If you ever wondered what Hutch's would serve as an old-school Buffalo bar, your answer is at Nye Park Tavern.
At 1672 Elmwood Ave., the former Papa Jake’s has been scrubbed and polished, with respect. The wooden floors have been refinished, and rediscovered windows now give the rear room more light.
Owners Mark Hutchinson and Mike Haefner were aiming for a new place that felt old. The Nye Park Tavern sign out front, new paint on a foundation of old wood, is an apt metaphor.
The menu has practically everything you’ve come to expect from a Buffalo tavern: the cheeseburger ($12.95), beef on kimmelweck ($11.95), chicken fingers ($12.95), and steamed clams ($12.95) are all here. A chalkboard special of corned beef and cabbage dinner was $13.95.
Prices on some dishes are a couple dollars higher than your bargain spots. Hutchinson and Haefner are betting that when you dig in, you’ll know where that money went. A steak in the grass sandwich is $16.95, but that’s a N.Y. strip steak, with sautéed greens and provolone, not processed cheese.
Hutchinson said the fish fry ($16.95) starts Friday, with beer-battered haddock, macaroni and potato salad (or German potato), coleslaw and hand-cut fries.
Portobello fries ($8.50), a saucer-sized mushroom cap sliced into fingers, crusted and fried, was simple food done well. The crunchy coating and spicy Cajun tartar sauce made these fungus slabs interesting.
Chicken wings ($19.50, double) were a classic version, backed up with housemade blue cheese dressing. There’s butter and Frank’s in the sauce.
A spinach salad with hot bacon dressing ($12.50) made me regret the lesser versions I’ve encountered.
A healthy amount of fresh foliage had been tossed with an unhealthy amount of crispy bacon, sautéed mushrooms, chopped hardboiled egg and shredded cheese. There was enough gently acidic bacon-fat-based dressing to coat the spinach, but not enough to pool in the bottom of the bowl.
Most importantly, it was actually warm, a necessary component to its success. I hope it wasn’t just because Hutchinson had given me a table next to the kitchen door, but time will tell. It was the first day the place was in business, after all.
Seeing “Home of the original West Side spareribs” ($16.95) on the menu made me curious. Four big full-cut spareribs arrived on a heap of crunchy slaw, and a good pickle.
The spareribs were chewy compared to ribs barbecued Southern style, and I asked Hutchinson what the story was. I got more than I expected.
Hutchinson explained that when he was growing up on the West Side, he enjoyed grilled spareribs “Joe the Bear”-style at the Arkansas Lounge at Grant and Arkansas. Joe the Bear was a well-known cook at several establishments, Hutchinson said, and these ribs are his homage to that memory.
They’re full-cut, including the cartilage-threaded ends trimmed off the more common “St. Louis cut” ribs. They're poached then grilled in a sweet sauce, until faintly charcoal-crusted, slathered with more sauce, and served sticky.
I was reluctant at first, but after I ate the easy parts I found myself working through the rib ends, teasing out the good bites from between the cartilage. They’re made for gnawing and finger-licking, much in the same way wings are, except these have a hint of smoke from their walk through fire.
Buffalo taverns don’t do dessert, but Nye Park Tavern does. A fluffy cheesecake ($8) from the helping hands at Hutch’s sported vibrant lemon curd and an outstanding graham cracker crust.
As Papa Jake’s veterans know, parking may require a hike across Elmwood to Great Arrow Avenue, but Hutchinson said help is on the way. He bought the place next door, and knocked it down. Once it’s warm enough to lay asphalt, he said, it’ll be a Nye Park Tavern parking lot.
Info: Nye Park Tavern, 1672 Elmwood Ave.; 240-9747
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