The menu at the newest Griffon Gastropub is the most adventurous in town. That town being East Aurora, it admittedly did not have that far to go.
When it opened in the space that was previously Medici House, and Theas, and before that, Tantalus, Griffon brought a style of dining that has so far been successful in Niagara Falls and Clarence, one that incorporates menu-reading as a source of entertainment and education.
In East Aurora, Griffon has brought kangaroo meatloaf and alligator sausage to Main Street. Its madcap menu and preposterously broad tap list – up to 72 beers and ciders – can make deciding what’s for dinner harder than average. But Griffon offers a fair trade.
With that many choices, it’s also uncommonly likely to present something for everyone.
Owners Ed Webster and Ken Scibetta have taken down interior walls on the barroom side for a roomier feel, and lightened up the dining room, which now sports booths as well as tables. The bar, lengthened to 41 feet, can accommodate crowds interested in diversions on the six television screens.
The draft beer list reads like the notes to a survey course in modern brewing, with chapters on lagers, ales, stouts, porters, nitros, hops, wheats, Belgians, fruits, sours, ciders and locals. Each is available in four sizes, making assembling a flight of 6-ounce adventures a hoot for beer tourists.
The more interesting side of Griffon East Aurora's jumbo menu card is replete with Asian-styled appetizers, dinner salads, big burgers and other adventurous sandwiches, plus a raft of entrees. The other side is the pub menu, offering a more predictable array of wings, tenders, nachos, and a Friday fish fry.
Griffon offers the ubiquitous fried calamari, but in an original way. Squid marinated in ginger beer, tossed in peppery flour and flash-fried, was topped with a bright Asian-flavored salad of pickled red and yellow bell peppers, carrot and scallion ($11). The vegetables' crunchy sourness and the squid's crispy coating made for a compulsively munchable dish.
Banh mi nachos ($10), another crossover powered by Asian notions, was the consensus delight of the night. It was a heap of crispy, ungreasy fried wontons, piled with a generous heap of Vietnamese pulled pork, more pickled bell peppers and carrots, scallions, candied jalapenos and sesame-sriracha aioli under a drift of cilantro. Lighter and livelier than most leaden nacho mounds, it demanded drinks and conversation to accompany it.
Duck salad ($15), a dinner-sized ensemble act of greens enhanced with spheres of crumb-coated brie, dried cherries, walnuts and fresh blackberries was doing just fine until I got to the star, slices of smoked pepper-crusted duck breast. All I could taste was black pepper.
I wouldn't have ordered smoked salmon poke ($15) if I was wearing my classes. Poke is usually cubed fish in a sauce with a modicum of vegetation. The fine print clearly indicated dressed smoked salmon over field greens with sushi rice and avocado, mango and cucumber. It fit that description, so my only legitimate quibble is that the mango was unripe.
At entrée time, our party was hungry for adventure, so we hopped on the kangaroo meatloaf ($26), and snapped up the alligator andouille sausage po-boy sandwich ($14). We were even game for the elk burger ($15).
Wrapped in bacon, the meatloaf was napped in deeply savory demiglace, nestled up against buttery potatoes and crowned with a cloud of crispy onion. It was delicious. The only thing that could have made it better was if it tasted different enough to merit its premium price. Same goes for that alligator sausage – smoky, spicy, with vinegar slaw, remoulade and tomato, on good bread, but its exotic nature was lost on me.
That elk burger certainly tasted untamed, though. Cooked accurately its venison-like deep note shone through the garlic aioli and Swiss cheese.
Chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto and caramelized onions, wrapped in phyllo and served over smoked gouda mac and cheese ($18) was creative comfort food. The chicken was moist enough, the mac justifying its fame at the other Griffons, and the garlicky broccoli rabe was just right, tender-crispy with a hint of char.
I booed the wahoo ($26), though. The fish's elaborate frame – black rice, edamame, mango, avocado slices fanned across the plate – couldn't make up for its dry chewiness. The underseasoned rice and crunchy, underripe mango left me sour.
Our server was polite, but arrived with armloads of entrees before clearing a table full of appetizer dishes. When we sought watering after tucking into our entrees, we waited while she chatted with a bartender.
When it came to dessert, our server offered one: Pillows of Love ($6), bite-sized doughnuts served warm, with vanilla, raspberry, caramel and chocolate sauces. What could go wrong? Well, you could spray all of the sauces on at once, Jackson Pollock style, instead of offering them on the side for dipping, Clarence Griffon style.
Did it stop me from eating my share? No. Fried dough in mongrel syrup is still fried dough.
Griffon East Aurora had room for improvement the night I visited, but it's still a unique Southtowns outpost for eating and drinking. Given its successful Asian-inflected dishes, solid burgers, and expansive menus, it's a place to consider when you want to get a little wild.
Griffon Gastropub East Aurora – 7 plates (out of 10)
Vast food and drink menu invites exploration
Where: 634 Main St., East Aurora, 714-9301
Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday, Saturday
Price range: Appetizers, $7-$14; sandwiches, $6.50-$15; entrees, $12-$31.
Parking: Lot behind building, street.
Gluten-free: Many dishes, gluten-free buns available.