Food Porn: Bistro Europa’s “Velvet Hammer”

We’ll admit that because of Buffalo Eats we occasionally get invited to events or dinners that the normal “civilian foodie” isn’t aware of. Becoming more familiar with the people who are doing really awesome things in Buffalo’s culinary scene has made for some incredible experiences. Chef Steve Gedra (fellow Quaker alumni, locavore, and all around awesome guy) is one of those people. Recently we’ve gotten to know each other after doing some serious drinking at an underground cocktail event and recording an episode of Eat It Up (to be released on 7/17). Recently, he offered to prepare Alli and I his infamous meal, The Velvet Hammer, which at the moment is invite only and not found on their normal menu.

We walked into the restaurant on a Thursday night with no real idea of what we were going to eat. But anyone who’s dined at Bistro Europa or has met Steve can assume that there will be a lot of local ingredients, a lot of pork and a lot of fun/creative dishes. As Alli and I sat in the restaurant, we realized that we haven’t written anything about the place since our first visit in 2009. That was before Steve and his wife Ellen bought the restaurant and shaped the menu into their own vision (also, that was very early into the life of Buffalo Eats, so forgive the quality of the review).

Alli and I were both excited and nervous for our meal, everyone we had talked to about the Velvet Hammer said that it was fun and we should prepare our stomachs as best we could. Without any menu’s in front of us, we blindly went into our meal and left our fate for the night in Steve’s hands.

The meal started off with Carmelo’s Cracklin’s (gallery), some nice house made pork rinds that were incredibly crispy and matched perfectly with my beer. They were light and airy but still crunchy and salty, really easy to snack on while we waited for the courses to begin. Both Alli and I were nervous about eating too much so we didn’t finish the entire basket. Next on the menu for the night was House Cured T-Meadow Ham Croquettes over a Romesco sauce (pictured above). These small crispy fried balls were really fantastic. The inside had a nice creamy center of potato with a strong ham flavor throughout which paired wonderfully with the savory and slightly sweet sauce.

The T-Meadow pork continued to come out of the kitchen with the next course of Pork Tongue Reubens with Duck Fat Fries (gallery). Steve called them ‘perfect french fries’ when he brought out the plates. I’ve tried beef tongue tacos here and there but this was my first pork tongue experience, the meat had a really rich flavor and a wonderful texture. The reubens were grilled perfectly, the bread had a nice crispy and buttery exterior but wasn’t overly toasted, not to mention the home-made rye bread was delicious. Alli is the quite the french fry connoisseur and can verify the “perfect-ness” of these french fries, the duck fat gave a little extra flavor and the fry itself had a crispy exterior with an incredibly creamy interior.

What came next was one of the more adventurous things we’ve had in quite some time. Steve brought out Pork Kidneys (above, again from T-Meadow) that were roasted in leaf lard, along with Asparagus (from Oles’ Farm) on top of Buckewheat Polenta and a Beet/Rhubarb puree. There was a lot going on this plate and trying kidney was a first for both Alli and myself. The flavor and textures weren’t exactly familiar but nothing too crazy. The kidney actually had quite a smooth texture, which wasn’t expected, and combined with the lard that melted in your mouth, was a good, albeit interesting, combo. The asparagus was cooked just right and had a great flavor, especially paired with the sweet beet/rhubarb puree.

The kidney’s ended our pork journey, next up was Painted Meadow Rabbit Rillette (pictured top) served with more house made Rye and Radish Smorrebrod (butter and bread). The rillette was actually topped with duck fat and was maybe my favorite dish of the evening. Spreading this rich and fatty duck fat (with the consistency of butter) along with rabbitt ‘pate’ on delicious house made bread was just over the top. Both Alli and I were starting to get full from the meal and doubting if we could continue but it was this decadent dish that made us push our limits and keep eating. The final course before dessert was a Live Diver Scallop (it was shucked less then 24 hours before hand, so technically still ‘alive’) on the 1/2 shell along with some MAP Watercress (gallery). The flavor was crazy, more intense then any other scallop I’ve tried before. This scallop was also served with it’s roe (the red stuff) and biting into that felt like I had literally taken a bite out of the ocean. Probably not an experience for everyone but a flavor/texture that I’ve never tried before.

We finished the meal with some desserts that luckily you can normally find on Bistro’s menu and made by Steve’s wife Ellen, who is the Pastry Chef for the restaurant. When the night began we looked at the chalk board with that day’s dessert menu, Alli had her hopes set on trying the Ricotta Doughnuts (pictured above). When they were placed at our table she quickly grabbed them and barely allowed me to have a bite, when I finally did I thought they were almost magical. Perfectly fried and still fresh and warm, the crunchy outside with a soft and chewy inside was amazing and the ricotta gave them a great tangy flavor. The dish became even better when paired with a nice cold Chocolate/Raspberry Ice Milk along with warm doughnuts. Part 2 of dessert was Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (gallery, one of my favorite desserts) with Pineapple Mint Ice Cream, another fantastic dessert that I gladly forced myself to eat as much as possible of.

It had been too long since we last wrote a proper review on Bistro Europa and I was very happy to go back and see first hand the magic Steve has been doing. We’ve long promoted Bistro and what they were doing for Buffalo’s culinary scene and after this meal I can now definitely say that Bistro Europa would be on my short list of best restaurants in the area. You might not be able to go to the restaurant and have your own Velvet Hammer, but even if you just go and try some small plates (the menu is very affordable) and desserts and I guarantee you’ll walk away very happy.

Photo Gallery:


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