Always on the hunt for the best brunches in Buffalo, I have thankfully found a new brunch spot that is to die for. Well, it’s not exactly new, but it is new to me. The surprise eatery that I came across this past Saturday is The Steer Restaurant in the University District. It turns out that The Steer has been steering itself in numerous new directions, which I found surprising and gratifying.
As long as I can remember, The Steer has fashioned itself as a meat lover’s paradise. While there are still some sensational meat dishes being prepared, there are a ton of other offerings. These offerings, according to my wife, who joined me for the meal, are some of the most inventive in the city. I have to agree – the menu looked nothing like anything else that we had come across as of late. The big question was, would the menu items taste as great as they sounded? We would soon find out.
Before venturing into the food order, we set ourselves up with a couple of Bloody Marys. The drinks got us off to a good start and helped to satisfy our hunger pangs as we sifted through the selections. A few of the notable menu items that caught our attention included the California Toast with guacamole smear, tomato, caramelized onion on a baguette, the Garbanzo Tots – a healthier version of tater tots, the Detox Bowl #2, with quinoa, beets, Thunder Mountain microgreens, chick pea, white bean hummus, hemp ranch dressing and too many other ingredients to list, and finally the Scramble Breakfast Wrap with scrambled egg, brown rice, pinto beans, pico de gallo, guacamole and spinach in a tomato flour wrap. Picking out these items among 30 brunch selections, 10 crazy burgers, taco platters, starters, wood fired pizzas, sandwiches and entrees was a task in of itself.
In the end, navigating the dizzying number of selections was not as bad as we thought, because so many of them had twists and turns. The Steer owners, Tucker Curtin and Erin Campbell Curtin, have managed to mash up their favorite items into a an accordion-like menu complete with black keys and white keys (representing vegan and non-vegan selections). “We used to separate them,” Tucker told us. “Then, when we combined them, people would order whatever it was that struck them.’
When our food arrived, not only did it look incredible, it surpassed all of our expectations. The gluten free flatbread, which is offered as an alternative to the listed baguette, rose to the occasion and never got soggy (even with guac on top).
The tots were super light and fluffy, crispy on the outside with an almost creamy consistency on the inside – served with a creamy vegan dipping sauce. We will get these every time we go back.
The salad was served in a chilled bowl. Speaking of the bowl – it was a very unusual design and presented the ingredients as if on an artist’s palette. The white bean hummus and hemp ranch dressing were both super light, so the baby spinach, romaine and microgreens all stayed fresh and crispy. A sprinkle of salt helped to enhance all that was already there.
The wrap was tightly rolled and could be eaten by hand. A little bit of pepper and some hot sauce elevated everything nicely.
Erin and Tucker have outdone themselves with this brunch feast. As we sat out on the patio (in the shade, as it was hot out), we continually broadcasted our delights back and forth. From my giant cup of coffee that barely needed a refill, to almost all of the baked goods made in-house including the gluten free flatbread, we were shaking our heads that it took us so long to discover it.
We felt that we had happened upon a goldmine of food. For some reason we were a little out of the loop. We had heard that they had some tricks up their sleeves, but to this extent was shocking – we can’t wait to go back.
We were fortunate to get a quick tour by Tucker after the meal, which allowed us to get a peek under the hood of the operation. My wife loved the open kitchen on the first floor and the private chef’s table on the second floor. The chef’s table is where Tucker has been holding private dinners featuring Peter Luger steaks (for example). It’s also where Erin has been teaching vegan and vegetarian cooking classes. The extended plan is to convert the entire second floor into a high-end event and banquet space, complete with outdoor patio and bar.
When we do return, we want to try out the wood oven pizza.
We also want to sample some of the goodies from the smoker out back – all of the meat is processed in-house.
I swear, there is not a piece of restaurant equipment known to man that Tucker and Erin don’t have access to (at The Steer, or at their other eatery Lake Effect diner – next door).
Tucker’s enthusiasm for the business is readily apparent, whether he’s talking about all of the culinary gadgets or the building that he is continually renovating.
Years ago, Tucker decided that he needed to regulate his bathrooms, so he incorporated some unusual tactics. First, he added two way mirrors in the common area, so that the bartenders could make sure that people were not abusing the counters or anything else. Then he added small stalls that resemble airplane bathrooms. And just like airplane bathrooms, they are all unisex, which means that they are also transgender – talk about being ahead of the times.
There’s even an airplane-style occupied sign on the door – brilliant!
On the outside of the building, Tucker has been reworking the facade – cleaning it up – and he will soon add sharp looking black awnings and new lighting. He’s also going to plant gardens and install sculptures on either side of the front door. “We’re perfecting what we have,” said Tucker. “And changing as Buffalo changes. We’re concentrating our efforts on The Steer and Lake Effect these days, which means that we’re spending all of our time and effort here.”
It’s easy to tell that the effort is paying off. The food is inventive and delicious. The atmosphere is better than ever. The University District deserves to have such a spectacular restaurant, the likes of The Steer. It’s a far cry from its simpler origins as a college bar with pub food. From everything that we tried, I would offer up that The Steer is hands down one of the best restaurants in the city.