This has been a great couple of weeks for Western New York’s restaurant scene. On Sunday we visited Buffalo Proper and loved it. Last Thursday Chef Bruce Wieszala, one of the area’s most talented Chefs, opened up a second restaurant with the owners of Tabree called Billy Bar. And on Tuesday, Alli and I were invited to a private soft opening at Steve and Ellen Gedra’s new restaurant The Black Sheep.
We (along with what seems most of the Buffalo food-loving community) have been anxiously waiting to eat The Gedra’s food since they closed Bistro Europa in March. We knew they had some work ahead of them, rehabbing the former Golden Key Tavern on Connecticut, but I don’t think anyone realized how much work that it would be. After buying even more adjacent properties, unexpected construction costs and building a bad-ass kitchen and bar, they are finally opening to the public as of today (for walk-ins and reservations).
For starters, the place looks great. The time and work put into the renovations really paid of. Upon walking in you are immediately greeted by a long dark wooden bar that will comfortably seat at least a dozen or so people with additional seating at the adjacent wall. On this trip they had several Community Beer Work beers on draft and since Ethan Cox is organizing their beer program, they had some interesting bottles available as well. Oh, and they have Leonard Oakes Steampunk on draft. They have it on draft. They also offer a nice list of creative cocktails. So, yeah, I’d say the beverage program at the Black Sheep is definitely on point.
We were seated in the dining room (in the next room past the bar) which is roughly the size of (if not bigger than) the entire Bistro Europa restaurant (kitchen and all). They’ve increased their seating from less then 30 at Europa to 60-80 (depending on outdoor seating). The dining room tables were built by Sean Wrafter using reclaimed wood from the building itself. There is a nice patio out the back doors that I can’t wait to enjoy before it gets cold.
The Black Sheep definitely has a more refined atmosphere than Bistro Europa. Gone are the quirky pig figurines, mismatching plates and flair that lined the walls of the small Elmwood Ave. eatery. Replacing them are organized menus that are presented on planks of wood, matching plats and silverware and a more mature vibe. The food, however, has remained the same and somehow even improved. When I talked to Steve a couple weeks ago, he mentioned possibly having a ‘greatest hits’ menu for the opening. For diehard fans of Bistro Europa, they will find some of your favorites but plenty of exciting additions as well. And, not surprisingly, there is still a big focus on using local farms and lots of pork.
The meal started with some of Ellen’s bread. We immediately realized how much we missed Ellen’s baked goods (I actually thought Alli might cry with joy). There are few things better in this world then a piece of freshly baked bread and some Burro di Chianti (aka whipped pig fat). The T-Meadow Pork Confit Pierogies ($7) are some of the best in Western New York, sorry to disrespect all of the Polish grandmothers in the East Side/Cheektowaga. The dough is great, they are browned to just the right amount and the filling is out of this world. The Pork Liver Deviled Egg ($4) was presented beautifully and combined two of Alli’s favorite things, eggs and pork liver. On our next visit, we’ll be ordering at least three of those.
When I was talking to Steve about potential menu items, he mentioned that he was really excited about doing belly clams. So when we saw Fried Maine Belly Clams ($18) on the menu, I knew that we had to try them. They put to shame any deep fried seafood I’ve had in the area before. Combined with fantastically salty shoestring fries, a rich tartar sauce and fried lemon slices, this is a dish that should be devoured with a cold beer on the patio.
Our next two plates were showstoppers but for different reasons. The Potato Gnocchi ($13) was a moderately sized dish of delicate potato gnocchi with flavor combinations that we’ve never seen before. Served with pistachio pesto, peaches and gorgonzola fonduta, each bite of the pillowy soft gnocchi was different than the next. The Smoked T-Meadow Pork Chop ($32) was a plate of excess, something that Steven and Ellen have been known for in their Europa years. The Pork Chop was just gigantic. The women sitting at the table next to us literally stopped their conversation and just stared at our table for 30 seconds when it arrived. The smell from the dish was intense. The smoked pork had an incredibly juicy texture and the fat that surrounded the outside was ‘close your eyes’ decadent. If you are someone who cuts the fat off the ends of your steak, don’t order this dish. This chop is meant to be enjoyed WITH the fat (duh) and it is the most delicious melt-in-your-mouth fat ever. This chop is literally insane. It is a must order.
Even though we were stuffed (as always) we looked at the dessert menu because, well, it’s a dessert menu from Ellen Gedra and you just have to. After strongly considering the Apricot and Cherry filled Brioche (next time) we settled on our favorite, the Sticky Toffee Pudding ($7). By now, everyone should know the sticky toffee pudding is just pure heaven. Hell, it made the cover of a Buffalo Spree issue a few months ago. As Alli said after her first bite, going five months between bites of Sticky Toffee Pudding is far too long.
Although it was only their second night offering a dinner service, our meal went pretty smooth. The service staff is still working out some kinks with a large dining room (which is to be expected, so give them a break if you run into any minor issues) but our plates came out at a really good pace. It’s easy to romanticize the crazy, DIY attitude of the old Bistro Europa-era, but The Black Sheep is a logical and exciting next step for the Gedras and we could not be more excited for them.
I was afraid that sitting in a large dining room, away from the kitchen, that I wouldn’t be able to hear the crazy things Steve randomly yells as he cooks. Thankfully, though, if you listen closely and catch a well timed door swing, you might get lucky and catch an acapella version of “Like a Virgin”.