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Cecelia's has the perfect mix

The City of Buffalo is blessed with an abundance of high-quality, locally owned eating and drinking establishments. Because of this, many Buffalonians were proponents for “shop/eat local” before it was a chic marketing campaign. There’s something about the authentic attention to details and customer experience that come with having an owner who has a homegrown passion for the business and city.

Cecelia’s Ristorante and Martini Bar is a family-owned and operated restaurant/bar smack-dab in the middle of the hip Elmwood Village. It opened in 2001 under brothers Dave and Michael Barbara and clearly has been one of the most successful restaurants in a space with a long history of serving the appetites of Buffalo residents.

It’s that personal attention to detail and customer desire that is evident in a recent change at Cecelia’s. The owners have converted the bar space on the patio that once served fresh seafood into what they dub the ‘Tini Bar. This upgrade now makes securing drinks on the patio much easier as patrons can walk up, order directly from a bartender and relish in the relaxing setting of the patio.

Seafood lovers, don’t despair. Cecelia’s continues to offer a variety of popular seafood options. During our visit, clams were available as specials, both steamed and baked casino-style, as well as the fried calamari and mussels provencal from the traditional menu.

A recent event-free Friday night meant only one thing in our minds – Cecelia’s patio. We wanted appetizers and drinks, so we reserved a table on the “dining” side of the patio. The patio is inconspicuously “divided” into two sections. A large awning covers approximately 10 tables and there are about another 10 umbrella tables available for reserved dining. The other, no reservation-required side of the patio has a compilation of tables and high-top bistros with stools, along with the ‘tini bar.

There are three fire pits surrounded by chairs and plenty of heaters to keep you comfortable as the summer nights cool off. Upbeat music plays in the background at a level that promotes a good-time atmosphere without drowning out conversations.

Known for its extravagant martini menu, Cecelia’s has been bitten by the craft cocktail bug sweeping the nation and recently unveiled a new summer cocktail menu. “Locally sourced produce” and “organic” are no longer just descriptors for the food side of the menu. It’s time to leave the ho-hum vodka tonics behind and broaden your repertoire of adult refreshments.

Cecelia's Ristorante's sign looms over the Elmwood Avenue sidewalk.

Cecelia's Ristorante's sign looms over the Elmwood Avenue sidewalk.

With a knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff, Cecelia’s is the perfect place to spread your wings and be adventurous. A large group was ordering trays of Flirtinis ($8) 10 at a time and the waitresses masterfully served them without spilling an ounce. Our server identified a neighboring customer’s drink for me while also providing a welcomed personal narrative of the drink options.

Besides the popular martini and cocktail menu, Cecelia’s also offers local and imported beer and an Italian/Californian-influenced wine menu – something for everyone. It does take some time to absorb all the descriptions of the cocktail menu. There are more than 20 martini options as well as the summer cocktails and frozen blender drinks.

My husband ordered a Blue Moon and I chose the Berry Collins ($9) from the summer drink side of the menu. Blackberries and mint are muddled then shaken and stirred with organic vodka and sweet and sour mix. Served in a highball glass with a splash of soda and blackberry garnish, the drink was not only pleasing to the eye, but to the palate as well. The mint and blackberries were present in every sip and the alcohol level was strong enough to keep you from throwing them back like lemonades, without being overpowering.

I’d be remiss not to mention the quality of the food. We ordered a few of our favorites, margherita pizza ($10), house salad ($5), Caesar salad ($6), penne broccoli ($13) and stuffed banana peppers ($8), and were delighted. A special note: the banana peppers are stuffed with a cheese mixture and served on top of crostini, which helps to cut the heat of the pepper. In a city known to have a cult following for the late Andy DiVincenzo’s peppers, these are a must-order.

Cecelia's bartender Leonard Falzone prepares a martini. (Harry Scull Jr. /Buffalo News)

Cecelia's bartender Leonard Falzone prepares a martini. (Harry Scull Jr. /Buffalo News)

After dinner, we settled in around one of the fire pits to enjoy the ambiance. I ordered a Summer Cosmo ($9) to cap off the night. Organic cucumber vodka, muddled cucumber, blood orange liqueur and fresh lime juice were served over ice with a cucumber garnish – a perfect drink for kicking off a summer weekend.

Cecelia’s is in the heart of the Elmwood Village with arguably one of the best-positioned patios for enjoying the warm summer days and nights with a bit of sophistication and intimacy that is created with a well-thought-out menu, practical furnishings and strategically placed landscaping.

It is the place to go for a relaxing meal or an evening of drinks and good times. Don’t let the summer escape without a visit.

Cecelia’s Ristorante

Where: 716 Elmwood Ave.

Scene: Couples, groups and singles enjoying the hip Elmwood Village.

Dress: Stylish summer dresses and capris for the ladies, summer business casual for the guys.

Specials: Monday Martini Mania, half-price martinis and appetizer specials at the bar from 4 to 8 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday half-price martinis at the bar from 4 to 6 p.m.

Hours: Opens at 4 p.m. Monday; opens at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Extras: Sunday brunch; lunch is served Tuesday through Saturday; and dinner served daily. Full dinner menu offered on the patio.

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