known for having one of the best, and the restaurant itself is considered one of Allentown’s best kept secrets. This is surprising, considering that the Hamlin House’s fish fry has won two “Best of Buffalo” Artvoice Awards and one from Buffalo Spree.
Troop I Post 665 of The American Legion has owned and occupied this building since 1935. The organization still runs the bar which is only open during the weekdays and on Friday nights when its stools and the chairs in the dining room quickly fill with one of the most diverse crowds you’re likely to find in Western New York. Legion members, lawyers and secretaries from Franklin (also known as Lawyer’s Row), doctors from the Medical Corridor, Allentown residents and those in the know have all wisely made their reservations well in advance.
The house is beautiful and in good condition. Built for Cicero Hamlin, a successful dry-goods salesman who later became the first president of American Glucose Company and is recognized as one of the era’s most important harness-racing horse breeders, it was sold to the German Orpheus Singing Society sometime after 1886. At that time they converted the rear courtyard into a performance hall, a space that is now used to host events that range from beautiful 220-guest weddings to intimate private dinners for 30.
The restaurant and the ballroom have been run by Sharon Bealy and John Bitterman since 1992. They’ve worked together for over 30 years and know the ins and outs of pleasing customers. “We love our customers and our customers love us,” Bealy explained. “We’ve even had people kiss the waitresses,” she says with a smile. And it’s easy to see why; entering Hamlin House on a Friday night is like returning. from college for the summer. Everyone knows everyone and those who don’t, fit in just as easily; people are abuzz with the spirit of warmth and camaraderie. Service is amiable and the food is the heartening fare that most of us grew up with.
The battered fish fry is very good indeed and served with well-made coleslaw, macaroni salad and your choice of potato. French fries, potatoes au gratin, potato salad or soft baby reds with parsley and butter were available at the time of my visit. Also popular is the grilled herb chicken breast which won the Taste of Buffalo in 2003, and the breaded haddock served Italian-style with a plum tomato sauce and asiago cheese. Chicken Florentine, steaks, various preparations of shrimp and a warm chicken salad are a few of the other offerings; nightly specials are always available.
The lunch menu is easily twice the size of the dinner menu. Warm sandwiches, huge salads, burgers and dishes laden with saucy pastas are offered in abundance. All are well-made and reasonably priced. Bitterman makes all of the soups from scratch. The French Onion is extremely popular and for good reason; it is dense and flavorful with all of that delightful, melted cheese making its way down the bowl’s exterior. Make sure to save room for dessert.
Almost two years ago Bitterman and Bealy found themselves looking for a bite to eat on Sunday mornings. Feeling that the options available in their neighborhood were limited, they decided to open on Sundays for brunch. It has been a smashing success, and Bitterman’s Eggs Benedict have since become the stuff of legends. I know because people tell me about them all of the time.
Hamlin House is truly a rare find, especially in the heart of a city. The food has the feel of home cooking and the atmosphere the air of homecoming. What better place to take your family or those whom you love just as much?
The American Legion Troop I
432 Franklin Street, Buffalo, 14202