I personally couldn’t be more excited about a new restaurant called Midtown Kitchen coming to Elmwood Avenue. MTK is in the process of opening at the former Nektar building. This stretch of Elmwood Avenue has been calling for an infusion of new life for years, and now it’s coming, in the form of Thin Man (Termini and Shatzel), and now MTK (Tommy Cowan, Billy Paladino, Sam Soltis and Charlie Barone). There is even a rumor that Perk’s Café might be moving into the former Coffee Culture building at the corner of Bryant and Elmwood.
I sat down with MTK partner Charlie Barone to discuss the team’s plans for the restaurant. Between all of the owners, there’s a lot of experience in the food and service industry, which bodes well for the business.
The idea behind MTK began to percolate after Charlie moved back to Buffalo from Chicago in 2013. “When I left Buffalo, years ago, I said that I was never coming back,” he told me. “But Buffalo finally turned the corner, with real estate and culinary, and I felt that it was time to come home and see what I could do here. Chicago is already set – they’re building on top of each other. When I came home, the first thing that I did was reach out to Tommy about City Tavern on Chippewa. But he was phasing out Chippewa and looking at new opportunities (he recently opened Doc Sullivan’s on Abbott). Around that same time Ambrosia on Elmwood caught my eye. I talked to the owner, Stavros Malliaris, but he was busy incorporating Ambrosia into his other business Nektar – a building that he owned. It was then that Tommy and I met up for breakfast one morning at Ambrosia/Nektar and ran into Stavros. After talking with him for a while and understanding that he was focusing on getting his retirement plans straight, we brought the crew together to help him with an early retirement.”
The first thing that Charlie did upon getting the keys to the building, was to figure out how to expand the operation. Charlie was used to running larger restaurants in Chicago – Tavern on Rush (General Manager) and Frontier (Partner/General Manager), and knew that in order to make the Nektar space work, he needed to expand the seating. First, it was decided that the restaurant would be opened up as much as possible. A couple of interior walls have now been removed in order to create valuable seating and bar space. In the back, where there was once a disconnected dining room, will soon be a private dining booth (called a “Power Booth” that seats ten comfortably) for people who are looking to have an intimate dining experience. While a bit removed from the main dining room, there is a thoughtful balance and flow to this coveted, intimate seating arrangement.
The main dining area will be a dedicated as a social space with a focus on bistro seating. An array of oversized windows will keep the place filled with natural light. The tables are being fabricated using wood from old barns. There will be a brilliant white quartz bar. Charlie envisions the dining area as a place where friends can come and go – sort of like a restaurant flex space where a couple of friends can meet up at the bar, sit down, order some food and drinks, and then call up a couple more friends to join them. “We want it to be a social place,” Charlie told me. “Something that flows and is not rigid. We will have a strong focus on brunch, which will be served on Saturday and Sunday. We want people to feel comfortable and even move around if they wish. They can start at the bar, move to a bistro table, and eventually, when we have a courtyard, they can head out and enjoy some sun and drinks and sample more food.”
One of the most significant and exciting changes that MTK will be rolling out is the building expansion. By building outward into a section of the parking lot, the restaurant will be adding 64 seats. That will give operators a total of 149 seats throughout the restaurant, while still having plenty of breathing room. The new enclosed patio will be the center of attention at MTK. All of the glass walls will open up to create an indoor/outdoor patio, which will one day look over green space and gardens – not a parking lot. To me, that’s the icing on the cake. The enclosed patio addition can function as operational dining space, or can be used for private parties. Once partitioned from the main dining room, guests can use a dedicated entranceway to access the room – perfect for bridal showers, corporate functions, birthday parties, etc. And one day, the view will no longer be a parking lot (thankfully). MTK will also have a rooftop garden.
The food at MTK will reflect classic American and French techniques. It will mainly consist of contemporary approachable food (and cocktails). “I want MTK to be a culinary exploratory gathering spot,” explained Charlie. “Food will be made to order fresh, that will evolve over time and with the seasons. I love the idea of brunch-style eating because it’s such a social event. This will become a gathering spot, where people come and go, sit around and drink, relax, try different foods – it’s a different experience each visit.”
In the end, Charlie’s main focus is to create a culinary destination on a stretch of Elmwood that he considers “Midtown”. “Our goal is create a 2-3 block destination, with great shops and restaurants, some of which are already here. We want to support the other business owners along this section of Elmwood. We want people to be able to walk from place to place and feel that it’s a special experience. We’re all going to work together to make this a place that has its own strength and identity.”
MTK is slated to open by the time the football season is over.
Midtown Kitchen | 451 Elmwood Avenue