Big Ditch Brewing Co. is one of downtown Buffalo's newest hangout havens, a two-story space at the corner of East Huron and Ellicott whose garage-door walls open to the breeze on temperate days.
That has helped keep it packed on summer evenings. The fact that the place serves a half-dozen or more beers brewed on premises doesn't hurt. When I stopped by for dinner recently we were told there was a 45-minute wait, but managed to get a table in 35. The hostess took my cell phone number, and kept me updated via text message, the first time I've seen this effective system.
I ordered a flight of five beers ($10), enjoying the Hayburner IPA, Last Blacksmith smoked stout, and the Blonde Peach, a Belgian summer ale that was enjoyable even if I ended up wondering if it was supposed to taste like peaches. A special Toasted Almond pale ale tasted like almond extract to me, making me think of Christmas cookies, and I wished for spice, like nutmeg or ginger, to round out the flavor.
The food menu is brief and tavern-like, with snacks, wings, fries and a few entrees.
The wings ($9) were large and had decent flavor, but I like mine crisp, and these weren't. The onion and sage flatbread ($9) was mildly disappointing, floppy in the middle, scorched on the end. It carried a generous payload of sweet caramelized onions and provolone, but I didn't taste the advertised sage.
The pretzels were enjoyable, puffy and shiny and festooned with jumbo salt grains. Dunking hunks into the mustard and cheese sauce ramekins, I wondered, how much more do you need to eat in a beer joint? Should the food at brewery be held to a different standard, less picky, under the assumption that most people were there to drink first?
Strictly speaking, antojitos are a class of Mexican snack food, mainly associated with street vendors. Here, antojitos ($9) are flour tortilla triangles stuffed with a seasoned cheese mixture and deep-fried. True to the spirit of the name, they were an amiable little snack, with sour cream dip and a bit of fresh tomato salsa that even a dried-out lime wedge couldn't derail.
The "blackened crawfish" mac and cheese entree special ($15) no doubt contained some cheese, but did not exhibit the enveloping creaminess a "mac and cheese" typically entails. It was a tasty jumble of cavatappi pasta, tomatoes, onions and red peppers, with crawfish. There were enough crawfish, but any "blackening" process they may have undergone - typically involving abundant black pepper and other spices, and a smoky pan - was entirely lost on me.
This was a decent dish that did not match its menu description. Call it a creamy crawfish pasta and I would've been satisfied.
The other entree, pretzel-crusted chicken ($16), was terrific. The tender chicken cutlet had a well-browned coating that stuck to, and enhanced, each bite. The compound butter added a rich note, and the mashed potatoes underneath were well flavored with homey lumps. Their richness made me crave a vegetable counterpoint, ably provided by fresh yellow and zucchini squash, sauteed long enough to tenderize them slightly, briefly enough to avoid mushiness.
In some places I would agitate for the addition of dessert, but Big Ditch Brewing Co. is a new place that is still finding its legs. Overall, my meal was decent, with room for improvement.
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