In the Western New York restaurant Class of 2015 yearbook, Allen Burger Venture already has won “Most Likely to Have a Heavy Metal Video Break Out Right on the Bar.” A white-tiled wall framed with kinks of metal pipe is festooned with enough edged and tined implements for a horror movie barnyard, including enough meat cleavers to make Jason Voorhees’ fingers twitch. ¶ Mike Shatzel wanted a bar with world-class beer and burgers that go to 11, so all that heavy metal fits right into his plan. Dinner there recently had me happily full but feeling old as I left griping about the lack of lumbar support, and what kids these days like to call “restaurants.” ¶ Shatzel grew up busing tables at Coles, which his brother David Jr. now runs, but he’s better known for opening Blue Monk. Shatzel’s focus on curating craft beer helped put Blue Monk, and thus Buffalo, on the national craft beer bar bucket list for many craft acolytes.
He’s opening his first brewery in the former Faherty’s on Elmwood Avenue, with Rocco Termini as partner-landlord, and has one or two other places in the works.
Allen Burger Venture is overseen by general manager Johny Chow, who was a heavy metal bassist with bands like Stone Sour before commanding this somewhat smaller stage. The tables look like something blacksmiths knocked together between pints, and the walls are papered with album covers – good stuff all the way, not cheap thrift-store-reject art by the yard. If Blue Monk is Shatzel’s main event, Allen Burger Venture is his after-gig spot.
Which means that it’s a noisy, convivial space, more a place to kick back and jaw with friends over drinks than a dining experience. The menu is narrower than Coles or Blue Monk. A list of burgers with attitude or foreign accents, calamari, fries, rings and tots, a few obligatory salads.
The Olde English 800 beer-battered onion rings ($8) were Michelin tires of puffy batter, with wide onion ribbons that fell out when bitten. I abandoned them, and turned to the housemade tots ($7), well-done little scoops of shredded potato browned up and served with tangy applesauce and smoky bacon-scallion sour cream.
Our server forgot our poutine ($14) and confessed whole-heartedly. Assured we still wanted it, he returned in a few minutes with a plate loaded with fries, gravy and cheese curds that should have been warmer. The gravy wasn’t hot enough to melt the cheese curds. Described as “foie gravy,” its meek flavor was reminiscent of milk gravy, though the seared cubes of rich liver scattered over the top added welcome mineral offalness.
The fries were house-cut and well cooked, though they had lost some of their crispiness by the time they arrived. Truffle fries ($2 surcharge) were a worthy splurge, with a judicious drop of truffle oil, Parmesan cheese and garlic mayo for dipping.
Calamari ($11) was a smash hit, served with the new standard dip of sweet chili sauce, this time jacked with lime. The fry job was mic-drop-perfect, crunchy all the way to the end of the plate, while the tender squid offered no regrets.
The burgers were above average, and so were their prices. The No. 7 ($15) arrived covered by an avalanche of Colorado pork green chili. It was a knife-and-fork job that successfully united a grilled beef patty and mild but flavorful stew. There was no mistaking my lamb burger ($15) for beef, with a hint of pink in the musky meat, as I requested. The sharpness of its feta and arugula topping was augmented with slices of preserved lemon, which was a smart idea but cut too thick, so it overwhelmed bites.
The turkey burger ($14), with manchego cheese and poached pears, put the lie to the notion that turkey burgers are dry and boring. The glamorous headliner was the No. 9 foie gras burger ($21) oozing with a generous amount of seared goose liver, cambozola cheese and onion marmalade. One bite and I had to confront my fear of an untimely demise. “Death!” screamed Theoden, and the calvary charged headlong into a second bite.
Desserts ($5) are compact but tasty and effective, ice cream scoops enrobed in chocolate and other flavors. We saw cookies and cream, Amaretto nut, mint chocolate chip and peanut butter.
Allen Burger Venture’s priorities appear to be scene first, then fine beer and an exquisite whiskey collection, and then whatever food fits. That seems to be a winning combination so far, but it’s uncomfortable for the hard of hearing, or the night-blind, in a room that started dim and got dimmer as the night progressed. Or those who avoid spending 90 minutes sitting on a backless stool, like those at most table seats. The bar seats have backs, which didn’t seem important to note until I ended up grateful my table was close enough to pull my stool over and lean against a wall.
That makes me sound like a cranky codger. Fair enough. Allen Burger Venture is not for everybody. That is for the best. If you saw your dad air-guitaring his way through your favorite song, singing every word, how cool would that be?
Allen Burger Venture - 7 plates
Noisy heavy metal-styled barroom serves fine beer, killer burgers.
WHERE: 175 Allen St. (768-0386)
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, salads $7-$14; burgers, $11-$21.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.