Longtime Buffalo foodies may remember Buffalo Rome Cafe, a former Bryant Street bistro which popularized espresso and cappuccino before Starbucks made foam-topped coffee mainstream. Owner Victor Mirando was ahead of his time, bringing Italian coffees and French baguette to Buffalo long before those became de rigeur. A kitchen fire 19 years ago forced him to shutter that space. At the beginning of summer 2015, Buffalo Rome reopened in a dog-friendly outpost at 388 Porter Ave. Today, it’s a cozy outpost for coffee and light fare on the edge of the West Side.
The new incarnation of Buffalo Rome Cafe is tucked into a tiny storefront with a twee patio and a cozy cluster of cafe tables and booths made for both friendly conversation and quiet contemplation. Its offerings include a selection of coffee and cappuccinos and a small but curated menu of edibles, with homemade cakes, muffins, biscotti and savory quiche and tarts. A daily soup rotation and handful of salads and sandwiches make up the lunch menu, augmented by daily specials.
Nestled next to D’Youville College and down the street from Karpeles Manuscript Museum and Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo Rome draws its clientele from those in addition to the walkable Allentown neighborhood it inhabits. When we visited during a weekday lunch hour, a steady stream of customers kept Mirando busy. While the small kitchen contributed to slight slower service, the owner greeted each new visitor and apologized for the wait, creating a congenial atmosphere even as the orders accumulated. With its warmly decorated walls, complete with local art and comfortable accoutrements, no one seemed to mind the excuse to linger.
We tried one of the homemade “egg rolls” to start, a hearty pinwheel of phyllo pastry, with scrambled egg, spinach and cheese. Warmed in a pan on the stove, the pastry was flaky and crisp with a savory filling that would make a great light breakfast or lunch. The smoked salmon salad ($7) was a taste of Paris, featuring roasted red peppers, salty capers, umami kalamata olives and smoky lox over lightly dressed field greens. A trio of Gallatos crackers with cream cheese made a plate that transported us to the banks of the Seine.
The roast chicken sandwich ($7) arrived on a soft baguette with Asiago cheese and tomato, a cup of fermented cabbage on the side. That chicken was tender and juicy, a thick piece of dark meat and tomato bursting with garden flavor. The cabbage added a funky spark, but we appreciated its side status, for those of us who are not cruciferous fans.
Roasted pork, chicken and eggplant are the stars of the sandwich menu, and also appear atop salads for the low-carb crowd. While Buffalo Rome’s kitchen is small, it makes use of its resources to turn out fresh, tasty cafe fare. Try any of its options alongside one of Buffalo’s first specialty coffees, for an authentic cafe experience that invites customers to kick back, relax and enjoy the quiet moments. At Buffalo Rome, there is plenty of solitude to go around.
Buffalo Rome Cafe
Where: 388 Porter Ave. (986-5488)
Wheelchair accessible: Yes