A table near the water has its own gravitational pull. The murmur of waves on the shore, nature’s metronome, can rock all but the most frenetic souls into a more contemplative state of mind. In pleasant weather, those are the first tables to fill up.
Public House on the Lake in Hamburg, the successor to Root Five, has an expansive deck with unblocked views of Lake Erie, the Buffalo skyline and the Canadian shore. While the lake effect can keep waterfront restaurants afloat despite mediocre food, a recent visit showed Public House doesn’t have that problem, turning out solid tavern-level fare. Its problem is going to be controlling the flood of deck-seeking customers without razor wire and Rottweilers.
We arrived with teenagers in tow at 5:30 p.m., and were told we’d wait 30 minutes. A stroll through the roomy restaurant, which includes banquet space and a glassed-in lakeview room, suggested lots of others were in the same boat.
In 10 minutes we were seated at a table inset with a gas fireplace whose wafts of heat offset the twinge of chill in the breeze.
[See Sharon Cantillon's full photo gallery of Public House On the Lake]
Continuing the diverse beer tradition from Public House’s original Hertel Avenue location, there were 26 craft beers on tap, seven locally made.
The menu was weighted toward the casual end, with 30 appetizers, salads and sandwiches, and 10 entrees. Wings ($10/$18) and beef on weck ($10, with a side) are represented, as well as cheese-and-sausage-stuffed peppers ($9.75). Big plates ran from a Flying Bison Rusty Chain fish fry ($13) to a fried seafood platter with cod, scallops and shrimp.
Seafood was the most significant departure from tavern standards, from raw oysters to sesame crusted tuna over spicy sesame noodles ($14) and a “surf and turf” poutine with butter-poached lobster, pork belly lardons, cheese and seafood béchamel over fresh-cut fries ($16).
We opted for clams steamed in beer with spicy Italian sausage, garlic and jalapenos ($13), and were glad we did. A sprawling bowl of littlenecks had us picking out sausage and mopping up savory jus with the provided bread long after the clams were gone. A bowl of smoked beer and cheese soup ($5) was pudding-thick but a nick of heat kept it from boring.
Waldorf salad ($12) was a healthy platterful of mixed greens, dried cranberries, blue cheese, walnuts, sliced fresh Granny Smith apple, cucumber and tomato, plenty enough to share.
There were some mild disappointments. Potato and cheese pierogi ($11), with sour cream, onions and sauerkraut, were hearty dumplings, but the onions weren’t caramelized nor the pierogi browned.
A daily flatbread ($12) bore generous mozzarella, gorgonzola and a handful of fresh arugula, but lacked the pepper rings and salami of the server’s description.
Wings, ordered Chiavetta’s style, were medium-sized and crispy, tossed in the local favorite chicken marinade. I had guessed Chiavetta's style would include some pit-charring, as in its namesake, but I was wrong.
My dinner was a prime rib special ($25 king cut), ordered medium rare, that arrived just barely pink in the middle, but it was moist and tender enough that I didn’t complain. Mashed potatoes were buttery and I like the robust garlic-sauteed broccolini.
Ordering beef on weck ($10) got the server asking for preference of pink or well-done beef, which is a question I would like to hear more often. Pink was the answer, and that’s what arrived, piled on a salt-and-caraway topped bun, with crispy fries, horseradish and jus. More beef arrived in the steak sandwich ($14.25), a tender strip on ciabatta, smothered in well-sauteed peppers, onions and mushrooms for a sandwich that ate like dinner, not a snack.
Salmon filet ($24, lead photo) with quinoa, broccolini and shiitake mushroom caps was a successful lighter entree, with firm but not overcooked fish and nutty grain. A Cuban sandwich ($10.50) – ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickle and mustard – departed from canon by including sliced fresh avocado and being served on aggressively toasted sourdough bread. It was a tasty number, a decent Cuban variant, and the accompanying macaroni salad was well-seasoned.
Desserts, including an Oreo cheesecake ($6), a cheesecake disc with fresh raspberries and a peanut butter mousse disc between brownie layers (both $4), were basic sweets.
Our server got us everything we asked for, but seemed harried as the patio filled up. That did not extend to pushing us to leave, even though it was peak sunset, which I appreciated.
I left feeling satisfied. My meal at Public House on the Lake didn’t depart from standards, but ingredients were fresh, and the execution mostly satisfying. With a sunset like that, eating at the Public House on the Lake is more like dinner and a show.
7 plates (out of 10)
Unobstructed views and solid menu are a recipe for packing lakeside patio.
WHERE: 4914 Lake Shore Road, Hamburg (627-5551)
HOURS: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Salads and appetizers, $9-$18; sandwiches, $8-$14.25; entrees, $17-$28.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.