Have you, or someone you love, begun to exhibit symptoms of advanced beer nerdery? Do you keep a list of beers you’ve tried, or found yourself discussing the merits of varietal hops without a frosty brew in hand? Then I would prescribe research before you set foot in Griffon Gastropub. It sells almost 100 beers on tap, from Pabst Blue Ribbon through a United Nations of world beers and a curio cabinet of American esoterica like Anderson Valley’s The Kimmie, The Yink & The Holy Gose. Give the task of picking a flight the attention it deserves, and you risk being interrupted by tablemates making rude noises about “eating.” So study the list at thegriffonpub.com before you go. Call it cramming for the bar. ¶ Griffon Gastropub is an amusement park for beer nerds. Like any rollercoaster junkie with a one-day pass to Six Flags, they should start with a plan. The place takes care of its taps, too, with a full-time keg wrangler cleaning draft lines every day.
Flights of four six-ounce glasses arrived on boards labeled by bartenders, not always legibly. We were encouraged to mark up our lists, and take them home for record keeping.
Yet the bigger surprise here was the food. At the new Griffon in Clarence, the menu is broad and deep, stretching from tavern grub like wings and pizza logs to fine dining territory, with entrees including sea bass, filet mignon and beef short ribs over risotto. Owner Ken Scibetta, who recognized me, designed most of the dishes. He is determined to give comfort food a twist, and shows a sense of adventure.
A wild game burger ($15) draws from an extended menagerie, including elk and ostrich; the night we visited, it was made with yak meat. Most dishes have a distinguishing feature – fried calamari ($11) gets a Vietnamese spin, freshened with cilantro, peanuts, pickled carrot and daikon matchsticks, with a chile-sesame mayonnaise dip, and the fry job was first-rate.
The house mac-and-cheese ($14, available as a side), based on smoked Gouda, attracts people who have fallen under its spell since meeting it at the first Griffon, which opened in Niagara Falls in 2013. Corn fritters ($6.50) were fried puffs loaded with fresh kernels, soft on the verge of undercooked, but maple butter sauce hypnotized me so I didn’t care.
French fries are taken seriously here. House-cut regular fries were well-cooked, though lacking in promised garlic flavor. Thinner sweet potato fries glazed with honey-butter were spot on.
The adventurousness sometimes led to mixed results, but not quite regrets. Duck wings ($9) tossed with sweet Asian chili sauce were soft, not crispy, difficult to distinguish from oversized chicken wings. A fried chicken and waffle sandwich ($14) was stuffed with a juicy piece of chicken, jalapeno coleslaw, bacon, cheddar cheese and spicy maple mayonnaise. It was a blur of flavors, and too much to carry to one’s mouth clamped between tender waffles, but the amiability of properly cooked chicken and fresh waffles left it likeable.
An oyster po-boy ($14) left me similarly conflicted. Excellent fried oysters, fresh bun, bracing slaw, topped with sliced tomatoes and an entire pickle split lengthwise. But it was impossible to pick up and eat without ending up messier than the runner-up at a county fair pie eating contest. A side of charred asparagus was well-balanced between fire and freshness.
All entrees I tried were solid, some outstanding. Chilean seabass ($27) was well-seared and moist, its Thai curry sauce well-metered for Clarence, leaving me wishing only for more baby bok choy.
Filet mignon ($34) was terrific, resting on whipped potatoes and topped with smoky bourbon-bacon butter and a crackly tangle of fried sweet potato threads. Dungeness crab legs ($34) were plentiful and backstopped with a dunk-worthy broth of beer, butter and garlic. Short rib risotto ($22) was fork-tender and posted on farro risotto, a heartier grain choice I applauded, even before it was augmented with cubes of roasted butternut squash and sautéed shiitake mushrooms.
Dessert did not maintain the momentum of ambitious housemade cuisine. Towering slices of banana caramel and chocolate cake ($7) came from Lewiston’s Village Bake Shop, with a pistachio layer cake finding most favor for its nuttiness. I was underwhelmed by the other dessert, a platter of sugar-tossed fried dough nuggets called Pillows of Love ($6). Ask for the sauces on the side. You’ll be glad you did when ramekins of vanilla, raspberry, chocolate and caramel sauces arrive.
Despite the eye-popping beer list, don’t pigeonhole this Clarence newcomer as a drinks specialist. It offers a lineup of above-average dishes with invitations to adventure at every turn. In hockey terms, the Griffon Gastropub is a solid two-way forward who can not only score, but make me wish Buffalo had more gutsy players like him on the roster.
Griffon Gastropub - 8
A 100-tap beer list and creative food force diners to make tough choices.
WHERE: 5445 Transit Road, Clarence (580-3701, griffongastropub.com)
HOURS: 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 to midnight Friday and Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and salads, $6.50-$14; burgers and sandwiches, $9.50-$15; entrees, $14-$34.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.