On a brisk Friday late afternoon, three friends and I searched downtown for a spot to grab food and drink before the Mumford and Sons concert at KeyBank Center. Big Ditch Brewing Company was packed to the gills, Deep South Taco was overflowing, and Tappo projected a 90-minute wait.
So we gave up our search and began hiking toward the venue. Tight on time, we had forfeited the food hunt but decided to stop by Pearl Street Grill & Brewery for a quick beer before heading to the show. At the entrance, a sign suggested concertgoers venture downstairs to Brawler’s Back-Alley Deli, with which I was unfamiliar.
When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I was shocked to discover a new layer to a building I had been in so many times before. A versatile basement extension of the Pearl Street complex, Brawler’s is lined with wooden booths, standing tables, TVs and arcade games. It feels a lot like an Elks Lodge.
A deli tucked away in the back serves up a wide variety of hot and cold sandwiches from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for lunch Monday through Friday and offers a full breakfast menu seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. The full-service bar sits dormant most of the time, but comes alive to sling drinks during downtown events and for banquets.
On this unplanned drop-in, Brawler’s was buzzing with pre-show drinkers and eaters. While grabbing drinks at the bar, we noticed the quickly moving deli line, then joined it and not 10 minutes later were seated at a booth, surprised and delighted by the cheeseburger ($6), Reuben ($13), turkey and ham melt ($13.50) and LEM BLT ($11) in front of us.
Acting as a kitchen for downtowners all week and as a quick-bite stop during downtown events, the deli’s fairly large menu features many satisfying, no-frills fill-ups like these plus soups ($5) and salads ($11-$12). No french fries, though, surprisingly—all sandwiches come with a side of chips, mac salad or potato salad.
On the high end of the menu are specialties like The Knuckle, ($14.25) a shaved prime rib hoagie with bacon, pepper jack cheese and banana peppers.
On a recent Friday morning, a friend and I swooped in off the foggy streets of downtown Buffalo for a quick breakfast. A sleepy-yet-buzzy scene, griddles sizzled, '80s music played fairly loudly, and one woman sat enjoying an omelet while a few others waited for to-go orders.
A tough decision between Brawler’s Breakfast ($13.50; two eggs, sausage, bacon, shaved ribeye served over home fries topped with American, Swiss and cheddar cheese and served with toast) and The Knockout ($10.50; two pancakes, two eggs, sausage or bacon and toast) swung in KO’s favor. My friend went with the Western omelet ($10; ham, peppers, onions, and American cheese). We both left full and satisfied.
During a few recent weekday afternoon stops, I’ve witnessed very few sit-down eaters here—yet the kitchen is always busy. That, combined with the availability of GrubHub and DoorDash delivery, leads me to believe most of Brawler’s business comes in the form of take-out and to-go orders.
But, for me, Brawler’s has quickly become a safe haven for a quick, filling bite downtown in an uncrowded, rich, tavern-like atmosphere.
Brawler’s Back-Alley Deli
76 Pearl St. (939-3670)
Wheelchair accessible: yes.
Gluten-free options: Salads, omelets, eggs.
Parking: street only.