If you haven’t been to Imperial Pizza on Abbott Road in South Buffalo in a while, you may find yourself doing a double take while passing by. “Didn’t that place used to be a little shack?” You might think to yourself. “Wasn’t there barely enough room for the counter, and maybe a picnic table or two outside?”
That was then. Imperial has undergone an extensive renovation this past year, transforming from a cramped neighborhood takeout pizza joint into a sprawling neighborhood bar, restaurant … and takeout pizza joint. It opened in February, though the new patio area didn’t get a chance to shine until very recently (thanks, unpredictable Buffalo weather).
The new Imperial Pizza retains all that was great — like the quintessentially doughy, cheesy and delicious Buffalo-style pizza, complete with charred, grease-filled pepperoni cups — and added lots of room to relax and enjoy that pizza onsite, plus a massive bar in the middle of the room with a multitude of options on tap.
On our recent visit, the restaurant space was crowded with several large families on celebratory outings as well as couples and smaller groups just out for a bite and a beer. The bar area — separated from the larger seating area by a half wall — was busy too, stools filled with people enjoying the 16 brews on draft, plus a hefty bottled selection and half dozen wine options.
[Related: Pizza and wings - Buffalo's perfect combo?]
A mix of country and classic rock piped in through the speakers, and multiple TVs were set on mute around the bar, and the restaurant. I don’t think there’s a single seat in the house, including those on the patio, not in prime viewing distance of a TV.
The menu has largely stayed the same, which is a huge plus. Imperial has always done Buffalo staples like wings, pizza, subs and deep-fried sides well, and they stuck with what they know, which equals-high quality food and a casual, fun atmosphere. There also are sandwiches and burgers available, as well as daily and dine-in only specials.
Dave ordered a triple-decker turkey club sandwich ($8.28), which was so tall it proved a puzzle as to how he would physically take a bite. When he did manage to sink his teeth in, the classic flavor combination didn't let him down.
We also decided on a side order of jalapeno poppers ($7.68), which came to us straight from the fryer with a side of ranch, oozing molten cheese and a kick of hotness with every bite. The generous portion of 10 poppers meant I got to take a half-dozen home to enjoy as a snack for later.
After much hemming and hawing over the many delicious options listed (and feeling a slight betrayal for forgoing the classic pizza and an order of crispy wings), I decided to go with the white specialty pizza. There are 11 specialty options, but the garlic-y, olive oil base along with tomatoes, onions and whatever other veggies I desired was calling my name.
Something a little different about Imperial's pizza sizes is that you don't order a personal, medium or large — you order a quarter (three slices), half (six slices) or a whole, standard-sized pizza. My quarter specialty choice was $7.50 — a whole cheese and pepperoni costs $22.
We topped off our meal with refreshing glasses of EBC Blueberry Wheat for me and Flying Bison Rusty Chain for Dave, (both $7.50 for 24-ounce pours).
Imperial’s new, expanded space benefits from tons of natural light and a classic pizza parlor color scheme of red, black and white. Two garage-style doors open up to the patio area, while the main doors open up to Imperial’s original take out counter—meaning those who are just picking their order up to go can do so just as easily as they could pre-renovation.
An added bonus is the new, large parking lot, and the block-and-a-half walk to the Dairy Queen stand; nothing finishes off a summer meal in Buffalo quite like a soft-serve twist with sprinkles.
1035 Abbott Road, 825-3636.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily.