Billy Club, a handsome restaurant with a modern speakeasy vibe, is Allen Street’s newest addition, and a welcome one at that. Located just across the street from its aesthetic and atmospheric antithesis, Brick Bar, Billy Club offers a tightly curated food menu of eight small plates, five entrées,* and three desserts that is perfectly in line with its charmingly diminutive, minimalist interior.
I happened by just a week into service to see what’s what and was charmed immediately by my pre-dinner cocktail, Proofing Water ($10), which boasted Scotch, Chartreuse, dry vermouth, and tea pot bitters. A highly competent bar program on Allen? I’m not complaining.
The lone salad on the menu ($7) was a pleasant, appetite-whetting starter ample enough for two. It came dressed well (which is to say, lightly but not too lightly), as the menu stated it would, in a delicate blue cheese dressing that bared no resemblance to the chunky, gloppy stuff we are accustomed to eating with chicken wings. (Pungent-cheese averse and texturally sensitive readers, rejoice!) My dining companion and I battled forks for the pieces of pickled pearl onions and cubes of nashi (aka, Asian) pears that, unlike buttery soft American varieties, were refreshingly crisp. That the salad’s grape tomatoes weren’t charred as promised wasn’t particularly bothersome, but I am interested to know how that element would have affected the salad’s dynamic.
That evening’s preparation of local Flat #12 Mushrooms ($12) intrigued more than it satiated, which is not a complaint. In this case, strewn oyster mushrooms, celery, green and fava beans, and chilled coconut pickles were married by way of ginger-soy dressing. The caramelization of the mushrooms combined with the natural sweetness of coconut and baking spice in the dressing had the cumulative effect of making some bites subtly and beguilingly reminiscent of the crisp, brown edges of a freshly baked cookie. The sensation was fascinating and provocative, and it merited a lengthy conversation between me and my tablemate. I wish more dining experiences were that cerebral.
Said vegetable preparations were a fitting prelude to the rich, roasted bone marrow ($13) we indulged in next. Slathered on buttery crostini with a bit of the accompanying red pepper jam, it was a reminder of why bone marrow, simply prepared, is one of life’s uncomplicated pleasures.
An entrée of chicken thighs served over barley and carrot-coriander purée ($16) was our least favorite dish of the evening, but it was not without glimmers of potential. The chicken itself was impressively juicy and flavorful, but the skin was flabbier than I like, and the accompaniments didn’t jibe. The puree ran sweet, which might have been okay had another element on the plate served as a counterbalance by way of chili heat or spice. But the barley and snow peas were bland to the point of irrelevance. That the chicken thighs were the favorite dish of the Buffalo News writer who covered Billy Club’s opening hints that my experience may have been an opening week hiccup. Inconsistencies in the kitchen are to be expected and readily forgiven at a new restaurant.
The burger ($15), on the other hand, pleased without a single reservation. Ground in house from beef shoulder, brisket, and short rib, and crowned with arugula, pickled red onions, and mild and creamy (as opposed to assertively biting) blue cheese, it was a winner through and through. The buttery, toasted bun that kept its integrity in the face of a deluge of juices was no slouch either. I have a tendency to resort to goofiness when a food experience makes me childishly happy, and this burger was one that had me literally singing its praises (just loud enough for my companion to hear) between bites.
Billy Club’s owners, Dan Hagen and Jake Strawser, opened Billy Club in the style of a New York City social club—that is, as a place where the community could gather around a common interest in good food, beverage, and hospitality. If my initial meal is any indication, Hagen and Strawser, together with Executive Chef Scott Crombie, stand a good chance of fulfilling their stated goals.
*Note that there are no vegetarian dinner options listed on the menu, but the kitchen is happy to accommodate any dietary restriction with an off-menu item.