Now that restaurants can let you sit down to eat, I’ll be back at a table soon enough.
Before climbing on the train back to normal, though, I’d like to praise the peculiar joys of takeaway dining. Inspired by the work of two talented young chefs, Michael Thill at 100 Acres and Nathaniel Beardsley of Billy Club, I’d like to put in a word for buying dinner from a restaurant, driving it home and eating it on your own table. There’s worse excuses for a drive with someone who makes good company.
Your own plates, your own silverware, your own decor. Do you want Daft Punk blasting so loud it’s shaking the picture frames as you spoon smoked potato salad into your companion’s mouth? Be your guest.
Fill in the blank with your surroundings of choice. Maybe the back deck has a view of the creek, or the couch has a view of the series you’ve been bingeing with that special someone.
No rules, just right, for real.
100 Acres at Hotel Henry, 444 Forest Ave. (882-1970)
Maybe 100 Acres’ fried chicken basket ($35) would have tasted better sitting inside Hotel Henry’s historic walls. The stone benches on the south side of the soaring Medina sandstone towers had an even better view. All I can tell you is that even after a 45-minute drive, that craggy four-piece of Oles Farm chicken would have made a splendid picnic anywhere.
— Buffalo News Food (@BuffaloFood) June 19, 2020
Plentiful poultry, moist to the bone, could be enhanced with drizzles of local honey or chile-spiked maple syrup. A pair of savory lacquered biscuits, their layers easily pulled apart into buttery strata, served up in-between bites from the other hand. Pastry Chef Jenn Batt's baked goods are, well, great.
If you’re feeding a crowd, barbecue kits – a cornucopia of side dishes, cook-it-yourself meat and a house-baked loaf of bread – are a huge value. Not just abundant servings, but quality ingredients, many from local farms, transformed smartly.
Two hefty links, about a pound of smoky merguez lamb sausage, led off one $40 assortment. While the meat was finishing on the grill, we decked the table with the other dishes.
We ate with our eyes first. Puckery, crunchy kohlrabi sauerkraut decked in pale blue chive blossoms, a salad of sprightly mixed lettuces, and a formidable salad of chickpeas, pickled red onion, olives, mint, preserved lemon and feta cheese were three fresh offerings in family-sized servings.
Smoked fingerling potatoes tossed in yogurt dressing, green allium chiffonade and sprinkled with crimson sumac, was fetching and flavorful. Baked beans with smoked pork was lush, a mixture of navy and kidney beans. Then a cup of vibrantly garlicky tzatziki fortified with pickled shredded rutabaga, my new favorite use for the jumbo turnip.
Plus a terrific loaf of freshly baked sourdough bread. I mean, really. This was dinner for four carnivores and a couple of vegetarians.
A $30 vegetarian meal included the tzatziki, kraut, Oles Farm asparagus, buttery green olives and puck-sized falafel patties. My favorite was the freshly baked flatbread covered in the thyme-sumac-sesame mixture called zaatar and fired until the herbs crisp. It accompanied earthy hummus decked with pepitas, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds, with another healthy shake of sumac.
Billy Club, 228 Allen St (331-3047)
A few miles south, Billy Club’s Beardsley found more ways to leverage sparkling-fresh produce to our advantage.
Oles beets ($8) escaped the gravitational pull of routine on a cloud of cilantro yogurt, the crunch of savory granola and bittersweet citrus caramel from grapefruit supremes brûléed with a torch.
Oles spinach and kale lay the foundation for an uncommon Caesar salad ($10). The soft-boiled egg brought a yolky unctuousness. Its breath of the sea, subtler than insistent anchovy, came from a shower of black flakes: squid ink crouton.
Chicken thighs Buffalo style ($18) took time-honored flavors and recast them in distinctive forms. Carrot-sweetened hot sauce, blue cheese mousse and celery salt let the eater choose how assertively to season the bread expanse of crispy panko-coated chicken thighs.
Get the fried potatoes ($5), craggy bronzed chunks with shallot and pickled red onion. For another $11, they’ll throw in a burger of grass-fed Plato Dale beef on house-baked brioche bun.
Consider housemade tortellini in chicken broth (10/$20), filled with parsnip, mushroom and alliums when I visited. Or anything with mole verde, a pungent, verdant paste of nuts, spices, chiles and herbs that makes everything better – like roasted Oles carrots ($8) with queso fresco.
If I had more room that trout ($22) with pickle brine fries and lemon caper mustard had my eye.
Thill and Beardsley are giving everyone excellent reasons to eat their vegetables, and appreciate the work of local farmers. I’m looking forward to coming back to see what these chefs do with a full harvest to properly exploit. There’s so much we have to look forward to, besides just sitting down.
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