Let’s say you buy a National Hockey League team, and still have lots of money left. So much you can buy a National Football League team and still take a double-rink hockey complex with garage and high-rise hotel out of petty cash. Heck, build it next to the hockey arena.
It wouldn’t be complete without a big restaurant, of course, because everybody’s gotta eat – and drink – and you want to keep guests happy, and their credit cards from straying. Thus was 716 Food and Sport begat, as a convenience for people drawn to the corner of Washington and Scott streets by forces other than the lure of fine cuisine.
If you view 716 as a decent place to tank up before a game, it does fine. If you go there for the dining experience, you deserve two minutes for unsportsfanlike conduct.
You’ll have longer than two minutes to ponder where you went wrong if you ask for a table an hour before an event. If you want to eat at 716 before a home Sabres game, arrive at least two hours before face-off. We asked for a table for four at 4:30 p.m., and were seated at 5 p.m. before a 7 p.m. game. (Reservations are available for groups of eight or more.)
[Read last week's restaurant review on Scotch 'N Sirloin]
As a place to watch a game on television, 716 overshadows standard sports bars. Custom turquoise bartops, mimicking skate-carved ice, add a stylish glow to the scene. I couldn’t find one seat among its 360 without adequate television sightlines. The second-floor tables with glorious wall-to-wall views of the 38-foot mega-screen are among the best digital spectator seats in town. Televisions in sports bar bathrooms are almost standard now, but 716 has taken the next step, embedding televisions in its bathroom mirrors.
The sound level is punishing when the place is full, and standing bar customers crowd neighboring tables. But when the beer started arriving I didn’t care as much. Half of the 18 taps were filled with local brews.
The menu covers the standard Buffalo tavern wings, sandwiches and burgers before ranging upscale. There’s a kale Parmesan salad ($10.99), a N.Y. strip steak topped with Maytag blue cheese ($28.99) and a whole chicken roasted on a can of beer, served with cornbread and Buffalo mac and cheese ($26.99).
That kale salad and that chicken were two of the best things we ate, transcending sports bar norms. The salad had plenty of chopped fresh greenery, augmented with green protein in the form of edamame, plus chickpeas, tender sliced chicken breast and lots of shaved grana padano cheese. A bracing lemon vinaigrette gave it a needed acid jolt.
That chicken, though. Covered in barbecue rub, it arrived slightly singed from a too-long stay in the oven, but that injury was only skin deep. Inside was some of the most moist poultry I have encountered anywhere. When I started to carve it for sharing, so much juice flowed I thought I’d need a mop. I wanted to drop the utensils and tear it apart Cro-Magnon style, but there were witnesses.
The honey-covered cornbread could have used some of the moisture, but the blue cheese coleslaw was fresh and crunchy. Buffalo mac and cheese was smoky, spicy and built on firm pasta, but under-cheesed.
The Cuban sandwich ($10.99) was a hit. Thin-sliced roast pork, Sahlen’s ham, zippy pickle and Swiss cheese on a crackly-crusted loaf added up to an excellent version. A hearty flatbread with halved cherry tomatoes, chicken and avocado cream ($9.99) was another tasty reason to avoid arena food, even though the advertised crispy bacon was little in evidence.
The Homerun Combo Platter ($16.99) was a mixed bag, too. Wings were lukewarm and softening, disappointing in a place that wants to be Buffalo’s premier sports bar.
Crispy crumb-coated onion rings and eggrolls stuffed with beef on weck filling were legit fried treats, but the pizza logs on the platter were smaller than regulation size.
Desserts included a chocolate ganache sponge cake ($7.99) with salted caramel filling, dusted with crumbled sponge candy, which was a welcome sweet treat even though the sponge cake was sagging.
The standout dessert of the night was Grilled One Buffalo Stickies ($8.99), topped with Perry’s One Buffalo ice cream. In State College, Pa., where Sabres owner Terry Pegula went to college, classic diner fare includes sticky buns griddled to a golden crust. Of everything the Pegula family has brought to Buffalo, the State College sticky – available only at 716 – might be their most downright delicious addition to the neighborhood.
As puck drop approached, the place cleared out. So I’d suggest 30 minutes before face-off is a good time to arrive if you’d like to watch a home game at 716.
Our servers were game. They dealt admirably with the touchy ballet of steering full trays through jam-packed crowds of people, in an atmosphere too loud for “excuse me” to clear a path. One even showed the burst speed to chase us down outside with glasses forgotten on our second-floor table.
I would go back to 716 on a game night, for utter convenience and better beer and food than arena concessions. Just because I wish 716 was better in certain aspects doesn’t mean I’m not grateful to have it in Buffalo. I just wouldn’t expect this stay-at-home defenseman of a place to start popping water bottles, culinary-wise.
716 is a rookie with a big upside, and you know what? Rochester would love to have it on their roster.
716 Food and Sport - 7 plates (out of 10)
HarborCenter sports bar can’t be beat for convenience, TV watching comforts.
WHERE: 7 Scott St. (855-4716)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $7.99-$19.99; sandwiches,
pizzas and salads, $4.99-$13.99; entrees, $13.99-$28.99.
PARKING: Street/pay garage.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.