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Good times; Unique decor, noise, extensive menu set this place apart

Small, noisy and fun, fun, fun the Black Rock Kitchen & Bar, aka BRK&B, has just recently been brought to you by Mark and Charlie Goldman of Allentown Hardware Cafe, and there are many similarities between the two restaurants. They are both small, they are both crowded and they are both sited in former retail outlets in distinctive city neighborhoods.

Allentown Hardware you know already -- on Allen Street just west of Elmwood. BRK&B is in a more surprising place, on Amherst Street between Elmwood and Grant, in the heart of Black Rock, an old neighborhood that's beginning to make its culinary mark. Wegmans, Spar's Sausage and soon-to-come Debbie Clark's Delish Bakery are but a croissant toss away.

But Black Rock has been running well below the radar in recent years, and I'll wager that historic as this neighborhood is, comparatively few suburbanites know it unless they've visited the now-enlarged and renowned musical venue Sportsmen's Tavern, also on Amherst Street. (Rumor has it that the fries there are terrific.)

But I digress. Aside from the address, at least three things make BRK&B unique: (1) its decor, done in the lilacs and greens that distinguish the wonderful Jackie Felix painting next to the bar; (2) its noise level, which is staggering (they're supposed to be working on that); and -- most important by far -- the menu. Arranged in appetizer, small plates and entree sections, this menu has got to be one of the most distinctive food listings in Western New York. We wanted to try everything.

Some examples of things we did not try but will before very long: Lump Crab and Cucumber Salad over Butter Lettuce with Dill Buttermilk Dressing ($12); Roasted Marrow Bones and Toast Points ($10); Grilled Shrimp over soft Polenta with Roasted Cippolini Onions and Gorgonzola ($12); House Braised Brisket Sandwich on Pumpernickel ($11); Duck Leg Confit BLT ($14); Fois Gras French Toast with Cognac Garnish and Butter Lettuce ($15). As a side note, the woman sitting next to me ordered a 12-ounce Burger ($9) and pronounced it "awesome."

This is what we did eat. A Bruschetta "flight" ($9) with four slices, each different. The spreads change every day. We especially liked one spread with Romesco sauce (tomatoes, almonds, red bell peppers) and one spread with the ginger marmalade.

Also, Rendered Duck Breast over Cappelini pasta ($14), tasty and interesting because it was garnished with double smoked bacon and sweet corn in a light but hearty tasting broth. And a fat, 14-ounce frenched Pork Chop served with nicely textured smashed sweet potatoes, skinny spears of grilled asparagus and Maple Bourbon Barbecue Sauce.

My heart sank when I saw the meat. It was so big and thick and I've had dry hunks of pork chops in too many restaurants of late. But this one turned out to be juicy, tender and delicate in taste. The chef pulled it off! Terrific.

Came time for dessert and we indulged in cupcakes -- big cupcakes that you eat with a fork ($5 each). Red Velvet Cupcake with Sour Cream frosting and the Funfetti Yellow Cupcake garnished with fresh fruit were just a teensy disappointment. I like my cupcakes more moist.

Next time I'll try another appetizer instead of dessert. Bring on the $14 Lamb Lollipops with Romesco!


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