WARNING: This article contains vivid descriptions of sumptuous meat unsuitable for some readers. Vegetarian discretion is advised.
We all know bacon is bad, yet from Bakersfield to Boston, we can’t get enough. Even the American flag resembles rippling strips of bacon, with a smattering of celestial stars, or are they grease splatters? America: land of the free, home of the bacon.
In Buffalo, one notable bastion of the bacon is The Century Grill. Since changing its name from the Lafayette Taproom, the Century Grill has exulted bacon, occasionally offering baskets as a bar snack to patrons. Yet only recently, with the hiring of Chris Walters as executive chef, did the Century Grill truly beatify bacon, emerging as a candidate for the title of Buffalo’s bacon temple.
Walter's goal is to cook in the style of his grandmother, satisfying and delicious without a hint of pretentiousness. Yet these bacon-centric dishes while certainly not pretentious, were prepared with the skilled hand of a chef well versed in the culinary arts. His rich gravies were crafted from roasted bone stocks. His bacon is cured in-house, imbued with strong, yet not overpowering smoke.
Walters recently let his bacon flag fly on social media, posting an ambitious, bacon-studded specials list. Like a tractor beam on my soul, it drew me to the Century Grill less than 48 hours later. After much debate our crew settled on seven dishes for three adults and a child. While ambitious, and taxing on our collective hearts, we were willing to make that sacrifice, as bacon evangelists.
The first plate to arrive was tater tot poutine, draped in rich beef gravy and melty cheese curds ($6). I love tater tots, and while lacking in bacon, the gravy was perfectly beefy, not too salty (as is de-rigueur with local poutine) and with just enough coverage as to not sog the tots. My wife also requested the sweet potato tots with a pecan crust and honey ($4.00). While not my favorite of the evening, I was outvoted by the rest of the table who found the pecan crust crunchy and wonderful.
The PBB ($10) was the most unique menu item, a sandwich of spicy peanut butter, bacon and mayonnaise. While I was doubtful that this sandwich would work, there was a synergy in these sticky-icky ingredients that was wonderful and satisfying. As the Fluffer-Nutter elevated the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the PBB could be the next step in its evolutionary chain.
My intermittently picky 11-year-old stepson Malachi joined us and insisted upon ordering the BLT ($12). For which I was thankful, as its bacon, lettuce and tomato combination showcased Century Grill’s bacon more prominently than any other dish we tried. He loved it, exclaiming this was the best BLT he has ever had.
Our server suggested we order the cider-braised pork shank ($15) which was draped in a rich cider-pork gravy and paired with sauerkraut and German potato salad. The pork shank was fork tender, the gravy sweet with apple, flavor. Surprisingly, the kraut and potato salad were both light on bacon.
Knowing that Walters featured pierogi ($11), I brought along my friend and guru of all things Polish, Roy Bakos. The pierogi were stuffed with a blend of farmer's cheese and potato, and served smothered in sautéed onions and braised purple cabbage (by request).
Bakos whole-heartedly approved of the pierogi, complimenting the texture of the dough and the filling. However, it was the braised cabbage that clearly caught his attention, strongly flavored with smoky bacon.
While the pierogi was outstanding, we were blown away by the Hot Brown ($14, bacon $3 upcharge) The Hot Brown is Louisville classic open face sandwich of turkey, bacon and Mornay sauce, rarely found north of the Mason-Dixon line.
This Hot Brown was a twist on the original, an idealized version of Thanksgiving leftovers. Walter's version consisted of turkey, stuffed with breakfast sausage bread stuffing served over white bread, smothered in a rich turkey gravy, and paired with cranberry sauce, all topped with bacon.
The turkey was tender, the gravy well-flavored, the bread soft, the bacon smoky and the sausage stuffing sublime. We paired this dish with some barrel-strength Booker's Bourbon to really nail that Kentucky flavor, leaving us truly happy, and full.
Using so many rich ingredients could easily have led to greasy, heavy dishes. Yet the dishes were paradoxically crisp, and you could almost say light. While gastropubs have trended towards duck fat frites, foie gras and the occasional bovine thymus gland, Walters embraces the simple, yet delicious. He presented us with hearty and bold dishes that were comforting and suffused with bacon essence.
With Walters at the helm, presenting bar food in Buffalo style – simple, direct and delicious – The Century Grill truly brings home the bacon.
Info: The Century Grill, 318 Pearl St., 853-6322