Bar 1818, the mid-range gastropub inside Whole Foods (3139 Sheridan Drive, Amherst), has been so strategically infused with “place,” I reckon the grocery behemoth wouldn’t mind if you think it’s a homegrown operation.
It isn’t, of course. But Bar 1818 does seem eager to appear more community entrenched than other corporate-run dining establishments in its playing field.
Take the restaurant’s name. It’s a temporal reference to the founding of the Town of Amherst. Then there’s the signage that advertises the kitchen’s use of local products. “We wouldn’t have it any other way,” it reads.
The menu reveals the actual extent of that commitment. Items of Western New York provenance, indicated by way of a blue icon and type, are numerous among the draft beverages, which include a dozen local beers from the likes of Flying Bison, Thin Man, Big Ditch, and 42 North, and two flavors of Barrel + Brine kombucha.
On the spirit side of things, Tommyrotter and Lockhouse Distillery are represented. In effect, Bar 1818 functions as a one-stop shop for exploring the area’s renewed tradition of brewing and distilling.
Its food menu, anchored by six specialty burgers, five flavors of chicken wings and tricked-out milkshakes, serviceably fuels said tour, even if its use of local ingredients is limited to a few cheeses, pickles and pierogi.
In keeping with the local theme, I tried the burger on weck ($12). It came topped with caramelized onions and a thick schmear of First Light Farms chevre that had softened to a silky, pillowy consistency from the residual heat of the slightly overcooked patty.
The advertised horseradish was faint at best and the meat itself lacked deep, beefy flavor, amounting to a decadent but somewhat flat-tasting burger. Onion rings, included on the side, did not have any technical flaws.
Sante Fe chicken wings ($8) were more impactful in flavor. The chipotle honey sauce struck a delicate balance between sweet and smoky when it would have been easy to err in either direction. A smattering of queso blanco, mild to the point of near imperceptibility, neither added to nor detracted from the dish.
For a plant-based meal, Bar 1818 has admirable options. (It is Whole Foods, after all.) To approximate chicken wings, there are baked cauliflower bites tossed in Buffalo sauce ($11) among the appetizers. And guests can elect to have a mushroom-based vegetarian patty prepared according to the specifications of any of the specialty burgers.
Salads are also a viable option. The harvest ($12) with arugula, diced apple, roasted butternut squash and brussels sprouts, and a heavy handful of marcona almonds was pleasant. But I couldn’t help but wonder why a restaurant so vocal about its commitment to community didn’t locally source a single of the salad’s components.
To wash it all down, Bar 1818 offers five specialty milkshakes as well as classic chocolate and vanilla ($8). Options include coffee and doughnuts, grasshopper, birthday cake and vegan coconut almond chocolate.
I ordered the peanut butter pretzel made with chocolate ice cream and found it run-of-the-mill at best. The only real flourish was the peanut butter cup garnish and a sprinkle of crushed mini pretzels that turned out to be stale.
In hindsight, I should have taken the menu’s suggestion and added a shot of booze ($4 supplement). Lockhouse Revolution Coffee Liqueur would have been a fine choice. You know, to keep things local.
INFO: Bar 1818 in Whole Foods, 3139 Sheridan Drive, Amherst. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with happy hours - with $2 off all alcoholic drinks - from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
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