The Place reopened quietly on April 12, and when we arrived around 6 p.m., the bar was already full.
We could see that because – and those who remember the cramped, dark bar room will rejoice – the new owners have opened the place up completely. The wall dividing the bar and dining area has become a half wall, letting the windows to the parking lot side illuminate the whole room. And what a difference.
The Place is now an open, airy, inviting spot, with the same old-world charm evident in the green plaid wallpaper and shaded wall sconces, but with updated woodwork and bar accoutrements bringing it into this century.
But how’s the food? Let me put it this way: I’ll vote for the candidate who supports a world in which a skillet of macaroni and cheese is an appetizer. At The Place, it is, and diners have a choice of traditional ($10), braised pork belly ($12), shrimp ($12) or mushroom and truffle toppings ($13).
We went traditional – this is a starter, after all – and that skillet arrived piping hot with a smattering of bread crumbs and herbs. The Place’s version is creamy and slightly sweet, very reminiscent of the stuff mom used to make. I’ve never seen the noodles they use before, and I’ve seen my share of noodles, but those rotund little babies soaked up the sauce perfectly. We had to wrap most of it to save room for entrees.
Also on the appetizer side was chicken liver pate ($8) with candied kumquats, mustard, baguette and gherkin pickles. The pate came in a twee little jar with clarified, salted butter on top, to offset the rich sweetness of the pate beneath.
While we wished for more, slightly less burnt baguettes, the pate was smooth, rich and beautifully complemented by those bright little kumquats and a healthy schmear of whole-grain mustard. The menu boasts house-made pickles as well, and we hope those will replace the jarred version that arrived on our plate, in the future.
On the entree list, The Place regulars will recognize the Flynnie’s Thinnie ($9), a ham, onion and swiss on rye. The Place now uses co-op BreadHive’s bread for its sandwiches, a nice local touch.
We decided to branch out and ordered the pork schnitzel ($15) and mushroom and lentil pot pie ($13), one of The Place’s selection of vegetarian options. The menu also notes gluten free and dinners that can be made gluten free, for those with food sensitivities.
The schnitzel came with some of butteriest brown butter spaetzle we’ve ever tried, a squeeze of lemon for flavor and a teensy cup of apple sauce. It was tender and moist inside, but inconsistently salted and the slightest bit greasy. That didn’t stop us from finishing both generous slices, though.
That pot pie came out piping hot in its own terrine with a heaping pile of arugula and field greens with vinaigrette. After starting with pasta and pate, we were happy to see some rabbit food arrive. Under a flaky, buttery crust, the pot pie was stuffed with button mushrooms and creamy lentils, studded with chunks of carrot and potato.
While my dining companion found it a little under-seasoned, the lentil fanatic who ordered it was happy to take the rest home for lunch. Even carnivores will enjoy the meaty mushrooms and rich sauce in this meatless twist on comfort food.
Other menu options include steak two ways, fried chicken with house-made barbecue sauce, wings and a selection of salads, spanning the gamut from casual to upscale.
Only beer and wine by the glass was available when we visited, although the waiter assured us specialty cocktails are on the way within a week or so. The list has several local options on both sides, which is almost a must, given Buffalo’s recent brewery and distillery boom.
While we ate, an elderly man sat down at the table next to us and ordered a dry martini. He turned to the waiter as it was delivered and said, “I’ve been coming to The Place for 40 years and it’s never looked better. I guess I’ll keep coming!”
After tasting the new, significantly improved menu and enjoying its bright, cheery facelift, we may give that record a run.
Info: The Place; 229 Lexington Ave.; 882-7522.
Lizz Schumer is the marketing manager for Resurgence Brewing Company and writes about food and whimsy for a variety of publications. She can be found online at lizzschumer.com, facebook.com/authorlizzschumer, @eschumer on Twitter and @lizzschumer on Instagram.